Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly
Before we open the cafe for business this morning, even though I'm aware the cafe "Coffee Talk" operates as a late-night establishment, I wanted to give my thanks out of the way first. A super special thanks to Toge Productions, especially the marketing and community manager, Sarah, for allowing us an opportunity to not only play the well-anticipated sequel but also cover Coffee Talk Episode 2 before its release. As of this writing, the game will have been released for all platforms in all regions. To be honest, I must have re-written this draft at least three times already. Coffee Talk Episode 2 is an interesting title that is the epitome of "if it's not broke, don't fix it." However, there are many things that make Episode 2 a standalone beauty in its own right.
Coffee Talk Episode 2, lining up with the original's release, takes place in 2023 much like how the original took place in 2020 when it was released. When I gave the original a near-perfect score, despite taking several years to play the original Coffee Talk myself, I was enamored with the world that Toge created. An otherwise unimposing city like Seattle Washington was now a thriving city filled with various races. Whether one was an orc, a nekomimi, a succubus, or an elf, all would be defined under a single umbrella term--Earthlings. Despite everyone's different background, their problems were easily relatable to anyone who played Coffee Talk.
Talking with Sarah at PAX East this year, the concept of Coffee Talk was to help serve as a way for locals to share their stories with the world. Each patron in the game loosely represented the trials and tribulations each storyteller in real life had gone through. Rachel's story was based on a local idol, for example, while Freya, the game's central character, was meant to represent the game's original author. Unfortunately, the lead writer of Coffee Talk passed away in 2022, which piled on the daunting challenge. Despite the tragedy, development, and Coffee Talk Episode 2's progression marched onward. It was not only the dreams and hard work of the staff that rested on Episode 2's release but also those of the previous writer.
I was excited to play Coffee Talk Episode 2 before our meeting simply due to the enjoyment I got out of the first episode. However, learning how intimate this project meant for the team led me to want to hear more of their stories. I wanted to see everyone's hard work put to fruition and it was that mindset that made me revise this draft. I didn't want to simply "talk" about Episode 2, but rather I wanted to compare it with what I knew about Coffee Talk as well as the meta behind it. It led me to appreciate the hard work put into Coffee Talk Episode 2 and thus allowing me to enjoy it further.
Much like its predecessor, Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly begins with the barista from the previous game still maintaining the cafe three years after the first game's events. In the first game, I named them "Natsumi" based on one of my original characters, but for this review, I'll refer to the barista as, well, "Barista." No self-inserts this time as I did with Arcade Spirits The New Challengers! The story begins with a single patron, Jorji, who was the officer from the previous game. The barista mentions that they have a new selection of teas available to order, specifically Hibiscus Tea and Butterfly Pea Tea, or "Red Tea" and "Blue Tea."
While most of the new orders involve using hibiscus and butterfly teas, almost all of the orders from Coffee Talk returns in this game. The plot of Episode 2 can be enjoyed without the context of the first game, it wouldn't do Hibiscus & Butterfly justice without the context of the first game. The reoccurring recipes are but one example of this, as the player will be expected to create some classic brews. Gala, who played a large role in Coffee Talk, returns to order his signature Gala Had tea. The same tea that helped calm him down during the curse of the full moon.
Later on, Gala will request an alteration of the Gala Had, replacing regular tea with the lighter alternative, Butterfly Pea. It's the same concept as the "Gala Had," but in a cool blue presentation known as "Gala Tea." Hyde, who also returns from Coffee Talk has his own signature tea, different from the previous game. His signature drink this time is the Zobo, a hibiscus tea loaded with ginger based on a Nigerian drink known as Zobo. For my fellow Carribean readers, hibiscus itself is more popularly known as "Sorrel," although I'd assume a cafe variant would go easy with the sugar for those who have had a bottled sorrel drink before.
