In this late period of 2020, hearing the words Cyberpunk or Valhalla will surely get you thinking about the Assassin’s Creed franchise’s latest entry or CD Projekt Red’s incredibly anticipated RPG, but one title combining both keywords was just added to Xbox Game Pass, and I am here to make sure each and every one of you tries it out. I’m watching you!
Developed by Sukeban Games, VA-11 HALL-A is just what the title says – a bartending game in a cyberpunk world. While admittedly that does not sound very exciting, the game itself is an experience you will not forget anytime soon. What makes VA-11 HALL-A so special is not its gameplay or its mechanics, but its charming, lovely story that will keep you coming for more. To explain a bit the basics, you take control of Jill, the bartender at VA-11 HALL-A, a bar in the distant future where humans can benefit of body modifications and robots are a part of everyday life.
What you basically do in terms of gameplay is not complicated at all; you have 5 different mixers from which to create your drinks, together with options to make a drink aged, or add ice. There is a nice menu which will give you all the ingredients and instructions to create a drink, along with a small description of what the drink entails, or a witty pun.
These descriptions are key to distinguishing a drink from another, as some customers will not express their request as straightforwardly as others and will have you thinking about what they want. Some customers will order the same drinks as before (looking at you Donovan) while others will test your knowledge and attentiveness by asking for a drink which you have discussed its story beforehand. It makes for a small quiz of sorts that the game is testing how well you are playing VA-11 HALL-A and I for one love the game for it.
The game’s soundtrack is not merely an addition to the game, but a whole aspect of it. Taking place in a bar, music is fundamental to the atmosphere, and so the game gives you control of what music you want in the bar. The game features a humongous list of songs, from multiple genres to cater for each and every individual who are playing the game. What’s even better is that the game gives you the ability to create your own playlist through the bar’s Jukebox.
At the start of each shift, you are given the choice to change the music playing in the background, with the potential to list 12 tracks to the jukebox for them to play in sequence. The music can be selected from around 60 titles and include quite some variety. One can also preview the tracks so that they know what they are getting into when confirming the playlist.
The jukebox can be accessed at any time, and players can add or remove songs to their heart’s content, up to a limit of 12. My playlist is currently fixed on slow, chill songs, which are mostly predominant in the soundtrack. I love having a chill atmosphere while the events are proceeding at the bar – it makes it all the more relaxing experience coupled with the slow gameplay and the story going on.
Oh, the story! VA-11 HALL-A is a visual novel of sorts, with lots and lots of dialogue for you to take in and the odd breaks of gameplay which help ease off the mood. Jill is a very kind person, and it is very easy to feel as if you’re in her shoes while playing the game. She’s a very good listener and will try to do anything in her power to help the bar’s clients solve their problems, or maybe ease off their worries by preparing the right drink for them.
The bar will be host to a diverse clientele which will have players never bored of the same type of customer – and will have them eagerly waiting for the next story to unravel. Each customer has their own diverse life and personality, so no two customer experiences will be alike. This is what makes VA-11 HALL-A feel like an experience akin to no other, and will make you fall in love with the game as quickly as you’ll be preparing drinks.
The game also takes place in Jill’s room at the start of each day. This is basically idle time, but it features more interactivity as well. You will see Jill’s daily thoughts on the opening screen to the right, where she chats with Fore, her cat, on her feelings. You will also have objectives pop up at the start of the day, for example when rent is due you need to have an amount of cash in your funds so that you’re not kicked out of your apartment.
Funds come directly from your job at the bar, so working hard and not making mistakes is key to you earning money. Some other factors, like items which Jill wants to buy, may also impact performance at the bar, so given you have enough funds, it is important to keep Jill happy and focused. Everything ties itself nicely in the game, making it one whole cute experience from start to finish.
To the left of this home screen, you will be able to access Jill’s smartphone and navigate through blogs, shops and other items which will slowly unlock the more you progress through the game. Checking out the blogs is not vital for the game, but I recommend at least scanning through the headlines and the articles to get a feel for what is currently going on in the neighbourhood.
Jill will also have personal thoughts in regards to the articles you are currently navigating, which will be displayed to the right. It helps give Jill an identity you do not see very often in these types of games, and Sukeban Games have hit the nail on the head where it comes to this.
All in all, VA-11 HALL-A is a wonderful, diverse game which although may not be for everyone, will charm people eager to play it. Its endearing, continuously evolving story and the feeling of sitting behind a bar listening to people’s problems and trying to help is quite a unique one in gaming, and Sukeban Games have really done an amazing job in replicating this. It almost makes me want to go find a job as a barman! A sequel to the game is also in the works and should make its debut early next year, so playing the game now will surely prepare you for the next one!
Go buy the game on Steam! NOW!
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