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cover-VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action

Saturday, July 8, 2023 9:37:31 AM

VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action Review (Mystique)

“VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action”, simply shortened to “Valhalla” is a dystopian, cyberpunk visual novel with an aesthetic heavily steeped in Anime, developed by Sukeban Games and published by Ysbryd Games and AGM Playism on 21.06.2016. In it, you take on the role of Jill Stingray, in media res, as she wakes up to another day, just like any other day. She lives in Glitch City, a place overrun with a horrible economy, terrible political management, fake and shock news, which keeps on repeating the same stories, a corrupt police body called “The White Knights” (evoking either the image of something pristine, or something pretentious, as well as putting in mind the word “cleansing”) and other horrors, which hide unfortunate murmurs of our real world within. Her bar, VA-11 Hall-A, is like a second home. Truthfully, it may be the last one she has, as she fills her dreary nights with the company of her strange, colorful coworkers and an even more eccentric and blooming cast of patrons.



+ An incredible soundtrack, which you unlock more and more of overtime, and which can be freely configured (playlist-style) to your liking, in the bars jukebox
+ An immense cast of characters, each with incredible designs, backstories and personalities
+ Some of the greatest video game writing to have ever been put on display
+ Impeccable displays of humor and lightheartedness, amidst the bleakness of the presented world
+ Really fun, and simple bartending gameplay
+ Beautiful graphics
+ Multiple endings
+ Extra content, crossovers and easter eggs
+ QoL: dialogue skipping (ctrl), looking back on previous dialogue you accidentally skipped (tab)


> Pretty long, took me about 16.5 hours to complete, according to Steam (some of that was extra content and leaving the game running by accident though)


- Some minor language mistakes from time to time
- I would’ve loved to have gotten to learn a little bit more about some of the characters, though their unresolved enigma might be on purpose


The door opens… the little bell at the head of the entrance chimes to signal another patron's approach. Soon a face appears in front of you. It’s always a surprise, you’re never quite sure whether you’ll meet a new face, a longtime regular, a friend even? The possibilities are endless, and Jill seems to agree. The job provides her some freedom; the patrons provide entertainment or enthralling stories to pass the time. They also provide mirrors and catalysts for Julianne Stingray to open herself up to both her patrons, her coworkers, and the player by proxy.
Some of these patrons will come once. Sometimes it will leave you sad, waiting for your favorite one-off patron to return, before the inevitable deflation of the credits slow, somber and yet beautifully sobering crawl. Sometimes you’ll dread a patron showing up, for fear of ruining your flawless service bonus and/or pushing your buttons, after just trying to relax on a rough day. Some of the characters hide beautiful rich worlds, that you’ll never fully know, because of their limited appearances. Some of them hide nothing, but vacuity and you’ll see them plenty more than you’d like. And yet all of them will surprise you. Thus is the power of VA-11 Hall-A.
The sparse gameplay elements: The bartending, the buying of items for Jill to not get distracted the next day, the clicking through forums and newspapers in your room before work, as well as a minigame, all serve to breakup some of the reading and get you back into focus, as well as to remind you of your presence in this world, of your agency as the player having consequences, on your voyeurism into these turbulent lives being real, the game’s inherent virtual nature aside. The future it presents, like most of the shining examples of science fiction, is plausible, and it’s that plausibility, which lends even more of a sting to the game’s visceral themes and presentation, like just enough seasoning to an already remarkable dish.
It, admittedly, took me long, for various reasons, to get through this whole game. I took it at my own pace, much like everyone takes life at their own pace, insofar as they’re given the chance to. And yet, every time the title screen flashed on, I was excited to crawl back into this rundown city, into that cozy little microcosm, hidden in one of its somewhat subterranean recesses. I worried for the characters. I laughed with them. I cried with them. And I sure as hell felt their victories.
VA-11 Hall-A isn’t a melancholic story. It’s not a happy story either. It’s not a comedy or a drama. It’s all of them. In fact, VA-11 Hall-A might be one of the most human stories to be put to screen and keyboard, despite its Anime stylings, and many of its characters being not human at all… at least not in the biological sense.


Sometimes a gem drops into your lap. Sometimes you miss an indie release with a pretty substantial following such as this, for a long time. As I had done for years. It is, however, my sincerest pleasure to have been privy to the incredible, bespoke art of VA-11 Hall-A’s skilled creators. This is an unforgettable experience, and one I’m sure to come back to somewhere in my life. It turns out Julianne’s mirrors, the windows into her patron’s souls, staring back at her like the Nietzschean abyss, also reflected right back at me through her eyes, and may prove a catalyst for me, all the same.
Thank You To Sukeban Games, Ysbryd Games And AGM Playism For Blessing Us With This Work Of Art For The Ages.