VA-11 Hall-A opens by telling you that it’s a game worth played getting comfortable – you should relax and take in the game as it is…and it’s a statement that’s hard to argue with. Ysbryd Games’ ‘slice of life’ bartender simulator is definitely one designed to relax and immerse the player.
It’s hard to describe just what type of game VA-11 Hall-A is – it’s so unique in its premise that’s hard to find anything to compare it to. Think ‘Papers Please’ but without the dystopian stress, and with more cyberpunk and lighthearted chat.
You experience VA-11 Hall-A through the eyes of Jill – a bartender at a bar known as ‘Valhalla’. As the job role suggests, it’s up to you to prepare and serve a wide variety of beverages to an equally wide variety of customers…and yes, that means you also have to be their objective ‘shoulder to cry on’. But this is where the true core of the game becomes apparent. Rather than just simply serving drinks, as per other restaurant simulators, the majority of the game has you talking to people – learning about their dreams, jobs and motivations.
As with real life, some can be questionable. A man rocking up to the bar discussing his pornography habits took me by surprise, but it never felt out of place or wrong. The editor of Glitch City’s biggest news publication ‘The Augmented Eye’ being my first customer and discussing the double standards of society, is something that felt natural and genuinely interesting.
It’s more appropriate to describe VA-11 Hall-A as a visual novel, with gameplay elements scattered throughout. It does such a brilliant job at creating characters and making them immediately relatable and genuinely engaging, that is becomes easy to forget that there are RPG elements to this game.
The RPG elements are introduced in just an equally brilliant way. Rather than you making conscious decisions, the choices throughout the game come from your bartending skill. Each customer will request a type of drink: they could want something not too alcoholic, something cold or something with nasty bite to it – and it’s which drink you choose to make, how you make and prepare it, that decides your characters future. Make a bad drink? Expect a bad or cold reaction from the customer. Make something that surprises the customer? Expect to be rewarded with additional character development.
It’s a truly unique way of presenting a story that’s introduced in such a subtle way (Upon doing a little research after playing, there’s even a unique ending you can unlock for giving exceptionally poor service throughout)
Not only does VA-11 Hall-A do it’s story incredibly well, but the cyberpunk elements are also flawless. The game’s visuals consist of beautiful 2D pixel art, which makes each character look unique. The bar, which is where most of the game takes place, looks incredible considering it’s mostly static – and this isn’t even touching on the music.
Each day begins with you selecting 12 songs which play throughout your shift. Each track brings such a nice ambience to the bar – everything combined makes the bar seem like one of those small, hidden bars that you’d discover when exploring a new city. It’s welcoming and is chock full of cyberpunk goodness.
It’s hard to point out any flaws with this game. The characters are all well developed and interesting. The gameplay is short, but can be challenging. The story seems engaging and has a lot of potential. With it’s Nintendo Switch release and rumours of a sequel circulating, now is the perfect time to delve into this diamond of a game.
*Code kindly provided by publisher for review.