Legacies are a tricky thing, running parallel with the vacuous nature with which humanity weighs itself. It’s easy for you to consider your life to remain less than a footnote in the wake of a few years when in reality, memory is aeternus. No matter what happens, to exist by default is imperishable, an achievement, even in the face of time, and if everything were to dissipate? The mere fact it persevered is natural, not a miracle. It’s something that Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly teaches in spades, that’s for certain.
This is the latest title from Indonesian developers Toge Productions, fresh off the release of A Space for The Unbound, and continuing the world of 2020s hit visual novel/barista sim Coffee Talk. Things seemed uncertain in the wake of Coffee Talk creator and writer Mohammad Fahmi Hasni’s untimely passing in March of 2022, but all things considered? Regardless of the result and its quality, they did the most humble job they could, both in respect and in design.
Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly continues in warm and familiar territory. 3 years after the events of the first game, you’re still the owner and barista of “Coffee Talk”, a late-night coffee shop deep in the heart of Seattle. Set in an alternate world where mythical beings and creations occupy Earth alongside regular human beings, you’re the kid-friendly artisan bartender serving espressos with a splash of truth and wisdom, while being a fly on the wall to patrons’ ills and issues.
Before you get to their ills and issues, however, you’re here to make coffee first and foremost, and orders can range from simple to deceptive. Sometimes your regulars will know what they want, but other times, the days' events may inspire them to be bold, and adventurous in new flavors, or you may need to calm their qualms. If you provide them with the correct drink, then you have the potential to level up your friendship with them, both through dialogue, and the in-game social network, “Tomodachill”.
If you read our preview of Coffee Talk Episode 2, then you’d know that the use of the word “episode” feels very deliberate to the story being told. These are continuations of mechanics established in the previous game, yet despite this, enough fresh content is placed alongside — and indeed, syncs with — what you recognize to give it all a rigorous shake-up. Not that it was needed in the first place, but it reveals a desire for consistent design and ethos throughout.
For example, the gameplay, while still utilizing the same 3-ingredient coffee-making machine from before, the new ingredients and item-gifting mechanic bolster the variety and interactivity, respectively. The titular hibiscus plants and butterfly peas are not only a new challenge in the flavors they provide but also host unique art assets for the more special drinks with original names. It feels like a reward to create a drink like “Sweetheart Latte” or “Dreamin’ Blue” for the beautiful art that accompanies it.
That’s not to say that you can’t create a coffee with your own special touch involved, which is why the latte art mechanic from the previous Coffee Talk returns. It can still be a bit finicky to understand the nature of creating latte art — a true easy-to-learn, hard-to-master skill — but creating something artful of it almost feels incidental as opposed to intentional. Indeed, unless the customer specifically asked for it, I personally didn’t decide to bother with the latte art, if only because I don’t want my imposter syndrome to extend into the game too.
As for the item-gifting mechanic, patrons may gift you items to pass onto others, or their clumsiness may have you holding onto them until they return. In either case, it helps builds a feeling of connection between these characters, further expanding and solidifying the space you inhabit, even as a faceless barista who speaks nothing but wisdom. Even then, it’s not so much what you provide for customers, but what these customers provide to the player, and that’s humanity.
If you did just wanna make coffee though, then you’ll be glad to know that the “Endless” mode is still available in Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly, with a small change made relating to the difficulty. In the previous Coffee Talk, recipes could always be checked via the in-game app “BrewPad”, but whether intentionally or not, that option isn’t available here. I think it’s a great readjustment, if not for the difficulty, then to at least keep you on your toes in this much more rigorous format.
At the end of the day though, the main event is the story, and reassuringly, anything to do with the narrative has been polished to a mirror shine. The world-building is crafted inverse, under-handed, slick in providing context and dimensions only when necessary, and with tact. It’s always fascinating to hear how elven culture is interpreted in the context of modern humanity, how vampires tackle immortality in the stupidly paradoxical nature of the human condition. They're simple elements given new life behind this backdrop, and with it, brings a newfound complexity.
Is it saccharine? Yes, but it isn’t forced, and I think that’s the sticker. While fairly linear in its structure as a visual novel, every moment is earned and earnest, and plot convenience is shadowed by a sincerity that is almost unseen in these fairytale landscapes. The modernist revisionism of mythical creatures in this setting lends itself to much more prosperous theming and opportunity, even when the problems faced are rooted in relatively humdrum dilemmas.
Stuff like dodgy contracts, wedding plannings gone wrong, prejudice, and mortality; all of it is given a wide berth to breathe life into a heartfelt discussion, and commentary from new angles and voices. While the end results aren’t necessarily original, it’s the perspective from which they’re told that makes it so refreshing. The connection you build through these characters, whether it’s by linear progression or not, just helps deliver these messages so much easier.
I’m aware I’ve not gone into much discussion regarding specific moments to showcase these feelings, but for what it’s worth, Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly has a lot to offer. Whether it’s new character RIona’s struggles to be accepted, the returning vampire Hyde’s battle with immortality boring him, or everyone’s favorite Officer Jorji's haphazard adventures, all of it is succinct. With every single character the game provides, all of them are engaging, engrossing, and provided stellar clarity.
There’s no better way to say it: Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly is exceptional, both in what it sets out to do, and what it represents. The storytelling is pitch-perfect, the gameplay elements are improved and given more air to breathe, and the home it provides is warm. Toge Productions have outdone themselves here in providing a place you can recognize and envelop yourself in, and whether this world continues or not, the fact you can be a part of Coffee Talk at all is an everlasting gift that makes me eternally thankful.
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly was reviewed on PC, using a copy provided by the publisher over the course of 8 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.
- Narrative core is perfectly executed
- Coffee-making gameplay is expanded and improved
- Endless mode continues to be challenging
- Character studies consistently respected and represented
- Thematic elements are thoroughly explored and well-told
- Latte art mechanic missing a certain “oomph”