By Drew D. / August 12th, 2020
|Publisher||Route 59, Coconut Island Games|
|Release Date||June 22, 2020|
|Genre||Visual Novel, Indie, Supernatural|
Necrobarista is an emotionally stirring visual novel, centered on the end of life’s journey and exploring all of those wonderful and heart wrenching feelings that bring meaning to this end. A story of reflection, acceptance, and learning how to let go, Necrobarista is a fun, humor-filled, yet poignant exploration of death set within the walls of a lowly, carefree coffee shop.
The Terminal is a casual, hipster cafe tucked away in the dank alleyways of Melborne and, at the same time, seated on the edge between the planes of life and the hereafter. Souls new to death may find themselves wandering into the Terminal, spending their last hours in the living realm right here before needing to move on, as they try to make sense of and come to grips with the realization that they have died. This is how Necrobarista begins, as Kishan stumbles into the Terminal. Maddy, the barista slash alchemist, slash novice necromancer, thinks it’s just another recently deceased. Yet she and the other colorful cast of The Terminal will form an unlikely bond with him. They will be witness to Kishan’s personal struggles with his demise and the losses it entails, and he, in turn, will learn who Maddy and her cohorts are, the peculiarities of the nature of death, and their pursuits in its radical manipulation.
Witty, intriguing, and profound, I enjoyed Necrobarista’s story thoroughly and throughout. I find it particularly impressive how the writing pulls off that perfect balance of humor with the profundity and seriousness of death. The tragedy, fear, and sheer impact of death is never watered down. Rather, the humor contrasts with it in such a way that it only emphasizes those deeper feelings further. I also appreciate the variations in dynamic of the humor, from the pessimistic, dry style of Maddy, to the over-the-top, adorably silly antics of Ashley, to the down to earth, almost comforting tones of Chay’s wit. And I never found myself bored nor lost, for the pacing and writing quality is spot on regarding the introductions of the more fantastic elements and how well they mesh with the empathic tones associated with the chill atmosphere of a mellow coffee house, as well as the gravity of end of life. There is tremendous depth here and the story does a fantastic job of immersing its readers, drawing out that varied range of emotions the writing conveys. The overall result is an easy to read, easygoing narrative that manages to grab and enrapture you in its story and characters, creating one of the most memorable and fun experiences I’ve had with a visual novel.
Equally impressive as the story and narrative are Necrobarista’s characters. I adore this cast, with their pronounced personalities, especially as they reveal their many layers as the story progresses. Maddy’s cynicism is blatant from the start, but what makes her truly outstanding is her slowly revealed compassion. She’s fully aware that many of her thoughts and actions are unscrupulous and arguably heartless. What makes her memorable is the shift away from this as she breaks down the walls around her and allows herself to grow into a more caring, feeling individual. Ashley, too, sees this evolution in character as her bubbly, eccentric personality hides vulnerability and a desire not to fail Maddy, whom she secretly idolizes. Seeing this contrast of eccentricity with her genuine fear and reluctance of letting down the person she loves most makes the impact of her emotions that much more heartrending. And her coming to terms with her internal struggles completes this wonderful development of a truly memorable character. Finally, there is Kishan, our newly departed soul who manages to intertwine himself in the lives of this colorful cast. He is very much a cool dude whom everyone instantly likes, yet his journey through coping with his recent demise, that need of his to let go, to release himself and move on from the relationships and life left behind in death, is what defines his character. His reactions are real, his thoughts are relatable, and his feelings are palpable. This is a group of characters that will stick with me for a long time.
Before moving on to its aesthetics, Necrobarista does possess a bit in the way of gameplay. At its core, this is a kinetic visual novel, a rich story which hits right in the feels. Yet, to add to the ten or so hour story, there are extra segments between the main chapters in which you can unlock Memories. Throughout the main story episodes, you will see highlighted terms that you can click on and see how they relate to the plot or the characters using these terms. At the end of every episode, you are to choose a select number of these highlighted words, with each word granting a point relating to a specific character or theme. Then, when you come across a Memory, you spend the necessary type and quantity of points to unlock and read them. So, for example, if you choose a word Maddy used, you most likely will earn a Maddy point to spend on a Memory concerning her. As for these Memories, they are found as you explore The Terminal in first-person view between episodes, checking out the various aesthetics, accessories, and rooms of the café. The Memories themselves are snippets of backstory that help further flesh out characters and The Terminal, as well as the more fantasy elements of the story. The addition of these Memories is fantastic, as it adds genuine depth to the characters and their world, as well as providing notable replay value. It all adds to the overall immersion into Necrobarista’s world, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
As for gameplay execution, there are only a few flaws regarding quality. As the game utilizes the Unity engine, many players should be prepared for those all-too-common frame skips and lag. This was mainly limited to animation sequences, as well as during your exploration of The Terminal. Perfect optimization in Unity seems to elude many developers, but in this case, it’s more than manageable. In fact, those playing on the most robust of hardware may not even have issues at all, but for me, I did have moments in which the scene animations were choppy at times, even after the most recent updates of this writing.
Necrobarista drips with style and that’s not only limited to its narrative, but permeates its aesthetics, too. Visually, Necrobarista accomplishes much with little, utilizing static renders and minimalistic motion to enhance its scenes. You can tell right from the get-go that each and every render is dynamic, conveying the thought put into every shot. And the restricted use of motion draws you in immediately when it does get utilized in a scene. Together, they make for an impactful result, capturing your attention while emphasizing the emotions felt by the characters, or the actions and reactions the characters are expressing. I am remarkably impressed with the level of enrichment the visuals add.
However, the visual aesthetics aren’t for everyone, nor are they perfect. The anime-esque visual direction is based on a cel-shaded, low-polygon style. While character and environmental designs themselves help to build the atmosphere, this minimal style that’s been implemented leaves a dated feel, one which I felt doesn’t always add to the overall tones or moods of the story. Also, because of this graphically challenged approach, there is also noticeable clipping of body parts through clothing and characters through furniture and other objects, which does nothing to help maintain immersion. Perhaps this is more of a build quality issue, but the consequences directly affect the overall visual impact, which is unfortunate.
And finally, the audio is simply amazing. Kevin Penkin has composed a fantastic score, one that is a pleasure to listen to both during and outside of play. Each track enhances the scenes and takes the palpability of emotion to another level. Not once was I ever not impressed with how perfectly fitting each piece of music matches its scene. The only complaint I have is that I felt some tracks are used one too many times. I can understand why, as in using a particular track for a set of scenes with similar mood or vibe, but the fact that it does become noticeable makes me wish for a touch more variation. Perhaps I’m really just saying I wanted more…
Necrobarista is truly a hidden gem. At around $20, the experience is wholly worth it and shouldn’t be missed. Humor versus seriousness, the stark contrast the narrative pulls off, with death as the subject of lighthearted humor clashing with its profundity as an absolute, and the need to let go that comes with such an end, is powerfully superb. Saturated in style and assailing your empathy, Necrobarista and its cast of memorable characters are an absolute pleasure to experience.
Review copy provided by developer
casualcoconut Island GamesIndieNecrobaristaPCRoute 59supernaturalvisual novel