VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action Articles RSS Feed | VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network VA-11 HALL-A Review: A Stylish Visual Novel That Feels at Home on Nintendo Switch Thu, 02 May 2019 15:05:39 -0400 diegoarguello

“Time to mix drinks and change lives,” says Jill every time a new shift begins. She’s a bartender in an obscure joint found in an alleyway of Glitch City, the main city in Sukeban Games' VA-11 HALL-A. 

Set in the distant future, the city is run by mega-corporations, and androids are more than an established part of society. However, both the androids and humans have their fair share of problems, and they all prefer to tell more about their lives with a drink in hand.

VA-11 HALL-A is a visual initially released for PC back in 2016, followed by a PlayStation Vita port in 2017. Now, the cyberpunk tale has made the jump to the Nintendo Switch (it also just came out on the PS4). The Switch version, though, includes HD Rumble, touch controls, and the perfect portability that I’ve grown so attached to during my time with it.

The first message you see when you start a new game tells you to get yourself comfortable and grab a drink and some snacks. In my experience, playing in bed wrapped in a blanket made for a perfect match. 

VA-11 HALL-A starts with the basics. Each day in the bar is divided into two stages; there's a break in between for Jill to grab a smoke or get some air, which the player uses to save their game before continuing with the routine.

Almost everything in VA-11 HALL-A happens on the same screen, too. On the left side, you’ll see the characters that show up in the bar, along with your co-workers, and read the dialogue box. On the right side, you have your own bartending mini-game.

There are different ingredients to use, options to make a drink either aged or on the rocks, and a mix button that can lead to two different results depending on how long you shake the drink. Clients come and talk about their lives, and often ask for several different drinks during their visits. Once you get their order, you only need to look for it in a receipt book and follow it through.

Sometimes it gets a bit more complex. People will make general requests that have more than one correct answer, and as long as the drink matches it in some way, you’re good to go. This includes something bitter, or maybe a non-alcoholic drink, while others are even more abstract.

While mixing drinks might just seem like a mini-game that adds some variety to the visual-novel elements of the game, the mechanic is perfectly integrated with the overall experience. Conversations feel natural and all of the characters are equally interesting yet distinct in their own way. And since there’s no heavy penalty for messing up a drink, it feels like a very welcoming experience.

That doesn’t mean that Jill does voluntary work at the bar, though. She always gets a check at the end of the day, which often has bonuses for not messing up any orders. Before and after each workday, you can spend some time in Jill’s apartment reading the news or listening to music on her phone. But you can also buy things in an online shop.

Sometimes she will have something on her mind that wants to purchase, and if you happen to ignore such requests, Jill will have a harder time remembering what the orders were, making it easier to fail them and lose your bonus.

Again, it’s the little touches in VA-11 HALL-A that make for a greater experience. Manually drinking cans of beer while having a conversation with your boss on a balcony, or being able to create your own playlist out of a jukebox before every shift add a lot to your regular visual novel. And that’s what makes this one so special.

Playing VA-11 HALL-A as the developers intended you to, being as cozy as possible, couldn’t be more perfect on Nintendo Switch. I only wish the touch controls were fully integral since you’re likely to use the "L" and "R" buttons to open some menus from time to time. Other than that, it translates perfectly. And you need only to wear your best headphones to enjoy the music and get immersed in the story.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about it, since there is a main plot that starts to develop during the first days, along with different endings to discover. But the focus on characters is clear from the beginning, being a core aspect that works perfectly. Oh, and there’s a shiba inu with glasses. Really, what else can you ask for?

  • Interesting characters with equally intriguing stories to tell.
  • The bartending minigame adds a lot to the story.
  • Great sense of humor and compelling story overall.
  • Unbeatable soundtrack
  • Dogs wearing glasses.
  • Some parts of the UI don't translate entirely well while using touch controls.

VA-11 HALL-A is a visual novel at heart, but all of the elements surrounding it make for a unique experience on its own. The Nintendo Switch version stands on its own as an excellent way of experiencing this cyberpunk tale, even if it's not completely flawless in terms of controls.

[Note: A copy of VA-11 HALLA was provided by Stride PR for the purpose of this review.]

VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action Review -- A Hip Flask of the Human Condition Thu, 16 Nov 2017 13:55:14 -0500 Greyson Ditzler

DISCLAIMER: This review will be SPOILER-FREE. Enter with confidence.

I'm so glad that I finally get a chance to talk about VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender ActionDeveloped by Venezuelan developer Sukeban Games and recently brought to PlayStation Vita thanks to publisher Wolfgame, VA-11 HALL-A is a visual novel/bartending simulator set in a fascinating Cyberpunk future world. 

VA-11 HALL-A is a narrative-driven game loaded with compelling human themes as well as radical cyberpunk storytelling. It's a game that prioritizes narrative and characters over gameplay, letting the writing take up most of the screentime, and allowing the minimal gameplay to simply function well and exist mainly to serve the story it's telling.

Originally released in 2016, the game was only recently ported to the PlayStation Vita, introducing  some slight differences, which gives people like me an excuse to talk about it again. So, is VA-11 HALL-A so good of a narrative game that it's worth playing again on a handheld? Is it a game that's worth your time at all if you aren't into this kind of "interactive story" sort of game?

Pull up a seat and we'll discuss it. There's a three-drink minimum.

What's in a game?

I'd like to start off this review by addressing the talking point people have brought up regarding whether or not VA-11 HALL-A is really a game or not. This sort of debate tends to come up with games like this (or Gone Home or The Stanley Parable), which emphasize storytelling over gameplay.

To me, in order to be a game, something must have a win condition and a lose condition, the exact definitions of which are up to interpretation. In the case of VA-11 HALL-A, while it's very hard to truly "lose" the game, it is possible to get what the creators call a "good ending" and a "bad ending," which, to me, constitutes both success and failure. So in my mind, VA-11 HALL-A is definitely a game.

Sex, Dogs, and Rock and Roll

VA-11 HALL-A is loaded with intriguing dialogues about a variety of topics, ranging from sensationalist media, racism, mental illness, human augmentation, drugs, family, love, fear of the future, sex (there's quite a lot about sex), and so on. 

If this dialogue makes you uncomfortable, then this might not be the game for you. This stuff isn't constant, but it's very prevalent.

You play as Jill, the bartender working at the BTC-certified chain bar VA-11 in Hall-A, commonly referred to as Valhalla, which is tucked away in a corner in one of the seedier parts of the dystopian cyberpunk setting of Glitch City. The game's story isn't about the city or the world but rather our main character Jill and the many clients she encounters over the course of most of a month during the Mega-Christmas season.

The writing is the most prominent and noteworthy aspect of this game -- which should be expected from a visual novel -- but the gameplay isn't bad either. Your main goal -- as well as the core gameplay -- is to mix drinks in accordance with orders you receive from customers, making sure to carefully read the instructions and get it right. Depending on the situation, you can decide to make a drink bigger or stronger, which can lead to different dialogues and even different story arcs, making every drink in some way matter in terms of overall plot progression.

Some people don't seem to like this game's writing, and a lot of those people say it's because they don't think the characters speak very realistically. To some extent, I can see the validity of their argument. While the characters in VA-11 HALL-A are definitely unique and well fleshed-out, most of the dialogue that comes out of them doesn't exactly sound like average, everyday conversation but rather more like well-composed arguments and anecdotes a lot of the time.

But for me, this isn't a big issue. While it's true that a great deal of VA-11 HALL-A's dialogue doesn't sound all that natural, a fair bit of it still does, and it's always cleverly written, cleverly delivered, and -- perhaps most importantly -- consistent in its quality. Every character in VA-11 HALL-A -- whether you like them or not -- is consistently written whenever they're on screen. You never see a writing discrepancy that makes you think, "That character wouldn't do that," which makes the cast feel alive and often sympathetic, even if they don't always talk like real people. 

What really helps the cast come to life is the wonderful presentation. VA-11 HALL-A is a game meant to visually emulate old PC-98 games, and it does so very well, using gorgeously drawn and emotive character sprites in addition to a color palette that's equal parts bright and colorful and cool and muted. The music is just as diverse, with a variety of original tracks (including a few remixes) that range in mood from calm to frantic, all of which the player can pick out and make a playlist of on the bar's jukebox before the start of every in-game shift. All of these elements help to make the whole experience feel more immersive, and it draws you in quickly and keeps a tight hold on you. 

