VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action

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Wow. Just wow. I don’t think there’s anything in this game that I don’t love. But that’s getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the overview of the game’s… story.

You play Jill (Julianne), a bartender. You get some crazy patrons in the bar. You listen to their stories, offer advice, and laugh about a drink named Bad Touch because you’re an immature little girl. You do all of this in a city aptly named ‘Glitch City’. I say it is aptly named because several times you’ll see weird distortions show up on the screen and a girl called ‘Anna’ will appear. But she appears to you and only you… which made me skeptical as to whether or not Jill is a robot… The mechanical suits that the paramedics also glitch out, meaning that those inside had a difficult time removing them. Nanomachines are said to cause weird reactions in a local AI population called Lilim (apparently ‘bot’ or ‘robot’ is offensive). Glitches be everywhere.

Information is dispensed to you either through conversations with customers, or through, and I kid you not, 4chan boards. And a blog/newspaper sorta deal. All of the 4chan/newspaper stuff is managed through your phone which you check every day religiously when you wake up.

The gameplay is visual novel style except instead of doing the normal thing where you pick one of several contrived responses to stuff to further the plot… you serve drinks! I don’t know. Maybe it’s the wannabe chef inside me, or the mathematician that loves following a special set of instructions, or maybe it’s just fun to roleplay something entirely foreign to me but this bartending aspect is quite fun. And the best part? You actually have to pay attention to what the customers are saying. This isn’t like visual novels where most of the text is just fluff and you can probably get through without even bothering to read. Some customers have special preferences, some customers have a usual, and it’s up to you to pay attention to what’s going on to keep up and serve the ‘right’ drinks.

I’m going to get emotional with you for a second. I have a friend I talk to almost daily. And they’re a wonderful person, truly. But they rarely ask how I’m doing. When they do ask how I’m doing, it doesn’t feel like they genuinely want to know how I’m doing. Rather, it feels like they think it would be impolite to continue talking without asking how I’m doing. And while I don’t really mind that much, it does bother me a little bit. So as I play this game, and I become part of a two person exchange, I feel better about communication? I’m not sure the proper way to express this. I guess the best way to sum it up is ‘In order for something to be gained, something of equal value must be lost’. I like how the ‘equation’ remains ‘balanced’ in this game.

I’ll be straight with you, I’m not sure that there’s an overarching story to really get involved with. And to be quite honest with you, I’d prefer it that way. I believe the best way to experience this game is you are a bartender just living your life. Your game route goes over the course of about a month. Not a lot of stories in life get wrapped up in a month. There’s only one mini-story that gets wrapped up, but it gets wrapped up in a way that makes sense and is timely in fashion. And perhaps that’s the beauty of this game. That it is just a little slice of life. It does make good sequel bait.

The aesthetic of the game is beautiful. The music makes sense and it’s also quite varied. You can just tell how much effort went into making this game a work of art. It’s not difficult to buy into the environment of cyberpunk city on the edge. The writing is very detailed. The most important part? The characters are consistent and they consistently make sense. I cannot stress this enough. This is where many visual novels fail. They make lousy characters and/or they make illogical characters. This masterpiece makes solid characters that behave exactly the way they should and no character design seems like it was made to fill a hole in the story. This is the type of game that made a story in which the characters exist within and without the story. Well done.

It’s amazing. It’s a polished piece of work that is well worth the money that I spent on it. It also has a ton of humour within it. I took a screenshot of a character being asked why they made their stage name red comet and where the ‘red’ came in and they said it was because it made them three times faster. Three times faster! For those of you plebes that have no idea why that’s funny, I’ll explain the joke. Back in like… 1980 (which may have been before my time but who cares) there was a mecha anime called Mobile Suit Gundam. A character named Char Aznable was referred to as the ‘Red Comet’ and his mech was painted red. This mech looked exactly like the other mechs, except that it was red instead of green. And it was said that his mech went three times faster than the other mechs, likely to emphasize what a great pilot Char was. Eventually the red one being ‘three times faster’ became a bit of a joke among popular culture. And now I wonder if the Flash’s red suit is what makes him go fast…

So with that it seems that I’ve given this one a positive review! I fully recommend the purchase of Vallhalla! This is the type of game that made itself exactly what it needed to be. It’s not long, it’s not hard, but it’s an enjoyable experience from start to finish.

Artemis Hunt

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VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action

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