As a person who writes and likes to people-watch, bars fascinate me. People from all sorts of different backgrounds gather in one area to have a drink or five. As a fellow customer, I would only overhear bits and pieces of other people’s lives and it all sounded really interesting. I always wondered what it would be like to be a bartender, the gateway to our alcoholic pleasure. It’s common knowledge that bartenders have the most interesting stories since they get to see and hear about everyone’s lives (whether you wanted to or not). I always wanted to see how that would be like.
VA-11 HALL-A gives me that opportunity.
VA-11 HALL-A, or simply Valhalla (as what regular patrons call it) claims to be a “cyberpunk bartending action” game. I would say that’s a fairly good description of it. To me, VA-11 HALL-A is a combination of the cyberpunk genre, anime and the show Cheers all played in a PC-98-like game engine. Rather than how most visual novels play with having dialogue options that branch your story, VA-11 HALL-A uses the drinks you serve to potentially change your patrons’ daily life.
For example, you could give a customer a completely different cocktail than what they ordered and the conversation you had with them would branch out from there as opposed if you served the “correct” drink. Or perhaps you slightly spiked non-alcoholic drinks to someone to loosen them up. These are all potential options for you, the bartender, to decide.
At first glance, this game may look to just appeal to anime fans with the promised amount of cute girls that will be coming to your bar. However, once I started playing the “Prologue” build, I could tell there was more to it than just that. You can tell that there was special attention on the writing as you learn so much about this futuristic world simply by having conversations with the people. Stories such as the rights of socially-adept humanoids to the life of a bitter veterinarian who attends to racist Corgis (which have booked your bar a few days!) really fascinated me. I wanted to learn more about these people as I continued to serve them the drinks they asked for. However, just as the conversation picks up, I get called to serve drinks for more drunk Corgis. The full game will have a feature to give you the ability to ignore other patrons in order to continue the conversation, which I’m sure will affect things even further.
You wouldn’t be a bartender if you weren’t busy making drinks. The gameplay behind making cocktails isn’t too difficult — certain recipes require certain amounts of liquor. There are variations such as making huge drinks and aging them but it isn’t rocket science. Depending on how fast you are and if how satisfied your clientele is, the more points you get. The game will always tell you how to make the drink so you shouldn’t stress on memorizing them (for now, anyways).
One thing I love about VA-11 HALL-A is the music. After watching the above trailer, I instantly looked for the rest of the soundtrack. Garoad does an excellent job in setting the atmosphere with his synth tracks mixed with smooth, futuristic-like music that sounds retro at the same time. I was reminded of games like Policenauts and Snatcher as well as 80s anime series like Patlabor when I heard the various tunes that shuffled in the bar’s jukebox as I continued to serve drinks. I look forward to hearing more of the music when the full release is out. If anything I mentioned piques your interest, you should check out the soundtrack page. My personal favorites are “Kamotrine Dream” and “Base of the Titans.”
Based on what I have played that’s available, VA-11 HALL-A seems to be a great start to what looks like to be a fascinating, unique game. You are in a world in where hackers, deadly mercenaries, android sex workers, and many others all gather to one place to unwind. You are simply an observer of said world which is a nice change of pace. Games don’t always have to be about saving the world or doing some grandiose adventure. Sometimes all we want is just a damn drink.
You can either check out the first build for free or if you’re willing to shell out five bucks, buy the latest version, “Prologue,” along with the retail game when it’s released at their appropriately named website. Personally, I paid the $8 to get the soundtrack bundled in and it was well worth it. I look forward to revisiting VA-11 HALL-A when the full game comes out early next year. Expect some more thoughts then.