A Beloved Cozy Game Is Back and Better Than Ever
Warm drinks are my love language <3.
In 2020, indie game Coffee Talk was released to understated, yet enthusiastic acclaim. In it, you played as a faceless barista who serves a variety of interesting clientele, in a Seattle that’s populated by fantasy races: elves, orcs, dwarves, and even merpeople. Think Midnight Diner, but with coffee and fantasy. It was an incredibly comfortable experience that left me wishing for more.
Now, we finally have more in Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly. While the save data doesn’t carry over, the game picks up three years after the events of the last, with the full cast returning, alongside some new faces. While I was already excited to get back into the world of Coffee Talk, I was so delightfully surprised to find that this franchise has only gotten better with Episode 2.
The Joys of Coffee (& Community)
Similar to the 2016 game VA-11 Hall-A (though significantly less weeby), Coffee Talk operates on two core mechanics: Visual Novel-esque storytelling, and getting creative in the kitchen—or, in this case, getting creative in the espresso bar.
Each game day, you meet a variety of characters who swing by your late-night cafe (which is the game’s namesake, Coffee Talk) and who gradually open up to you, as well as the other rotating patrons. In the first game, the most constant patron was Freya, the green-haired journalist who depended on you for her nightly espresso. But in Episode 2, Freya’s away on business, so you have more of a chance to get to know the supporting cast.
And my god, the writing in Episode 2 is astonishingly good. It was already good in the first game, but in a very casual, low-stakes sort of way. Episode 2 goes much deeper into its core themes and its characters’ backstories, in a way that reflects just how much care the devs (Toge Productions) put into this franchise.
For instance, we learn a lot more about one of my favorite characters, the vampire model Hyde. In the first game, Hyde was an enigmatic, delightfully bitchy person, who both filled out the fantastical setting of the game with his vampirism and brought a touch of ennui to the cast. But in Episode 2, we get to know him on a deeper level, learning that his connection with us, the Barista, runs deeper than we might have picked up on. He also swings by more often and provides more of a supporting role for the rest of the cast, acting as the harsh, yet wise voice of reason that everyone kind of needs.
The new characters are also surprisingly deep, and I’m impressed by how easily they mesh with the current cast. We have Lucas, a satyr e-boy who seems like just another annoying TikTok-er on the surface, yet who quickly becomes quite endearing, and then we have Riona, the banshee poster-girl of Episode 2, who I personally found incredibly compelling and enjoyed getting to know as I played the game. And of course, there’s Amanda, the alien cousin of the first game’s alien cast-member Silver, who comes to Earth to hit two birds with one stone: 1) learn something about earthlings, and 2) help her cousin score.
Regarding the actual gameplay, though, I’ve gotta say, there’s something so satisfying about serving a nice cuppa to someone you care about, and the fun thing about Coffee Talk is it makes crafting the “right” beverage a puzzle in and of itself. Sometimes, the game will tell you upfront what the customer wants: a coffee with honey and milk. Other times, you’ll have to piece together what drink to make based on a variety of clues, ranging from fairly specific (something warm and sweet) to fairly vague (colorful and new).
It’s a really fun process that, admittedly, has you feeling bad when you don’t nail what the customer is asking for in the precise moment they ask for it. This is only because it feels like the right cup of coffee fixes so many problems for them in the moment they need it. Might sound like a weird way to implement a gameplay mechanic, but I guarantee you, it’s really fun and satisfying. This is especially the case when a combination of ingredients results in a “unique” drink, instead of a generic “Coffee with X and X.” One of my favorite new drinks is a “Bee N’ Buzzy”: a honey latte with a honeycomb nestled on top.
They also introduced a new gameplay function where you can give characters items that they either leave for you directly, or they leave behind. The game doesn’t remind you about these items until you mess up an opportunity to give them back, so it took me a bit to get used to, but it’s an interesting mechanic that adds another level of interaction to the story.
The story itself? I almost don’t want to say too much, because it’s the sort of story that’s best experienced yourself. It isn’t groundbreaking, but it is pretty soulful, and the way the world is set up is intriguing: Toge used fantasy to parallel real-life sociocultural dilemmas in a way that feels really natural, and not at all clunky. The first game had to do with racism and inequality; this game has more to do with societal alienation, and as a sucker for good writing, I can attest to the fact that they did a great job with these themes.
Should you play?
If you’re looking for a relaxing, soulful experience to unwind to, I really can’t recommend Coffee Talk enough. In particular, I think Episode 2 is phenomenal and more than worthy of your time, although the first game still holds up quite well and is worth a run, if only to gain more context for the sequel. The great thing about these games is also that they have a LOT of replay value, with multiple endings depending on what drinks you serve and when. You really get a lot of bang for your buck, especially with Episode 2!
There were a number of expositional hints that laid the groundwork for a third game, which I’m keeping my fingers crossed for! Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly is already shaping up to be one of my games of the year, and I look forward to seeing what Toge Productions does with it next.
(featured image: Toge Productions)
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