VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action Review
Players will be able to mix drinks and change lives with the port of Sukeban Games and Ysbryd Games’ visual novel VA-11 Hall-A. This cyberpunk adventure made waves on the PC in 2016 – does this console cocktail come out just as classy?
VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action Review
Told across three chapters, players take on the role of Julianne Natalie Stingray – or Jill for short. She works as a bartender at the “fountain of spirits” known as VA-11 Hall-A, which just so happens to smell like dog urine and soap. The surrounding area of Glitch City is rife with corruption, the totalitarian White Knights, and some real sleazeballs at the local newspaper. Sitting squarely behind your bar, it’s up to you to quench the thirst of these thirsty denizens and listen to what they have to say.
It’s certainly a unique premise, and the cyberpunk aesthetics go well with its anime stylings. Corgis that works part time, pop idols, robotic sex workers, cat-eared “boomers,” streaming aficionados, and other patrons proudly show off the creativity this title has to offer. A number of video game and pop culture references are also thrown in for good measure, including a clever tribute to Seinfeld of all things. These references are more like Easter Eggs, and never come across as intrusive. Note that the dialog can get a bit crude at times – it’s not a deal-breaker, but it certainly is not for the more prudish among us.
Later sections of the game tend to repeat the characters, which proves to be a double-edged sword. While it’s good to learn more about the cast and crew that make up this futuristic cityscape, it would have been even more welcome to see a few fresh faces walk through those doors.
And then there’s Jill. She’s got demons of her own, which slowly come out as players progress through the story. All conversations are a two way street, and players learn just as much about those visiting as her each interaction. She’s meandering through life, and the loss of her ex weighs heavily on her. Without spoiling too much, the way the game handles this facet is handled well, and serves as the glue tying everything together.
Of course, players will be playing VA-11 Hall-A on top of reading copious amounts of dialog. After choosing from a set amount of tracks to throw into the jukebox, players can take the orders of customers. Some are fairly easy, clearly spelling out their order. However, the game also likes to throw some curveballs by asking players to find a “cold” drink or a “girly” one. A drink menu is available at a moment’s notice, but some careful planning must be done to make sure they get what they want.
Mixology never becomes a chore though. All drinks are made from one of five ingredients, and binding these actions to the analog stick makes it easy to whip up the cocktail of your choosing. The more sober among us need not worry though – with names like “Piano Man,” “Mars Blast,” and “Brandtini,” everything on the menu is purely fictional (other than the generic “beer” and “absinthe” options). The option to make it a double is there, as is the ability to have it aged or on the rocks. It never gets overly confusing, and though the improper ratio is a ding on your take home pay, it never puts the game to a screeching halt.
The entirety of the game follows a cycle of close to 20 days. Players come in, handle some orders, take a break, and then go home, only to repeat things the next day. The main objective is largely the same, with the occasional party or hangout to break things up. However, the length of the game is just right, clocking in at a little less than 10 hours.
Outside of the bar, players can hang out at their flat and go shopping. Buying the correct things prevents Jill from getting distracted, and players can browse the message board danger/u/, read the Augmented Eye, and do other tasks while on their phone. The ability to cosmetically alter their place is also there.
VA-11 Hall-A prides itself on its story, and though it is most fresh the first time around, a New Game+ mode can be unlocked for those that want to purchase everything from the store.
VA-11 Hall-A’s fresh take on the visual novel genre makes the jump to consoles with relative ease. Those that don’t mind the occasional bit of salty language will find a cyberpunk adventure that will captivate you to the very end.
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