Review by John Hellier
Making your way in the world today taking everything you’ve got? You want to go where everybody knows your (user)name. Well, it’s not every day I get to paraphrase the opening theme to Cheers, so we are already dealing with something special. Pull up a stool, grab a beverage and let’s get comfortable for the most unique game I’ve played this year (so far).
VA-11 HALL-A (AKA Vallhalla, thankfully by itself, making my typing much simpler) is, and I quote here, “cyberpunk bartender action” meaning it is in a genre entirely of its own (at least that I know of, don’t @ me). Sukeban games have brought us this utterly unique style of game, so it is them who I have to blame for making this review tricky to write.
Set in the future year of 207X, in Glitch City, you play as Jill, a bartender working in VA-11 HALL-A, serving drinks to various clientele and listening to their stories, worries, hopes and dreams. This being the future, said clientele consists of humans, lilims (androids), augmented assassins, cat girls (because why the hell not) and dogs. Yes, dogs. Not dog girls, not dog people hybrids, just talking dogs. It’s as odd as it sounds, but odd doesn’t mean bad.
The gameplay is extremley visual novel-esque, but given the subject matter, it works really well. As I said, you have to serve drinks and chat with your clients, so lots of text is to be expected. Being an indie game this means no voice acting, which is a plus really as it would be very easy to get the voices wrong.
Each character has their own personality and story, making each interaction interesting and engaging. As an aside, there are also a whole bunch of pop culture references thrown in, which did raise an alarm bell when I read up on Valhalla before playing it. Having been released on pretty much every format before finally coming to PlayStation 4, I was worried these would come off as stale, but thankfully I was worried about nothing, the writing is that good.
For a game with this much dialogue, there is a distinct lack of conversation options. By which I mean you don’t choose how you respond to the other characters, at least not verbally. The main gameplay element is the mixing of drinks, which is a relatively straightforward affair. You have a recipe book containing all the drinks and how to make them, and you simply follow the instructions, putting the required ingredients in and mixing or blending them. This, for the most part, is simple, with clients asking for specific drinks, but occasionally you will be thrown a curve ball, by being asked for something sweet for instance, or something manly, or even “the usual” meaning you have to pay attention to what you serve to who. Getting the right drinks to the right people earns you more money, which you use between shifts in order to pay bills and buy things to stop Jill getting distracted at work, and trust me, distracted Jill is not fun. Try filling a complicated order without having the prompt reminding you of what you are supposed to be making, and the chances of success are greatly reduced.
At the time of writing, I’ve finished Valhalla once, netting one of 6 possible endings. Luckily on starting a second playthrough, you are given hints on how to get the other endings, which makes sense in a strange way and is a massive help, because until then I was at a loss how things could have turned out differently.
Now comes the important part, should you play VA-11 HALL-A? The short answer is yes, assuming you enjoy a good narrative and well-written characters. Let’s just say there is no Battle Royale mode, which could be enough of a recommendation right there.
Overall Score – 8/10
For a game called Valhalla, don’t expect any Vikings, there isn’t a horned helmet in sight.