Coffee Talk Episode 2 Is a Perfect Cozy Game — If You Ignore the Story
Inverse Score: 6/10
The smile of a customer as I hand them the perfect matcha latte fills me with glee. It just goes to show that there is something magical about a cafe, a barista who knows you, and the power of a good hot drink.
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly feels like returning to your favorite cafe. I know the seats, the counter, and the quirks of the espresso machine. The same drink-making gameplay and charismatic characters are just as I remember them. Yet the second entry in this barista sim series from developer Toge Productions has a crisis of conscience.
It wants to deliver some chill vibes while confronting real-world social issues. But there is no commitment to the latter beyond surface-level platitudes; Otherwise, it might detract from the relaxing goals of brewing drinks. It is a problem that existed in the original Coffee Talk but has only gotten worse. While there is no denying the joys of revisiting the magical residents of Seattle, Coffee Talk Episode 2 doesn’t nail the balance of bitter and sweet like a perfect cup of coffee.
I’ll have the usual
The form and structure of Coffee Talk Episode 2 follow the recipe laid out by its predecessor: The story mode occurs over two weeks that take place in a version of Seattle populated by humans, elves, and aliens. Each day passes with a handful of customers stopping by to talk through their problems over a hot drink. You provide said drinks as the barista all while the same beautiful lofi music from the original lulls you and your customers into a sense of calm.
The same gameplay loops that existed in the original remain, but Coffee Talk Episode 2 adds a couple of new bells and whistles to the brewing system to spice things up. In addition to familiar drink bases like coffee, tea, and chocolate, there are also the new hibiscus and butterfly pea options. These new bases' status in the title of the game is earned, as you will spend a large amount of the story’s roughly five-hour playtime brewing concoctions with these floral varieties. Yet the joy of their novelty wears off very quickly as the game leans too heavily on them as the rest of your inventory goes stale on the sidelines.
Patrons give cryptic, but not impossible, guides on how to make their desired drink. It is the perfect amount of low-stress challenge, retaining the joy of solving a perfect brew. The brewing interface has been upgraded and gives your final drink a chance to look almost like a piece of art on display. One of the nicest touches is that latte art now gets shown on the actual drinks you make, so you can feel pride in knowing your customer will smile at your attempt to make a leaf.
These little improvements make the brewing of drinks feel as delightful as in the original Coffee Talk. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the two additional game modes beyond the story. Challenge Mode is a more straightforward barista sim that tasks you with brewing drinks correctly for an endless procession of customers without striking out.
However, Free Brew is where I found the most joy in Coffee Talk Episode 2 — and where the vibes are at their chillest. Without the threat of failure, you choose any NPC to sit at the counter and chat with you while you endlessly test new brews on them. I decided to hang out with the quiet but thoughtful Riona, as her character design struck me during the story and I just thought she would be cool to hang out with over coffee. Combining that with my own curated Spotify playlist felt like a truly elevated realization of my cafe dreams.
Despite the joys of Free Brew and Challenge Mode, the star of Coffee Talk Episode 2 is meant to be the story. Yet this is where the largest failures exist. The game opens with a series of images and text that describes the state of this world as one amid massive social change, one where not all people are treated equally. What a concept.
Every new day begins with the front page of the local newspaper. It sports stories about newly developed vaccines for viruses, workers seeking to form unions, police surveillance, and the fight over basic rights for marginalized communities just to name a handful. These all have a very clear parallel to the real world, yet they are never fully engaged with, not to mention that one of the game’s main characters is a cop, which the game refuses to talk about with any complexity. The narrative focuses more on the individual patrons and the way their stories occasionally overlap over the span of two weeks.
The only plotline that comes close to dealing with anything of impact is that of Silver, the mysterious alien dressed in a space suit from the original Coffee Talk. Silver no longer wears the suit, but sports the body of a human male with grey hair dressed in a Star Trek-inspired streetwear outfit. He is visited by a family member who struggles to understand Silver’s desire to change his form and become separated from the hive mind. This narrative centers on Silver’s evolving relationship with his past and his future, as he searches to find himself in a city that villainizes those like him. Much of this revolves around Silver’s attempt to find love, which is hard when others view his identity as an alien as some secret that he is withholding.
Silver’s story functions as a great trans allegory, one that feels suited to the political landscape of today when it comes to trans rights. Again, the game does not go far enough in this brushing against real-world issues, the danger of a government official coming to take Silver away is brushed off and much of his evolution happens off-screen only to be recapped to us later when he comes by for a drink. Like so much of Coffee Talk Episode 2, it pulls what could be a knockout punch.
Instead, Episode 2 is preoccupied with newcomers Riona and Lucas. Similar to the hibiscus and butterfly pea drinks, the game focuses too much time on these two at the expense of everything — and everyone — we loved from the first game.
This would be permissible if they had a compelling, intertwining narrative, but alas that is not the case. Lucas is an influencer who longs to make something “authentic” while Riona is an aspiring opera singer dealing with the racism against Banshees. Riona’s arc has potential as an allegory about racism, but so much of her storyline focuses more on her new internet venture done in collaboration with Lucas.
A bitter cup to swallow
The differences between Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly and the original are so often subtle. While it shares the strengths of its predecessor, it also exposes the weaknesses that’ve always been there since the very beginning. Coffee Talk Episode 2 retroactively sours the original by expanding on the good and the bad.
While the mechanics of brewing and vibing to music is close to the perfect cozy game, the potentially interesting narrative and downright fascinating world that this game builds want to be, and should be, something more.
With no commitment to any of the social issues it raises, the game winds up feeling a touch shallow and willfully ignorant. The real world as it is in 2023 has seen so much change since 2020 when the original Coffee Talk was released. Yet despite the same amount of time passing in the sequel, nothing seems to have changed. In Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly the coffee still flows, customers still show up, and the rain continues to fall in Seattle as it always will — whether or not you’ve got Banshees, Satyrs, and Orcs sipping your drinks.
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly releases on April 20th for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series consoles, Game Pass, and PC. Inverse reviewed the game on PC.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.