Review: VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewed by Daisy May, posted May 1, 2019, last updated May 2, 2019
May 1, 2019
  • Release Date (NA): April 2, 2019
  • Publisher: Ysbryd Games
  • Developer: Sukeban Games
  • Genres: Simulation, Visual Novel
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Sixteen years and older
  • Also For: Computer, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
VA-11 HALL-A (or Valhalla) is a critically acclaimed indie game originally released in 2016, but now it's on Switch. Can it serve up a decent story?
Daisy May

attachFull164256

Story

attachFull165489

attachThumb165490attachThumb165491attachThumb165492

Valhalla is set in a dystopian future. It's a cyberpunk environment occupied by talking dogs, synthetic life-forms, and, of course, humans. This fascinating world is gradually built up over the course of the game, with new characters and events popping up every-so-often. This focus on world-building is one of the great parts of Valhalla, and it's all done from the confines of a single setting—a run-down bar in a quiet part of Glitch City. Here, you work as a bartender, interacting with clients by conjuring up different cocktails for them. As the story continues, you get to know the quirks and preferences of each character, allowing you to feel a deeper connection to them.

The story itself focuses on Jill, the bartender of VA-11 HALL-A. As Jill, you simply have to listen to your patrons, and give them the correct drinks. However, behind the scenes, Jill suffers through loss and anxiety over regrettable decisions she's made in the past. This game doesn't seem to have too much of a diverging storyline, but multiple pathways are possible. These are achieved by a variety of means, such as serving certain drinks to the right customers, or by going bankrupt and becoming homeless. I managed to keep my balance high enough throughout the game to pay all my bills, but I'd like to see what happens if you fail.

While the story does focus on Jill, the game does a great job at building stories around other characters, too. There's Gillian, the mysterious co-worker that you slowly learn more about, and Sei, part of a division of 'White Knights', presumed dead after a rebellion against the authorities creates chaos in the streets. Each character has their own story, building a genuinely interesting world. There's even apps on your phone, where you can gauge public opinion of what's going on, and read the news, to provide more context for the state of the world.

Gameplay

attachFull165488

attachThumb165486attachThumb165487attachThumb165485

The gameplay here is really quite simple. You have to make the correct drink for the person you're serving. This is done by looking the drink up in a recipe book, and combining the correct ingredients to create the right cocktail. Depending on how much you've picked up the habits of your customers, you may think you know better, and provide a different drink than they ordered. This is about all of the depth the gameplay has, with a few minor exceptions. Overall, this part isn't very exciting, but it's not obnoxious either. The real joy of Valhalla comes from the personalities and reactions of the characters you're serving, rather than the action of serving them.

Throughout the game, you earn money depending on your performance in the bar. You collect a small percentage of the profit, tips, and a bonus depending on if you made your patrons happy. There are a few times in the game where you need a large amount of cash in your account to pay off rent or bills, changing the story depending on whether you reach those goals. Otherwise, you can buy wallpapers for your room, and certain objects from the shop, that help to keep Jill focused throughout the day. If Jill is distracted, she will have trouble remembering what drinks to serve. If you're close to paying bills, you have to make a choice between saving money, and buying the object so that you can perform better. I didn't have too much of a problem, as paying attention to the dialogue is usually good enough to let you know what the customer ordered. There are situations, though, where Jill will drop a hint about serving a different drink, which can only happen when you're focused.

Graphics & Music

attachFull165493

attachThumb165494attachThumb165495attachThumb165496attachThumb165497

Graphically, Valhalla uses beautifully detailed pixel art. It seems simple, but it works so effectively, and the subdued art-style fits the mood of the game to a T. I'm often turned off by a lot of visual novels' art styles, but, if anything, Valhalla drew me in. Not a single part of this game seems lazily or sloppily put together. The smaller, less detailed art used in certain situations such as before work are also really cute, and I appreciate the ability to customise my room with a variety of wallpapers. 

The music fits the game just as well as the art, and is absolutely stunning. I never got bored listening to the futuristic sounding music, either in the bar, or in other situations. Before each bar-tending session, you're asked to set music in the jukebox. This is a neat feature, but I was really disappointed there wasn't a 'randomise' or 'shuffle' option. Selecting a ton of music tracks isn't easy, especially at the beginning when you don't know any of them. That said, no matter what I decided to stack up in the playlist, I was not once disappointed.

Verdict
Pros
+ Set in an interesting world
+ Tons of likeable characters
+ Emotional story
+ Stunning art & music
Cons
- A little short
10 Presentation
This is a simple but beautiful looking game. The characters are expressive, the spritework is wonderful, and everything fits together incredibly well. This includes the music, which is a delight to listen to.
8 Gameplay
The gameplay isn't the star of the show here, with the focus being on the story. That said, it's fine for the purpose it serves, and is easy to get the hang of quickly.
7 Lasting Appeal
This game has multiple endings, which could give you tons of replay time. That said, my initial play-through only took around 5 hours, and I don't feel particularly compelled to give it another play; I'm just not the sort of person to play through the same story right after finishing it. I loved every second of it, but it's a little short.
9
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Overall, I enjoyed VA-11 HALL-A way more than I'd anticipated. It's a visual novel with a lot of heart, a heartwarming and emotional story, and some great aesthetics. It's also super cheap, so the relatively short play-time isn't so bad. I'd recommend giving it a go, even if you're not usually into VNs.


Share
gnmmarechal, DSwizzy, Chary and 8 others like this.
13 comments

  • Arras
  • Daisy
  • Sonic Angel Knight
  • Daisy
  • Sonic Angel Knight
  • scionae
  • splymb
  • Justinde75
  • Snugglevixen
  • Daisy
  • DSwizzy
  • Pipistrele
  • Daisy