Well hello there. Welcome to Valhalla! Why don’t you take a seat here at the bar. What would like to drink? A Sugar Rush? Perhaps a Piano Man, or Woman. No judgements here. I hear a thousand stories when I am on the job. Why don’t you tell me yours? It’s time to serve drinks, and change lives here in bar of Valhalla.
Greetings my loyal (I assume?) readers! Today on Terminally Nerdy I will be reviewing a Visual Novel Bartending game, set in a cyberpunk universe called VA-11 Hall-A. Now before anyone gets the wrong idea, this is not one of those standard Japanese hentai games where you get people naked. This is a story driven heavily narrative game where you live for a few weeks in a cyberpunk world, learning about its people and the issues facing the world from your regulars.
So let’s dive right into Glitch City and see what lies in the seedy underbelly of Glitch City, and the bar known as VA-11 Hall-A. Starting as always with the Visuals.
Visually the game is stunning. It has a very clear pixel art style that is clean and crisp. The character sprites are all visually appealing and distinct, and you get to know each of the characters by site alone. Dorothy, Sei, and Stella are some of my favorite sprites. Additionally the UI is perfect, with no wasted space. Each section of the screen gives you a clear indication of what it is for, such as the mixing area, the jukebox and so on.
The other main screen you will spend time on is in Jill’s apartment. In this one you spend most of your time working on her cell phone, and again everything is clean clear and easy to understand. I absolutely love the visual style in this game.
This music is amazing, it’s perfect, and I want the soundtrack. Simple as that. And they tie it into the game by the jukebox feature, where you actually select the background music that will play on your shift. Additionally the regular sound effects are perfectly solid and work with everything. I have literally no complaints with the music.
STORY AND SETTING
The story of VA-11 Hall-A is centered on the bar the game is named after, and the bartender Jill. The game primarily explores the closing of the bar and the patrons who visit. Every day Jill wakes up, reads the news and heads to work to serve drinks and change lives. You learned about the world mostly through the Patrons of the bar, as well as the news stories you read on your phone between days. There is a story here, but its muted and very personal focused on Jill and her interactions with her boss, coworkers, and customers. I adored playing through the work days, meeting the various patrons and learning about all the goings on in the world. Also there are talking dogs and brains in jars so I mean…what more do you need?
Gameplay is very simplistic, but still fairly engaging. Everyday Jill wakes up in her apartment. You generally have a goal to make sure you have a certain amount of money before a specific date (electric bill, rent, ect) so you have goals to aim for. On the side of your screen is your phone, which slowly gets upgraded to allow more apps to be added, which is your window into the larger world. This phone is where you get your news, background to the world, and hints at the larger issues in Glitch City. You also sometimes need to visit a store to buy something to keep Jill from getting distracted at work, which would affect your income. You also can save your game here.
From here, you head to work. Your UI here is very clean. Work days start with some dialog between Jill, her boss Dana, and her coworker. Then you select your Jukebox playlist for the night, and then it’s time to “Serve Drinks and Change Lives!”
Serving drinks is very easy but mistakes can still be made. Patrons will come in, have some discussion with Jill, and then order a drink. These can be as simple and direct as make me a Sugar Rush, or as weird and ambiguous as “I just want SOMETHING”. Knowledge of the kind of drinks your patrons enjoy helps here. Your drinks are made up of 5 ingredients, mixed together in various qualities. Beer, for example, is 1 Adelhyde, 2 Bronson, 1 Delta, 2 Flanergide, 4 Karmotrine, mixed. Yes I remember this because you make it so much. You can also make them “on the rocks” (add ice), Aged, and blended (run the mixer for 5+ seconds).
If you make a mistake on the drink you cannot serve it and must reset. However, if you mess up the order (serving say Beer when they want a sweet drink) you will get an angry patron, and less money come the end of the night. You can even make “Big” drinks, where you double all ingredients added. Each night plays out this way, and its surprisingly fun and engaging when someone comes in saying “I want a Cold Drink” and I have to flip through my Drink Manual, trying to find a drink on the rocks that I think they will like (Sei generally likes Sweet drinks FYI) while also maximizing profits (I need to make money!). Beyond that, its simply reading dialog and hitting space bar or your left mouse button to advance. Sometimes there are other fun little things like a night of Truth or Dare, but most of the game is making drinks and talking to people.
At the end of the day, this is a straight forward linear narrative game, but I adore every single minute I spent with it. The atmosphere, the art, the style, the MUSIC, it was all perfect. There is even a New Game plus mode to try as there are multiple endings, if you feel the need to go chase those down. It’s also fairly short, at 8 hours for my run start to finish.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy that Piano Man. Stay Nerdy folks!