Disclaimer: VA-11 HALL-A is available on PC and (reviewed on) PS Vita. A review code for the game was provided by the publisher or developer.
VA-11 HALL-A is a fantastic narrative game that recently hit the PlayStation Vita. The year is 2070-something, you play as a bartender named Jill who meets various types of people during her job at a dystopian downtown bar. When talking with these people you’re told entertaining stories and get to know the interesting views of each character. Whether it’s their personal belief’s, their attitudes, or what grind their gears, the writing is done extremely well that you’re constantly engaged in the conversation. Strap in, here comes about six-hundred words of praising this exceptional visual novel.
All The Goods
VA-11 HALL-A was originally developed for the Cyberpunk Game Jam of 2014; however, Sukeban Games liked the game so much that they wanted to turn it into a full game. VA-11 HALL-A had garnered a pre-release critical acclaim thanks to a prototype version that was released on PC. I was pleasantly surprised to see the official version of the game was making its way to PS Vita, and even more surprised to discover it wasn’t coming to PS4 (at least, not yet). So what exactly makes this game so great? Well, it’s the odd, yet therapeutic culmination of crafting different alcoholic beverages, having casual conversations with strangers, and listening to the fantastic soundtrack the game features.
At its core, VA-11 HALL-A is an interactive visual novel, however, it’s unique premise and gameplay mechanics are enough to help it stand out from the bunch. Here’s the thing, I’m not a visual novel gamer, I have tried multiple times with even the most critically praised visual novels and I typically just can’t get into them. However, every now and then, one will grab my attention. VA-11 HALL-A did just that, it sunk its claws into me and didn’t let go.
When it comes to serving drinks, some customers will be straight-forward, while others will only give you a little bit of info as to what they’re in the mood for, and you just have to do your best. Crafting certain types of drinks during some occasions can actually change the outcome of the story. So there are branching dialogues that add more incentive to replay the game to get separate experiences and endings. I know, branching dialogues, not necessarily a unique idea, but definitely a unique way of executing it.
Learning The World Through Conversation
When jumping in, you, the player, are clueless about the world around you; but it all gets filled in by Jill (your character) and the customers you meet and talk with. Along with that, another thing I love about the game is that it’s not afraid to deal heavy and mature themes. The writing feels very down-to-earth and genuine. Every character has unique perspectives — some people you can understand where they’re coming from; others.. not some much.
As usual, I don’t want talk too in-depth about the game’s story details. I believe games like VA-11 HALL-A that are heavily story-driven are better-experienced going in with a blank canvas. I will say though, this Vita game features charming, emotional, and sometimes even aggravating stories that I definitely didn’t expect when jumping in.
At the time of writing this review, this is the last game I played in 2017, and I’m happy this year went out with such a fun and memorable experience on my favorite handheld. VA-11 HALL-A may be a part of a genre that’s a bit oversaturated on the PS Vita, but in my opinion, it’s a must play on the platform. Let’s hope we continue to see support for the PlayStation Vita from great developers in the coming years.