It also helps that this game can be flat-out hilarious. I laughed constantly while playing through the game, even when doing it for a second time for this review, and I was smiling throughout most of my time with it. It covers all the comedy bases from sight-gags, to puns, to serious jokes and childish jokes, as well as a number of truly dark or perverted jokes (sometimes both) that will leave your mouth hanging open -- all done with expert timing and just the right amount of seriousness for each situation.

Rad Shiba is the best dog. I will fight you on this.

While it excels at comedy, VA-11 HALL-A as a whole isn't afraid to paint with the whole palette of the human experience. The game isn't afraid to be dark or serious when it needs to be, and it pulls this off really well, often creating a great deal of anxiety or tension as you worry for a character you haven't heard from for a while being alone out there in the big, cold world. 

Whether it's Dorothy pushing the boundaries of comfort and making you laugh with stories of her life as a robot sex-worker, hearing more rumors about the origin of your boss Dana Zane's robot arm, or speculating where your co-worker Gillian goes most nights, there's always something interesting going on and some story arc developing. The bartender angle is seriously a perfect approach to organic storytelling, as you're always hearing different news and opinions from regulars as well as one-timers, and you're slowly piecing together the world's story and your own.

The game does an amazing job of using little more than its writing and a variety of unique characters to paint a picture of a truly fleshed-out fictional world that feels alive, all with maybe a dozen different screens and less than half as many locations. VA-11 HALL-A's excellent writing allows it to create a world more real and expansive than the biggest outer space skyboxes that AAA money can buy.

Differences With The Vita Version

This is a review of the recently released PlayStation Vita version of VA-11 HALL-A, which is mostly the same as the PC original but with a few noteworthy differences that might be worth knowing about if you're unsure about which version you'd like you pick up. 

For the most part, Wolfgame has made what I consider to be an excellent port. The smaller screen on the Vita compared to an average PC monitor has been compensated for by cleaning up the user interface and reworking it slightly so that it fits in its new home, which I think was done neatly and efficiently.  

The touchscreen controls working in tandem with the buttons and sticks works very well, and in many ways feels smoother than the original ever did. The visuals also haven't suffered either, as despite being on a much smaller screen, the backgrounds and sprites are all still wonderfully drawn and lively. In all honesty, I would have basically no reservations about calling the Vita version of VA-11 HALL-A the definitive version were it not for just one small difference between it and the PC version.

In both versions of the game you can select your playlist for the jukebox both at the start of your shift and after your break, so that's all the same, but one thing I was actually a bit saddened to see absent from the Vita version was the ability to shuffle through your selected songs during regular gameplay. In the PC version, you could skip between your selected songs, put one specific song on repeat, or even put your whole playlist on shuffle, which was a really cool feature that is unfortunately absent from the Vita version. 

I reached out to the publisher of the Vita version, Wolfgame, in order to ask them about it. I asked if the live jukebox feature was present in the Vita version, and Wolfgame replied with "Not at this time." Their wording makes me think that maybe they're still trying to incorporate the feature into the Vita version (but that could also just be speculation), and if not, I won't hold them to it. It would nice to see it come in at a later date if possible, because with it included, the Vita version really might just be the definitive edition.

Taking a Break From All Your Worries Sure Would Help a Lot

At the end of the day, VA-11 HALL-A isn't a perfect game on either PC or the Vita. The writing has its occasional bumps, the basic gameplay may flat-out bore some people, and it could have done a better job in certain places of conveying information relevant to progression to the player. But despite all that, I'm willing to forgive most its flaws, simply by its virtue of being one of the best narrative-driven games I've ever played.

While I don't want to spoil anything too specific, I will say that after a brief adjustment period to get used to the game's unique style and pacing, I was in love with VA-11 HALL-A. Its diverse cast of characters is one of my favorite that I've seen in video games, the graphics and stylistic presentation are phenomenal at evoking the tone and setting, the music is jammin', and even at its slowest, its story is more engaging than most I've played. 

