- Developer: Route 59 Games
- Publisher: Playism
- Release Date: 24/06/2021
- Price: £16.19 / $21.99
- Review code provided by Playism
Introducing: Necrobarista: Final Pour Review
Welcome to the terminal! Pull up a chair and share your poison! We have it all from hand picked Civet tea to your freeze dried main brand granules. All lovingly prepared by a barista who will happily ensure that your every desire is met. While you wait take in the rustic view of our gorgeous Melbourne coffee shop and it’s giant tree centerepiece.
OK, the reviews aren’t great… Yes our barista will call you out on your coffee choices, but then who really needs a half caf, double tall easy hazelnut non fat no foam with whipped extra hot latte? Those reports of flying steak knives are completely unfounded too! No, we haven’t accounted for all of them yet but I’m sure they’ll turn up. But did I mention we have the cutest little helper robots? (Also programmed to fight to the death obviously)
This is the setting for the highly acclaimed title Necrobarista. A visual novel set in a Melbourne coffee shop. Already a success on Steam, the title has ported its way to the Nintendo Switch alongside it’s DLC in what is being called the “Final pour”. Perfect, considering the fact that you are dead….
Welcome to the Terminal
The story of Necrobarista takes place a little in the future. Seen through the eyes of Kishan, who walks into the coffee shop for the first time. He encounters Maddy, the head barista who hands him a coffee and informs Kishan that he has recently passed on. The café itself acts as Australia’s answer to the River Styx, helping people to move onto the next life.
This leads into the cafe’s biggest issue. Each person has 24 hours in which to move on. Time to sit back with a flat white and contemplate the meaning of it all. If a soul doesn’t move on quickly enough then the cafe accumulates “debt” which, in theory, can only be paid back by having other members move on more quickly, or by taking it from the proprietor.
When we first meet our characters, we arrive in what appears to be the middle of a necromantic ritual. Indeed, the end of the prologue ends with just that word, “necromancy” before taking us back to the events that lead us to said ritual.
So, is the game a bit of a “grind?”
The game is a traditional visual novel. Anyone expecting wide ranging mechanics and high levels of interactivity need to pay the ferryman now I’m afraid. But as visual novels go, there is plenty here to do. The main game is set out across ten chapters, which reveal more of the character’s stories as it goes. Pressing “A” moves you onto the next piece of dialogue and the text can be sped up a little for those with a faster reading speed.
During these passages of text, certain words become highlighted. These can be interacted with and at first I thought this was just to give a definition of the word, a la the “Melbourne Aussie Dictionary”, but in fact, the definitions are often humorous takes on the characters while subtly hinting at a definition. Its a pleasant little twist I really wasn’t expecting.
At the end of each chapter is the ability to explore a part of the terminal. As you softly pad your way through the various parts of the café, both the shop floor and it’s rather cavernous backrooms, you encounter more exposition. These take so many different forms. From simple text stories about fishermen or playing pool, to emails to a defunct email address of Maddy’s. These stories do a fantastic job of not only helping to fill in the gaps, but also to keep emotions high.
Theres a whole latte character!
A big part of the game is character development. No one character really takes centre stage for too long, aside from Maddy, though it feels that way simply because it’s her café. After inheriting it from her mentor Chay (whos pronunciation is a free for all) the two are assisted by their juvenile delinquent of a friend Ashley. Who is best described as an over caffeinated marsupial with a love of Robot Wars.
No story is complete without it’s antagonist though, and Necrobarista is no different, although their choice is both a little nice and heavily ironic. In order to keep a balance of all the “ins and outs” within the world, naturally there has to be some kind of accountant to the gods and some sort of enforcement for spiritual tax evasion. That enforcement officer takes the form of legendary Australian outlaw Ned.
What unfolds is a heartfelt story that plays on so many emotions while asking some pretty deep and existential questions of the player. The drive to complete the next chapter to further unfold the main story was so strong at times I was frustrated at having to complete certain tasks between them, even though they help add depth to the story as a whole. By the end of it, I’m not ashamed to say I was choked up.
It’s a brew-tiful game
With visual novels, less can be said about the gameplay, which means the aesthetics have to step up to ensure that the player feels immersed in your world. Necrobarista has a gorgeous art style that utilized cel shading techniques to give an aesthetic that feels very much like Persona 5. There are a lot of great uses of light and shadow to portray scenes and to give ambiance to the chapter. Each area within the café seems to have it’s own character whilst also still feeling like a room within a café.