Gala and Hyde are but one example of a pairing with contrasting personalities and drinks to represent them. Gala is usually the quiet reserved type yet is one who is a "gentle giant," perfect for the "cool blue" taste of Butterfly Pea. Hyde is honest to a fault and does not hold his tongue, perfect for the spicy yet comforting warmness of the "brightly red" hibiscus. Usually, the more reserved character prefers the blue tea over the red, although this isn't always the case. People aren't as easy to read as pinning a "favorite drink" on them and they are full of surprises.
This is where Coffee Talk Episode 2's unique mechanic comes in. Occasionally, various patrons will misplace their items while others will ask you to give an item to another patron. An example of this is Jorji who takes his superstition to epic proportions in Episode 2. Throughout the game, he has a "lucky lighter" that used to belong to his grandfather yet every time he loses it, bad luck happens to him. The lighter plays a larger role in Coffee Talk Episode 2's main conflict, but for now, this is the player's responsibility. The game will nudge the player if they forget to give an important item back to the patron, such as the lighter, but much like the previous game, the Barista can revisit any day they have already completed.
There are instances where the player cannot give an item directly to a patron, yet someone related to the patron instead. Early on, Gala misplaces his keycard. At this point, the player is conditioned to "give belongings to the original patron." But the player will not see Gala again until later on in the week when it'll be too late because he would have gotten fined for misplacing his ID. You *could* give the keycard to Hyde instead, since they live together, and Hyde can pass it on to Gala. This "indirect exchange" situation returns when you're given the invitation to give to Hyde, but it must be given through Gala, otherwise, both won't attend an important event.
Fortunately, there aren't that many items to keep track of and the patrons will generally tell you who to give each item to. Of course, you could give items to the wrong patrons which open up insightful scenes such as Gala giving a fidget spinner to a kid or Rachel knowing that the protagonist knows Lucas, who is a rising content creator that also happens to be a fan of Rachel. As seen in the promotional material, there are two new central characters in Coffee Talk Episode 2, Riona and Lucas, both of whom also have their own problems.
Episode 2's overarching theme is "social media" and the woes that come with wanting to be popular while also pursuing dreams. Riona is a banshee with dreams of becoming an opera performer as a soprano singer. While Riona is naturally talented, a wave of rejection emails had done nothing to boost her confidence and the stereotypes that involve being a banshee don't help matters. It's because of her dilemma that her first impression isn't the best as she's clearly flustered by everything. She's the perfect representation of the "Butterfly" as once she calms down and lets out her frustrations, she has a leveled head throughout most of the game as long as the Barista is good on her orders.
Lucas on the other hand is a satyr, with features made up of that similar to a goat. Historically, these beings are, for lack of a better term, "party animals," something that is represented in Lucas's extroverted personality. This can also be seen from his "Tomodachill" feed, with each post followed up with thousands of likes. The social media aspect of Coffee Talk received an overhaul to co-exist with the game's emphasis on social media, as it's now possible to look at a "daily feed" of the Barista's "Tomodachill" timeline. It also serves as a way to gauge each patron's standing as helping patrons with their problems will net a positive outlook on social media. An argument that stems from the patrons "posting subs" at each other shows the opposite, giving the players an idea to solve a troubling situation.
Aqua and Myrtle, two of my favorite characters from the first game, return in Episode 2 albeit for not as long as they were in the first game. Aqua's game had captured the eyes of a big-name publisher yet the stipulations for the contract is heavily rigged. Aqua sees it as a chance to work under her dream publisher while Myrtle sees this as a rip-off. A disagreement ensues, with both parties being unable to understand each other instead of "assuming" that one knows what the other wants. Initially, I failed to have Aqua and Myrtle make up as their posts on "Tomodachill" shows the two of them unwilling to see the other halfway. Aqua ultimately decides not to go with the publisher yet regrets that she couldn't make up with her partner.
Because Aqua and Myrtle appear only once in the story prior to their resolution at the end of the cycle, it's a "blink and you miss it moment." The player only has one chance to get the right drink for Myrtle, as doing so will initiate a conversation with Aqua and allow her to serve her drink. Failure to get the drink (Shai Adeni, Tea Milk, and Cinnamon btw) on the first try will ensure that the player gets the "bad route" for the video game developer duo. However, Myrtle will mention the drink a second time, in which she all but tells you how to make it. Again, armed with this information the player can reset the day and make things right.
