Of all the games I played last year, Necrobarista is probably the one that's stuck in my mind the longest. Aside from the fact it's as stylish as hell (and has an incredibly rad soundtrack), Necrobarista's ruminations on death, moving on, taking responsibility for your actions and generally dealing with the everyday chaos of being alive feel incredibly timely in this day and age, and I instantly felt a connection with its lively cast of supernatural cafe staff.
At the centre of it all is Maddy, who's recently taken over the lush, book-filled interior of The Terminal, a sleepy cafe in the backstreets of Melbourne where the recently deceased come to spend their final 24 hours on Earth before heading over to the other side. Having learned the tricks of both the coffee and necromancy trade from her former boss and mentor Chay, this largely linear visual novel catches her at an awkward moment.
Not only has she got to deal with the Ministry of Death breathing down her neck about some off-book, necro-related time gambling she's been running down in her basement, but she's also got to guide the soul of the newly-deceased Kishan through an existential crisis. There's also the small matter of keeping her coffee-fuelled, child prodigy accomplice Ashley in check, making sure she doesn't accidentally skewer any of The Terminal's living guests with her sentient mech robots, as well as occasionally serving the odd drink or two. It's like she's trying to put out several different fires at once, and the way she moves, ignores delegates and deals with one crisis after another is both beautifully observed and highly relatable.
Necrobarista also has a great sense of theatricality. The way it follows its cast of characters over an intense 48 hours gives each of the various subjects it touches on the same intensity of focus that you might find in a stage play, and the artful framing of its camera often makes it feel like you're looking at a graphic novel in motion. Combined with Kevin Penkin's lively yet melancholy score, there's a dynamism here you rarely get in other visual novels, and I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that for a game about death, it shows there's still plenty of life left in this sometimes stale and static genre.
My favourite thing about Necrobarista, though (apart from its frankly incredible cafe where I'd happily spend the rest of my days cosied up on a sofa with one of its many books if I could), is how it encourages you to linger on every line of dialogue. It's such a gorgeous-looking game, and I often found myself just staring at the screen and drinking in every last detail before I reluctantly had to move the story forward. It's a feeling that drives right to the heart of what Necrobarista is about, too - how, eventually, we've all got to move on and wrench ourselves away from what's familiar, whether that be our own mortality, our past mistakes, people we knew, or our own convictions, to continue going forward.
To say anymore would probably be venturing into spoiler territory, but let's just say this: it's a real treat of a game, and it is definitely £15 well spent if you're looking for a thoughtful slice of video game theatre.