Just one last caffeine boost before you have to depart.
Type: Single Player
Genre: Visual Novel
Developer: Route 59
Publisher: Coconut Island Games
Release date: August 11, 2021
If there was a possibility that you could stop by a place before you died, with the only caveat being you can only stay for 24 hours, would you? Or would you go somewhere where you had a chance that the person you decided to spend the day talking to could be recently deceased? Well, while there aren’t any places that actually exist, Necrobarista gives us a couple days into what’s it like for a world that it does.
Here, there is a certain coffee shop, one where you might not know is there as it’s located in a back alley, called the Terminal that acts as a sort of limbo for the recently deceased. It’s one of those stops you can take before you move on. While it does serve customers that are still alive, those that aren’t only have 24 hours to stay, get their favorite cafe drink (well, assuming it’s not too complicated or else you’ll get burnt coffee beans), come to terms with their situation, or even get a chance to solve some issues before they must leave. The Terminal has a small team, but it keeps the café running. There’s Maddy, the necromancer barista who isn’t too nice and found herself taking ownership of the café a bit before the events of Necrobarista, Chay who has been living for what seems like forever and was the previous owner, but is staying a bit longer to help Maddy transition into the position more and to try to sway her away from her illegal activities, and Ashley a little girl with a sick metal arm, an early addiction to caffeine, and a love for making robots that can be used in fights (and that may be powered by animal souls).
When we join them, it’s on a day when a new departed soul walks in. A man named Kishan. He’s not at all ready, but he does spend his time there talking to them, acts as a way for the players to get to know the lore and the world more, and to somewhat come to terms with his situation.
Though, the Terminal crew aren’t doing as well. It turns out that their supplier has been raising the prices of their coffee beans, and considering they are the best around… they don’t really want to go with a lower quality bean. That and they have a massive time debt of 600 hours (or 25 days), which causes Ned to show up both to give advice on how to pay it and to tell Maddy that it has been transferred to her. How do they have this amount of debt? Well, it turns out that the dead can stay longer for 24 hours, but it becomes extremely uncomfortable and those extra hours are put on the Terminal’s tab. Chay and Maddy were the ones actually letting them stay as long as they need, but it’s becoming too much for the Council of Death to ignore. Not to mention another problem that becomes clearer close to the end of the game, in which the prologue teased you with, that would have been a big problem if Ned wasn’t a friend of Chay. Or if someone else from the Council of Death decided to stop by and investigate.
Sometimes while you’re reading, you’ll notice that some words are highlighted as yellow. These are classified as keywords which you can inspect. Though, a lot of them are just normal words that you wouldn’t suspect needing it. The reason being is that this isn’t used in a sense to define these words, but they’re more used to give it more flavor. They can give you more insight on a character, used to build more on the world, or to put in a joke.
Once you complete the chapter, you’ll be brought back to the Terminal where you’ll be able to explore the area before you continue by talking to Maddy. The whole café won’t be open to you right away though, as you’ll need to progress through the story more to be able to go to the upstairs library or the basement. And while you’re walking around, you can find certain objects containing Memories, which each area contains at least four. Memories are basically side stories featuring the main characters or past patrons to build the world more. Some are one-offs, some have multiple entries that you have to wait until the next area is unlocked to continue it, and some play a bit more into the story as they are required to read to unlock the door so you can get back to Maddy. Finding and reading the Memories also unlock some concept art for you to look at. I did enjoy reading through these, especially the ones that had multiple entries for them. Though, only text is accompanying them along with the background being the café (so you’re not getting to see the characters or them acting out their side story) and it has a habit of not advancing to the next page unless you click twice. While most of the time the sentence isn’t finished, this can cause you to think it’s finished. Or click multiple times at the actual end to make sure it is the end.
Two DLC stories have been included as well. The first, which has already been released for the original version, follows Tuan and Hannah while the second follows Samantha and Nakamoto. All four appeared in the opening title cinematic, but three only appeared briefly in person in the main game and a few side stories. Walking to the Sky, unlocked before you would go into the chapter they show up in (and coincidentally after one of the side stories mentions that Tuan needs to meet someone), tells the story of when Tuan and Hannah met, how they got so close, and their backstories. While Devil’s Den, unlocked after Samantha makes an appearance as it almost gives off a feel that it takes place after the story moves on from her scenes, stars Samantha looking back at her old job at a bar, her old boss Nakamoto (aka the guy in the opening that doesn’t appear in the main story) who ends up walking into cafe, her secret relationship, and a little twist on who she actually is. These are worth reading through when as soon as they unlock, especially if you wanted to know these characters more, though personally I found myself liking Walking to the Sky more.
