PAX West 2018: Necrobarista

Saturday, September 1st, 2018

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It’s no secret, especially on this site, that I’m a fan of visual novels. I love games that have an interesting story to tell, especially when there’s some layer of mystery to it. It’s always exciting to see games breaking the existing mold and trying something different, especially when there’s clear passion behind the project. Australian-based developer Route 59 Games’ Necrobarista is one of these such games: a cel-shaded visual novel-adventure game hybrid, telling the story of a Melbourne coffee shop frequented by the souls of the departed as well as the living. If the name sounds familiar to you, Josh checked out the game at PAX West last year as well, and you can see what he thought of it here.

Necrobarista | Customer with coffee

The visual presentation is the most immediately striking thing about Necrobarista, with beautiful cel-shaded graphics and interesting, varied character designs. Even the way the text is shown is unique: instead of using text boxes, dialogue and narration come up in almost a “stream of consciousness” manner, with dialogue lines often appearing next to the character who is speaking. The player can click on highlighted keywords for a bit more explanation of them within the game’s world. Clicking on one collects it, and the player can hold five at a time. Which keywords are in the inventory at the end of a chapter determines which side stories are unlocked and how the player progresses through the story.

Necrobarista | Screen and text

There are also brief segments where the player is able to explore areas freely. In the demo, I was able to wander around the coffee shop, and examine up to five of the several items around the environment. Similar to the keywords, which items the player tell a bit more of the story and seemingly also influence the direction the story takes and which stories end up being told. It seems like there’s a fair amount of depth to the story and world, and though not much was told in the brief demo it definitely got my attention and makes me want to see more. The premise somewhat reminds me of VA-11 Hall-A, albeit supernatural rather than cyberpunk and based in a coffee shop rather than a bar.

Necrobarista | Dark room

In case I haven’t made it clear, I was quite taken with Necrobarista, even after my relatively short demo. According to the character designer I spoke to, the game is meant to be an alternative take on the visual novel genre, largely inspired by things such as the fully-animated story mode in the Guilty Gear Xrd series, driven by a real passion for that style of storytelling. The scenes are all mostly-animated, which combined with the perspective shifting slightly as the mouse moves and the unique text display creates a very dynamic experience that’s great to look at. I sincerely hope the story holds up to the visual design, and follows through on what really hooked me. I see a lot of promise in Necrobarista, and will definitely be checking it out in full once it releases next year on PS4, Switch, and PC.

About Chris Melchin

Chris is a computer science student who has been gaming ever since he knew what to do with a Super Nintendo controller. He's a fighting game player, with a focus on BlazBlue and Under Night In-Birth games. His favourite games include Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Persona 5, and Little Busters. He started watching anime in high school, and his favourite series is Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. He also writes Vocaloid music for his personal YouTube channel, and has a (slight) obsession with Megurine Luka.