Developer: Sukeban Games
Publisher: Ysbryd Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: eShop download
Category: Adventure, Simulation
No. of Players: 1 player
Release Date: May 2, 2019 (EU & NA)
Price: $14.99 USD
*WARNING: This game is not designed for young children. It features swearing and adult themes that are inappropriate for younger audiences. While we have refrained from displaying any rude language in text or images in this review, we will briefly touch upon such topics.
VA-11 HALL-A (pronounced Valhalla) is a cyberpunk visual novel game created by Venezuelan based Indie Game company Sukeban Games. The game was originally developed for Cyberpunk Game Jam 2014. Sukeban Games enjoyed the game so much that they decided to develop the full game.
VA-11 HALL-A had a planned release window for December 2014 but it suffered multiple delays. It eventually saw release for Windows, OS X and Linux in 2016 and was published by Ysvryd Games. It was also ported to the PlayStation Vita with Wolfgame handling the port development and Limited Run Games publishing the title for Sony’s Handheld console.
The Story of VA-11 HALL-A takes place in a futuristic cyberpunk world where humans and machines are more or less integrated with one another in more ways than one. The player takes “control” of Jill, a bartender who works at the eponymous VA-11 HALL-A dive bar in Glitch City. Her job as you may have guessed, is to ply her patrons with an assortment of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages that they request.
Every day, Jill meets some strange and extraordinary characters like pop stars, assassins, the chief editor of the news media outlet The Augmented Eye, etc. Each of them with their own story to tell which paints the bigger picture of everyday life in this Cyberpunk world. As each passing day goes, you become more familiar with each character and learn more about them depending on how well you get their drink orders right.
The Story follows a non-linear path. It can change depending on what drinks you give your customers and the amount of Karmotrine (alcoholic ingredient) you add to them. The ending of the story will change, depending on the relationships that you have built with your customers. The outcome will lead to an intimate moment though not in the way that you think (take your mind out of the gutter) between Jill and her customers.
VA-11 HALL-A is kind of like a point and click adventure with the grand majority of the game being spent navigating through menus. These menus being where you can find cocktail recipes, change the music on the Jukebox, decorate your home and the like.
Your task is to mix drinks from five different fictional ingredients in order to fulfill your customer’s request. These ingredients provide different flavours depending on the cocktail that you want to make. You can browse through the Recipes list with the directional buttons on the Left Joy-Con. The left joystick is used to choose the ingredients you would like to add to the cocktail shaker. When in handheld mode, you also have access to the touchscreen as well.
Aside from the types of drinks on hand, you can also mix, blend, age, add ice or make them large depending on the drink and your customer’s personal taste. You can make up to two drinks at any one time but in most cases, you only need to make one. The punters can be straightforward or extremely cryptic. Jill can provide clues that can help the player depending on her emotional state.
To keep Jill in a ‘positive’ and helpful manner, you will have to purchase things from the shop for her home. These will decorate her apartment and keep her temporarily satisfied and focused when at work. They can be menial things like a fan or a poster to more cosmetic items like the table or walls getting a makeover.
Jill’s work shifts are in two parts each day, with the option to save your progress in between shifts. Though there is no real way of telling whether you messed up an encounter with a customer during your shifts, the end of day records will show you whether you have made any mistakes. If you are looking for a flawless playthrough, you may want to take advantage of the multiple save slots.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
Aside from making drinks and talking with the customers, you can also read articles and blog posts on your phone and choose the music you want to listen to during your shifts. Before you start working your shift, you can choose the music that you want to play on the Jukebox. Any time during, you can pick between the songs that you have selected and play them.
When not at work, you have access to your phone and the Apps that are on it. Some give you access to customization options to your flats décor, others provide reading material that further expands on the dystopian world around Jill and shed some light on the people that she meets at work.
The audio for VA-11 HALL-A is certainly a mixed bag. The music that plays on the Jukebox does indeed have a cyberpunk feel to it. It has an electro pop vibe that would make Daft Punk proud and there are many different tracks to choose from.
Where I find the game lacking with Audio is that the developers have gone to great lengths to flesh out the many different characters but the lack of voice acting leaves them feeling a little flat. I respect that this may be due to the nature of the game itself, which contains content not meant for young children and themes that at not safe for any environment, let alone work. Giving the characters a voice would certainly have given the characters more depth or at least an option, to turn voices on and off for those procrastinating in the workplace.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
VA-11 HALL-A has a very retro style to it, reminiscent of the PC-98 games of yesteryear. The low-resolution graphics add to the games’ charm of being a visual novel. The performance is pretty solid with short load times between segments. During my playthrough, I hardly noticed any blips or crashes and the frame rate was steady all the way through.
As interesting as the game seems to be, it still is not one that can hold my interest for long. Simulation Games have a tough job of emulating real life however, some help fill the void of unfulfilled dreams like being a racing driver or airplane pilot. Being a bartender on the other hand, is not on most people’s wish list and is certainly not as glamorous as it looks on TV and Film. My experience as a Waiter and Bartender can back me up on this.
While it is true that you can meet some strange yet wonderful people in this crazy world we live in, a lot of the time you have to deal with some people that reveal the much more selfish side of human nature. It is not what it is cracked up to be and at the end of the day, it is a job to pay bills that can serious exploit those that work in the profession.
Coming back to the lack of voice work again, I feel it would have helped develop a bit more of the characters. About 80% of the game is spent reading text boxes, which takes your attention away from looking at the characters themselves. Some characters are long-winded as well and will soon have you skipping through dialogue just to get them to pay their bill and leave the bar.
I appreciate the praise that this game has been given but I just did not find it “wowing” me. Even though it is set in a futuristic world with cybernetic assassin’s and robot sex workers, it just isn’t what I am looking for in a game. Perhaps, as someone like myself who has worked in the hospitality trade, video games are an escape from the harsh realities of life. Going from a bartender in real life, just to play a bartender in a video game is not really my idea of escapism.
VA-11 HALL-A is a story focused game that will have you reading through text, text and more text whilst occasionally mixing drinks. It’s filled with interesting characters but ultimately, it is not a game capable of maintaining players interest after completion.
THE VERDICT: 6/10
*A download key was provided by the Publisher for the purposes of this review
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