I always look forward to the early part of the year when spring hasn’t quite sprung and there is still a chill in the air from a winter that is slowly fading away. The time of year where you can snuggle up one weekday night and watch the best live-action video game, The Apprentice. Yes, that TV show full of over-the-top yuppies who’d sell their granny for a pack of garibaldi biscuits to win £250-grand, all of which is overseen by English Emperor Palpatine – a bloke called Alan. What fascinates me though is the ‘café’ where the contestants head each week before an apocalyptic showdown; it’s a place where some people will become regulars, and others will only visit once before wandering off into the sunset, never to be seen again. I don’t know if Route 59 took the Bridge Cafe as inspiration for Necrobarista: Final Pour, but there are a lot of similarities between the two.
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Witty and engaging story|
+ Well written characters
+ Cracking visuals
|Negatives||– Long load times|
– Studio Mode unusable
– Too few characters
|Price (When Reviewed)||£15.49 / £34.80 (Switch Physical)|
|Our Playtime||7 hours|
|Available On||PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC, Apple Arcade|
Necrobarista: Final Pour is a visual novel that was originally released for various platforms in 2020, but our friends at Super Rare Games have recently published a physical copy for the Nintendo Switch, and have kindly supplied us with a copy for review. The game plonks players in the back streets of Melbourne, where a strange little coffee shop, known as ‘Terminal’ sits open twenty-four hours a day, ready to serve any patrons who might need a stop-gap before heading on with their journey. The coffee shop is unique in that it is run by Maddy, a necromancer who has carved out a business of serving both the living and the recently unalived. The dead who populate the building are only allowed one singular day to come to terms with their non-living situation before they become too itchy and irritable. But Necrbobarista isn’t a game about the dead moving on, this is about Maddy and the people who live and work in the video game equivalent of the Bridge Cafe.
The game starts by introducing Krishan, a recently departed soul who enters the coffee shop and is as naive to the reasons behind his appearance here, much the same way as the player behind the controls. Luckily the Terminal’s latest owner, Maddy, is on hand to help guide Krishan through the process. Her penchant for the mystical arts, as well as damn fine coffee, are all introduced with the air of a tour guide who has done one Club 18-30 season too many, i.e. she knows what she’s talking about but she’s too tired to put up with your crap.
As I started Necrobarista I was quickly introduced to other residents of the coffee shop; Chay, who formerly owned the place for an extremely long time, Ashley, a 13-year-old who spends her days drinking way too much coffee, and Ned. Ned is a masked individual who drinks from a straw and reports anyone who overstays their welcome to the Council of Death, and who also happens to be the same Ned Kelly that was tried as an outlaw in the late-1800s.
Visual novels live or die by their characters and how fleshed out they appear to be, and in Necrobarista each character is given a clear identity that is remarkably well written. Maddy is a sarcastic, yet loveable host who is full to the brim of witty retorts and devastating comebacks. Ashley is a hyperactive teenager who loves to build robots and help out with the occasional bout of necromancy; think Borderlands’ Tiny Tina but with fewer guns and a higher likelihood to suffer a coffee crash. For me it’s Chay who takes the cake; he’s been in the game a long time and knows his role in the proceedings, and as he sums up, “I used to own this place, now I just sort of sit around and cause trouble and sometimes have knives thrown at me”. Chay is the one who grounds the madness that unfolds around him, and I’ve never related to a line in a video game so hard before, knife chucking included.
Along with the fleshed-out characters comes the writing itself – Necrobarista is extremely well written. The story is a serious one at its core, but it’s wrapped in a narrative that’s funnier than it ought to be. The banter between the characters makes the conversations feel organic and natural, and as the story unfolds, becoming more serious in nature, Route 59 has worked in some lines that punctuated proceedings and made me smile. As this is a visual novel, the plot unfolds through text on screen, and peppered throughout the dialogue are keywords, highlighted in yellow. A press of ZL reveals a narrator who either gives more context to the scene or simply takes the mickey. A particular favourite that appears early on is to do with digging a hole, where the tap of a button reveals, “If you want to see a lot of the Earth, you can become a globetrotter, or pick up a shovel”. It’s not really valuable to the story, but much like a footnote in one of Terry Pratchett’s books, they do have a humorous impact.
The snappy and downright funny writing in Necrobarista is matched by its presentation too. Unlike previous VNs I’ve experienced such as The House in Fata Morgana and Bustafellows, the Terminal is a fully animated 3D environment and the characters aren’t just anime stills that flash up on the screen when they have something to say. In each scene something is always moving, be it a character walking from one place to another, or the camera panning to capture the environment, and this gives Necrobarista an energy that makes the world feel alive and engaging despite most of the interactions being limited to pressing ‘A’ to move the text on. At the end of each of the game’s eight chapters, I was given free rein to navigate the cafe in a first-person mode which gave me the opportunity to seek out untold stories from other patrons, usually told through random texts spread out through the cafe.
The music too is a delight, and focuses more on the upbeat side of a coffeehouse playlist. Funky bass lines and, of course, a jazz piano complete the hipster vibe the Terminal is trying to pull off, but the soundtrack delves deep into electro bits that wouldn’t be out of place if it was heard in Thor: Ragnarok.
Sadly all of this praise comes at a cost, and Necrobarista isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a rather short visual novel that can be completed in less than 10 hours – granted the plot actually maintains its rhythm throughout, but it feels that there could have been more characters to discover rather than the handful of patrons that I interacted with. The free roam mode has small snippets of text to discover that show the cafe does get other customers, but because these are limited to text on a screen and are not fully animated (and as there is no voiceover work at all), it feels as though these texts were are added as an afterthought to bulk out the playtime. The included DLC introduces two side stories that twist and turn in ways that kept me guessing until the very end, and this does help mitigate the issue somewhat. Combined, these can be finished within an hour, but these pieces of content are infinitely more engaging and in keeping with the main plot compared to reading a block of text.
Despite a short run time, Necrobarista suffers from long load times with the first boot of the game seeming to take an absolute age. Subsequent loads between levels take just enough time for me to question whether my Switch has crashed or not, a fact that’s not helped by the machine’s fan that seems to kick into overdrive whenever an asset has to be loaded. The biggest issue with the game is the Studio Mode, which I would assume is a sort of photo mode, but I was unfortunately unable to test it as every time I entered the option, the system would crash back to the main menu. A quick search revealed this is unique to the Switch version and a fix has not been found.
As Emperor Alan would say, “I’m going to sum up now and I don’t want to hear any more”, Necrobarista: Final Pour is a heck of a visual novel. Route 59 has taken care to create a game that epitomises the genre, with a story that is funny, charming, and engaging throughout, and is wrapped up in a stunning package that is not seen enough in the world of VNs. While the shortcomings aren’t deal breakers, a few tweaks here and there, particularly showcasing other customers, would’ve been nice. I think having random pieces of text littered around the coffee shop did the game a disservice; if a few more of them had been animated in the same way as the two extra DLC stories, it would have created a real buzz within the Terminal to make it feel more alive. That being said, the main plot of Necrobarista is rare in that it kept me engaged all the way through and didn’t drop the level of humour despite what was unfolding on screen, and when I rolled the credits, I hoped that I wouldn’t be like those hapless candidates seen on The Apprentice, and will be lucky enough to revisit the cafe again someday.
In the interest of full disclosure, VGamingNews was provided with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review. Limited physical copies are available through Super Rare Games. This link is no way affiliated but we do love the work that they do!
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