Getting lightly scolded by a brooding virtual vampire who pouts over my tea-making abilities shouldn’t sound like a favourable way to spend a night in. Unless of course, that vampire was a regular at my coffee shop, and offered me an alternative education on ethical blood substitutes.
What if I wanted to discuss the intricacies of indie game development with a loveable Kraken and Orc pairing? Or understand the depths of human connection through an alien sent to Earth on a sole mission to preserve their species? Or encourage an aspiring operatic banshee to achieve her dreams of success?
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly – the sequel to Coffee Talk, from Indonesian-based indie studio Toge Productions – grants me these insightful conversations, heard through the lens of late-night coffee shop owner, The Barista. Through talking and drink brewing, the game beautifully expands on its existing storylines and invites unlikely connections to be forged through sweeping character arcs.
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Holding a gentle mirror to reality
Hibiscus & Butterfly plays like a visual novel, and invited me to apply the real-world lessons I’ve learned through being a barista and therapist extraordinaire to friends. Individual narratives are grounded, drawing parallels to conversations I could easily see myself having whilst boiling the kettle for someone in need.
Each workday in Coffee Talk begins with news headlines read from the city’s free paper, The Evening Whisper, and many of the local stories provide a meta-commentary on topics reported on in the real world. Headlines such as ‘Elven Burnout is Real: Here’s How to Avoid It’, and ‘New Image Recognition Tech Confuses Gnomes With Dwarves: A Review’, or ‘Heir of American Business Royalty Disowned Over Choice of Wife’, share a more light-hearted take on real-life points of contention, allowing for a sense of empathy to form as each narrative unfolds.
And it’s a testament to the game’s writing that the characters aren’t a reach to relate to, and their stories feel true to life.
The game also follows story arcs involving encounters with alien immigration officers, as well as interspecies relationships frowned upon by disapproving family members. Whilst you do play a role in easing these tensions through perfecting beverages and selling small fibs to law enforcement, your most pivotal task is simply to lend an ear and a place of comfort to those who seek it.
Connection through the art of the brew
The essence of Coffee Talk Episode 2 lies in its colourful cast of mythical characters, and there are multiple ways to build relationships with each of them. Familiar patrons introduced in the first game reappear and unearth more of their backstories, and share meaningful interactions with new customers.
The Barista’s phone acts as a useful guide in remembering each character’s favourite brew, as each ‘special drink’ discovered automatically saves to your Brewpad app. Serving each of these recipes correctly will increase friendship levels, and grant you with relevant information posted to customers’ profiles on Tomodachill – Coffee Talk’s fictional social media platform.
Day-to-day activities such as liking statuses on Tomodachill’s revolving feed, and reading short stories published in The Evening Whisper, feel organic as a means to engage with the world around you, while adding personality to the cast beyond scripted dialogue within the coffee shop.
You can also influence the direction of certain plotlines through the addition of the lost and found box. For example, Lucas, a boisterous satyr influencer, tasks you with leaving a social invitation for another character Riona, a respectful banshee and aspiring opera singer. It’s up to the player whether they will give Riona his comedic calling card accompanied by a fidget spinner, or his more professional invitation listing his email address.
Staying attentive to each character’s personality and motivations will yield much more positive results during these interactions, and the gratification of discovering new drink concoctions outside of typical orders is a secondary motivator to earning their trust and furthering their stories.
A welcome addition for the cosy inclined
Hibiscus & Butterfly is set in a place I can only dream will open in my suburb one day; a coffee shop that operates exclusively after hours, where the most explicitly violent events sum up to calming down werewolves with ginger-infused tea. The game provides a wholesome sense of community in a low-pressure environment, with a soothing aesthetic to match.
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly serves a strong brew of gentle gameplay mechanics that evolve individual plotlines, and encourage player empathy through arcs that feel like they’ve been directly inspired by lived experience.
Four stars: ★★★★
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly
Platforms: PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Playstation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One,
Developer: Toge Productions
Publisher: Chorus Worldwide
Release Date: 20 April 2023