The art is supported by fantastic cinematography. Each scene has it’s text presented on scenes that either combine great sweeping animations or utilise quick changing and well positioned camera angles. Both of these effects are used greatly to emphasise the emotion in the scene and are well planned and timed for great effect.
Another key area within visual novels is the music and again, Necrobarista comes up trumps. With a gorgeous collection of music and lo-fi beats, the soundtrack adds to and enhances an incredibly immersive experience. From the moment the game starts you’ll be wondering why no one has offered to sell you the soundtrack while you wait for your coffee to be brewed.
But is it the perfect blend?
Aesthetically the game is well written with great use of animations, cinematography and humour to entertain the player and immerse them in the world. Most of the controls are simple to follow and clearly communicated. The world is not vast and so even during the exploration portions between chapters it seemed like it would be pretty difficult to get lost or spend too long trying to work out what to do. Even the locations of the exposition pieces are clearly marked in order to reduce this.
There are some issues within the game however. Frame rates dropped a little at times, which in something like a visual novel shouldn’t present too much of a problem, but is testament to how much effort is put into the art and animation perhaps? The game does sometimes struggle more noticeably at times when the player has more control.
More alternative modes than Starbucks have for milk
As you progress in game, you unlock some other modes in which to tinker with, some are very simplistic, others unlock a wealth of potential.
The first side game is essentially an ability to doodle on the cute robots. With simple tools to help you to add even more adorable features to a group of already quite adorable bots. There isn’t much to really comment on here as its a relatively simple drawing tool. But it’s a nice little distraction between chapters, not that you should need it.
The biggest alternate mode however is the studio editor tool. This allows you to recreate your own scenes using characters and scenes from the game. Feel free to create your own fan fiction where Ned is romantically involved with a bot… or I dunno something else? I’m not your dad.
Add a shot of DLC…
The main game itself is a relatively quick run through at just a few hours. Most devoted players will struggle to get through the main quest in double figures, but thankfully, the “Final pour” edition has some free DLC within the game to help give players a longer experience whilst also addressing other minor issues.
There are two side story arcs which are made available to you around half way through the game. Immediately this conflicted me. Do I complete the main quest and go back? Or do I take a break and explore these new characters? Are they going to have a bigger impact later on? Should I know more about them before I go on? Finally, I went with the “treat them as spin offs” approach and tackled them after the main story.
This turned out to be a good choice. The characters mentioned don’t get much exposure besides an introduction in the main story. A quick bit of research shows this was an “issue” flagged up in the earlier PC release of the game, but adding that back allows players to delve into the background of characters that, even only in an introduction, give you a delightful comic relief enough to want to learn more.
And a deep, dark theme
The game focuses around themes of death and the afterlife. I mean, you wouldn’t expect it to not with a name like “Necrobarista”. Aside from death inducing coffee, there wasn’t much else it could be? But with that come some delicate and existential issues that some players may struggle with.
The game explores ideas around the afterlife and how people handle the concept of death in general. Characters at times are a window into various coping mechanisms people use. Whether it’s denial and a stubborn desire to cheat, master and manipulate death itself or one of the other stages. All seven are represented at one stage or another, not always in the character you expect too.
There’s also the more existential idea of what happens to the soul once a body passes on. The idea of a balance of “ins and outs” is a slightly more novel one that hints more than it tells. The idea suggests, but does not emphasise the idea of reincarnation for example. But one thing it does like to stress is that souls need to move on in order to, presumably, preventing a build up of them on the mortal plane?
The game challenges the player to really question their own beliefs, while at the same time going on a roller coaster ride through these very emotive responses as you experience each stage alongside the characters. It is not a game for those who struggle with these issues without some prior mental preparation!
Despite its minor flaws, Necrobarista is a great visual novel. The gripping story and lovable characters are more than enough to keep fans glued to their screen. The great combination of writing, art and music add to that experience to give you something you want to invest your time into.
What makes the game that little bit sweeter on Nintendo Switch is that a lot of added content has been added. This gives another dimension to characters that were almost a side note in the main story. Creating almost two spin-off series in which to explore.
- Incredibly engaging story with wonderful characters
- Gorgeous art style and “cinematography” accompanied with catchy, iconic music
- Comes with DLC designed to expand on those characters that are left behind
- Some characters are skipped over in the main story
- The story is fairly linear, there are no decision trees or alternate paths
- Text is sometimes lost to the backgrounds