You might have already heard of Necrobarista, the cinematic visual novel game developed by Route 59 has been described by Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson as “what would happen if Persona took over a coffee shop.”
We’ve been teased with glimpses of Necrobarista since 2017, there was an anticipated release date of 2018. But with 2019 drawing to a close, we thought we’d catch up with lead designer, Kevin Chen, and the team behind the game at this year’s PAX Aus to get a better idea of when it might be hitting our screens.
According to Kevin, “The game is essentially done at this point. Right now, we’re just waiting on a few publishers to give us the green light. So, very, very soon.”
That’s great news for those of us who’ve been eagerly awaiting its release.
But for those visual novel fans who might not have caught wind of Necrobarista before, its story is set in a magical Melbourne café. What makes it so magical? Well, it’s where the dead come back for one last night to mingle with the living.
We spoke with Kevin a bit about what inspired the game, and how things have progressed over the history of its development.
As he explains it, the team were all big fans of visual novels and anime. Not just the art styles, but the cultures that inspired them and culture that has sprung out of fans love for these mediums. “A lot of the team actually grew up in an Asian background.” Kevin says, “We also grew up in Australia, so we were in this weird, middle point of like a very Western culture, but also having access to these mediums which are from Japan.”
While the visual novel has become more popular in the Western market, especially following the success of similar games (such as the titles from the now defunct Telltale Games.), its popularity in the Asian market stretches back almost as far as the history of gaming itself. The very first visual novel was Lolita: Yakyūken, released in 1982.
There’s no doubt that there is an intimate experience of dichotomy when you’re growing up in Australia with a non-European background. Weird might be putting it kindly. But regardless, the team found their inspiration in that middle-point – the fusion of contrasting cultures.
“We wanted to create a game that reflected that, and what better way to do that than essentially a very anime inspired game, set in Melbourne.” Explains Kevin.
And they’ve done a fantastic job of straddling that middle-point, with nods to Australiana throughout the Asian-inspired anime vibes of the game. The game even features Australian folk hero Ned Kelly. Plus, it’s translated into 14 different languages, making it accessible to just about everyone in our multicultural society down under.
But what about a game where the dead return to life? What inspired that exactly?
“We experimented with quite a few different ideas…” Kevin explains, “…One of them involved an urban fantasy version of Melbourne where there’s dragons and minotaurs and werewolves.” Rather than a café, this early idea centred around the classic RPG tavern theme, “You’d play as the perspective of the pub owner, and adventurers would come inside…” An urban fantasy Melbourne complete with werewolves and dragons and adventures would make a killer game too. But it wasn’t quite what the team at Route 59 were looking for. “I think in the end we wanted to make something that was a bit more… close to your heart.” Kevin says, “Hence, Necrobarista.”
There’s no doubt that Necrobarista is a game with a lot of heart, that a lot of love has gone into. With it set to drop on Steam very, very soon, now is probably the perfect time to add it to your wishlist.