A chat over a cup of coffee is one of the prime ways to hang out with someone in this day and age. It’s affordable enough versus a full-blown meal in a fancy restaurant. Most cafes have something for everyone. They’re public enough to feel safe but intimate enough to share some secrets. I’ve heard my fair share of strangers pouring out their hearts by the barista counter, for better and for worse – such is the curious magic of coffee shops!
A simple cafe can be both an insular and magical place – as experienced by the numerous fans of Toge Production’s Coffee Talk. The hit visual novel barista simulator landed in the hands of gamers just right before the pandemic, and it exploded in popularity in numerous markets.
Three years on, the story of the humble Seattle coffee shop continues. Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus and Butterfly picks up where the original game left off. Players of the first Coffee Talk who were angling for, well, more coffee and more talk.
Our favorites from the original game come back for new stories, and we even find new friends in the mix. Amanda is my favorite addition, giving those alien charms to the mundane everyday conflicts and conversations that float through the cafe. Her reliance on a hivemind connection presents an interesting parallel to how relationships and understanding work in Seattle, making me appreciate the cast and setting even more. Her cute animations also add a lot to her character!
Something that carried over from the original was its easygoing and natural dialogue writing. Coffee Talk has always felt like a sitcom, with easily digestible storylines and very human reactions and resolutions. While I find the writing maintains the same level of charm as the first game, and new things happen for our night caffeine-loving friends, I feel as though there is something real missing in my interactions with these visitors. Of course, Coffee Talk is an idyllic cafe simulator, but it would be nice to see my character conflict a bit with the people around him and not just act as a fly on the wall. This narrative formula has scratched many a visual novel lover’s itch, but with the ever-expanding world of Coffee Talk, it may be time for something new to shake up the recipe, so to speak.
The main gameplay of the story where the player may affect the outcome of their run is the coffee crafting section. Getting the right orders or messing them up could lead you to get certain events to trigger or not. With the additions of herbal teas like butterfly pea and hibiscus, there are a bunch of pretty new drinks that you can serve your friends. There are times when the drink order is not as straightforward as it seems, and since the right drink may not have all the ingredients or balance of ingredients given to you outright. If you love this section, you might find yourself enjoying the Endless mode included in the game.
Another gameplay factor is the opportunity to give items you stash in a drawer alongside people’s orders. I think that this is an interesting mechanic that requires you to really pay attention to the story and think about how the things in your stash could help you move the story forward in a positive way. At the very least, it ensures a gameplay run that feels a little more customized.
Making the cafe feel more alive are the options tucked away on your smartphone – in particular, the Tomodachill social media platform and the Shuffld streaming app. They add a layer that serves as a breather for your continuous customer interfacing. Character information and lore build up as you unlock profiles and check out their Stories. I especially loved checking out the special art that accompanies these posts. It’s funny to see the intensely branded posting of Lucas and the no-nonsense updates of Jorji and Riona. All of the game’s tracks enhance the atmosphere once again, and going through all these songs from the jump makes it feel like an even comfier experience. Despite the futuristic fantasy feel, these additions make the story and its characters even more contemporary and relatable.
This beautiful visual novel once again stuns with its impressive pixel art and cool character designs. The animations give life to the environment and the characters. The polish of the overall game is impressive. There must also be a shout-out for supporting ultrawide gameplay, as it definitely made my experience much better on my monitor!
While Coffee Talk 2 came out a lot like its large fanbase expected, I can’t help but feel there is more that can be done to push this popular franchise even further. We got more of the beautiful art, music, and characters the original delivered. Still, a part of me is definitely interested to learn more about the world outside the coffee shop – GrabFood coffee deliveries, anyone?
The lo-fi Clair-de-Lune vibes, plus a mix of feel-good and funny conversations, will surely make anyone drop by their favorite local coffee spot. If only more real-life cafes could have emotionally invested baristas and customers as Coffee Talk did.