VA-11 HALL-A is a fantastic narrative game that recently hit the Nintendo Switch. The year is 2070-something and 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. Everything from their personal belief’s, attitudes, and even what grind their gears. The writing is done extremely well and is done in such a way that I was constantly engaged in all of her conversations.
VA-11 HALL-A was originally developed for the Cyberpunk Game Jam of 2014; however, Sukeban Games liked the concept so much that they wanted to turn it into a fully-fledged title. VA-11 HALL-A had garnered pre-release critical acclaim thanks to a prototype version previously launching on PC. I was pleasantly surprised to see the game was making its way to Switch and PS4 as I’ve felt its been criminally overlooked.
So what exactly makes VA-11 HALL-A 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, its 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 enthusiast by any means. 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, sinking its claws deep 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. 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 novel gameplay mechanic, but VA-11 HALL-A definitely has 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 with heavy and mature themes. The writing feels very down-to-earth and genuine.
I found it very easy to become empathetic towards a character while they bend your ear. You’ll learn about their opinions and life circumstance. On the other hand, there are some characters who aren’t as welcoming.
As usual, I don’t want to 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.
While playing in handheld feels more natural, playing docked doesn’t feel as clunky as you would imagine a touch-based game to feel. It does take a bit longer to navigate the menus and craft drinks, but it’s definitely still playable with a controller. To add to that, seeing the beautiful art-style on the big screen is something to behold. Still, though, VA-11 HALL-A is a world you want to be engrossed in, so it’s best played in handheld mode with a nice pair of headphones.
VA-11 HALL-A is a game I think everyone should try out. Its interesting characters, compelling stories, and flawless soundtrack help it stand out in the visual novel genre. It’s simply a must play on the Nintendo Switch.
Release Date: May 2
No. of Players: 1
Category: Visual novel, strategy
Developer: Sukeban Games
A review code was provided by the publisher.
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Brett Medlock is Nintendo Enthusiast’s Editor-in-chief. He’s obsessed with action-adventure games, platinum trophies, and K-pop. To hear more about how lame he is, follow him on Twitter @brettnll