Death positivity–a movement that encourages people to openly acknowledge and normalize the traditionally taboo topics of dying and grief–is a relatively new subject for video game narratives, though it has been popularized through indie titles like A Mortician’s Tale and What Remains of Edith Finch. Necrobarista joins that conversation but with a more hands-off approach, telling the player a story that revolves around the themes of death as opposed to letting players be a part of the narrative. Ultimately, this is to the game’s detriment, but Necrobarista still manages to deliver a genuinely moving character-driven narrative about coming to terms with death, whether it’s that of a loved one or our own.
As it’s a visual novel, there’s not much in terms of gameplay when it comes to Necrobarista. Your primary means of understanding its world is by reading its story, which is told in a slice-of-life format that provides a quick snippet of the daily goings-on inside a Melbourne-based cafe called Terminal over the course of several days. Terminal exists on an in-between plane (it’s technically a part of the living world but it exists as a potential stopping point before the afterlife), allowing both the living and the dead to wander through its doors. The dead are only permitted to stay 24 hours before Terminal staff must encourage them to move on to the afterlife–whether that’s heaven, hell, or something else entirely is unknown as no one has ever come back from it. The dead who stay longer than 24 hours begin upsetting the balance of the universe, which runs up a tab that the cafe has to then pay off. At the start of Necrobarista, the cafe has recently been passed down from immortal necromancer Chay to his protege, Maddy, along with several centuries’ worth of debt.
An assertive, sarcastic, and loud-mouthed necromancer with no patience for customers who want extravagant coffee orders, Maddy is the immediate star of Necrobarista’s story. Necrobarista ditches the traditional 2D-style of most visual novels for a 3D cinematic presentation with clear anime aesthetics, allowing the visual novel to instill a great deal of nuance into each character’s movements and facial expressions. Even without any spoken dialogue, you get a good sense of who a person is and how they would sound within seconds of meeting them, and Maddy is the best example–she pulls off a variety of expressions that convey a mixture of snark, disdain, and coy playfulness. This is clearly a young woman who’s very intelligent and driven and doesn’t enjoy suffering some of the idiots she’s forced to serve.