PAX West 2017: Necrobarista Gives the Visual Novel a Caffeinated Kick

Upon learning about Necrobarista, an upcoming visual novel Melbourne-based developers Route 59, I was immediately entranced by its anime-inspired style and its initial premise of a supernatural cafe where the living and dead spend time together in various ways. And yet despite looking absolutely gorgeous, there wasn’t much shown when it came to how the game would play out. But now we’ve finally experienced a hands-on demo of the game, and while it was a short one, it showed us that — as our own Jordan discussed with the team behind the game during GDC — this is indeed more than just your average visual novel.

The demo took place in the cafe’s basement, where a crowd had gathered to watch a game of pinfinger (AKA the knife game where to try to jab it between your fingers as quick as possible) between a young woman named Maddy and a young man named Kishan. We learn quickly that things aren’t as normal as they seem, since Maddy is apparently some sort of sorceress and Kishan is apparently gambling with actual time remaining on his life. The game begins and immediately we’re treated to a superb example of how the 3D visuals enhance things, with dynamic camera movements and angles as each move plays out, making each shot look like an actual panel from a graphic novel brought to life.

After Kishan went first and showed off a cocky, daring personality, it was the brash Maddy’s turn, and she quickly dominated the match. At that point, things stopped. Not the demo, but rather the action that we had previously just been clicking through. At that point, suddenly we were given free reign to walk around the basement in first person and explore. It felt like examining every detail of a moment in time, from the reactions and thoughts running through the minds of certain onlookers in the crowd, to just being able to check out the information behind the little things, like the cellar’s wine casks. Text appeared around each area of interest as it was approached, like some sort of Sherlock vision. While other visual novels like the Danganronpa games have used 3D exploration as well, Necrobarista definitely appeared to be using it to its fullest effect, putting you directly in the heart of the story.

Once we had checked out all you can, the story continues when you walk over to the section you came from and choose to continue. At this point, the demo closed when a mysterious man suddenly appeared on the scene, willing to challenge Maddy for the hours that she had won from Kishan. It should be noted that the writing throughout all of this was superb, describing everything in vivid detail that when combined with the visuals, really makes you feel like you’re actually there in the crowd, observing the strange series of events unfolding in front of you.

All of that, though, appeared to be a mere taste of what was yet to come, with other clips from the game showing off elements of investigations as well, in addition to other characters that appear to have their own colorful personalities. But even with just the formula seen in the the brief demo, Necrobarista clearly established itself as being more energetic than the average visual novel and sets up a world full of some rather intriguing tales that we can’t wait to dive into when the game comes out in early 2018 for the PC and Switch. It looks to be a cafe worth visiting indeed.