While video games often provide a very different storytelling experience than books and of course television / film, the continued growth in the popularity of visual novels shows that different mediums can be combined to great effect. Necrobarista: Final Pour is another welcome entry into the genre on Switch, and tackles some intriguing themes around death and friendship in a context that’s absurd but all too familiar.
The entirety of Necrobarista’s story takes place in a cafeteria and a somewhat desolate area in front of the establishment, and while the cast grows with a few short appearances and related sub-stories (which were free DLC on PC), the main group is small. Over the course of about four hours, you have a good chance to learn more about these characters, what motivates them, and their insecurities. It’s a well-written set of characters, from a precociously talented young woman in need of a good mentor, to a gruff but good-hearted enforcer, and then the two main leads, Maddy and Chay.
The story told is mostly good too, though outside of vital character development it can feel a bit bogged down in the middle section. Some characters appear only briefly before walking away, and their cameos do little to motivate exploration of the expanded side stories. The last 30-45 minutes, however, really hit home; It’s in the denouement where the writing really peaks, putting less emphasis on showing the cool of hip coffee shops and simply focusing on solid, emotional storytelling. Overall, we are glad we read it.
And reading is the main point here; yes, that’s the point of a visual novel, but there are few gameplay flourishes here, with no puzzles or meaningful compromise. There are sections where you briefly explore first person and optional additional modes for drawing on robot companions or surprisingly creating your own scenes. The latest authoring tool feels a bit unsuitable for the Switch and is awkward to navigate, but with patience it could certainly be fun fun. However, the positive of the experience is that in the main story you are not just scribbling lines of text: the scenes have subtle animations and clever camera changes that give it the feel of a slightly animated comic. It is a stylish endeavor.
Unfortunately, there are some technical shortcomings in the Switch, some more forgivable than others. The animated elements mentioned above are good for storytelling, but they run roughly, with a low frame rate. The Switch may not be a graphics powerhouse, but this is just a poor optimization, although thankfully it doesn’t significantly affect the experience.
However, one problem that should not have occurred is garbled text; there are a small number of scenes where the text blends into the background and cannot be read. You can adjust the text outline and shadows, which solved one visual problem but introduced another later. A better font and layout would have prevented this, and the accessibility options are also very bad; there are no options for reading audio or descriptions, nor for significantly increasing the size of the text.
Despite those glitches (and the disappointing lack of accessibility options), this is still a visual novel worth experiencing for fans of the genre, or those drawn by its combination of cafeteria vibe and paranormal quirkiness. However, this Switch port does not necessarily display it in the best light.