The gameplay may be basic, but it's just complex and variable enough to be engaging, opening up subtle options for the player in how they want the story to progress and how they want to interact with the fascinating world. I could go on about the game for a good while longer, but it really is just something you need to experience for yourself.

VA-11 HALL-A is a beautifully written, beautiful-looking, beautiful-sounding glimpse into an amazing world full of wonderful characters, and one that I can recommend to absolutely anyone who wants a game with a truly great story -- and even to people who aren't sure if it's for them. It's a world I'd love to live in, and one I know I'll be visiting again very soon. 

VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action is available now on Steam and PlayStation Vita. You can watch a trailer for the Vita version of the game below:


Note: [Review copy for PlayStation Vita provided by Wolfgame.]



VA-11 HALL-A On Playstation Vita Gets Release date Mon, 06 Nov 2017 16:12:07 -0500 Greyson Ditzler

Last year's surprise hit visual novel "booze 'em up" VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action has finally been given a release date on the PlayStation Vita. After some small periods of silence, and a few trade show tours to show it off to the press, the Vita version of the game will be released digitally on November 14th thanks to publisher Wolfgame. 

VA-11 HALL-A was developed and released last year by Sukeban Games and is an experience that prioritizes story over gameplay. The game has players mix and serve drinks to a variety of different customers over many in-game days, and slowly piece together the story and scope of the game's cyberpunk world through its unique inhabitants.

A new trailer was released for the game that confirmed the Vita version to be releasing digitally in most regions on November 14th. This version will include both new added touch screen support, as well as PlayStation TV compatibility.

The new trailer also revealed at the end that the game will soon be available in a limited physical print from indie game publisher Limited Run. This physical release will also be for the Vita only.

VA-LL HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action will be released on the PlayStation Vita on November 14th. You can watch the new trailer for the game with all the details below: 

VA-11 HALL-A Playstation Vita Port Is Finally Coming Fri, 12 May 2017 18:50:06 -0400 Greyson Ditzler

VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Actionthe surprise sleeper hit visual novel from 2016 developed by Sukeban Games, has finally received confirmation for its promised port to the PlayStation Vita.

The Vita Version of the game will be shown off at this year's Bitsummit convention, which is a yearly independent gaming convention held in Kyoto, Japan. 

The publisher of the port, Wolfgame, has shown off a bit of the Vita version's gameplay on their Twitter, which you can view below:

For any readers who may have missed out on VA-11 HALL-A, it is a visual novel set in a dystopian cyberpunk future where the authoritarian government is always watching, the economy is in shambles, and many people seek escape from their depressing everyday lives at the bottom of a glass.

The player takes on the role of Jill, a bartender at the eponymous VA-11 HALL-A bar in a small corner of Glitch City, and must correctly mix and serve drinks while learning about the outside world through the many different and interesting people who wander in looking for a buzz.

The game is mostly dialogue and reading, interspersed every few minutes with the task of mixing a drink -- and the dialogue and story-line can vary based on how you mix each drink. 

  A typical dialogue exchange in VA-11 HALL-A.

Apparently, Wolfgame has also had the game rated by the Brazilian ratings board for a number of other gaming platforms -- but all other platforms aside from the Vita are only possibilities for the future, and not absolute certainties.

VA-11 HALL-A is currently available on Steam and, with a port for the iPad supposedly in the works as well.

9 Everyday Jobs Made Ridiculous in Video Games Mon, 12 Sep 2016 10:00:01 -0400 Greyson Ditzler


And That's The List!


Thank you all very much for reading this far, we hope you enjoyed it. If you have a career-oriented game that you felt should have been on the list, or could help to fill out a potential future list, feel free to tell us in the comments! We know there were a fair few other games we could have mentioned, but we couldn't fit them all into one list, so recommend some more and we may do a follow-up in the future!


Attorney (Ace Attorney Series)


If you knew anything at all about Ace Attorney coming into this list then you knew it would be on here. The series is perhaps most well known for it's over-the-top and beyond unbelievable characters, plot twists, and it's depiction of an insanely corrupted court system full of liars, bluffers, and complete idiots. 


