Yes, yes. I know. Melbournites and their insufferable coffee snobbery. Last year, in April, my wife Tegan and I were in Avignon and had bottomed out trying to find decent coffee. France does most things far better than we do, but their coffee was good for little but cleaning heavy-duty machinery.
But one morning, we found a little place sitting in an ancient alleyway. Café Tulip. We walked in, sat down, and drank some truly excellent coffee. Drawn over by the delighted moaning his labours elicited, the barista asked us where we were from.
‘Melbourne’, we answered. ‘Melbourne. They know their coffee’, he said, looking relieved that we hadn’t judged him too harshly.
Everyone has things they miss lately, things they’ve not been able to do since this bastard virus wrapped its hands around our sense of normalcy. And whilst it might sound privileged, wending down a creaky laneway and grabbing an incredible cup of coffee is one of the true joys Melbourne affords. Necrobarista, if it does nothing else, made me feel normal again. It transported me somewhere.
Necrobarista is the creation of Route 59 Games, based in Melbourne, and recipient of funding from Film Victoria. It is truly heartening to see what Film Vic is backing lately – not just the critically acclaimed Untitled Goose Game, but other indie titles like the extremely Hyper Light Drifter-esque Elden: Path of the Forgotten. As a Melbournite, I’m beyond excited that this city is turning out such fascinating stuff. But Necrobarista is the first game I’ve played that seems to evoke Melbourne, and its coffee culture, in such a blatant and loving way.
First up, the game is set in a coffee shop called The Terminal. If you’ve had coffee in any number of Melbourne laneway joints, you’ll feel right at home here.
There’s a reason people bang on about laneways in Melbourne: they’re objectively gorgeous, crunchy, hidden little places, and they encourage exploration. They offer sanctuary. The Terminal does this, true, but it’s a place designed to provide comfort and coffee to the recently dead. Once you arrive, you have twenty-four hours before the staff ask you to toddle off to the next step on your journey.
Necrobarista is, it is worth noting, a visual novel. There is, in essence, no true gameplay. You click through dialogue, making it feel like an extended cutscene, which isn’t something that particularly works for the game. The opening crawl has you approach Terminal via a rain-soaked alleyway, and for a moment, I assumed I’d be engaged in a Firewatch-style immersive game set inside a place I legitimately needed to be right now.
Instead, I drifted through a truly lovely death-positive take on grief and acceptance. That’s just it, though. I drifted. I wanted to sit, to engage, to steep in the gorgeous furnishings and sublime music, the wonderful 3D art style. Between chapters you’re afforded a moment to walk around the café and access bonus story content, but in order to actually get to this content, you need to have grabbed at a random assortment of words floating in a jumble at the end of each chapter.
This is the only actual gameplay element of Necrobarista, and if I sound sore about it, it’s because Route 59 Games did such a good job of making me want to stay in the world they created, to live in it. I didn’t want to be a passive bystander. Hell, I’d have settled for making the coffee!
But there’s so much to love about Necrobarista. The characters, whilst occasionally leaning towards played out tropes, are by a large wonderfully done. Maddy, the loud-mouthed necromancer running the joint, is a particular stand-out.
The soundtrack by Kevin Penkin makes for a truly immersive listening experience. And any game that has the guts to sit at five hours runtime, in an age where everything seems to ask me to sink fourty hours plus of my life into its maw, earns a heartfelt thanks from yours truly.
Necrobarista is a visual novel, true, but I mean this as a compliment: it made me wish it were something more than that. And the next time I manage to go out for coffee, whenever that may be, I guarantee you I’ll be thinking about Terminal.
Necrobarista was reviewed on PC using a digital copy provided by the developer.