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Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly review: more sweet tales from the fantasy café

Venti your problems over another warm cuppa

A cat girl, werewolf and a banshee chat in a cafe in Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Toge Productions

Back in the mists of time (January 2020), I was absolutely transfixed by a Japanese novel called Before The Coffee Gets Cold. It's about a small, cosy café where customers can travel back in time by sitting in a very particular chair, for the length of time it takes for a cup of coffee to go cold. It's not long by any means, but it affords its cast of regulars the chance to get some closure on an issue that's often been plaguing them throughout their lives. It's heart-warming, soppy stuff, but very feel-good. That January was also about the same time I slurped up every last episode of Midnight Diner on Netflix, where a chill Japanese man known only as The Master serves up delicious looking dishes in a tiny, 10-person izakaya from midnight onwards. Put these two things together, and it's probably no surprise that I liked the original Coffee Talk more than most.

Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly is a continuation of that story, set three years later in the same, alternate version of Seattle where elves, werewolves, orcs, mermaids and other fantastical creatures all rub shoulders as city-dwelling citizens in need of a good cuppa. Once again, you play as the owner of the titular late-night coffee shop, brewing up a multitude of exotic hot drinks that you'll need to match to each customer's request that night as they tell you their woes.

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Get the order right, and you'll gently nudge their lives in a better direction, leading to various different endings for its individual cast members, including (for the two main new characters, at least) the option for them to never return to your café ever again if you really balls things up. It's classic visual novel territory, in other words. Sure, the idea of a coffee, tea, hot chocolate or milky drink being so legendarily good / catastrophically bad that it has the power to change the course of someone's life still requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but with story arcs that play out across multiple days in the game's two-week time window, Episode 2 lends itself well for a lot of repeat playthroughs if you want to see every possible outcome.

I'm going to say upfront that I enjoyed Coffee Talk Episode 2 a lot, and if you dug the first game, you'll no doubt dig this one a lot too. I loved spending more time with this peculiar bunch of characters again, and newcomers Lucas and Riona - an influencer satyr and wannabe singer banshee, respectively - bring a welcome freshness to the pack as they debate the merits, flaws and general murkiness of online prejudices, selling yourself on social media, and finding an audience for your work, whether that's randos in the ether or more traditional acclaim from lauded establishments.

A blue-haired banshee orders a drink in Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly
Customers won't always tell you exactly what they want, so you'll have to experiment with different ingredients to try and match their wish. Usually, though, if the drink doesn't have a unique name, you've probably gone wrong somewhere.
Image credit: Rock Paper ShotgunImage credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Toge Productions

They join returning characters Lua and Baileys, a succubus and elf now in the throes (and frustrations) of planning their wedding, as well as werewolf Gala and vampire Hyde, the latter of whom has grown sick of his career as an eternally youthful model and is now seeking a different, albeit unknown direction in life. Then there's Jorji, everyone's favourite scaredy-cat cop who has a run in with some mysterious vandals sabotaging people's cars around the city.

Alas, with the addition of new characters, it does mean other returning favourites get a little side-lined in the process. Orc Myrtle and mermaid Aqua, the pair of budding indie game devs, make a brief appearance here, as does cat girl idol Rachel, but they're barely in it compared to the others, and their stories feel quite threadbare as a result. It also makes their respective endings feel even more far-fetched, as some you'll only make one, maybe two drinks for over the course of the game. I quite enjoyed this trio in the first game, so it's a shame they don't get more screentime to flesh out their grievances.

An astronaut chats to a silver-haired man in Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly
A blue-haired banshee talks to the player in a cafe in Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Toge Productions
An elf and a purple succubus have an argument in Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly
Conversations can get heated, especially if you serve the wrong drink to them. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Toge Productions

Oddball astronaut Neil, meanwhile, has now restyled himself as regular human Silver, making him a bit blander in the process, but thankfully his visiting sibling Amanda is on hand to step into the role of 'quirky alien comic relief character'. Their ongoing struggles to understand the human condition continue to lightly amuse among the more harrowing woes of everyone else, and it's a credit to Toge's entire writing team that the tone and style of Episode 2 as a whole feels one and the same as its source material - a role I wasn't sure they'd be able to fill after the sad, untimely passing of original Coffee Talk creator and writer Mohammad Fahmi last year. But I'm pleased to report that, from a writing point of view, both games feel like they've stemmed very much from the same pen.

Remembering and honouring the legacy of those no longer with us (and that burning desire to create your own while you're still living) is a big occupation of Episode 2, and various viewpoints are put forward on the best way to achieve them. As before, though, Coffee Talk never quite lands on a single, 'one true answer', so to speak. Instead, rather like its hot drinks and latte art, it merely allows each perspective to mingle, percolate and slosh around in your brain a bit to let you figure out what your own view on things. As Sin said in her original Coffee Talk review, it continues to be a very mellow game, Episode 2, helped in no small part by its still very on point lo-fi soundtrack by Andrew Jeremy. It's not especially challenging, nor are you ever punished for messing up - other than getting those aforementioned 'bad' or 'normal' endings - but it is very chill and relaxing.

An elf, human and astronaut chat in a cafe in Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly
Never change, Amanda. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Toge Productions

As much as I enjoyed the hot brain bath of Episode 2, however, its attempts to 'do more' as a sequel never quite landed for me. There are two more ingredients to choose from here - the Hibiscus and Butterfly tea referred to in the title - but the drinks you're asked to make feel simpler than the last game. It lacks the original's challenging mystery drinks, too (the hardest it gets is Hyde wanting something truly red, which is easily accomplished by choosing the very red hibiscus tea), and it can sometimes still feel a bit vague as to whether you've really made the drink they've asked for - or what you did wrong if they turn their noses up at it.

An open drawer reveals a lighter, keycard and business card in Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly
Luck of the drawer
The lost property drawer feels like an unnecessary addition at the end of the day, as most story beats resolved themselves automatically, even when I missed giving them the intended item. I was gutted when I accidentally forgot to give one character a wedding invitation, but they ended up going anyway because they'd all texted each other as a back-up, I found out later.Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Toge Productions

There's also a lost property drawer now where patrons sometimes leave things behind that you can return to them later. In some ways, hitting and missing these moments gives you a much more tangible sense of how you're affecting the story than the actual drink mixing does. Riona won't be able to discuss Lucas' offer to help her get her singing videos online if I don't give her his business card the next time she orders a drink, for example.

But as I repeatedly missed these opportunities, either by accident or just thinking I'd just do it on the next round, their corresponding story beats either resolved themselves anyway without needing any input from me whatsoever, or the items arbitrarily 'disappeared' the next day, which always felt like a cruel and slightly unfair turn of events that you have no real power over. In the end, the drawer felt like a classic case of sequelitis - a feeling of needing to do something different but never quite nailing its execution.

Despite these missteps, though, Episode 2 was still exactly what I wanted from this game, and that's more Coffee Talk. I wanted an excuse to hang out with these characters again and check in to see how they're doing - a feat I've continued to do with Toshikazu Kawaguchi's now three (soon to be four)-strong Before The Coffee Gets Cold series - and Hibiscus & Butterfly absolutely delivered on this point. I wouldn't say it's a better visual novel than the first Coffee Talk, but it is more of the same ingredients, and that's fine by me.

This review is based on a review build of the game provided by the publisher Chorus Worldwide.

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