Undead Cafe Game Necrobarista Was Made Out Of Frustration With The State Of Anime

Undead Cafe Game Necrobarista Was Made Out Of Frustration With The State Of Anime
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Recently, a game called Necrobarista caught my eye. It’s about a cafe the dead return to for one last cup of coffee, and it’s got an art style that screams Persona. That’s no coincidence. Necrobarista‘s developers told me the game arose from their “love-hate relationship” with anime and visual novels.

“Back in the ’90s, you had a bunch of very experimental shows,” lead developer Kevin Chen told me during an interview at GDC. “I’m not saying there aren’t any right now, but the industry at the time was still trying to find its place. That has slowed down in the past five years. Big companies have said, ‘OK, this is the best way to generate good, steady revenue.’ That’s led to a stagnation, I feel. Hayao Miyazaki commented on this. He talked about how it’s become a very circular, almost inbred kind of industry.”

“We’re big anime nerds, but we have this kind of love-hate relationship with anime,” he added. “We love stuff from the ’90s and early ’00s. Cowboy Bebob, FLCL, Gurren Lagann. We wanted to do something that was different — both a throwback to old stuff we love, but also with its own direction.”

Necrobarista is, at its core, a narrative game that owes a lot to anime and Japanese visual novels. Its main story takes place over the course of one night, beginning with a bit I got to play where three main characters bicker over the power in the cafe going out. Unlike many visual novels, however, the game is fully 3D, allowing for a dynamic camera, animated characters, and a general sense of style you don’t usually get from this sort of game. The scene I played was brief, but it was full of clever dialogue and intrigue.

It goes deeper than technical bells and whistles, though. The Necrobarista team wants to tell stories that are human first and foremost, with the fantastical element as more of a conduit for interesting, authentic moments.

“There are lots of series about power fantasies or fan service [in anime],” said Chen. “Those can be done well and executed well, but they have become over-saturated.”

“Our cast has a very diverse age range,” he continued. “Ashley’s a little girl in primary school. Mattie, our main character, is 23. We have other characters who are quite old, and others who are quite young. This is a setting that helps facilitate that. You get a lot of stuff you wouldn’t normally see in anime. We wanted to tell very human stories about real people in semi-fantastical backdrop.”

Oh, and about that setting: while Necrobarista is heavily inspired by Japanese media, it’s set in Melbourne, Australia, where the game’s development team is based. It might seem odd to set a game like this there, but Chen and co want the game to be rooted in a sense of time and place, ala Japanese games like Persona and Western games like Kentucky Route Zero.

“From the architecture to the way people dress and talk, even to the food they serve in the cafe — all of that is important,” said Chen. “When you play Kentucky Route Zero, you really feel like the creators of the game knew that region. You get narrative segments where you, like, walk into a fishing shop, and they talk about a little aquarium with a dead fish inside. There’s so much detail. That’s the kind of stuff we want to put into our game.”

The Necrobarista team is drawing on a pretty wide range of influences, but there’s no denying the promise of what they have put together so far. They hope that, when the game comes out later this year, it will strike a cord.

“I won’t be so presumptive to say that we’ll change [anime and visual novels], but as fans, we want to create content for other fans who want something different,” said Chen. “And we think there are anime fans out there with this same love-hate relationship.”


  • Fair call, over the past nine months I have pretty much stopped watching anime as cutesy ones are at peak saturation right now and I don’t really enjoy those types of shows.

      • More like the last 30-40 years. It just looked different in the 80s and 90s, because animation was much more expensive so the barrier to entry was way higher than it is now. Signal-to-noise ratio hasn’t shifted that much, but there’s lots more noise by volume.

    • umm..have you tried “expanding your horizons” instead of watching the same shit again in that little “safe space” your in?

      Animes I’ve watched are:

      Ushio & Tora
      The Seven Deadly Sins
      My Hero Academia
      Dimension W
      One Punch Man

      Honestly, I laugh at people who complain and whine about how there haven’t been any anime shows to catch their eye since the 90s.

