VA11 Hall-A is a waifu cyberpunk bartender sim made by Sukeban Games.
Do you love dogs? Shiba inus? Corgis? This is just the game for you! You play as Jill, a waifu bartender for VA11 Hall-A and you start the prologue serving a bunch of talking dogs. You usually have your partner Gillian with you, but for that night, you go at it alone. You’re later joined by your own friends, some human, some Lilim (humanoid robots).
I’ve been too used to playing visual novels that allow you to make your own choices and choose your own endings that passing by an actual visual novel almost confused me. It was definitely a breath of fresh air, as everything about the game stuck to its theme so well. VA11 Hall-A puts you in the shoes of a bartender that really just talks to people, so very fitting for a visual novel. To gaming newbies, note that this is text-heavy, but not a problem if you like reading.
My favorite thing about VA11 Hall-A is that it gives you no background or history, you are merely thrust into the game and are given context on different things so smoothly it’s not even difficult to grasp. It never once felt draggy, as the people you encounter turn out to be stranger and stranger, especially because it deals with futuristic beings, and in-game celebrities. It’s also nice to have a game about people that don’t consider certain social norms as taboo anymore, as this game has a number of bisexual and lesbian/gay characters without being sexualized.
Replayability’s a tiny problem, since there’s no skip option for text that’s already been read, and as this is a text-heavy game + the feature of mixing drinks for customers, trying to achieve certain endings may prove to be a little tedious especially if you’ve seen a lot of the dialogue already.
Other than advancing conversation, you have complete control over the kinds of drinks you serve your clients. You can choose to get them through the day without making them trip over their feet, or just plainly get them drunk. Depending on the drinks you serve or how drunk you get a client, you get different dialogues, and if you serve the right ones, you get proper endings with the people you befriend.
The tutorial is brief and very easy to understand. There isn’t really a time limit so you can go about your sweet time without worrying about losing customers like in Diner Dash, since your bar isn’t of the popular kind (which attracts all kinds of popular people). However some clients like to test you with your knowledge on the drinks and have riddles for you to solve by serving them the proper drink. But if that makes you feel uneasy, have a little drink and delight in the fact that your recipe book will be with you at all times.
I really love the layout of the entire game; especially when Jill is back in her home, it reminds me of almost a Tamagotchi kind of setting even if you can’t really feed her or anything. Just the look itself is really aesthetically pleasing if not somehow nostalgic. I also love the feature of using her tablet on the left — very simple and allows you to do what majority of smartphone/tablet users do, which is surf online. There is no social media aspect, which works just as well with Jill’s personality. Instead, she reads through articles which provides context to help you understand the events happening in Glitch City (where the bar is located) that end up being mentioned by your clients.
You not only serve drinks but the game offers you a lot of different options and opportunities to get more dialogue as seen in the trailer.
With over 40 songs to choose from and others to unlock, another aspect Jill has control over is making her playlist. All by Michael “Garoad” Kelly, the songs are synth-y and made to sound futuristic. It not only fits the theme of the story, it fits the visuals of the game. It doesn’t have a complete retro sound like most people would expect when playing a game with pixel art; it’s honestly very pleasing to the ear, though some of it just sounded more or less the same to me. There’s some sort of quality that makes it sound retro, but also doesn’t. Does that make sense?
By befriending clients or buying things from the store, you get to unlock more music to choose from. If you’d like to hear them, you can check out Garoad’s Bandcamp here. Two my favorite songs out of all is “Re: Snowfall” because of the bossa, lounge and jazzy feel, and “Neon District” for the bassline.
The part I’m most excited to write about! If you’ve only recently stumbled upon this game review blog of mine, you’ll find that I am a huge fan of pixel art, and absolutely love games with brilliant pixel art such as this. It’s a mix of retro and futuristic styles. The visuals aren’t stationary, which makes it even more impressive even if it really is just minimal movements — it’s enough to bring the art to life.
The pinkish – purple color scheme also works very well, and I was very surprised that in your home, you can choose to change the design of your wallpaper and the design of your kotatsu. It’s a very simple and small game that can do a lot, which is probably why it stuck with me and why I love it.
Rating: 9 / 10
***This game contains alcohol references/use of alcohol (duh), strong language, and sexual themes.
This game can be played on PC/Mac/Linux, the PS Vita, and on iOS. Buy the game for P419.95 on GOG, itch.io, Steam, or visit their website for more info. Find the developer’s social media here: Facebook / Twitter.
Thank you to Beany for telling me about this game!