What I really liked with the DLC chapters and some of the side stories was the interesting aspect on how you won’t know who is dead or not, as you’re not allowed to ask and not a lot of people will tell you themselves. Both the living and dead patrons look the same, well most of the time, so anyone you could be talking to and bonding with could have already died (or still alive for patrons that are dead). And once you both leave Terminal, there’s always a possibility that the person you just got to know will disappear (signifying that they’re moving on). It’s devastating having that possibility in the back of your mind, but it does give both sides a chance to deal with their unresolved issues or have one last day to talk to someone (and if timed right, that someone could be who you looked up to or someone you personally knew).
There have also been some other changes meant to improve and add to the game. I didn’t play the original release, but the parts of the game where you pick keywords to unlock the side stories has been taken out and was replaced with letting you read them once you unlock the area. I’m pretty glad this was changed as the keyword point system seems like it would have been frustrating. Two new modes were unlocked as well, which unlock pretty early. There’s Doodle Mode that lets you doodle on the robots that appear at the end of chapters and act as sort of an intermission, which I recommend going into as soon as it unlocks, and Studio Mode which gives you the tools to create your own scenes.
However, the main aspect that brings this way down is by not having touchscreen controls. Doodling with the stick is torture, especially when there’s no way to undo your last line or erase lines. You can achieve an undo somewhat by saving each time you get an acceptable line, but there’s no way to erase what doesn’t fit anymore, or something you want to redraw, other than erasing the whole doodle. Studio Mode also seems like a good addition, but with no touch controls or tutorial, it’s a frustrating mess. It feels like it was made with mouse controls in mind, then touch for phones (which we wouldn’t know since Switch has no touch controls), then Switch being somewhat of an afterthought. It feels like you have to fight the game to get what you want for just one thing. The main reason are the sliders as they are pretty sensitive and for options that have multiple, there’s no indication on what it controls or which one you have selected (and it’s a hassle trying to make something bigger as you have to mess with the positioning… which can cause you to lose it and it’ll be small once you get it back). There are also aspects you really need to add in first, the backdrop, camera position, and lighting; which you would have no idea where to access them or that it’s disabled. It can also freeze momentarily when trying to load stuff in and, if you’re unlucky, freeze up entirely (as it did when I was messing with it while writing when trying to load in another character model). And as far as I can gleam, there’s no way to save your project, thus having multiple scenarios, or share it without using the test play and using the Switch’s video clipping feature. Studio Mode is definitely something that I can see being better on PC, especially if it’ll add in a tutorial and a way to share your scenes. But how it was implemented on the Switch, it’s too much of a hassle and I’m not surprised there hasn’t been any fanmade scenes being shared around.
There also seems to be a bug in Studio Mode where if you select to play the shot before you save it, and instead save it when it asks you to before playing it, everything will be erased. And some animations can mess with the character positioning. So make sure you manually save your shots.
In terms of Switch performance, it played well other than when the opening cinematic happened and the crash I had when the game was saving one of my robot doodles (luckily, it was saved when I went back).
Necrobarista was screaming for an auto-advance option and I’m surprised it was never implemented. There are two different types of scenes, scenes with text and scenes with just animation or a still of setting the scene. Some of the animation/scene establishing shots only will advance themselves (and even have text at the end), but a lot of them won’t and require you to advance it yourself (which when you come across the ones that advance to the text, you’ll be missing it). I feel it would have been a lot smoother for the scenes meant to show off the setting or doing an action would have flowed better if there was an auto-advance as waiting for longer than it was intended makes the scenes stilted. The same need for an auto-advance can go for text, as it could have made it even more cinematic. I do understand why having an auto-advance for text would have conflicted with inspecting keywords (even though players could just stop it to read the flavor text), but not having the option, even just for the scenes with no text, was a weird exclusion. I also wished there was some voice acting as well.
I’m glad Necrobarista finally made its way to to the Switch and it was a nice change of pace from other visual novels based on it taking a more cinematic approach to how it dealt with the visuals and dialog. And I did like how it went with tackling the topic of death, even though there could have been more done with the world they made and the path to the ending could have been a bit better. It’s a good story and I really loved how the dialog and interactions were written (even though there is some cringe here). This is very much a game where you can play this in one setting as you want to know more about these characters or what happens next.
However, if you’re expecting this to be like Va-11 Hall-A, whether it be expecting to make the coffee yourself and/ore having multiple customers to talk to and help, you’ll be disappointed. And, unless you want to double dip, I would suggest picking this up if you haven’t already picked up the original release. The additions and improvements will be arriving to the other platforms anyway and having no touch controls really brings down Studio Mode and Doodle Mode. Both of which will no doubt shine more on PC.
For those concerned with how long Necrobarista is, being generally a fast reader, I took about 8 hours to read through everything (the main, DLC, and side stories).