Cyberpunk is one of those sub-genres of real science fiction that has made the most contributions to the gaming world in recent years, and we're not just thinking about CD Project Red's highly anticipated Cyberpunk 2077. Minor and indie productions remind, even more frequently than the most famous titles, how the genre still has so many stories to tell, so many characters to present and even gameplay mechanics that would not even come to mind even the most imaginative player. VA-11 HALL-A in 2016 it was published on PC and probably should have carried the flag also for all the other indians born with the same purposes; instead it ended up being known only to a niche of enthusiasts. But perhaps its most recent release on the Nintendo Switch (the conversion of which we will examine in this one review) could represent the moment of recovery and greater notoriety. So let's take a closer look at the history and offer of a title that is as atypical as it is fascinating.
Plot: dystopia and bartender
The most successful indies are those that are born as an amateur product, and then receive enough funds from interested players and enough patience from the developers to be carried out successfully. The story of VA-11 HALL-A is therefore one of those with a happy ending: the game was released in 2016 on Windows, Linux and OS X, with the promise of subsequent ports also for PlayStation Vita and iOS devices. Not that the conversions represented a published undertaking from a technical point of view: it is a title that draws very strong inspiration from the PC-98 games of the 80s; if you are easily kidnapped by the pixelated graphics, by the extreme stylistic care based on inlays of the aesthetic sector and by the sufficiently varied electronic music, you will hardly be able to ignore the new conversion recently landed also on Nintendo Switch.
The idea of a new porting seems decidedly sensible: VA-11 HALL-A belongs to a niche genre but very valid in its structural elements, and above all in the plot it wants to tell, so the arrival on the Nintendo portable console could contribute at least a little to a greater notoriety among the general public. The latter will unfortunately undoubtedly be slowed down, and unfortunately we must tell you right away, by the presence of the English language alone, even three years after the original publication: it is probably a problem linked to purely economic aspects, but in a work that is fundamentally narrative will be a major obstacle for all non-English speakers. Even considering the frequent puns, slang, metaphorical language and other details that are far from marginal. Before even talking about the plot of VA-11 HALL-A, to try to frame the genre to which the title belongs, it is worth starting from the starting definition provided by the developers themselves, that is the Sukeban Games team: a visual novel that at the same time is also a bartending simulator, that is, it places the player in the the role of the professional bartender (we will come back to this aspect later).
Il Cyberpunk of VA-11 HALL-A can therefore be placed in the context of dystopia, an imaginary future in which technology has progressed very, very quickly but without really leading to the improvement of the population's lifestyle, nor to its happiness. The world is now in the hands of a few and powerful corporations, human beings are contaminated by nanotechnology and the regime of the White Knights (the White Knights, a sadly ironic symbolic combination) checks that the law is respected, always and by everyone. In this context not exactly marked by collective happiness, the player plays the role of Julianne Natalie Stingray, for friends Jill, a 27-year-old girl who works at VA-11 HALL-A, a bar in the fictional town of Glitch City affectionately called Valhalla by its patrons. The irony of the developers is a characterizing trait of the entire production: just as "the bad guys" are the White Knights (a color traditionally associated with good, peace and purity), a simple and anonymous bar in the slums of a super-technological city is called Valhalla, the most majestic of the halls of Asgard in Norse mythology.
Gameplay: between visual novel and simulator
The context of VA-11 HALL-A is fundamental in order to fully appreciate and understand the production of Sukeban Games, but all those who are fascinated by a generic Cyberpunk must have in mind what are the strengths and limits of the gameplay. On balance the game is nothing more than a pleasant one history, told through the many dialogues between Jill (the bartender) and the other characters, frequenters of the place where she works or colleagues and friends. Among the latter we note the presence of Gillian and we leave to you the pleasure of discovering all the others: Gillian will guide the player in the first moments of the title, grappling with a short tutorial dedicated to what on balance is also the only, unique, precise, interminable, unavoidable game mechanics, that is bartending.
We explain it more simply: Jill is the employee of the bar, and as such she has to prepare the drinks for everyone who will order one. The player's task is therefore to know the recipes of the drinks and mix the respective ingredients easily and in the right dose: a practical notebook will allow you to get a more precise idea of the main ingredients to draw from (there are about seven), but the freedom of combinations will still remain in the hands of the protagonist. Depending on how we dose the various components, our customers will be more or less satisfied with the service, they will remain more or less lucid during the conversation, they will decide to stay longer or shorter in the company of Jill: each of them has very specific tastes and a particular nature, and from the meeting between all these components (and from Jill's answers) it will be possible to unlock the different answers and narrative lines. A poorly dosed drink, therefore, will preclude certain lines of dialogue; a bartending excellent instead will open all the doors of the various narrative junctions.
The only problem with VA-11 HALL-A is basically just this: the obvious limitations of a gameplay that asks the player to always do the same thing in different ways, sometimes with a really maniacal level of precision; the level of improvement required in the preparation of drinks certainly cannot protect from boredom and repetitiveness of the actions, identical for all the hours necessary to complete the main adventure (and there are many). On the other hand VA-11 HALL-A is in its essence a story, an articulated, pleasant and inspired tale in a futuristic and dystopian world: those looking for just this (and preferably only this) in the production will hardly have anything to complain about. of developers. There narration continues pleasantly without major twists, but you always have the feeling of revealing important and fundamental details in the life of the various personalities who frequent the bar: they are original characters and "about genres", who belong to various social strata of the local population . Everyone seems to be perpetually looking for a solid point in their existence, for a glimmer of happiness in an existence that is all in all programmed and gray. The influences of Blade Runner e 1984 they are many and obvious: in itself the narrative approach is not a limitation of the production, but its supporting structure. Some goodies not bad before saying goodbye: you can decorate Jill's room, select some songs from the soundtrack to play on her smartphone and read the main news of the city in the App of the local news.
CommentTested version Nintendo Switch Digital Delivery Nintendo eShop Price 14,99 € Resources4Gaming.com
VA-11 HALL-A is a visual novel that closely resembles the art direction and play style of 2066 Read Only Memories, but then takes very different directions in gameplay. It is a long narrative that takes its time and its specific modalities, to offer the player a story that is slowly reconstructed on the basis of the dialogues between the protagonist Jill and the patrons of the bar where she works; based on the choices made during the speech, and especially depending on the drinks prepared and served on the counter, the narrative junctions change, the characters change, the details learned become more or less numerous. This is not a game suitable for everyone, but a valid and accurate production (also in the artistic and sound direction) that we warmly invite you to take into consideration. Even in the face of an all in all low price.
- Original and well characterized characters
- Fascinating storytelling
- The narrative is modeled on the actions and phrases of the player
- Only one mechanic in the gameplay ...
- ... repeated to exhaustion
- A Spanish translation would have helped the tale