PAX West 2017 Quick-Look: Necrobarista

Narrative-driven adventure games or visual novels don’t tend to be very common on the floor of a gaming convention. A lengthy story doesn’t lend itself to a short demo, after all, and the general masses are more likely to be attracted to the shooty-jumpy-actiony game that gives you a full experience in five minutes. However, that didn’t stop developers Route 59 from using their booth to promote a visual novel: Necrobarista.

The story of Necrobarista takes place in what seems like an underground bar/cafe in Australia. Here, the dead are able to come back to life and interact with the living, but only for a short time (at least, this is what I gleaned from the demo). Justin Kuiper, a writer for Route 59, explained that the story will be told through a series of vignettes featuring various characters, with the PAX demo featuring just one of them.

The demo focused on a young woman who appears to be either the owner or a person of importance of the game’s bar setting, and a man who is presumably one of the patrons who has returned from the dead. This vignette didn’t focus on describing who the character were, opting to jump right into the action, hence the guessing from context clues as to their identities. The man and woman are gambling on a knife game – spreading your fingers out on a table and stabbing a knife between them as fast and as many times as you can. The probably-dead man is gambling the number of hours he has left to remain in the bar.

There were two major differences I noticed with Necrobarista compared to a more traditional visual novel. First, and most obviously, is the visual presentation. The game is presented in full 3D with character animations and changing camera angles, giving it a modern adventure-game-style appearance, except with a whole lot more reading. The second is actually in the game’s prose: much of the writing here feels more like reading an actual novel, rather than a visual novel. It’s kind of difficult to explain, but the writing just feels different from other visual novels I’ve read; it’s like the writers are going for their own style rather than trying to mimic Japanese titles.

After about ten minutes of reading the story, the game hit me with another surprise: actual interactivity. Once the climax of the story hit, I was given control of the camera to explore a frozen version of the scene. During this moment, I was able to interact with other people in the bar to read their thoughts about what’s happening, as well as read some notes about the setting in general. I’d usually be a bit annoyed at being taken out of the story, but the bits of info and exposition here helped to flesh out the setting and events currently happening on screen.

I do want to remark on the game’s art style. It’s very obviously anime influenced, and I’d say quite rough as well. Oddly enough, though, I felt that this disheveled style added nicely to the atmosphere of the game – somewhat bleak, but never oppressive, with a bit of humor. The character animations were also rough, but not really in a positive way – they often just felt awkward.

Overall, Necrobarisa is shaping up to be a visual novel worth keeping an eye on. Kuiper mentioned that it’s planned to be relatively short: around 4-5 hours. This shorter runtime may be worth it, though, if the full game is able to keep up the intensity of the story presented in the PAX demo. This title is officially on my “Games to Watch” list.