GAME REVIEW | Serving Death & Philosophy in "Necrobarista"
What happens when we die? That’s a question many of us have thought about for thousands of years. Is there a Heaven and Hell, or are we greeted with pure darkness after we go into the light? Route 59’s Necrobarista may not offer the whole post-life picture, but it does give way to some very interesting concepts and ideas.
Taking place in a strange cafe in Melbourne, Necrobarista follows Maddy, the runner of said cafe that bridges between life and death. Those who pass on come here before they move to their next generation, with a recommended 24 hours for them to stick around before it’s time to do. Overstay their welcome, and the hours are taken from the cafe; leave early, and the cafe racks them up. And Maddy has a problem: too many overstaying customers have resulted in the cafe owing 600 hours to the Council of Death!
All of this comes to fruition when a new customer arrives. Through their eyes, you see how the world works and what happens in and around the cafe. From the rules laid out by the necromancer Chay and the robot enthusiast Ashley to the CoD’s Ned, the customer discovers all that roams in the place between life and death. And in almost no time at all, they know that 24 hours isn’t enough to let death settle in.
One of the things that Necrobarista does well is its handling of the subject matter. Death is, of course, a sad and painful thing to go through, and the discussions these characters have show that anguish in a realistic light. But in-between the heartache are a bunch of lively people who never take granted of a single minute that goes by. Catty conversations are had, robots are built, and drinks of the highest order (both in caffeine and alcohol level) are served with either a smile or a triumphant middle finger!
It’s this aspect that makes Route 59’s game a thing of familiarity. Back in college, I used to go to many of my local coffee houses, and the characters I’d come across there would be a lot like the ones you see in Necrobarista. The snarky goth girl, the geek enthusiast, and even the intimidating-yet-soft tall guy were always the kinds of folks I’d see in these cafes. Sure, there were any ghosts hanging around (that I knew of, seeing as Salem, MA is a haunted area), but this game does offer a warm sense of nostalgia that I can’t help but smile over.
I call this a “game”, but Necrobarista is 95% visual novel, 5% interactivity. Most of your time will be spent reading characters’ lines and seeing the situations play each other out. Once in awhile, you’ll get a little back story about a certain character when a word or phrase is highlighted. But other than a press of that single button during the campaign, that’s all your fingers will be doing while the story goes on.
That’s not to turn anyone off from Necrobarista; in fact, I wish to do the opposite. Not since VA-11 HALL-A have I come across a story in this medium that’s so engaging. While it lacks Sukeban Games’s drink mix mechanics, the conversations Maddy has with the customers and coworkers are very much in-line with what Jill experiences in her cyberpunk surroundings. This does lead to probably the most engaging thing about this visual novel: its atmosphere.
In-between chapters, you will be able to roam through the Terminal where the story takes place. There you’ll find hidden back stories about fishermen, pool players, and the occasional flashback about Maddy, Chay, and even Ned. But as you roam through the Terminal, a feeling comes around that’s quite hard to explain. I’m not sure there’s a word for it, but that feeling is a mixture of both hollowness and wonderment.
Perhaps that’s what Necrobarista is supposed to make you feel. The in-between between life & death is a strange realm, where it gives you the chance to look back and see the things you were able to do while alive. Reminiscing about those times will make you feel good, in ways that’ll have you cherish every highlight you ever accomplished. But now that there are no more memories to create, there’s an emptiness now in yourself that may never be filled.
I can’t help but feel like that’s the main point of this visual novel. No one alive will be able to answer the question of what happens after we die. But in its own way, Necrobarista does a wonderful job addressing why we must all leave this astral plane of ours, rather than where we go. It’s all handled with gentle care and love through writers Damon Reece and Justin Kuiper, who show players the kinder side of what happens when the soul leaves the body. It won’t rid the fear of death in any person, but in a strange way it’ll at least offer enough comfort to know that everything will be okay in the end.
- Endearing story
- Unique, stylistic visuals
- Lovely soundtrack
- More reading than playing
Necrobarista will make some ponder over what happens after life ends. It’s all showcased with enough warmth and personality that will have any visual novel lover engaged all throughout its runtime. Although there’s more to read than there is to interact with, Necrobarista offers much to leave you thinking of its narrative long after it’s over.
Promotional consideration provided by Kaylah Humphrey of Stride PR. Reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.