You’re going to hear many comparisons between Necrobarista and VA-11 HALL-A: A Cyberpunk Bartending Simulator in the coming days, weeks, and months. As Necrobarista inevitably gains traction, the concept of a genre story told exclusively inside a drink-slinging establishment may start to feel a bit familiar.

Necrobarista Will Likely Invite Some VA-11 HALL-A Comparisons 3
Necrobarista – gameplay images via Route 59.

For me, there’s one crucial difference between the games: whereas VA-11 HALL-A chose to engage the player with a bartending mechanic and a money management side objective, Necrobarista (at least in the very, very, very short demo I saw) seems to be more of an interactive story. The game takes place in an underground speakeasy where the spirits of the dead get 24 final hours in our world before having to move on to whatever’s next. That’s about as much as I could glean from the demo and a short conversation with one of the developers.

My demo felt more like a vignette than anything else: a sequence where a spirit plays five-finger-fillet against one of the speakeasy’s employees, betting two whole hours of his afterlife on this game. The demo took place in two parts: visual novel scenes where the events of the duel played out, and a couple moments where the player moves the camera around a Police Squad-style frozen room, reading bits of flavour text about the characters’ past and getting some commentary from people in the crowd.

Necrobarista Will Likely Invite Some VA-11 HALL-A Comparisons 2
Necrobarista – gameplay images via Route 59.

With so little to go on, it’s hard to me to form a cohesive, informed recommendation. At the very least, I feel comfortable saying that I found the core gimmick of Necrobarista very enticing, but the script feels overwritten. There’s plenty of verve in the writing, but there’s no honesty. The stuff in the demo feels like it was written for a short story contest, all flash and flavour but no texture. It’s like asking the waiter at the Outback Steakhouse to over-season your steak; at that point, why not just get something else, Ray?

And yeah, of course it feels like a short story, it’s a demo, but that’s why I said “contest.” Those stories don’t exist to fulfill an artistic need, they’re trying to be the most loquacious of the bunch. Maybe the full game will be more authentic, or maybe it’ll feel like somebody was trying to really impress their NaNoWriMo group.

That’s where the VA-11 HALL-A comparisons fall apart for me. VA-11 HALL-A worked for me because it felt real. The characters felt like they had a life outside the game, even if I didn’t see it. Yeah, some of the dialogue could be a little too clever, but the condescension inherent to the way people talk to service employees kept all those interactions grounded in some form of reality.

Necrobarista Will Likely Invite Some VA-11 HALL-A Comparisons
Necrobarista – gameplay images via Route 59.

The reason I’m actually still kind of looking forward to Necrobarista is because that kind of ethereal wordiness can really set a mood if you give it long enough. (See also: Kentucky Route Zero) But in short bursts, especially at a convention, that mood becomes something you might have to fight through rather than something to let wash over you. I’m disappointed to say I had to fight through it—I hope the rest of the game isn’t the same way.


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