i ended up writing a whole spoiler-free review thing about Necrobarista so with all this effort i put into it i’m gonna post it everywhere lol
For anyone not familiar with the game, Necrobarista is a visual novel about a cafe called The Terminal that serves as a stopping point for the recently deceased to spend one last day (and not a second longer) to interact with the living. The Terminal is run by a couple of necromancers who are also baristas, hence…
The main conflict is those two necrobaristas, Maddy and Chay, are too lenient about letting the dead linger past their allotted 24 hours, so the cafe ends up shouldering the time debt that Maddy and Chay will have to pay off themselves eventually. Who collects the time debt? The Council of Death, and they just sent an enforcer to get what they’re owed.
As interesting as the premise is (and the game does delve into the mechanical intricacies and lore), it’s just a vehicle to have conversations and a spot of philosophizing about mortality, responsibility, and relationships. Necrobarista is a VN through and through. You’re just clicking through dialogue boxes most of the time, there are no choices to make, and no actual necromancy or barista work to do.
That vehicle happens to have an incredibly slick filmic flair and a soundtrack that is both ~a mood~ and ~a vibe~.
The character design is obviously anime-inspired, which for the most part works except for some shots that make the 3d models look odd because of how flat some of the visual elements look. Ngl I was a bit put off by it from some of the screens I saw before playing, contrasted with the stunning chiaroscuro of the background art. Thankfully, it all comes together quite well in motion.
Speaking of which, there is actually very little animation in the game. When I said it has a filmic flair, I really did mean it relies heavily on cinematic techniques to convey emotion and build atmosphere, expressed through the lens of genre anime with its slow-panning wide shots of urban fantasy vistas and interiors and dramatic dutch angle close-ups of doe-eyed characters in cool costumes. Kinda like in Wide Ocean Big Jacket, the character models transition from one still pose to another every time the camera cuts to another angle. Animation is reserved for key moments, and these only last for a couple of seconds to really emphasize their importance. It’s a stylistic direction I dig. I’m sure it made production more manageable for this small indie Australian studio that needed public grants to finish the project.
While the genre anime infusion is mostly effective in the aesthetics department, I’m not 100% onboard with it when it comes to the writing, but not so much that it completely turned me off the narrative. It’s just that it still hews to certain archetypes and tropy mannerisms that I couldn’t help but feel the Australian devs with their distinct Australian sensibilities were trying too hard to adhere to typical genre anime stylings. I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a sort of culture clash revealing itself in the dialogue that can be a little too clever for its own good and a pinch too Online™. Also there are enough typos strewn about that annoyed the editor in me lol.
Dedicating a whole paragraph to that might make me sound truly bothered by that complaint, I know! It doesn’t really tbh. I got invested in the main plot and the growth of the small cast. Their honest conversations and questions about the fears of dying, losing people, and continuing living without certain loved ones resonated with me. That precocious kid mechanic/gremlin Ashley charmed me with her earnest, mischievous ways. For every turn of phrase that was awkward (or maybe Australian? Melburnian? (i looked it up and hey it’s not melbournian!)) or eye roll-inducing, there’s an exchange or a line that had me grinning or chuckling.
And hey, the very last thing got me.
With the mixed feelings I have for Necrobarista, it’s only fitting though that I close this out with a mix of praise and criticism for an optional side thing.
There are text vignettes that are half-hidden in the cafe. You spot them as these floating words that are actually the vignettes’ titles when you’re given the chance to walk around the space in between the visual novel parts. However, you can’t read the vignettes the moment you find them. You have to unlock them using these various collectible symbols that correspond to a certain story element like “Melbourne” or “Maddy” or “The Terminal”. You get those from picking a limited number of words from a word cloud comprised of the highlighted words sprinkled throughout the game’s scenes.
The vignettes themselves are mostly good! Some of them explore the dynamics between two of the main characters, some of them highlight the one-off characters that pop up in the story, and some of them tell complete tales of characters that don’t appear at all but exist in the peripheries of the world. These vignettes give a glimpse into the interiority of the cast, reflects on and adds layers to the overall themes, and does some worldbuilding to reinforce the game’s fiction.
It’s just that unlocking them feels arbitrary because of the collectible and word cloud system. There are strict requirements for what collectibles you can use to unlock the vignettes. There’s a limit to how many collectibles you can get for the walking interstitials. Knowing which words from the limited word cloud match with the collectibles you need is partly memory-based and partly guesswork. Because of this weird system, I didn’t get to unlock all the vignettes when they first became available. It was only until I finished the game that I got every one, and that’s because the game just dumps a ton of collectibles on you anyway with no effort on your part to unlock all the vignettes. While I appreciate being able to see everything the game has to offer without having to replay the whole thing, the gating just felt unnecessary, and I can’t even come up with an in-universe reason why any of this is a thing or how this mechanic ties into the game’s themes. I also bet some of the vignettes would have had more impact if I got to read them in between certain points of the main story instead of reading about half of them one after the other long past the credits having scrolled.
The devs just dropped a news update today saying they’ll be making changes to one of the systems, and I’m 99.99% sure they’re referring to that mess I just talked about. While that isn’t gonna make me revisit Necrobarista, I’m definitely down for announced free DLCs about the one-off characters and that dude that was in that sick OP but absent from the game.
oh god i forgot to talk about the music it’s fantastic the entire soundtrack’s on spotify give it a listen it’s a cool collection of dark synth, electropop, melancholic keys, and chill lofi beats to contemplate your death to
Took me about 5 hours to complete the game, and that includes finding all the vignettes and reading through them. You can probably mainline it in 3 hours. Your mileage may vary with the aesthetic choices and the tonal consistency of the prose (it knocked me out of the ~immersion~ at times), but there’s a confidence in the visual storytelling that you’re compelled to see how the next scene plays out, even just for how the camera will frame it, and the writing can be thoughtful and introspective to arrive at conclusions that ring true while also being snappy enough to not make the whole affair dreary. I didn’t get teary-eyed at any point like I often do with stories that tackle such subjects, but it has put me in a pensive mood.
I have a sneaking suspicion that if I didn’t like the look and music so much, I wouldn’t have given this game as much thought as I have after playing it, but I do like giving in to astonishment!
i mean look at this sunset isn’t it to DIE for
anybody else play this and have thoughts to share? i know someone in the screenshot thread posted pics from the game!