While video games often provide a very different storytelling experience to books and of course TV / cinema, the continual growth in the popularity of visual novels demonstrates that different mediums can blend to excellent effect. Necrobarista: Final Pour is another welcome entry in the genre on Switch, and it tackles some intriguing themes around death and friendship against a backdrop that's both absurd yet all-too-familiar.
The entirety of Necrobarista's story takes place in a coffee shop and a somewhat desolate area in front of the establishment, and though the cast grows with some brief appearances and related substories (which were free DLC on PC), the core group is small. Over the course of around four hours you get a good chance to learn more about these characters, what makes them tick and their insecurities. It's a well-written set of characters, from a precociously talented young girl in need of a good mentor, to a gruff but soft-hearted enforcer, and then the main two protagonists, Maddy and Chay.
The story told is mostly a good one, too, though outside of vital character development it can feel a little bogged down in the middle section. Some characters appear only briefly before drifting away, with their cameos doing little to motivate exploration of the expanded side stories. The final 30-45 minutes, however, truly hit their mark; it's in the denouement that the writing really peaks, putting less emphasis on demonstrating trendy coffee shop cool and simply focusing on solid and emotional storytelling. Overall, we were glad to have read it.
And reading is the main crux here; yes, that's the point of a visual novel, but there are few gameplay flourishes here — no puzzles or significant engagement. There are sections where you briefly explore in first-person, and optional extra modes to draw on robot companions or, impressively, to create your own scenes. The latter creation tool feels a little ill-suited to Switch and is cumbersome to navigate, but with patience could certainly be a fun diversion. The big positive of the experience, though, is that in the main story you're not just scrawling through lines of text — scenes have subtle animations and smart camera shifts that give it a feel of a lightly animated comic book. It's a stylish effort.
Unfortunately there are some technical shortcomings on Switch, some more forgivable than others. The aforementioned animated elements are good for the storytelling but roughly executed, with a juddering low frame rate. The Switch may not be a graphical powerhouse but this is simply bad optimisation, though thankfully it doesn't significantly affect the experience.
However, one issue that shouldn't have happened is illegible text; there are a small number of scenes where text blends into the background and can't be read. You can adjust the text outline and shadows, which solved one visual issue but introduced another later on. Better font and design would have avoided this, and the accessibility options are also very poor; there are no options for audio reading or descriptions, nor to significantly increase the text size.
Despite those technical issues (and the disappointing lack of accessibility options) this is still a visual novel worth experiencing for fans of the genre, or those drawn in by its blend of coffee shop setting and paranormal quirkiness. This Switch port, however, doesn't necessarily show it in the best light.