Games

The Quips Never End in 'Necrobarista'

How many jokes is too many jokes? 'Necrobarista' pushes at that line.
August 12, 2020, 1:00pm
Screenshot from Necrobarista, Maddy, a woman with purple shoulder length hair and octogonal red glasses, stands in front of a book shelf, a bemused expression on her face. Text floats next to her head reading "Aww, don't you wanna see crotchety old me bei
Image courtesy of Route59

Necrobarista, a visual novel about what happens after you die, has a lot of jokes. Balancing a particular type of quip-a-minute dialogue style with a delicate subject such as death can be particularly difficult; skew too much towards jokes and it can feel overwhelming, too far in the other direction and the jokes feel out of place. This week on Waypoint Radio, we discuss this particular “Whedon-esque” style of writing and how it lands in _Necrobarista_’s more heartfelt moments, Austin’s new laptop, and more. You can read an excerpt and listen to the full episode below.

Gita: Those highlighted words will show up again at the end of the chapter where you as the player have to pick out the words that are most evocative to you, and they can be things like "responsibility" or "family," or they can be things like "screwdrivers," or "rent," just words that just stick out in your mind as being important to the story, and the words that you remember can then unlock more parts of the narrative. Right. It's a really neat concept that I really like it's just sometimes at one point in the firstpart of the game where you have to read, the main character made an internet meme joke, and my heart just turned into a pile of goo inside my body. Just dripping through my ribcage.

Austin: Are we talking like a "doge" era meme?

Gita: She said "it me." Yeah, "what a mood, it me" and I was like I can't, is this supposed to make me like her more or relate to her because it has exactly the opposite effect. The dialogue in Buffy works because those actors are so charming, and when you're just reading it, the effect is not there at all. There's a little kid character also and that shit never goes over very well. There's a little kid character and she's addicted to caffeine, but she's also a mechanical genius!

Austin: Oh, yeah, I know that trope, I know that one.

Rob: I think I hate this already.

Gita: But I kept going because I was like "I can't just let my brain and body fall off this."

Austin: Yeah, Cado explained the core premise and some of this stuff last week, and the core premise, I get why you would be kind of pulled forward for it.

Gita: Yeah, I love it! And I think the stuff with the words is really fucking cool, and I think the world itself when Ned Kelly shows up, he's mentioned the first chapter, shows up in the second, which is effectively a prologue because after the end of the second chapter you get like an anime opening.

Cado: The late title card is so good!

Gita: I know! I'm like "oh this is just gonna be as anime as possible," I'm totally down for that but there's this like middle portion where it's just internet meme jokes and I don't know if the good part is good enough for me to live through this really kind of corny ass writing, I'm so allergic to corny, these days especially. I need sincerity and earnestness or I'm not down with it anymore.

Austin: Yeah, a thing that I think about a lot is, I will use a meme or a phrase in daily life, but I'm using those things because my life is bad, not because they're good. When I say "it me," which I don't say that often but if I did, or whatever the 2020 equivalent is, it's not because I think that's a good thing to say it's because I'm exhausted, because it's right there and I'm not going further than that.

Rob: Somebody hypothesized why I might buy a tactical vest and all I could say to that was "yeah, it me."

Austin: And the thing that gets lost when I see that style of writing used, in games especially because it doesn't get used that often in any other format, is that the characters believe what they're saying is cute, whereas I believe what I'm saying is quick.

Gita: It's shorthand.

Austin: Yeah, it's shorthand for me. And it's playful shorthand, but when I deploy a meme like that it's not because I think that the meme is necessary, unless I'm doing a bit, which is a different thing than that sort of quick back and forth response, you know what I mean?

Gita: And the game is genuinely funny sometimes too. Which is what makes it even more difficult when you run up against these moments of just meme speak, where the game makes a joke about landlords being the original rent seekers and I was "heh," and I like all the asides you get on these highlighted words I've come around to them. At first I was like "I don't understand why this game needs additional jokes, they clearly want to pack as many jokes as possible into every frame," but the asides I think they help with that concept of these highlighted words being important, and they sort of bring to the forefront language, and the way that we use language, and the language of our oppression essentially. I can see where it's getting there, the way that it's sort of chugging along towards that, sneaking in these sort of anti-capitalist jokes among all the rest of the goofier ones.

But really in that moment where the character said "it me" she was like extremely depressed, talking about death and all that shit, but it was very much the way that the game is framed, where it's all these moving shots that move in a limited way that go into static, every shot is framed like a punchline. So you can't just deploy it without it feeling like a deliberate joke, especially because almost every sentence in every episode is "setup, punchline. Setup, punchline. Setup, punchline." it's almost never ending.

So to get to that real moment of sincerity, the moments that really connected with me, like when a character, you're in a cafe and you know you're dead, you only get 24 hours, one of those characters who’s dead shows up and in the last line he gets in the chapter, he's finally introducing himself to somebody and he says "hello I'm Kishin, I died today." And that was an important, impactful sentence for me because it suddenly wasn't a joke, suddenly the characters weren't being flippant, suddenly the writing was actually treating the gravity of a life ending with some kind of ceremony. And then you go back into joke world. And it's like, I don't [know], is there going to be more of that? Because I'm interested in that part.


This transcript was edited for length and clarity. Discussed: Horizon: Zero Dawn PC 1:32, Death Stranding PC 12:04, Laptops 23:09, Banner of the Maid 37:24, Necrobarista 50:16, Thousand Threads 1:03:33, Game of Thrones; Tale of Crows 1:15:26, Good Sudoku 1:19:06

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