Death is a complicated subject. The unknown is uncomfortable and people tend to avoid it. Necrobarista made me do the opposite. It explores the subject with a unique premise, quick humor, and fantastic writing to deliver hearty moments. Route 59 delivers a hopeful and poignant message about how we spend our time and honor our relationships, and the charming characters and lightheartedness keep the narrative from becoming too heavy or unbearable.
Necrobarista is a purely visual novel, so click your way through the story without any agency intervention. This format works well here; Necrobarista is full of memorable moments and flashy characters, and a lot depends on how well Route 59 builds out the world and its people. The story revolves around a unique café where the dead can spend one last night with the living before they have to move to the afterlife. You have Maddy, the quick-witted coffee shop owner, a playful, laid-back soul named Chay, an overzealous engineering genius named Ashley, and the recently deceased Kishan trying to accept his death. While Maddy is the lead, it really is an ensemble experience. The focus is on the relationships between the characters, especially Maddy and Chay going to an unexpected but beautiful place.
The introduction is a little rocky as you are simply thrown into this world and forced to make sense of it. Things are explained very briefly or not at all and only give you small hints and small conversations to decipher. Sometimes it felt like trying too hard to be cryptic and leaning into its fancy nature with jokes, rather than just revealing interesting facets of the coffee shop. I almost finished the game, but I’m glad I stayed here because when I saw more character interactions and discovered how supernatural elements were put into the story, I was intrigued. I’m not going to spoil anything, but it touches on issues like life, loss, moving on, and acceptance without feeling preaching or predictable. The finale is satisfying and powerful and got me thinking.
While Necrobarista deals with serious subjects and asks interesting questions about life, his greatest strength lies in his humor. The dialogue is interspersed with jokes that not only make you think, but also make you smile. Having a poignant line followed by a joke is his forte, as Axl Rose calls “a cautionary story about those who prefer to fade out than burn away”. Part of the success of humor comes from the characters, who all play off each other wonderfully. Ashley goes on a crazy crusade to build the perfect robot and orders the confused Kishan to help her. Maddy tries to outsmart Chay, who would never give her the satisfaction. I loved every main character, although some minor characters show up and leave way too early with no time to develop into anything other than time wasters.
Between chapters, you can explore the cafe in first person and read vignettes about the main characters and other users. Vignettes are unlocked by choosing a series of words from a list that relates to each chapter at the end. A keyword refers to a topic from the previous chapter, e.g. B. “Maddy” or “Magic”, and you must have certain themes in order to unlock certain vignettes. You don’t know what theme they represent until after you’ve chosen them. I unlocked a few in my playthrough and found them very successful. This is a minor gripe as it isn’t a huge part of the game, but it is an area that you feel like you have some control over and I hate that it is such a random guessing game.
Necrobarista tells a meaningful story about relationships and the memories we create with the people around us. It’s heartwarming, poignant, and pulls the strands of the heart in the right way. It has a few minor issues, but they’re not what I noticed. Instead, I still think about the wisdom this game conveys.