There’s a bit in Necrobarista where Chay, the thousands year old guy who used to own the bar, and Ashley, a girl who has probably had enough coffee for a lifetime, are having a chat outside. All of the sudden rain starts pouring from the sky, and while Ashley tries to run away immediately, Chay finds a certain solace in the moment. A solace quite different from the one he knows from watching the sunset, but one equally mesmerizing.
“Rain can feel oppressive. It can stop you from going outside, doing the things you enjoy. But there’s nothing like the smell of rain before sunrise.”
Necrobarista takes this quote to heart. In a series of short, episodic tales that form a bigger story, we see the perspectives of all kinds of characters that are dealing, in some way or another, with the pass of time. Decisions, memories, and guilt are shared traits among them. But the one thing holding the group together, for better or worse, is the clock ticking in the background. And we get to see how each of them respond to it.
It’s important to remember this, since the café is pretty much a stop between our world and whatever comes next after we die. People come and go constantly, some more worried about their fate than others, with the guarantee of spending one last day in this limbo of sorts. But it wouldn’t be a proper café without a regular clientele.
Time can be lend and borrowed. If those 24 hours don’t seem enough for you before heading to the afterlife, there’s ways in which you can overstay your visit. Some have done it just for a couple more days. Others, like Chay, have been doing it for millennia. But the problem is that you eventually have to pay back for those hours. By the time we arrive on Necrobarista, this debt has started catching up with the café.
Maddy, the newest owner of the place and someone who has spent years learning the ins and outs of dealing with the recently departed, is on the top list of the Council, an entity whose sole purpose is to maintain the balance. The slight attempt of meddling with time is enough to open their ears up, and Maddy has been running an internal tab with clients for as long as anyone there can remember.
Kishan is the latest person to be given this option during his day in the café. This rather clueless and introvert character joins us as we enter by the doors for the first time. And, despite his unfortunate situation, he soon finds himself rather comfortable around, debating whether or not he wants to look for a way to stay exploring the whereabouts of Melbourne, Australia, a city known by its love for coffee and, in recent times, chai lattes and avocado toasts more than anything.
During the span of three days we see how Kishan’s story intertwines with the rest. In the meantime Ned, a member of the Council and old time friend of the house, is currently paying a visit to reclaim those hours. I don’t want to mention much about the story since the trailers are pretty vague about it, and for good reason having seen the turns it takes towards the later half, but during the four hours it took me to see the end, it didn’t take me long to start caring for these characters, despite knowing what they have done and what they were still pursuing to accomplish. There are no good or bad individuals in this story – just ordinary people dealing with their imperfections.
Everything is told on a visual novel manner, but the way it works feels quite different to what you might be imagining. The use of 3D models and scenarios provide a sense of space akin to your regular narrative driven video game, but as a player, we pass each moment and conversation as living slides. Clicking or pressing a button can produce a reaction or a response, from turning the lights to making a bottle fly through the air. More often than not is text what appears on screen, either pouring a sentence, a paragraph, or only a few words at a time.
I adored reading each and every single line. Not only do the conversations feel vibrant and contemporary, especially if you’re an Online Person, but they also clash with emotion. The blurb for someone who is worried or scared or highly caffeinated feels more loosen and erratic, moving rapidly until the cut to the next dialogue. Size changes often to reflect screams or inner thoughts that slip from the tongue. And while the player is the one controlling the pace with each transition, everything falls into place gracefully.
But there’s also the keywords, highlighted bits and pieces that grant additional information when clicking them. In Pyre, keywords always described something about the characters and the world they lived in as quick glances at a Wikipedia page before moving on. What I enjoyed from Necrobarista‘s use of keywords is that they don’t always follow this rule. You may learn a fun fact or two about the café, but sometimes, it’s about the character who is speaking, briefly introducing a memento from a distant time. Others, and the ones who grabbed me the most, added context to convey emotions onto a particular scene without the need of overly complicated animations or dozens of paragraphs. They felt short and funny during whimsical moments, but they were everlasting and poignant during the saddest, leading me to take my hand off the mouse and stare at the screen for a couple of seconds. Making a hug last longer, even if just for a little while, as I tried my best to take enough courage to turn the page.
Keywords are also a currency to exchange for memories, as words and phrases are all categorized around a character or a theme. These are spent around the café during first person walks in between episodes, where objects will tell you a text-based story about a particular person or event. I was worried that the lack of actual characters or scenarios would make for a huge difference when reading these, but they proved to grab me in a similar way, mostly thanks to the fantastic soundtrack setting the mood. Some are often hilarious, like the ones where Ashley writers in a diary style about her attempts to make ridiculous inventions with the help of her handmade robots. And there were ones that gave me a bit more insight on what a character was feeling, which never felt out of place with the main story events.
I didn’t get to see them all, but it seems impossible to do so without replaying episodes, which is more than fair. After all, there’s only so much you can do with the time you’re given. During these sequences you’re free to roam the café for as long as you want, but at some point you just have to continue. It’s the bittersweet hesitation of taking that step what makes Necrobarista so special, and where its themes come together like a rainstorm.
Burdens might seem oppressive. The path ahead can be scary, and unfamiliar. Despite feeling like we’re only borrowing time, we are given the opportunity to enjoy the things that matter. Necrobarista tells us that is important to cherish and make the most of out these moments. To stop and smell the rain before time comes, even if just for a little while.