Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus and Butterfly Review - Sonderlust
I’ve rewritten this intro paragraph multiple times. Here’s the rub; games can be fun and mindless, but they can also be deeply personal. Dave Bulmer said it best for me when he sang “it’s games as art that touch the soul”, and I think Coffee Talk 2 resonates with that. For me, this was something really special, but I’m not sure everyone will have a similar experience.
You play as the owner of Coffee Talk, a small coffee shop that runs during the night in Seattle, in a world that’s inhabited by humans as well as fantasy creatures such as elves, dwarves, nekomimi and others. It’s a world where these creatures all have normal lives and jobs. They come to your shop to get away from it all. It’s not a busy place, but it is a sanctuary of sorts. I actually very much miss this kind of culture in Australia, where most coffee shops have no seating, and you take your drink and leave. After hours, your options mostly come down to alcohol, which is usually not what I’m after.
I’ve spoken before about how expectations are important when playing a game, and that’s especially true here. This is a game in a very light sense. This is the coffee shop version of a walking simulator, and that’s not a bad thing. If you consider a game as the amount of input you have, the amount of “gameplay”, then looking at Coffee Talk 2 as a game seems almost obscene. Your job is two-fold; make drinks for your patrons and give them items where needed. That’s all you do. Everything else is listening to your patrons and their stories, all backed by a lo-fi groove reprised by Andrew Jeremy, who did the soundtrack to the first game.
This game overwhelmed me in a lot of ways. For a relatively short title (my first play through was around 6-8 hours) the spectrum of my emotions playing it was myriad; I was overcome with happiness, sadness, feelings of annoyance at the status quo, senses of wonder and mystery. There’s a familiarity to the coffee shop that I think reminds me of what it is in real life to be “local” to something. For someone to remember you, and to know parts of your story.
As a barista it will be your job to listen to people’s stories and offer them a drink you think might help them in some way. That seems insane to people outside of food culture, but I totally get it. There’s a sense of trust between anyone eating or drinking and their hospitality server. It’s interesting here that you seem to almost act like a counsellor to people, but that impression is wrong; you’re not a counsellor, you’re the intermediary. Most of the time you’re either a sounding board for someone to sort out their own feelings or to give them inspiration or comfort through drink, or to act as a third party between people so they can share their lives with each other. It’s an incredibly cosy feeling, supported by the lack of time limit or any need to pay rent. Nothing will distract you from the story, there’s no true “fail states” unless you’re a truly awful barista.
Serving drinks comes down to three things, just like in the first game. You pick a base (green tea, coffee, milk etc), add a primary ingredient (herb, spice, milk) and finally add a secondary ingredient. It’s a simple system because it’s meant to be a simple system. You can also check your brewpad to check recipes if you have made them before. Judging by the location of the developers (Indonesia) and what I know of the region’s beverage culture, it’s honestly no surprise that there seems to be a love of coffee, tea, and other drinks behind the developers. To me, there’s a playfulness with beverages that I think a lot of people never see. There’s no pretentiousness behind it, even with the additions of what some people might think as very “hipster” ingredients such as butterfly pea, and hibiscus. It’s just the love of the drink. It’s curious and experimental without being in your face.
There’s a lot more replayability in this game than its predecessor. The developers were clearly wanting to build a lot of the first game, and apart from much-loved UI improvements, your choices throughout the game, however minimal, actually have an effect. This is echoed in the achievements where you can get an idea for the effect that giving different drinks, and giving or keeping left-behind items has. It would take multiple playthroughs to see all the content, and that’s kind of wonderful.
Coffee Talk 2 is something really special to me. Where Coffee Talk was amazing and a cult classic, I honestly hope that this game brings a lot more appeal. It’s jam-packed full of themes, most of which I will probably have to talk about in a different article and the characters are both foreign and somehow familiar. This game will stick with me for quite a few years. Knowing that the writer of the previous title tragically passed away last year and the sentiments in this game makes this both beautiful and bittersweet. I guess in that way, it’s not dissimilar to a hot cup of coffee when you need it most.
Rest in peace, Mohammad Fahmi. You’ve left a legacy behind in this game that is something incredibly special.
On a side note; any chance of us seeing a recipe book for the drinks?
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus and Butterfly was reviewed on an Xbox Series X with a review code kindly provided by Stride PR