Developer: Route 59
Release Date: July 22, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Genre: Visual Novel
The thought of death is perhaps something we all share, and how we deal with those thoughts vary. Where we go when our end comes is explored in ancient literature, and yet, there are still unique ways that creators are approaching this dark topic.
Route 59’s Necrobarista dives into a place that exists between death and wherever we go next. And like us, the characters that the story revolves around face the hardships of letting go.
Necrobarista might have you questioning who the actual main protagonist of the story is until you realize that there isn’t one. However, the writers handled this expertly by having players learn about this world through the eyes of a newcomer named Kishan.
Coming to terms with the fact that he’s now dead, Kishan finds himself in this coffee shop that you can hang out in for about 24 hours before you have to move onto the next place, whatever that is. Through his confusion, you learn about the rules of the cafe and how this middle life works. He’s a clever character, but he’s definitely not able to carry this story until the end.
After the stage has been set and the rules learned, the cafe’s owner Maddy takes the lead and shares the spotlight with Chay, Ashley, and the council of the dead member, Ned. Their relationship has developed over many years, and it shows in how they interact with each other. Still, Maddy has just been promoted to the owner, which lands her in debt with the council, but whether she even cares about that or not is to be determined.
Necrobarista is a linear story. During each interaction, you learn more about their situation, their quirks, and their complex personalities. To be honest, I didn’t really like Maddy, but I empathized with her situation. She has different sides to her that sometimes makes you wish she would just listen instead of impulsively trying to brute force her way through everything.
I think that’s what I liked so much about this group. The writers were unapologetic about how I would feel about these characters and wrote to tell their story instead of trying to please me with a feel-good resolution. The theme of death is tough to make light of, and the writers don’t attempt to, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a bit of fun with the situation.
It’s through these moments of impending dark times that you appreciate the conversations between the characters. I will say that it’s pretty clear the writers are coffee hipsters after the first few conversations, even if they make fun of other coffee hipsters. The self-awareness of the dialogue makes each conversation relatable in a way as if you are just hanging out with a group of friends.
The flipside of this modernized character writing is that anyone who doesn’t understand these internet phrases and casual back-and-forth might be a little confused. It doesn’t feel forced, but it also doesn’t take into consideration a reader who might not be with the times. Again, this is just another example of this unapologetic approach to character dialogue.
During each intermission, players will choose a few phrases from a pool of words. Each word is tied to one of several different categories. After choosing a word, you are awarded a point in whatever group it belongs to. These are then spent between story scenarios to unlock new stories about the coffee shop and its customers.
These extra bits of the story are delivered through text only but don’t overstay their welcome. It’s possible to ignore them completely, but I feel like they provide a more natural path to understanding this world. They also dive into more detail about characters who don’t get the spotlight in the main story as much, such as Ashley.
Players are also able to explore the coffee shop before continuing the story. This is where you’ll access the additional story scenarios, which do require you to investigate a bit. They aren’t explicitly hidden, but they also don’t leave them out in the open. I did wish there was a bit more to this portion of gameplay, such as item collecting or a way to interact with the coffee shop. Things like ordering a coffee in the first person would have been a nice touch.
During the story sceneries, scenes play out in 3D. The camera cinematically focuses on the scenes as the characters talk. There isn’t narration, but it’s easy to know which character is talking. I thought the developers did a brilliant job at this, and it only improves in the scenes that have animation. There are just some exceptionally captivating shots that they pulled off, and it adds a real sense of quality to the title.
One gripe I had was that some of the story scenes were just too static. Having the characters blink would have been a better alternative to them just frozen in time until you advanced. This isn’t a huge issue at all, but it’s just something that I would have liked included.
There isn’t voiced dialogue, but that doesn’t really hinder the narrative. In fact, I think the story does a great job without voiced audio. Instead, you have coffee shop sound effects paired with a few good musical tracks to fuel the experience.
Necrobarista’s focus on death is approached in such a unique way that you can’t help but immerse yourself in its setting. You begin to feel as if you are a part of the group, which makes the idea of letting go so much harder. This is a visual novel experience that transcends traditional systems within the medium and is definitely worth your time. Some of the dialogue might go over your head, but this is an easy recommendation from me.
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