A cafe is a crossroads welcoming wanderers to pause, an intersection where diverse travelers in life cross paths, and a space for rest and relaxation on life’s journey. The Terminal in Necrobarista has echoes of the best cafes we’ve had the good fortune to visit and is one we will all return to someday.
(headphones in, press play)
Necrobarista is a cinematic visual novel set in a charming cafe that pours differently than any other visual novel I’ve played. Instead of static character cutouts delivering dialogue, the creators have opted to carefully script dynamic scenes where the characters move and work while they talk with a definite anime aesthetic. Instead of players choosing dialogue options to shape the story, players can highlight select words and transform them into glyphs related to the setting and characters, and unlock additional memories by wandering the ethereal Terminal cafe.
The Terminal is in an undefined industrial area in Melbourne Australia, set in time in the near future. More important than its time and space however, is where it resides in the astral plane. While not the gate itself, directly outside the Terminal is a long dock the stretches to a vanishing point that signifies where the living world ends and the afterlife begins.
Guests at the Terminal, who may or may not be alive (its impolite to ask), have many relaxing options at the Terminal. A giant tree in the center of the main floor spreads it branches to the upper loft. Books are crammed neatly into shelves in almost every available wall space, including a large circular couch ideal for social types. Smaller tables set into recessed alcoves welcome the more introverted types. A long bar next to the staircase showcases an espresso machine, as well as bottles of every spirit imaginable for those inclined for a cocktail. The staircase leads to an open half loft stuffed with more books and seating alcoves, as well as a billiards table. The Terminal is a place you’d want to linger forever.
But some customers only have 24 hours.
Maddy is the owner and barista of the Terminal, and also a necromancer of debatable skill. To the nearly departed, she offers the comfort of an espresso brewed from the best-roasted beans in the city, but also a gentle insistence that all her recently deceased guests have 24 hours to leave this plane of existence, or things start getting uncomfortable.
The other characters that drift in and out of the story are memorable and well written. There’s Chay, who used to own the cafe hundreds of years ago, but has given it over to Maddy so he can focus more on dad puns. Ashley is a caffeine-addicted inventor who makes a small army of knife wielding crab robots that sometimes clear the cups off the cafe table without breaking them. Ned is a gruff representative of the Council of Death who pops in frequently to yell at Maddy for her unconventional and sometimes illegal schemes to keep the cafe’s time balance afloat. Every dead person she allows to linger in the cafe past 24 hours incurs a time debt, which Maddy tries to mitigate with science, necromancy, and the occasional basement con game.
This looming time debt and the conflict with the Council forms the tension of Necrobarista’s short story, but the narrative is more focused on the interaction between the characters. The story is broken up into two acts, with several 20-30 minute chapters within each act. Instead of offering dialogue choices in each chapter, the player is treated to a cinematic presentation closer to an anime than reading a book with pictures. Certain words in the dialogue are highlighted in yellow, and at the end of the chapter, these words form a shifting soup of which the player can choose seven. These Seven chosen words morph into glyphs corresponding to various elements in the setting like “death” or “Lore”. As the player wanders through the slowly unlocked three dimensional space of the Terminal cafe between chapters, they come across objects that can be “unlocked” with different combinations of three glyphs. A short story is presented when these are unlocked, that while not as cinematic as the main story, give flavor and backstory to the characters and setting of the Terminal.
Like a well-crafted espresso drink, everything comes together in Necrobarista for an enjoyable experience. While not a buttonsmashing action game, this innovative cross between a visual novel, walking simulator, and anime gives the player a low-stress experience to just sit back and enjoy. Like a long visit to your favorite cafe, you could simply binge Necrobarista in one three hour sitting. You could also choose to savor the experience with short sips by pausing every 20 minutes or so at the chapter breaks. Either way, you’ll enjoy the warm atmosphere created by the wonderful music by Kevin Penkin that matches every scene from light-hearted to sad and sentimental. You’ll enjoy your brief visit with the characters passing through the Terminal, and maybe even leave with a little less fear of the afterlife.