      It’s no different from people complaining about “shitty” games today, nothing more than 90s people who refuse to move on and circlejerk each other.

      • Yeah, I didn’t go that far. Calm your farm “guest”.

        The fair princess that is anime will be fine. I just said that I don’t enjoy the current types of anime; I did NOT say that they were bad. Anime’s honour will survive to see another day, great knight.

      • I don’t watch much anime, but Seven Deadly Sins was pretty bad I thought. On the other hand, One Punch is f****** amazing.

  • The character range, visual style and “people trapped in a common predicament” trope make me think of the Danganronpa series but the premise of a Café where the dead have one last drink makes me think of Death Parade. If they can make a game that’s anywhere as good as that anime then I’m all in.

  • “Moeshit is the cancer that’s ruining anime… also we haven’t watched anything since 2007” is what I get from this.

    There’s more shit anime right now because there’s more anime in general, and Sturgeon’s Law holds. You can look back at the 90s and cherry-pick specific shows as being amazing experimental works, but the bulk of 90s stuff was crap, same as now. And to say there’s nothing experimental any more is ludicrous if you are actually paying attention.

    • Instead of getting offended over someone else’s opinion on anime, just enjoy the game. Just enjoy what you got and don’t worry about others.

  • So a team of programmers in Australia culturally appropriated Light Novels and Anime and are attempting to “correct” Japanese culture? Sounds like Western Cultural Colonialism at work attempting to steal and steer other peoples cultures.
    Also, the Anime and Light Novels that reach the West are only a fraction of Japanese Anime/Gaming/Manga culture. It’s like judging western music solely on the basis of Justin Biebers “Baby”.
    So they really aren’t doing anything but making their own English light novel, it’s also pretty racist and eurocentric to presume that you need to make this for fans because Anime is full of “Power Fantasies” and “Fanservice”.
    At least by their standards.

    • I think by Light Novel you mean Visual Novel? But basically yes. Though nowadays the bulk of anime does tend to make it to the west as well.

    • We are Australians, a country built on immigration, with the exception of Aboriginal Australians almost all of our “culture” has been imported from somewhere, and what is wrong with that?
      “Cultural Appropriation” an entirely overused, inaccurate and abused phrase, the idea that and culture exists in an inviolate space that can only be exploited by the natives is naive, the Japanese take influences from all around the world when creating their works. What you would consider the “”Anime” art style was heavily influenced by early Disney works, not to mention cultural references that can be found in various works; Shaman King uses influences from Native Americans, Ah My Goddess borrows heavily from Norse mythology and i am sure if I wanted this post to go on forever I could name many more.
      Art and culture are not some static medium that is forever unchanging, if you don’t like how that painting looks you are certainly free to go and make your own painting, as these developers have done, they like Anime / Visual Novels as a medium but don’t like power fantasies and fan service, so they made their own.
      I’ll agree that westerners will never see the majority of media that Japan produces, short of learning fluent Japanese, both written and spoken. We will only see what they believe will sell; and if you thought that only Justin Bieber would sell, your not going to waste time, money and effort to market Slim Dusty.
      As for trying to steer other cultures, if they don’t like it, they won’t buy it. Simple.

  • The aesthetic, premise and themes are all very evocative of Death Parade, “ironically” a modern anime that seem to contradict its birthing notion that all anime nowadays are repetitive, safe moeblobs.

    I definitely applaud the devs intentions and the product does seem like a quality piece, but god am I ever tired of that complaint. If anybody thinks that anime is no longer experimental, risky, profound, human, or whatever other adjective, they are simply not looking hard enough and/or are beset by a bad case of the nostalgias. People act as though that the 90’s were an uninterrupted stream of Utenas, Lains, Evangelions, GitSs, Wolf’S Rains and Paranoia Agents, but in truth, there was as a significant amount of fluff, crap and outright cynically exploitative stuff as there is today. If there’s any difference worth talking about is that modern day fluff and crap looks amazing most of the time, while the eye-smouldering trash that they dared to burn to tape back in the day defied belief.

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