VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action

va11

Video games based on the bartending industry are nothing new. Way back in the eighties for example I remember playing an arcade port of Tapper on my humble Amstrad CPC 464. In that game players controlled a moustached chap who had to serve pints of Budweiser to his thirsty patrons. The clientele were an impatient lot who would hurl you across the bar it you kept them waiting for too long. VA-11 HALL-A (which is text speak for Valhalla) isn’t as action packed given that it is a visual novel. The settings differ too. From what I recall Tapper took place in the old West whilst VA-11 HALL-A is a cyberpunk adventure set in a futuristic pub. Customers can include anything from artificial beings to humans who have nanobots coursing through their veins.

OVERVIEW

In VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action players assume the role of a lesbian bartender named Jill. To pay the monthly bills our carpet munching protagonist works at a tavern situated in the dystopian metropolis known as Glitch City. Much of the game involves conversing with customers and mixing up the beverages they request. How much income you generate is dependent on flawlessly dispensing orders, although there is some wiggle room to keep things interesting. Adding optional alcohol to a drink could loosen up someone’s tongue for example. Dialogue is also influenced by correctly deducing what a customer truly desires. That closeted chap who asked for a macho beer may actually prefer a girly cocktail instead.

Unlike other visual novels VA-11 HALL-A doesn’t have an overarching plot. What you get instead is a collection of short stories. Every customer who enters through the bar’s doors will regale you with a tale about their love life, offer titbits of information about the technologically advanced world you inhabit and more often than not they will wax lyrical about what a lousy day they are having. Interrupting the steady stream of text boxes are sequences were you are asked to mix a drink. The process involves dragging ingredients into a shaker and then selecting whether you want to add ice or age your concoction. My, how I wish that whipping up a tasty Mojito were that simple! Even pouring a Shandy is too complex for me, so thank goodness that a menu is provided detailing what components comprise the fictional range of drinks you need to make.

VERDICT

My rating for VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action is a four out of five. It’s a charming game blessed with sixteen-bit pixel art and an excellent soundtrack. The writing is strong and the moments of mixology are strangely relaxing. Perhaps the act of turning recipes into proper drinks could have benefitted from extra depth, but for what it’s worth they serve the purpose of adding some interactivity into what is mostly a book reading experience. Strategy comes in maximising your profit at work so Jill can meet her rent and utility payment deadlines. Spare cash can be spent on trinkets to decorate her modest apartment and gifts that will ensure she doesn’t lose focus during the course of a shift.

Like a good slice of life anime, VA-11 HALL-A is enjoyable because you’ll have fun spending time with its colourful cast of characters. Over the nineteen-day story Jill gets to interact with a one-eyed cat girl, an adorable android prostitute, the African American version of J Jonah Jameson and even talking corgis. Based on what I read I have no idea how the queen puts up with those annoying mutts! The script is amusingly packed with funny memes and can be emotional in parts too. Given the quality of the narrative and the fact that there are numerous endings to unlock I can certainly see myself returning to Glitch City at some point in the future. Sukeban Games have made their PC debut with an excellent release. I would gladly buy them a beer, for a job well done, but I better not as VA-11 HALL-A’s price list indicates that liquor can cost in excess of $200.

13 thoughts on “VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action

  1. I actually finished this last night and enjoyed it. Big fan of the old school PC-98 art style and music – the latter which I have purchased the complete OST for (you can find it on bandcamp, but majority of the tracks are in the installation folder just not properly tagged). Never did find out how to make any of the conversations branch off like the game said you could, but guess it might be a New Game+ thing.

    • Heh, what a coincidence. Glad to hear that you liked the game too. Yeah, the bar’s jukebox is packed with great tunes so I can’t blame you for snapping up the soundtrack. Based on a guide I skimmed over, I think some characters will change what they say depending on what you serve them. For the most part I played things safe and mixed what they asked for, but I may try experimenting more on a second playthrough.

      • I backed the game when they had it on itchi.io so I have been watching it for awhile, lol. I thought they might, but like you, didn’t try doing it. If I have the time I will go look up the guide and give it a go.

  2. OMG, Tapper (Root Beer version) was my first go-to game. I do awesome at the “follow the whatever as it moves” thanks to that game.

    Now I want to play Tapper…I thought this review was to convince me to play VA-11. XD

  3. This game could teach me a thing or two about making money from pouring drinks, it makes me want to rub my hands maniacally. I can’t help but think of pokemon as soon as I see Glitch City.

  4. I’ve been seeing a lot of this game around, and it’s been well on my radar. I really like the art style. Glad to hear it’s got quality, I think I’ll need to check it out at some point.

  5. Nice that you got around to this. I really liked it. It’s definitely a character-driven game rather than a story-driven one, but the characters are interesting enough that it works.

    Apparently the developers also based a lot of the game’s setting and stories on their own experience living in Venezuela, where there’s a lot of chaos and price instability. Explains how a cocktail can cost $300.

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