Phoenix Wright, the series most frequently recurring protagonist, may be a morally upright human being and straight edged defense attorney, but the same cannot be said for most of his rival prosecutors, or the chronic liar witnesses he is forced to grill in court. 


Phoenix Wright, the series most frequently recurring protagonist, may be a morally upright human being and straight edged defense attorney, but the same cannot be said for most of his rival prosecutors, or the chronic liar witnesses he is forced to grill in court. A court case that could be called mundane in the world of Ace Attorney would contain more fabricated evidence, eccentric and uncooperative witnesses, corrupt officials, and lies than some of the most cartoonish recorded in human history. 


Not to mention that the courtroom conduct in Ace Attorney couldn't so much be called a "kangaroo court" as an "australian outback court". Weapons are brought into and used in the courtroom during the trials constantly, the defense and prosecution interrupt each other all the time, and testimonies get revised about three or four times per witness every hour on the hour.


Ace Attorney is absolutely crazy... but it's not completely unrealistic. It is mostly unrealistic in it's depiction of the legal world and the life of an attorney, but what they sacrifice in realism they make up for by telling more creative stories under less limitations than a completely true-to-life legal drama would be under.


Realism isn't everything. Sometimes, it can make a game better. But then there are other cases, such as Ace Attorney's, where realism takes a vacation, and everything is better for it.


Surgeon (Trauma Center Series)


The Trauma Center series has a fairly complex plot, and a tone very reminiscent of many serious soap operas, which is what makes some of it's more outlandishly overblown moments all the more hilarious.


Most of your time spent in the average Trauma Center game is spent treating patients "under the knife" who are critically sick or injured. But sometimes you aren't treating the sick and wounded. Sometimes you're slowing down time in order to jab the the patient with painkillers about five times. Sometimes you're instantly healing patients with a literal "healing touch". For a great length of the first game in the series Trauma Center: Under the Knife, you are fighting off a man-made disease called GUILT. Yes, GUILT. 


On one very special occasion, you even get to disable a bomb. Just what the doctor ordered.


Paper Boy (Paper Boy)


I feel that this one needs little explanation. The multi-platform retro classic Paper Boy is about as true to running a real newspaper delivery route that they might as well have set it in space for how down-to-Earth it is.


The only thing that is realistic about Paper Boy is the fact that you have to throw newspapers to peoples front doors while on your bicycle, pedaling through a suburban neighborhood. Every single other thing about the game, however, is completely insane. One minute you'll be passing by gravestones on the front lawn of house only to get flung around by a miniature tornado, whereupon you slam right into an angry dog, and collect yourself just in time to run into the literal actual Grim Reaper.


The most unrealistic thing about Paper Boy, however, is that you can turn a house that doesn't subscribe to the newspaper into a house that does subscribe--by breaking their window with a newspaper. What even.


Chef (Battle Chef Brigade


Continuing on with the theme of the service industry, we have Battle Chef Brigade. Of all the games where you can become a professional chef, the upcoming Battle Chef Brigade has the most creative, as well as the most fantastically impossible take on it.


Using a combination of fantasy weapons and magical spells, you must control one of four different warrior chefs, as they hunt down dragons and winged eyeballs (as well as chickens it's not all crazy). They must then cook their findings into something delicious that caters for the mixed council of human, elf, and orc judges, by playing a match-three puzzle game.


Realistic? No. Fun and unique? Yes.


Bartender (VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action


Sometimes you just need to go somewhere where everybody knows your name.VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action is just about as engaging as it is hard to spell; Very. But it's also more science-fiction than it is bartending school.


It has you serving drinks brewed behind the bar from the ground up from the basic chemical components of alcohol to upper-class talking dogs and cyborg cat women among other people. You can make as many mistakes as you want while making drinks, making the most you can lose a tip from your client, which I'm sure is the biggest problem at most bars in the modern space future.The most realistic thing about the bartending aspect of the game is the fact that the drinks can cost hundreds of dollars each.


Firefighter & Police Officer (Mighty Switch Force Series)


The Mighty Switch Force games, while very fun and challenging puzzle games, aren't exactly accurate depictions of what it's like to work for the emergency services.


