Cyberpunk is coming back. It never really left, but its coming full circle again in the fashion timeline (which isn’t a straight line. But more like a Spiral that keeps getting longer, hence a lot of things tend to come and go). The difference between now and it’s golden age is that the technology is a step closer, going from, as Phillip K Dick suggested, science fiction to science reality or futurism. While at the same time, people are nowhere near that advancement, as our review today is going to show you. I can also say that this is a (loose) Christmas game – the first one of the year! This is Va11 Hall-A.
Set in the 2070s in Glitch City, Va11 Hall-A (Or Vallhalla) is a Cyberpunk Bartender Simulator starring Jill Stingray, a 27 year old Bartender who has run away from everything to do this job. Her boss is Dana, a former professional wrestler who looks like a teenage girl with at least 1 robot arm, and her co-worker is Gillian, a young man from Hong Kong who gives away very few details about his life (and Gillian might not even be his real name). Throughout the game, Jill encounters a wide range of characters telling her about their lives and their problems; Men, women, children (yes, in a bar), talking dogs, androids, cybernetically enhanced people, brains in jars. celebrities, journalists, detectives, hackers, vloggers, police, soldiers, artists, ghosts, straight, bi, gay, ambiguous – They’re all in there, it all leads to an interesting experience, and it all brings Jill to a personal revelation of herself.
Now to look at the code;
The Graphics can be seen as either unbelievably dated or timeless and stylised depending on your perception. Compared to big budget games, it is out of its depth. But when treated as its own entity, we need to delve into our discussion on the art style for this. Onto the next paragraph.
The Art Style is highly inspired, using primarily pixel art while going nuts with a combination of neon colours and anime character design, with some designs clearly borrowing from prominent Anime made in the ’80s and ’90s. One game I can loosely compared the visuals with would be Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (an excellent PS3 game based on the manga and movie) as well as the upcoming blockbuster game (as of the publishing of this review), Cyberpunk 2077…and you know what, we’ll throw in 2014’s ‘Dex’ for good measure as well.
The Level Design, much like Coffee Talk, is split up into days and breaks. Either Jill takes a break during work, or her shift is up and she goes home for the night/morning. Her break at work is simply to save the game, as conversations can get a bit long (though if you wanted to, they can be skimmed through). But at home she very much prepares for the next day or enjoys herself. She can go shopping, play video games (if she bought a games console from the pawn shop), go to a concert, redecorate her apartment, or simply look at the news, all while being quietly demanded upon by her black cat Fore.
The Gameplay is very simple, because all you’re really doing is making drinks, and whether you create the drinks right will determine what ever endings you get at the end. Each drink requires its own recipe (even beer is made from scratch like a cocktail in this game, which is funny) and you have the liberty to either make it a larger drink by doubling the ingredients or in some cases, by making it more alcoholic by adding Karmotrine, and in this case, sometimes, a customer’s dialogue will change. Especially in terms of blush. Another feature, which doesn’t affect the gameplay at all, is your ability to pick the songs you want to play on the JukeBox – more on that in a later paragraph.
The Story, like the Art style, is highly inspired and is clearly written with a love for the Cyber Punk genre while keeping the material almost entirely focused on people and their problems. The creators borrowed from their own experiences and perceptions of life in their home country (Venezuela), in which, despite being in a very imperfect environment, people will still search for and find happiness despite external circumstances. Mixed with this realism, it also borrows a lot of pop culture references, and part of the fun comes from pointing out where those references comes from…There’s even 1 that’s based on a Monty Python sketch. See if you can find it.
The Music my Michael Kelly is among my favourite soundtracks at this point (and Kelly’s said to be a big fan of the Shin Megami Tensei series, so I’m not surprised). In fact, the score known as “Every Day Is Night” (which I once selected as the entire soundtrack for one in-game night and got a trophy from Playstation for it) was what got me interested in getting this game in the first place. Capturing, almost completely, the soul of its source material. While listening to it, you can hear hints of Ghost in The Shell, Bladerunner, Fifth Element, and all with a hint of old anime soundtracks and Japanese Playstation One games…I love it. I really do.
Would I recommend Va11 Hall-A? Yes I would. On the surface, it is far from being a game for everybody. But at the same time, it is a tremendous game within its style and approach. I found myself absorbed in its environment, as if I was already there, even if there was no spoken dialogue in the whole experience. It’s set in December as well, so it’s quite a good game to play during the Winter Holiday Season, whether it be a Happy Christmas or a Happy Hanukkah.
Graphics: **1/2 (DUD compared to AAA games, ***** compared to retro style games)
Art Style: *****
Level Design: ***3/4