Monday, May 20, 2024

Coffee Talk Episode 2 – Hibiscus & Butterfly Review

Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hisbiscus and Butterfly wants you to sit down, shut up, and get lost in the game’s faux coffee shop setting. And I, for one, am here for it.

Coffee Talk, the predecessor of Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly, was first released back in 2020. The game eased itself onto the scene as smoothly as the push and pull of an espresso machine, bringing feel-good vibes with its premise of heart-to-heart conversation, aesthetically pleasing visuals, and an urban fantasy setting in Seattle, where elves, orcs, and other manner of fantasy creatures live together. If you enjoyed the original game, you’ll be pleased to know that the sequel does much of the same, offering a grounded but heartfelt story alongside a few new additions to gameplay and characters you interact with.

The main concept of Coffee Talk is that the player takes on the role of the mysterious Barista, whose goal is to serve drinks and offer advice and conversation to the patrons you serve. These conversations can be one-on-one but mostly consist of patrons speaking back and forth with one another, with the Barista having their thoughts and interactions scattered throughout. You don’t get any real choice on what to say to patrons, which isn’t inherently strange for the visual novel genre, but that doesn’t mean you’re a static participant in the narrative threads weaved in-game, far from it. Your drinks do the talking, which is just as well because, like the original game, your patrons desperately need some advice.

Speaking of patrons, most of the original cast regularly appear in Episode 2. There’s Hyde, a jerky vampire with a not-so-secret heart of gold; Gala, a werewolf and Hyde’s best friend and potential queerplatonic partner; Jorji, a cop; Lua and Baileys, an elf and a succubus couple; Rachel; a singer/dancer/model, Aqua; a selkie who is a game developer, and Myrtle, an orc with a love for game design. There’s also Silver, who players originally knew as Neil. They have a new body tailored to fit them and now use he/him pronouns to highlight their transition further. Just in case you were wondering if there were any queer themes involved in this second episode of Coffee Talk.

Coffee Talk Episode 2
Silver is one of Coffee Talk’s biggest highlights.

However, there are some new faces too. The first is Lucas, a faun who is a social-media-savvy content creator, looking to expand their content and focus on doing what they love, instead of what gets hits. There’s also Riona, a reserved but determined banshee who is chasing her dreams as an opera singer, despite the prejudice that holds her back. Last but not least is Amanda, an alien who knows Silver and has come to Earth for her research.

All in all, there’s an inclusive and diverse cast for you to sit down and listen to, and all have their individual problems, which can be solved – or made worse – depending on your choices. For example, serving Rachel the wrong drink when she asks for inspiration can lead to dire consequences for her career. That said, it isn’t just what sort of drinks you make that you’ll need to watch out for this time around. A new gameplay element added is ‘lost items,’ which is exactly what it sounds like. A patron may forget something or leave something behind for someone else, and it is up to you whether you give it back. Sometimes not giving the item may be good, but it’s up to you to decide. It’s these choice and consequence moments that really break up the conversations that occur between characters. That said, if you’re finding yourself bored or frustrated with how much talking there is in a game called Coffee Talk, it probably isn’t going to be the one for you in the first place.

The story of Hisbiscus & Butterfly picks up not too far from the ending of the first, with the main difference (outside of mentioned gameplay elements) being that Freya, our main human character from before, is no longer around. Freya was arguably the heart of Coffee Talk in many ways, but I’m pleased to say that her absence doesn’t take away from the rest of the cast and their character arcs, some of which are pretty queer in nature. For example, Riona’s quest to become a famous opera singer is held back by prejudice other people hold against banshees as being unsafe and not the right ‘fit’ for the industry. Because of this overwhelming amount of bias, many banshees live in communes for safety, which is very similar to many queer communes that I know of, most of which have been formed to provide safety and warmth, love, and connection. Funnily enough, this is what the Barista and their coffee shop become for many of the main cast.

Coffee Talk Episode 2
A warm beverage is sometimes just the thing you need.

Community is the main takeaway from Coffee Talk. Episode 2 further expands on that by discussing topics of immigration, found family, and going against the status quo, all to discover oneself and make relationships that matter. What I like most about these deep discussions is that the setting doesn’t change, there’s no moving away from the coffee shop or its lo-fi vibes to discuss how dehumanizing the immigration process is, it’s a discussion to be had over coffee, in person, with people of all shapes and sizes. Despite the urban fantasy Seattle setting, Coffee Talk doesn’t find it difficult to talk about very real things with the gravity they deserve.

It’s unfortunate that because the game has so many things to say, it can make some days feel very unfocused, substantially diluting the story’s pacing. While I respect the realism – not everyone is going to be going to their favourite coffee shop each and every day – it often felt like getting to a new chapter and realizing it’s from the point of view of your least favourite character. Boring? I can handle it, but my interest starts to wane when the plot goes from point A to D back to C. It leaves you with characters that are either hardly mentioned and as such, don’t feel significant to the story that’s being told, or narrative arcs that don’t pay off nearly as well because the last time this mattered was three-to-four in-game days ago. I understand what Coffee Talk is trying to do, but its rambling nature doesn’t do its plot any favours.

Even so, it’s hard not to be still charmed by Hibiscus & Butterfly. It builds on all of the characters met previously, and while some aren’t done as well as others, all of it is complimented by a robust coffee-brewing system that quite honestly has made me feel like I’m now a bit of a coffee buff. What’s not easy to love about that?

Score: 4/5

A copy of Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly for Nintendo Switch was provided to Gayming Magazine by the developer

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