Another reason why I highly recommend playing the first Coffee Talk before Episode 2 is that a lot of the cafe itself is referenced in Episode 2, specifically the Barista's origins. There will be light Coffee Talk Episode 1 spoilers as they are brought up unmarked in Episode 2 yet in a "if you know, you know" moment. Much like in the first game, Coffee Talk is visited by aliens. One patron, who had a cameo appearance in the first game's ending, goes by Silver, and another alien in an astronaut suit, much like Neil in the first game, is Amanda. Silver and Amanda are this game's "alien pairing," with the latter trying to figure out how the world works much like Neil in the first game.
Of course, there's more to Silver than what meets the eye, and savvy players from the first Coffee Talk will immediately understand why. Helping Silver avoid the Agent by giving them his card will help in their plotline, but it will also help out the Barista due to their "connection." Much like Freya in Coffee Talk, various patrons begin to wise up in knowing that the Barista isn't who they say they are. An interesting dialogue with Hyde assumes that he had caught on to the Barista's true identity, largely due to Hyde's immortality and "nothing gets past him" attitude.
Much like the first game's ending, there will be some hints that will tell the player to "do this" a certain way for better results. However, even during Episode 2's dialogue will the Barista engage in monologues when no one is in the cafe, specifically referencing their origins. What was previously a plot twist is now something that's subtly being accepted while also bringing up an interesting dialogue about the validity of aliens. With so many walks of life on Earth, are aliens really that foreign to Earthlings that they would pose a greater threat than anyone else?
With that said, I have yet to see all that the game has to offer. To get the "plot twist" ending and tie up loose ends in the first game, the player must do certain things that will make the patrons question the barista. This was done in a comical way, but this time around it plays more like a puzzle to be solved. With the inclusion of bonus drinks and giving items to patrons, it's not enough to serve what the customer wants, but also give them what they need. I can't wait to spend the next few days unraveling Coffee Talk Episode 2's secrets much like the first game.
So how did I feel about Coffee Talk Episode 2? Honestly, this is one of the most mature sequels to a video game I've played and it's done properly. Even in real life, the state of the world had changed a lot from 2020 to 2023, much like how it has in Coffee Talk. The cafe will remain a fixture in fictional Seattle indefinitely and the patrons may remain largely the same, but their lives have changed over the course of three years.
We get older and wiser, and the struggles pile on but so do the opportunities we gain as well. Riona's story shows that you don't have to turn your back on your dream if you can find other ways to supplement it. Rachel shows her being true to herself and her image, something she struggled with in Coffee Talk. Each character's story serves as a "follow up" to their previous endeavors and none expresses this further than the wedding arc between Lua and Baileys.
This even reflects in the game's soundtrack, which despite having the same composer, Andrew Jeremy, Episode 2's music is more mellow. The original Coffee Talk had a more upbeat soundtrack whereas this game truly captures the "always raining" atmosphere. Both soundtracks are amazing and there's a cute "side quest" where Rachel is collaborating with the "in-universe Andrew Jeremy," but the atmosphere is definitely different from the first game. Coffee Talk Episode 2 captures the growing pains of living in an "always online" world while also reconnecting with close ones around you. It's a bit of an oxymoron, is it?
I played Episode 2 on my laptop while cross-referencing recipes from the original Coffee Talk on my Nintendo Switch. This review is published online for people all over the world to read (I hope!) yet we seem to romanticize public settings where we're not alone or we're with others who can hold conversations and make new friendships. Coffee Talk Episode 2 shows that both the "online world" and the "physical world" can co-exist and relying too much on one over the other will limit what's possible within ourselves.
That, or just maybe, we need a "timelord" to create a cafe for everyone to solve all their problems over some delicious colorful tea.
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly is now available on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.