Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly review - The cosiest of cuppas
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly is the follow-up sequel to 2020's Coffee Talk, once more putting gamers into the shoes of a café owner in this cosy visual novel-meets-barista-simulator.
It's been three years since the release of Coffee Talk, and in Episode 2, we're back in the endless, sleepy night shifts of rainy Seattle. Featuring a perfectly on-point, LoFi, ambient soundtrack alongside a trendy pixel art style and a slower pace of gameplay that makes this the ultimate cosy game to play late into the hours of the night (with your own cup of coffee in hand), it's safe to say that Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly is an absolute gem.
Back to Seattle for more talkin' (and coffee)
As someone who hasn't completed the first game in its entirety, and with the sequel continuing on from the narrative of its predecessor (albeit years later), if you're new to the series as a whole, I'm pleased to say that you'll instantly feel at home in Episode 2. I never felt that I was missing important story details, and it does a great job of bringing the player up to speed and familiarising (or re-acquainting) them with the world.
If you have played Coffee Talk, however, Episode 2 is a return to form of everything that made the 2020 title feel so special, with returning faces like Baileys, Hyde, Lua, and Officer Jorji (among others). A few new faces expand the cast of this fantasy-skewed version of Seattle that they inhabit, too, including Lucas, a Satyr, a "lifestyle reviewer of sorts" that got his start in a content creation house, and Riona, a Banshee, who longs to share her voice with the world and pave the way at her own pace.
Taking place over multiple nights (your café opens late in the evening through to the early morning hours) customers will pop in to order a hot drink, escaping Seattle's perpetually rainy streets while mulling over the highs and lows of their lives with you and their fellow patrons.
These characters feel incredibly nuanced, three-dimensional and fully realised - even with the fantasy theme present. The more I played, the more I cared about every character and what they had to say. More than a few times I had to set my controller down and take stock of what I'd just read before continuing on - and the freedom to either manually or automatically proceed to each new text prompt (there's a fast-forward option if you so choose, too) without fear of missing out on the story was a great part of this.
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Full-on cosy
While most of the game will be spent reading on-screen text boxes as the narrative continues to unfurl, there's player agency in the drink-making portion of the game, which sees you brewing different concoctions from a selection of ingredients (including two new ones: Butterfly Pea and Hibiscus) to match what a customer asks for.
If you fancy it, you can even spend time making latte art (something I've realised I'm embarrassingly bad at) - a mostly optional gameplay segment that only aids in building that cosy vibe. You can also collect items which to be given to others when serving their beverage, helping to aid in the narrative's progression.
Your phone is back too, with all the returning bells and whistles, including social app Tomodachill which helps in learning additional details about the characters via their social profiles. Additionally, as you proceed through the story and serve them drinks, you'll unlock different levels of friendship, revealing more information on these profiles over time. There's even a new 'Stories' feed that showcases selfies and additional tidbits of their lives (you can even like these posts if you so choose - though any effect this has is unclear).
To further round out this alternate, fantasy version of Seattle, prior to each new day, you'll see an on-screen title card of that day's local 'The Evening Whispers' newspaper - with headlines like 'Petition To Combine Halloween and Xmas Gains Traction: Why?’ Additionally, your phone's 'TEW' app has a new story to read each day - and while I've not found these to directly tie to the narrative itself, they're all wholly instrumental in fleshing out Coffee Talk.
Once you've finished the story, or if you just fancy brewing some drinks, Endless Mode is back with Free Brew and Challenge Mode. Challenge Mode is incredibly fun, keeping you on your toes as you try complete orders without running down the clock - and it's a great way to try out new drinks and unlock recipes on your phone's Brewpad app to use back in the main story, too.
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly is the perfect pick-up-and-play title whenever you're looking for an escape from the bustle of everyday life. Delivering everything you'd expect to see from the previous instalment alongside enough small changes like a new outfit for a returning character, new drinks and ingredients, and the addition of Stories on Tomodachill, it feels familiar yet fresh.
With an incredibly relaxed, ambient atmosphere, and a cast of fully realised, memorable characters with storylines that echo the real world, this fantasy-based visual novel is an absolute treat to play. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to practise my Coffee Talk latte art.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5. Review code provided by the publisher.