If you only had 24 hours left in this world, what would you order from your local coffee shop? That may sound like a peculiar question, but it’s one of the many questions that Necrobarista asks of its players. In the city streets of Melbourne there’s a small coffee shop called The Terminal, open to the living and the dead. This is where the events of Route 59’s Necrobarista unfold.
The game really opens up with a young man named Kishan wandering into The Terminal where he meets Maddy for the first time. She tells him that he’s dead and he can hang out here for the next 24 hours before passing onto the next world. Necrobarista is presented in a style I’ve never seen from a visual novel. The characters all have 3D models, and the whole game has this gorgeous cel-shaded look to it. The coffee shop itself is beautifully designed with a well stocked bar, an upstairs reading nook, and tables occupied with shadowy figures that make The Terminal feel alive and bustling.
The characters are where Necrobarista shines brightest. Aside from Kishan, you’ve got the recently appointed owner of The Terminal, Maddy, a cute, sarcastic girl with a fascination in magic. Ashley, a hyper thirteen year old with a mechanical arm who likes to build robots. And the former owner of the café, Chay, who is over 170 years old, and acts as a mentor and father figure to Maddy and Ashley. These four are definitely our main characters, but you do meet a few others throughout the story, the most noteworthy of which is Ned. Specifically Ned Kelly, a real Australian outlaw who now works for the council of death. What the council is and what they do is never fully explained, but it’s well established that they’re bureaucrats who try to keep the balance between life and death, and punish those who try to stay past their time.
Much of the plot of Necrobarista is just seeing these characters interacting and exploring their relationships with one another. There’s a strong sense of chemistry between most of them. Chay and Ned are long time friends, but Ned just sees Maddy as a troublemaker who tries to defy the rules of the council. Which to be fair, is absolutely true. One of the main stories happening throughout the many scenes between all these characters is Maddy and Ashley preparing for a magic ritual in the basement. This necromancy ritual not only asks if it’s possible to bring someone back from the dead, but if that person would even want to come back at all?
Most of these scenes are pretty good and almost all of them establish some sort of important part of the lore. For example, there’s one scene where it’s established that Maddy runs a gambling ring in the basement of the café where people can actually bet their remaining hours. So she and Kishan play a round of that game where you stab a knife between your fingers. It seems a bit disconnected at first, but then you eventually learn why Maddy needs all these hours, and it was important for the plot to establish that the concept of time can be traded back and forth. I think the only scenes I really didn’t like are at the end of each chapter there are scenes where Ashley’s three robots talk to each other. These are clearly meant to be played more for comedy, but I think the main game had plenty of comedy that also managed to be relevant. I’d rather the game had just stuck with that instead of having robots talking about whether or not crabs can roll sushi.
You might have noticed that I haven’t really talked about the gameplay very much. That’s because there really isn’t much to talk about. Necrobarista is a pretty great story, well told through its beautiful art style and presentation, but unfortunately where it falls flat is in the gameplay. Even by visual novel standards, Necrobarista is lacking in player input to guide the story along. There are no choices to be made, no alternate endings, nothing for the player to really do for the vast majority of the game except press that button to move the dialogue forward.
Throughout the game, players may notice certain words highlighted in yellow, and at the end of each chapter, all these words will be presented to you, and you get to pick seven of them. Each word rewards a memory token related to it. These can be anything from the city of Melbourne, to one of the main characters, to concepts like death or magic. Then you get to explore The Terminal in a first person view, which is pretty cool. Clicking on certain objects will allow you to unlock the stories within them, provided you have the necessary memory tokens from earlier. This is the only example of gameplay you’ll find in Necrobarista, and your reward for doing it are just more stories, but read more like an actual novel rather than a visual one. I read a few of these, but generally they just made me want to get back to the main plot. There isn’t much of a reason to get these except to get a little bit more world-building, but there’s no substantial reward for doing it. Like I said, there aren’t any alternate endings, and not even so much as an achievement, as you’ll unlock all of those simply by playing through the game.
Necrobarista, again, is a great story with wonderful visuals, but I just have trouble enjoying it as a game. I think it would have been better if they’d simply removed what little gameplay is there, hired some voice actors, and turned this into a film or short series. With so little input from the player involved in progressing the story, and not even a clear protagonist that we can say we’re playing as, the player is really just along for the ride and is more of an audience member. I’m a big fan of visual novels, but part of what makes that journey so special is the feeling that what I’m doing actually has an impact on how the story unfolds, and Necrobarista just doesn’t have that. But living or dead, I would love to swing by The Terminal for a nice green tea latte.
John reviewed on Steam with a code provided by the developer. The game is also available on macOS. Switch and PlayStation 4 versions have been announced.