Necrobarista is a stand-out game, with its unique character and style. It is a visual novel playing out on your computer screen, with softer gaming interactions to immerse you in the story. If you’re looking take a break from the hack-and-slash, shoot’em up, ping-pong feel of 2020 then grab a cup of coffee and pull up a seat with the Necrobarista.
Necrobarista – The Story
The game is mostly set in The Terminal, a magical cafe with a blended existence in both the world of the living and the afterlife. The Terminal is set somewhere in Carlton (Melbourne, Australia), and it is one of those scene-settings which truly (and eerily) captures the atmosphere just right. The living can take a seat and enjoy the calm ambience, while the dead are given one last day to exist right alongside them. Whether they choose to enjoy a final cup of coffee or to solve the mystery of their death is completely up to them.
The game itself plays out as a soft visual novel, with elements of gameplay included. The story delivers in chapters, revealing the history of the characters and the coffee shop itself. This is our opportunity to meet Maddy, apprentice necromancer and barista/owner of The Terminal. As the Necrobarista, Maddy is the anchor for the story, however, the real trigger is the arrival of the dead and the mystery of how they died. Your game interaction is part of the sleuthing; the clues are all within the story itself.
Straight up warning: This is not your standard computer game. It is definitely more about the storytelling than anything else. If I have to compare it with anything I have reviewed previously, I would say it is more akin to Some Distant Memory. This is the perfect game when you feel like some neo-fantasy mystery, filled with visuals and music. A stormy night outside? Load this baby up and settle in.
Necrobarista is a single-player game, switching between the first-person search for clues around The Terminal and the third-person observation as the story unfolds. There is no speed-run for this game; it is purely story-driven and will roll out exactly as it is meant too. The pace is well-measured and eases you in. In fact, it is quite refreshing to see a game with a genuine storyline provided by a writer and not simply tacked in there to help move the game along.
Part of the clue-collection revolves around keywords used in the story. At first, it feels like these keywords are a mini-psych test, to gain a feel of how you are picking up the story. As the game unfolds, each of these words is associated with a theme, and each them has a tally you can then use to exchange for more clues or dialogue or video to add to the story. It’s not totally essential but I found it a really clever way to build the story and my personal understanding of what is going on.
Everything about Necrobarista creates an atmosphere. The animation is presented through cinematic 3D sequences, with a strong anime style to both characters and surroundings. The colors add depth to the coffee shop, giving it a warm realistic feel–an obvious appeal to both the living and the dead. I think the part that amazed me most of all was how very Melbourne it felt, yet I know this will appeal to any coffee fans around the world.
Special mention for the soundtrack to Necrobarista. There is a radio show I listen to in Australia: Game Show on ABC Classics, every Friday from 3 pm to 4 pm (and available on podcasts here). Each week, they have a theme for soundtracks from all computer games.
A few weeks ago, Necrobarista was mentioned for its surreal beauty and essence; perfect to chill out and relax with a cup of coffee. Hearing the music on the radio reminded me how immersive this game can be. To read more about the soundtrack, check out Game Show article here.
The release of Necrobarista is aptly timed. Some of us are craving the simple presence of another person, even if it is a stranger sitting next to us in the coffee shop. Some of us are staying at home, assessing how and where we fit in the world. A place like The Terminal appeals to many, both living and dead. I really don’t want to go too much more into the story of the game because I don’t want to spoil the storytelling itself. This is the kind of game you need to explore at your own pace and in your own time. It will raise questions of self-identity and how we prioritize our lives. It will awaken an ache deep inside you, with a need for comfort. If you are in COVID-19 Lockdown right now, this game might give you a place to escape to, for one last day of coffee (apologies if it makes you crave a coffee shop even more).
This game was one of my stellar finds from PAX Aust 2019 and it’s back again for PAX Online 2020. Good thing too, because I have been eagerly waiting for a refill ever since. The first time I played this game, I walked out of the Exhibition Hall and spent the next hour haunting the alleyways of Melbourne, searching for any cafe like it. Right now, I am missing the hustle-and-bustle of PAX Aus as it moves to PAX Online. I also miss my opportunity to search Melbourne alleyways, with the hope of finding a real-life version of The Terminal.
Alas, it remains hidden… for the time being.
Necrobarista is available now on Steam for USD$19.99/AUD$24.95
Releases are scheduled in 2021 for Switch and Playstation 4. It is one of the many games featured in PAX Online 2020 and worth taking a look at here.