by Adam Nix
reviewed on PC
Coffee to Die For
I owe a lot to coffee shops. They have provided me a serene getaway in high-stress periods of my life. The clinking of glasses in the background, the subtle conversations being held by friends, and the industrial-like noises spewed from espresso makers calm and focus me. There are an unlimited number of reasons why someone involves coffee shops in their life. They are hard to avoid, especially if you live in an urban environment. Many characteristics contribute to this universal vibe coffee shops hold: Five dollar lattes, shoddy internet, people have conversations a little too loudly, and baristas working their rears off, whipping together ridiculous coffee concoctions for uber-high-maintenance customers. The cafe in the visual novel, Necrobarista, strives to be that same place for the people of Melbourne, Australia; There’s just one catch - it's customers are the recently deceased.
Necrobarista follows a group of people that either work at, or spend way too much time at, a magical cafe called The Terminal. It acts as a waiting room to the afterlife. People who have recently passed away find themselves in The Terminal and have 24 hours to come to terms with their death, spending their final moments as they wish.
Maddy, the owner, serves and guides the deceased. The story focuses on her struggles to combat a bureaucratic organization of which Ned Kelly, the infamous Australian outlaw, works for. They are obsessed with getting paid back for the “time debt" accrued from Maddy and the old owner, Chay; A necessary debt built up to keep people in the cafe past their 24-hour limit, giving them the chance to come to terms with their death before passing on. Along with these struggles, she meets a newly dead man named Kishan, who slowly accepts his own passing while acting a bit as the player’s conduit for exposition. He constantly asks about necromancy, death, and other characteristics of this hidden world.
The game is a 3D visual novel, setting itself apart from most other games in this genre by providing for a fully realized environment instead of 2D characters and backgrounds. Scenes are basically stills that you click through, reading the text and taking in a new image. Between those scenes, you are given the freedom to explore the cafe and recollect old memories by clicking on certain objects.
The little bit of gameplay carried out through exploration of The Terminal can be slightly annoying. Each scene provides you with a set of “memories” based on words you deemed important from the conversations held previously. These words are then categorized into icons that are used to unlock short stories that build on the character’s backstories or introduce you to other odd patrons, giving you the chance to glimpse life in The Terminal through fresh eyes. If you do not choose the right words, you will not have the right icons to unlock all the stories you want until finishing the game. These one-off stories were so fun to read. I really enjoyed learning more about this world and found it frustrating that they would hide some really creative and well-done writing behind walls until the credits roll.
Lights. Cameras. Action… And Music.
Necrobarista completely pulls off the 3D direction they took. The environmental design leaves other visual novels in the dust in terms of depth and scope. The large and surreal cafe depicted in this game provides for a sense of wonder from beginning to end. Important and emotional scenes are paired with beautifully cinematic shots: Two people chatting at the cafe bar, a glowing tree at the center of the main room, close-ups of cafe material such as espresso shot glasses or a freshly made cocktail. The list of breathtaking compositions goes on and on. I don’t remember the last time I took so many screenshots in a game.
This cinematography would be nothing without the music. Necrobarista has one of the best soundtracks I have heard this year. Not only would I listen to it separately from the game, but it seamlessly melds with the game's scenes and graphic novel nature. Intense scenes are made even more so with electronic music accompanied by a heavy base. It made me feel like I was one room away from a rave in The Matrix. In dialogue-heavy scenes, the music is unobtrusively, but equally catchy, emitting an ambiance I probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear at my own local coffee shop. It provides a space for readers to focus on the writing, but better understand its tone.
Even with the music being so well developed and executed in the game, the story sometimes fell a little short. A game that deals with death and acceptance can fall into relatively overdone tropes: Accept your death, come to terms with your mistakes, understand what it means to have true friendships. Necrobarista ends up falling into these tropes, but it shines new light on them, for the most part doing it through well-written dialogue between fully realized characters. A genius girl with a robotic arm discussing her internal fears and struggles with a recently deceased man who is trying to find meaning is just one example of the in-depth conversations I am talking about. The conversations feel real - or as real as they should for a fantasy story heavily influenced by anime. Outside of a few flat jokes that felt like they came from a millennial heavy online forum, I really cared about their discussions, fears, and dreams. Some of the more casual dialogue reminded me of the dumb and pointless conversations I had with coworkers in customer service jobs. It’s a slow day and we have nothing to do, so let’s have a philosophical discussion about avocado toast.
Where dialogue ends and descriptions begin, the writing falters at times. Descriptors of characters and scenes felt cliche and overdone. The writing redescribed characteristics and plot points over and over again when the art, dialogue, and environment did this pretty well already. Trusting in the player’s own intuition and their own characters would have been more than enough.
Tasty coffee. Would Visit Again.
Necrobarista is a creative game with an enticing story, but there are a lot of things I wanted to see that felt just barely outside its grasp. Even with its faults, Necrobarista is worthy of a playthrough. You will find that the journey through this gorgeously shot cafe, its accompanying musical score, and the eclectic group of patrons and employees will be more than enough to leave you a satisfied customer of The Terminal.
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Successfully cinematic, wantastic Soundtrack, well-developed dialogue
Fluffy and unnecessary descriptions, pointless barriers to accessing stories