• Release: June 2016
  • Time to complete: ~10 hrs

Another visual novel with another gimmick game mechanic: this time you are a bartender and mix drinks to satisfy customers. Usually they will ask specifically for what they want, but sometimes aren't so sure - and in these cases it's up to you to come up with a beverage that will suit them. Some of your ending scenes are predicated on serving them appropriate drinks, while major game milestones rely on you having gained enough money from your job to pay your bills - and serving more expensive drinks will help you earn more money. You've got a recipe book so messing up drinks is really due to your own lack of paying attention, and the interface for making them is basically drag and drop, easy stuff.

Your interactions with the world are almost entirely in two forms: talking to patrons and employees at your bar workplace, or reading internet feed articles on your cellphone at home. Some pretty decent world building goes on, based around a typically neon-drenched seedy dystopian future world. Characters are interesting, and the dialogue is on the whole pretty well written, with occasionally very prescient and thoughtful pieces - however the majority is of a particular 'mature' tone. The specific maturity of those just in their 20s with hormones at the fronts of their minds - I would guess 50% of the text is in some way related to sex or sexuality. It also appears that homosexuality is well-accepted in this future - it feels as if the majority of the characters are LGTBQ, including the main character - a lesbian. Many of the story points revolve around her relationships, so if this kind of thing puts you off, VA-11 HALL-A is certainly not the game for you.

I would consider the highlights of the game to be the art style and the music - both of which help evoke the 'retro cyberpunk' aesthetic so proudly proclaimed by the subtitle - "cyberpunk bartender action". Any fan of that style will surely find the graphics of VA-11 HALL-A appealing, and the music is wide-ranging and well done.

While I did generally enjoy VA-11 HALL-A's slice-of-life style, and was happy to experience the world and its characters, said experience was a little short, and the ending is not particularly conclusive, feeling like there's a lot more to cover. The drink mixing, while not taxing or difficult, was fairly repetitive, and the dialogue was a bit overly sexualised for my liking. Otherwise, worth a go.

Note that the PS Vita version at least has some performance issues - especially when the game is saving in the background. The whole interface locks up, the sound gets stuck in a repeat loop, and animations become very low frame-rate. Fortunately this doesn't happen too often, and never at a time which it interferes with the gameplay. But it does make you wonder if the game is crashing the first few times. Could definitely do with some improvements in this regard - but I assume it doesn't occur on other platforms.

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