You know what’s a setting that indie developers really seem to like? The cyberpunk genre. I’m not complaining, I love that stuff too. But I have like three games played that are cyberpunk, and I am pretty sure I have more waiting to be played that are also taking place in that setting. And naturally, I thought I would review the one I played first on here before the others. And low and behold, it is one that many people have talked about before, VA-11 HALL-A, pronounced Valhalla.
VA-11 HALL-A is set in a cyberpunk world, where corporations decide the fate of humans, where everyone has nanomachines in their bodies, and where Red Shibas can talk and it is the most annoying thing in the world apparently. Rumors are going around about the corruption of the police force, a mysterious hacker group known as Alice_Rabbit, and a possible scam going on in the local media. Well, you shouldn’t care about that, cause you are not involved with that. You aren’t a police officer, a journalist or a rebel. You are Jill, a bartender who has clearly had a lot of problems in her life, who works at the small bar called VA-11 HALL-A. Here, you do what you can to mix drinks accordingly to the customers request, hear about their life stories, and try to get enough money to make it through the week and hopefully not end up evicted from the apartment you live in. A very simple game, but one that has a lot of great turns, and a lot of talk about sex. From breast size to prostitution to Jill remembering a time her girlfriend shoved a cucumber in her vagina, why the fuck am I playing this trash?
But seriously though, the perspective you take from this standpoint is interesting. Here you got all these interesting things going on in the world from hacking groups to corporate schemes to revolutions and such, and yet, you aren’t in the front row seat of it all. Instead, being a bartender, you only hear about it in conversations. The most you’ll get is hearing it on the news, but that’s about it. Just hearing it all in conversations with bar patrons. It’s pretty unique and is a fun way to tell the story in a way that could’ve gone real poorly, but VA-11 HALL-A manages to pull it off quite well. And speaking of the patrons, each character is unique in their own way. You got usual pricks like news reporter and horseblower Donovan and rude douche Ingram, oddball characters like the “poetic” Virgilio and the robotic android Kira Miki, Streaming-Chan can get the fuck out of my bar, and regulars like the robot prostitute Dorothy and the intelligent Alma. Alma is best girl. And each one of these characters always has a unique and interesting story to tell you. Alma’s issues with her older sister, Sei and Stella’s friendship despite their different circumstances, Streaming-Chan can get the fuck out of my bar, and Dorothy having to discuss things with her sorta mother/guardian. There’s even cameo appearances from characters from other games by the company, like characters for 2064, a game I have yet to play, and that one indie game nobody likes. You know, Yick.
The sprite work is also really good. Each character you meet always pops out with that stylish design to them. No two characters ever look the same and it is amazing. Speaking of amazing, that soundtrack. I think this can rival some of the best video game soundtracks out there. I even bought the soundtrack for it and listen to it on a regular basis. It’s just that funky. But music aside, if we can’t be rebels or get involved in secret conspiracies, what can we do in this games story? Well, around the halfway point, things start to take a serious turn for Jill, who is so riddled with guilt from her past due to just making simple mistakes that could easily be solved, only for them to kinda…. Not be so easy. I’d hate to spoil it for anyone who wants to play VA-11 HALL-A, just don’t expect this to be your usual Cyberpunk story. This game isn’t here to make you think about society. This game will make you laugh, make you cry, make you question your sexuality a few times, and then make you laugh and cry again with it’s tone.
It’s hard to talk about a visual novel that is all about mixing drinks. Shit, mixing drinks is the most gameplay you get from the game and I haven’t even talked about that. You got tons of variety with mixing drinks. Try not to fuck it up, and always remember what characters like and dislike, like how Dorothy likes Blue Fairies or how Donovan prefers his beer to be huge. Remembering that will grant you a good tip, and money will not only allow you to buy stuff in the games store for your house, but it will also allow you to pay rent so Jill doesn’t go homeless and prevents you from getting the good ending. Yeah, don’t do that.
I don’t know what more I can say about this game that isn’t, “I really love this game’s style.” And I really do love it. It’s just a fun time all around to get to know the characters, hear about the world of this town, and just mix drinks to make people’s lives in this shit hole less shit. If you are interested in a fun visual novel title, VA-11 HALL-A is one I cannot recommend enough. Get your hands on it if you have the chance.
Up Next: We send a puppy to the boss