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VA-11 HALL-A Review: Pour Me Another

/ Sep 18th, 2019 No Comments

VA-11 HALL-A Review

There is nothing more sancrocint than a dive bar and the relationship between its bartender and its customers. If you need an ear to bend to vent your problems or someone to give you grizzled wisdom or make you laugh, there is no one better than a dive bar bartender to do so. VA-11 HALL-A captures that spirit perfectly…well, for its cyberpunk world.

VA-11 HALL-A is a delight to play with fantastic characters that drive the story. If you’re not a fan of the genre’s gameplay then you probably won’t be converted. However, if you give VA-11 HALL-A a chance it probably won’t matter because everything else is so compelling.

A Corgi in a Hawaiian Shirt…

A bar is nothing without customers. Without people, it is just a place where someone stands around cleaning a beer mug in a weird pantomime performance. It isn’t just about the money a customer brings in, but the conversation they make and their problems. While it is a cliche that a bartender is cheaper than a therapist, there is some truth to it.

Jill is the bartender for the struggling dive bar VA-11 HALL-A. She is the key reason regulars keep coming back and new customers become regulars. There is something magnetic about her personality that people are drawn toward. Whether it is because she is a good listener, not afraid to speak her mind, or just surly enough to fit the dive bar aesthetic, customers keep coming back for Jill.

VA-11 HALL-A Review
Sometimes your customers will be on the more unique side.

What makes VA-11 HALL-A’s narrative so engrossing is that is entirely character driven. That’s good because the game is built around its story elements. The plot isn’t intricate with a lot of moving parts. Truthfully, it seems nebulous what the struggle or conflict is until later into the story, aside from Jill’s financial needs.

However, the conversations Jill has with regular and new customers are engaging, which hooks you almost immediately. The characters have their own lives and problems. Their conversations  with Jill allow you to get to know these complicated weirdos like the grizzled and misogynistic newspaper editor-in-chief, or the earnest yet misunderstood pop idol, or the no nonsense hacker who loves her family among many others.

VA-11 HALL-A Review
Not only do you get to know your customers well, but you build strong relationships with your boss and co-workers.

Getting to know the characters lets you learn about the particulars of the culture and society, but more importantly learn more about Jill and the bar. It through conversations that Jill learns that VA-11 HALL-A is going to be shut down, and she has to face the reality of the impending closure.

Yet it is the details we learn about her personal life and her past that create the inner-personal struggle that propels forth the narrative. The story does a good job of setting up an explosive reveal by having hints and seeds of what is going on with Jill’s past in earlier conversations. It makes for a great shock, but also sets up some riveting character moments.

Bar Rescue

Serving drinks is the name of the game for Jill because the customers certainly don’t come for the ambiance. The clientele of VA-11 HALL-A is diverse and varies from day to day, but there is a cast of colorful regulars that show up.

Regardless if Jill is serving a regular or a new customers, their drink orders can vary wildly from their mood to what’s happening in the world or in the bar at the very moment. Whatever a customer wants, Jill needs to be ready to make the drink perfectly when asked.

To aid her in making the best drinks she can is a handy drink recipe menu. Making sure to put the right mixture of ingredients and mixing or blending the drink as needed will ensure each customer gets a dynamite drink.

VA-11 HALL-A Review
Most customers are chill and tell you what they want.

While Jill is unable to serve a failed drink, she can serve the wrong drink. Most customers will be straightforward with their requests asking for a drink by name or a general type of drink. However, some of the more eccentric customers will ask in a more eclectic fashion like make me a drink that reminds me of a child’s laughter or the wink of a former lover.

Deciphering these abstract drink request is tough, but not impossible for an ace bartender. Each shift Jill works, she gets a bonus for flawless service and the better service is the higher sales are, which all means more money for Jill at the end of the day. That’s good because Jill has bills to worry about.

VA-11 HALL-A is part bar sim and part life sim even if the life sim aspects are minor. Jill has very specific bill milestones to work toward whether it is paying a subscription fee or her electricity. If she doesn’t have the money in her account by the bill’s due date then she her subscription is canceled or worse, she gets her electricity cut off.

Jill is human though and fallible to wants and desires like the rest of us. While she needs to make sure she can pay her bills, there are a ton of other things that are fighting for her money. Whether it is buying a song she can’t get out of her head, a Megachristmas tree to celebrate the season, or any number of other things that compete for her attention.

VA-11 HALL-A Review
While others may be a bit more colorful or vague.

Naturally, the drawback to buying anything is it keeps Jill from paying her bills on time. However, the problem with not buying something is that it’ll distract her at work and make her performance worse. When Jill is distracted at work, she forgets drink orders and that makes it very difficult to provide the flawless service that gets her a big bonus.

There is a balance between buying the items Jill wants at any given moment to keep her performance up at work and not buying them to make sure you can pay her bills. While that instant gratification may help for one shift, not paying a bill will have longer ranging consequences. It is important to find the proper balance to keep Jill’s life on track, as meager as that life may be at times.

The gameplay is very straightforward, but it doesn’t mean it is mindless. It does take some thought to make sure that you balance Jill’s expenses. To help ensure you’re achieve that balance you’ll have to sacrifice, which means you’ll need to make mental notes of drinks as you’re making them. While the gameplay could be passive, it does enough to keep you engrossed.

Overall

VA-11 HALL-A is an acquired taste, but if you open yourself up to what it offers than you’ll find it hard to put down. It is a game about characters and how they interact. To that end it is full of memorable characters that draw you into their desires and struggles. This is definitely one to give a shot if you’re looking for fantastic character and great writing.

VA-11 HALL-A was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with code provided by the publisher.

 

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs

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VA-11 HALL-A REVIEW: POUR ME ANOTHER

Gaming Illustrated RATING

Overall80%

GAMEPLAY7

If you’re not into the genre, the gameplay won’t change your mind, but if you like a hybrid life sim and point-and-click style gameplay than VA-11 HALL-A has your number.

GRAPHICS8.5

The pixel art combined with the cyberpunk aesthetic makes for a great visual look.

SOUND8

With an elaborate library of grooves to choose from, you can curate the good times at the bar.

8.5

VA-11 HALL-A is a character driven story that sucks you into the lives of these idiosyncratic weirdos.