VA-11 HALL-A : Cyberpunk Bartender Action
Usually when when someone mentions a visual novel game, my mind goes to late teenage high school romance stories or stories that you have to choose the love of your life between pretty characters by playing dating games. Not in VA-11 HALL-A though, a game developed by Sukeban Games.
VA-11 HALL-A takes place in Glitch City, a futuristic, cyberpunk inspired place. You take the role of Jill, a bartender in the titular bar and your goal is to actually do your job in order to make ends meet. A bartender job though is definitely not boring and during her shifts Jill will meet all kinds of different and interesting people that live, work and breathe the air of Glitch City.
I call VA-11 HALL-A a visual novel because most of the time the player reads conversations between Jill and the patrons. The gaming element comes when you have to fix a drink for a customer. Even when you are home, the things you can do is buy stuff for Jill to make her happy and read vlogs and news on her phone.
Fixing drinks is not hard at all, you have your cocktail book and most of the times the customers know what they want. Sometimes though they might need suggestions so you will have to go through the drinks and decide what to serve, depending on their taste. Some characters visit more than once and they need a specific drink, so you will have to remember it. If you make mistakes that shows in your payment and tips and because you have bills to pay, you will have to pay attention to your work.
You actually have to try to do mistakes and become a bad bartender. VA-11 HALL-A though is not focusing on the mechanics of bartending but on the customers and the stories each one brings with them. Not only the customers, but Jill and her colleagues are characters with interesting backstory that will keep you amused and thinking of them.
What VA-11 HALL-A achieves in my opinion is to create a truly believable world through the characters and their life experiences. The great thing is that this happens without exposition or dragging information out, everything feels natural. And yes, you might think that a cyberpunk dystopia must have some over the top sci fi stories tied to it but in the game even the stories that involve augmentations, military organizations or android sex workers is given in such a way and with natural conversations that you never feel like you have to take huge leaps in imagination. Similar topics you can hear and talk about today, in the game they’re just more exaggerated.
The story that really hit home was the one of the streamer who broadcasted her life 24/7 and her “private” parts of her day were available only to her prime members. Let your imagination fly for a bit, It already happened with Big Brother and I am sure you can see this happening over Twitch or any other streaming platform in a few years.
The visual style is very characteristic with its pixel art and dark colors, it gives that cyberpunk vibe. Same with the music. You have a huge collection of cyberpunk Jpop/jazz electronica tracks that you can choose when your shift begins and they sound fantastic, amplifying the “we live in a dystopia but our music is uplifting” feel.
VA-11 HALL-A is a visual novel/story heavy game with light gameplay bartending elements but with a world building and characters that you can’t help but love. Their stories and what these say for the world around them make this game totally worth it for fans of cyberpunk settings, good dialogue and chill experiences. Even in its light exterior you might find that some of these stories are pretty deep and they can begin a conversation long after the game has ended.
+Interesting and deep stories and characters
+Visual style and amazing soundtrack
-Light gameplay elements
~Dimitris “Dimi Kaye” Kalyvas