Visual novels are a genre on the rise in the world of games, as more and more developers try to make a story as compelling as possible to entice as many players as possible to check out their game. While some visual novel games try to focus on a create-your-own-story route, with multiple options being the main selling point of the title, other developers choose to opt instead for a bolder approach, putting all their eggs into one basket: the story. And that is exactly why NecroBarista shines as brightly as it does.
NecroBarista, developed by Route 59, is a visual novel that has death and the afterlife as its core focal point, and all the interactions that take place inside the cafe are tied to this same topic. Such a serious topic does not prevent the game from taking itself lightly, inserting quite a number of jokes which everyone can appreciate, as these are never in bad taste, and this expertly written tone flows through all the game, with some room for seriousness as well since, you know, it’s ultimately the end of our days that we are talking about.
All the action in the game takes place inside a cafeteria of sorts called the Terminal, which is on a plane between life and death; a place to reflect on your life before taking the final step of one’s own existence. Both living people and those recently dead are able to attend this cafe, and the ones passed away have 24 hours to do whatever they want before they have to move on. Unfortunately, this 24-hour limit is not observed by all the patrons, and this overdue time slowly makes up a debt which the cafe owes the Council.
This is where the protagonists of NecroBarista come into play; Maddy, the owner of the cafe and arguably the protagonist of the game. There is Chay, the previous owner of the Terminal and another important character which we see often in the adventures throughout the visual novel’s course. Ned, the Council’s enforcer makes his appearances as well, and he is the catalyst to some of the game’s best moments, including a striking sunset set piece. All the characters have a level of development which is refreshing, to say the least; plenty of other titles have protagonists and casts which have the personality of a plank of wood but these characters are fleshed out so well you will fall in love with them very early on, and this will carry you until the end of the game.
As mentioned previously, NecroBarista does not present the player with a lot of choices, or any at all in fact, while you are playing the main story. The dialogue is skipped manually so it can be felt as a chore sometimes especially when you are not sure when you need to skip and when not. Thankfully sometimes you have three dots highlighting that nothing of interest will happen if you just stare blankly at your monitor, acting as your notification to click and see what happens next.
The interactive part of the game is somewhat hard to comprehend unless you play the game outright, but once you do you will get the hang of things quite quickly. There are keywords within the dialogue as the story of NecroBarista unfolds, which will be marked in yellow. These keywords can be clicked on for a more expanded definition, or what the game is meaning by this keyword so that players can take a general idea of the direction of the conversation. In certain spots then, you are presented with a myriad of keywords that had appeared previously in the just concluded chapter, and you have to choose up to seven to make up… something.
Each word you select will have a category to it, and you will earn “points” in this category for every word associated with this specific category. These points are only used between chapters, and are spent in random combinations to unlock some side story which relates to the characters in NecroBarista. These stories are totally optional, but just like the base game they are written so well that you will be at a loss for not searching and viewing them.
The game is not an example in cutting edge graphics, but this is its own decision. Everything in the Terminal takes place in 3D though, and it is realised so well that you could not come up with a better manner to present this visual novel. The small actions which characters do, like even pouring a cup of coffee help give life to a game which does not have plenty of action in its cutscenes, and helps bring out the seriousness of the story even more.
The music of the game fits perfectly as well, as it bounces between slow and serious tunes to upbeat ones that change the mood on the fly. NecroBarista was not created to bring sadness to whoever plays it, but rather the opposite; have players reflect on the notions of life and death with a light-hearted novel.
That said, I believe NecroBarista is a very niche title, definitely not for everyone. The ones it is for, however, will fall head over heels in love with the game, as it is a blend of expert writing and pacing, coupled with artistic accompaniment like its gorgeous soundtrack. The story of the game is crafted in such a manner that it almost feels like you are playing a great book, gripping enough to not let go until its final act is done.
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