VA-11 HALL-A Review (PS4)

VA-11 Hall-A

Cyberpunk is an artform that blends poverty, cultural differences, abuse of power and the bad effects of our technological advancements in one package. All these factors create a harsh environment of fear and despair, but there is always a glimmer of hope in the dark, and that’s the main idea of VA-11 HALL-A.

VA-11 HALL-A is not just a game, but a long journey of struggle from developers who love video games, and suffer from the difficulties of real life, especially in third world countries. They used this pain as a mean to create a fertile fantasy world full of attractive dramatic stories and well integrated projections on our current society and the near future of humanity.

VA-11 HALL-A is now available for PS4 (Tested), Nintendo Switch and PC.

VA-11 HALL-A Review


The story takes place in the fictional futuristic Glitch City, and more specifically in a small café called Va-11 Hall-1. You play as Jill, a bartender girl who meets all kinds of customers during her work hours, most of whom are a call back to many cyberpunk movies and tropes such as underground reporters, hackers, hired killers and even sex worker robots.

There are a lot of inspirations feeding into the game’s unique personality, especially from how PC games used to look in the nighties, with the visual art style, the anime character work and the vaporwave electronic music. Music plays an important role in building the appropriate atmosphere for the intimate conversations we will be having. Many of the characters make nods about their favorite songs and why they like these songs in particular as well.

Drinks for your sake, and mine

VA-11 HALL-A

You can add and change the music tracks you want before the start of each work day, but after making your choices they stick with you until the end of your day. There is a wide range of musical pieces suitable for all tastes, and all of them are really worth listening to. Each song immediately sets you in the mood no matter what you will be doing, and it fits into the theme of the game itself, and having to play suitable songs to please your customers.

Besides the VN-esque narrative style, the game also introduces a very simple and unique system that lets you mix fictional items and create different drinks for the visitors of your bar. You are already an experienced bartender so some ask for you by name to prepare their usual request and some others don’t know you so you need to read the atmosphere and prepare the drink that suits their mood and personality the best.

There are some requests that the game doesn’t help much with and could leave you flustered about what you should do. In that interactive way the heroine learns something new each day about the drinks you serve, and while listening to everyone’s worries you begin to learn more about the world where corruption is rampant in all fields of life such as journalism, food supplies, illegal traffic deals and even the police and security forces.

The future is unwritten, but very close

VA-11 HALL-A

The most charming aspect of cyberpunk stories lies in how they are able to capture certain microcosms of society that many of us do not pay attention to. Movies like Blade Runner managed to capture the fear that resulted from the industrial decay of the late 1970’s. There is a character inspired from the movie Akira, one of the most popular influences in the genre and his talks serve to handle the some topics the movie already did.

Akira brilliantly reflected the feelings of alienation that grew within the Japanese youth towards civilizational progress in the eighties, and Va-11 Hall-1 after it came to simulate what it is like to live in a third world country such as Venezuela (the developer’s origins) amidst the influence of globalization, increasing crime rates and economic problems.

This thought process is examined through various dialogue exchanges and even the heroine’s own lifestyle, as she struggles to pay the rent of her house, and the cheapest drink you can get at the bar is worth 80$, which reflects the high rate of inflation in this fictional city. A lot of inhumane activities also started to become normalized such as killing or having sex for money, and making body alterations to keep with the demands of the customers.

Va-11 Hall-1: A room for antiheroes

VA-11 HALL-A

In the midst of all these sad developments, the characters try as much as possible to looking to the little things that bring happiness. Your heroine Jill does not actually solve every problem, she just sits and listens, and in times that might be more than enough. Unlike the rest of the works in the genre, this game does not depict us fighting against the system, but instead we are trying as much as possible to lead a normal life inside this pit of despair.

This in turn leads to more realistic scenarios, and a much needed in depth look into the hidden aspects of life within the cyberpunk universe. The people in Va-11 Hall-1 are not working because of a painful past or a broad outlook to solve all the problems of society. They are just your everyday humans with their normal desires and simple interests, they notice the subtle changes in different expressions and speech patterns, and they don’t easily fit into one mold or another.

Each person talks about many different topics, starting with hobbies and favorite songs, and then they start to open up about their personal goals and painful memories, and some discussions can get really deep about the origin of love and feelings, and what makes us fundamentally human. The back and forth approach in portraying the different aspects of each character keeps you engaged and interested all the time.

A side channel into Life in VA-11 HALL-A

Jill

I also loved how Va-11 hall-A makes you communicate with the game world and the characters from inside your own house, as you can follow the news and the latest developments from your phone, and realize how everything is interconnected on a bigger scale. If a customer gives you a heads up on some important news, you can read about it the next day, and if someone recommends a new hit song, you can buy it and listen to it in the store.

You can also buy some extra items to decorate your home and make your mood better, or get a special gaming console for a fun shooting many game. Those little details take your mind off the painful work days, its all really great but not without its short comings, as our fascination of each character with the second half really started to diminish after learning everything there is to know about each one.

Most of the dialogue after the second half felt like a rehash of the same topics with different approaches, it does not add many new things to the cast but on the other had Jill’s personal story begins to take shape and add more depth the longer you go. Overcoming your own issues is also very important to see how your new character can influence the café-goers in many unexpected ways.

There are some secret drinks that cannot be learned on your own and not unlocking them affects your experience and your access to some of the six available endings. Achieving 100% of the game without any guide is a chore and many of the other endings are also very short and don’t add anything of value to the overall story, or make it feel like its worth the effort to unlock them.

Finale

Finale
85 100 0 1
VA-11 HALL-A takes a new found focus on characters, builds an entire fictional world around them, and explores how each of them influences other people and how their souls reflect the true things that matter in life. The experience was very atmospheric and unique and you can even gain more appreciation for it by reading the developer's blog and understanding how the characters came to life from real world memories and facts.
VA-11 HALL-A takes a new found focus on characters, builds an entire fictional world around them, and explores how each of them influences other people and how their souls reflect the true things that matter in life. The experience was very atmospheric and unique and you can even gain more appreciation for it by reading the developer's blog and understanding how the characters came to life from real world memories and facts.
85/100
Total Score

The Good

  • Unique bartending system that plays very well into the themes of the game
  • Many projections on real world matters and the hidden aspects of futuristic fictional cities
  • The heroine's personal journey draws you to complete the game to the end
  • Beautiful graphics inspired by the 80’s science fiction works

The Bad

  • Some hidden important elements regarding drinks and extra endings not explained well by the game
  • Very small tidbits of innovation in the cyberpunk medium in the form of the nano machine rejection disease
  • Side characters get a bit stale during the second half of the game
  • Short Story Length 10-13 hours compared to other VNs
Total
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