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VA-11 HALL-A: A Cyberpunk Bartender Action: a near-perfect game for relaxing

– Time to mix drinks and change lives –

I wrote a lot here but this is a in my opinion a wonderful game!

Recently I found myself chomping at the bit to play a calmer game after finishing the campaign of Titanfall 2, and while I own a lot of games I scoured Steam and found VA-11 HALL-A: A Cyberpunk Bartender Action, which sold me on its title and Steam description of 'VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action is a booze em' up about waifus, technology, and post-dystopia life.'

The game made a wonderful impression when I started it and it tells you to sit back, relax, grab some snacks and enjoy the game. And maybe they were on to something here, I did normally find myself eating while playing…

Gameplay: VA-11 HALL-A is more or less a visual novel with some minor gameplay mechanics thrown in, mostly centered around serving the correct drinks to the eclectic patrons of Glitch City's cozier bars. The game has branching story paths not based on what you say – but what you serve! There is a small meta-game of making enough money for bills along with buying things for the character's apartment, but it's not stressful at all. The game gives you strong hints about what drink to serve (if they don't just outright say it), and making enough money for bills and such never crossed my mind while playing. The vast majority of this game is reading – between the interactions at the bar, and reading news pieces and forums when your character is home that liven up the setting.

Story: You play as Jill, a somewhat cold but pretty chill bartender at the VA-11 HALL-A bar. Alongside side you is your badass boss, Dana, and cryptic fellow bartender, Gil. Glitch City is characterized as sort of a 'experiment' for stuff like AI integration, nanomachines, robotic enhancement, and this means the people you serve are all over the place, from cute and wholesome robot sex worker Dorothy to grizzled bounty hunter Jamie, and everyone in between. The characterizations in this game are fantastic – I could probably name everyone in the game and they all feel unique and really fleshed out in the small amount of time you spend with them. The story centers around Jill's previous relationship and said ex-girlfriend's death, while also balancing the concerns of all the people you talk to. It's a wonderfully crafted and poignant story that hit home. The writing is great, from funny to sad and everything in between. Considering it's mainly a narrative experience, I don't want to give too much away.

Visuals and Sound: don't be turned off by the anime waifu aesthetic, it really uses it more for poking fun at that culture, and for the most part it was nice to get a cyberpunk aesthetic that wasn't so depressing. The only sound in the game is background music, and the soundtrack slaps. You get control over the jukebox too during bar hours, so you can enjoy whatever you want from the games tracklist.

Overall: honestly this game just really, really hit home for a zany yet grounded narrative experience. It was so damn relaxing, the game's full of jokes, there's nothing to really worry about, and hopefully everything ends up okay (though there is a bad ending). There's also a NG+ for achievement hunting. If you're in the mood for a hilarious and relaxing bartending visual novel, VA-11 HALL-A is it.


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