I’d like to begin this review by paying my respects to the late Mohammad Fahmi, creator of the original Coffee Talk. His games have touched my heart, and truly struck a chord with myself and many others. To have a work so wonderful that others would continue it in your stead is something truly great indeed. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un*. May he rest in peace.
People are complicated. Or, at the very least, the problems they face are. Between the rigours of 9-to-5 life, the sorrow of trying to make everyone happy, and societal ills at large, there’s a lot for anyone to contend with. Yet, even with all our unique complexities, there’s something universal about the ways we unwind. When all is said and done, few things help soothe the soul so completely as a cup of something warm and a shoulder to lean on. Coffee Talk, if you will.
Right from the very opening, Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly feels as a sequel should. Familiar, yet different. It expands upon all that came before, which is always exciting, yet does so in a way that only makes you celebrate the original even more. This is no small part due to immediate callbacks to the first game, which left me beaming. Across both entries, Coffee Talk revels in its identity, openly welcoming you as an old friend whether it’s your first or second time at the titular café.
Much like any good friend, Coffee Talk Ep.2 is happy to let you play with its toys. I started my playthrough by getting through the first day with no mistakes, then hopping over to freemode. Freemode allows you to experiment with recipes, free of consequence. Not wanting to risk missing any conversations, I wanted to go into the story with every recipe unlocked and ready to refer to. Especially with new ingredients hibiscus and butterfly pea in the mix. I mixed every possible three-ingredient combination, one by one. Or, three by three? Either way, this might sound laborious, and could strike many as the wrong way to play. Coffee Talk disagrees.
Mixing, experimenting, and enjoying the light soundtrack while also listening to podcasts was such a fun weekend morning. Unlocking new recipes was a rush, as my experimentation was rewarded with shiny new designs and a splash of peace of mind. You can choose which of Coffee Talk Ep.2’s colourful cast to subject to your slow drip whims. They’ll give you their unique success line every time you get a recipe right, and only be slightly less excited if you don’t. At every turn, Coffee Talk Ep.2 invokes pure comfort.
This extends to the main gameplay. While known for its barista simulation, Coffee Talk is primarily a visual novel. You’ll meet a small cast of great friends, each with their own stories. Some of them even intertwine in intriguing ways, mixing different flavours to bring about a new concoction entirely. At various points in the story, you’ll be tasked with making drinks. Customers will sometimes name what they want, either by ingredients or recipe name. Other times, they’ll be more cryptic. Based on the hints in their order and clues found in prior conversation, you’ll have to intuit just what the drink is. Get an order right, and you’ll unlock a new recipe with a striking design. Get it wrong, and you’ll miss some juicy bits of conversation.
For a visual novel whose biggest draw is its strong personalities and their stories, that can be a daunting ultimatum. Yet, this slight edge kept me on my toes, drawing me further into the world of Coffee Talk. And, fortunately, the conversations you’re working so hard for are delightful.
Returning characters’ storylines continue with new twists, while still interacting with those of the new characters in meaningful ways. Hyde the vampire remains a standout friend. His sardonic and often blunt nature adds a spicy kick to any conversation. That said, much like every patron of the titular café, Hyde is a sweetheart on the inside. He gets along particularly well with Officer Jorji, the phasmophobic policeman who finds himself at the centre of Episode 2’s biggest mystery. Jorji and Hyde are an unlikely duo, yet perfect for each other: the immortal vampire whose scariest bite is his snark, and the mildly grizzled police officer who’s seen it all. Well, almost.
What Jorji hasn’t seen comes in the form of two new friends who take a central role in the story: Lucas the satyr and Riona the banshee. Lucas is an influencer in a creative rut, while Riona is a would-be soprano, contending with the harsh world of show business and prejudice against her kind. I won’t spoil their arcs, but know that they’re such fun. Much like their peers, Lucas and Riona truly grow as people, providing plentiful laughs and heartwarming moments in equal measure. Their tales offer smart and at times uplifting reflections of modern pop culture and the woes of society. The same can easily be said for the other patrons. Through them we explore marriage, family, mortality, creativity, and more. Each cup of warmth brings with it a hint of introspection, and it’s very fun to explore.
The fun doesn’t even stop at the end. Much like the first Coffee Talk, Episode 2 has a few secrets hidden after the credits. It’s not so much a postgame as it is going through specific days again to find new dialogue, but it adds another layer to the story, enveloping you in this brew further still. I was initially going to skip doing this. Then, the final day happened, and an old friend returned. I was so excited to see them I fist-pumped the air and went through the conversation as slowly as possible. With that, all I wanted to do was experience it all again.
Coffee Talk Ep.2’s ability to cozily wrap around the player is exactly what makes it such a stellar release in an already brilliant time for games. It knows what it is, and celebrates that with friends old and new. It innovates on its greatest features, not wasting time on trying to totally reinvent them. In a year with no lack of fantastical realms to become deeply lost in, Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly offers a tiny world in a cup to grow enamoured with all the same.
*Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un is an Arabic phrase used by Muslims to pay respect to the deceased, meaning “To Allah we belong and to Him we return.
Sarim played Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher. Coffee Talk Episode 2 is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox Game Pass, and PC via Steam.