In the first Mighty Switch Force game, you play as cybernetic police officer Patricia Wagon (get it Patty Wagon hahaha) as she rounds up a group of escaped criminals. You do this by activating the siren on your helmet, which allows you to briefly pause time itself, and change the physical properties and visibility of certain blocks in the surrounding area. You also get around quickly by shooting yourself in all directions by entering purple blocks when they are not solid, and then forcing them to come into full existence around you, forcing them to act like canons.   


All of this done in the pursuit of a group of freshly escaped convicts, who are all perfectly healthy, but make no attempt to run from the officer in uniform running towards them with a gun in her hand. Yeah, I'm gonna say that's a little bit out there.


Mighty Switch Force 2 was pretty similar, new puzzles with an identical goal of collecting five people per level, but this time with a new mechanic based around Patricia being a firefighter. The biggest standout difference this time around being that you could now kick babies to save them. Kick. Babies. I think that's about all I need to say. 


Professional Photographer (Pokémon Snap)


Pokémon Snap is a classic on the Nintendo 64 for many people, and while it is a pretty well-structured and novel game about photographing Pokemon in the wild, it's not quite accurate to the daily workings of a field photographer. Sure, the camera work and expeditions to different regions for different kinds of animals is somewhat realistic, but there are a few sketchy methods being employed by Professor Oak in this project.


Putting aside the fact that the player character Todd Snap is equipped with a hover buggy that allows him to do everything from raft on rivers to exploring the clouds. but the methods used by this so-called professional are both unconventional, and sometimes unethical. Everything from knocking Pokemon into lave with synthetic apples to tossing noxious gas-filled Pester Balls at them until they pass out, nothing is off the table for Snap when he needs a photo and needs it bad.


Professor Oak's research might be inhumane. Not quite sure about that.


Plumber (Classic Mario Bros.)


Let's start out with the prequel to one of the most well-know classics, and perhaps the best sewer level ever in video games, the original arcade Mario Bros. It's been said for years that the Mario Brothers are plumbers, ever since their first official title in 1983, but never in any canonical title in the Mario series have we ever seen either of these two do anything that has to do with proper plumbing.


Yeah, we know it's low-hanging fruit to mock Mario and Luigi for not acting like real plumbers, but it would be good for their namesake if they snaked a drain or unclogged a toilet here and there. Because when it comes to their few actual plumbing related exploits, their sewer-based assignments are far from ordinary.


In the original arcade Mario Bros. Mario and Luigi must jump on and kick turtles and crabs while avoiding fire, jumping straight up into incomplete and highly flexible walkway foundation, and collecting golden coins... while never actually cleaning anything. Again, Mario games have never been all that realistic, nor do they need to be, but if they think this is plumbing, then they need go back to school. 


Since their inception, video games have been an outlet for entertainment, and usually escapism. Most video games are far from realistic, and allow the player to vicariously live out a wide array of fantasies, whether it be becoming an experienced solider in a war for the future or some brightly colored humanoid animal attempting to save the world and their loved one.


But it didn't take too long for some semblance of realism and relatability in the medium, and soon some video games began to depict the very jobs and daily grinds that they were made to help people escape from. But thankfully, loads of games that are meant to let a player walk in the shoes of a particular profession have been great, although in most cases, this usually comes at the cost of more than a cup-and-a-half of realism. 


Just to be clear, not every game needs to be completely realistic, and many games often benefit from being less realistic. However, in this particular case, I thought that it would be an entertaining and reflective little exercise to look back at some of the games where you play as a character who is meant to have a common everyday job, but through the magic of video games, has the realistic aspects of that job put through the wringer a few times.


The basic premise of this list is simple: We aren't going to look at examples of video games that portray an occupation in a down-to-earth way like Papers, Please or Euro Truck Simulator. Rather, we are going to look at some of the most over the top and "game-ified" representations of legitimate career paths that the industry has ever chundered up. 


Alright, it's time to punch that clock!

VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action Review -- Pour Me Another Fri, 02 Sep 2016 06:00:02 -0400 Kris Cornelisse (Delfeir)

Whenever a great evil rises in a world, a hero usually rises to stop them. In times of disaster or despair, some salvation will be brought forth, providing salvation and happiness to all involved. For every alien invasion, dragon attack, evil wizard, conniving terrorist organisation or corrupt corporation, there will be a solution. Such is the way of most stories -- those of video games include -- and it’s often up to the player to fill the role of that solution.

VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action (pronounced “Valhalla”) is not one of those stories.

For every hero that rises, they will interact with the beings of their world on their way to the conclusion of their plot. Every evil corporation will have subjects under their thumb. Every tyrant will have people living in fear beneath their reign. In theory, all of these people have their own lives, stories, and history that could easily be as interesting or expansive as that of the main character, were they given time to shine.

That is the ultimate aim of VA-11 Hall-A: to present a story about those other characters, focusing on their lives and their day-to-day existence in a world that is bizarre, different, and ultimately interesting compared to the world we players inhabit (Earth). And that is a goal that VA-11 Hall-A succeeds in wonderfully.

You take on the role of Jill, a woman living in a near-future cyberpunk dystopia called Glitch City, where she works as a bartender at VA-11 Hall-A -- or Valhalla as the locals call it. Resources in the city are scarce, shortages are common, corrupt corporations call the shots, and crime is everywhere. But all of this is beyond the scope of Jill’s existence; while some of it may concern her and cause her inconvenience, she’s just one regular citizen of the city trying to survive. There are no world saving goals or ambitions for her, she’s just trying to get the bills paid and make it through her life one day at a time.

The game plays primarily as a visual novel that focuses on Jill as she goes about her daily work at Valhalla. Whereas the typical visual novel will offer branching dialogue trees and allow the player to pick conversation options, however, the gameplay here instead comes from your drink selection. You mix the drinks from the ingredients on offer to suit the customer’s needs or requests, and depending on the drink you serve, the dialogue may end up changing drastically.

It’s a simple concept, but it’s strengthened by the characters that Jill will encounter on a day to day basis. Each one would be a big player or background character in other games, but here they are all fully fleshed out and detailed. The characters have their own histories, careers, personalities and quirks. They’ll interact with Jill -- or the other customers and characters they meet -- in their own way, and this may shift over time as the events of the story unfold. Some may just have small and infrequent appearances, but others will quickly become regulars and you’ll find yourself pouring their favourite drinks without even being prompted.

The level of writing on display is really quite masterful. While some characters can be abrasive or irritating, I found almost all of them to be enjoyable, and I was happy to listen and observe as they conversed with the rest of the cast. I quickly grew attached to many and was eager to learn more of them, and recurring characters often brought a smile when they popped in for a drink and a chat.

Most importantly, even the characters I started out hating the most turned out to have fascinating stories themselves, and I was caught off guard by how much my attitudes shifted towards liking them as their true selves came out. It encourages the player to take note of what’s being said, because even little details from idle comments can end up being quite important or lead to astounding revelations of character interconnectedness later.

Tones and moods shift very well at the whim of the writing, too. It’s not all just doom and gloom in Glitch City -- there are genuinely funny moments that had me laughing, and some incredibly heartwarming conversations and relationships on display too. The game never allows itself to become too heavy, with the occasional tongue-in-cheek reference to classic cyberpunk media or tropes, as well as self-deprecating jabs at VA-11 Hall-A's developers or sly nods to the player to keep things grounded.

This is just as well, because there are definitely some heavy themes and mature stories to be told here. Like all good characters, the ones Jill encounters all have some kind of trouble going on, ranging from issues with work and relationships, all the way to huge philosophical questions plaguing their existence. Some of these are unique to the setting, such as the woes of a surprisingly delightful and cheery robot sex worker, or the struggles of a private investigator chasing down a notable gun for hire.

Just as often, however, these can be the very real problems of our world too. People struggling with sexuality, or suffering from work related anxiety, or running from mistakes of the past, are given just as much weight and attention as the bigger issues.

To its immense credit, VA-11 Hall-A is not afraid to tackle any and all of these issues head on, often giving remarkably fair and unbiased views on the whole situation and making for a fascinating reading experience when it does. Many times it leaves both the characters and the player themselves noting just how simple and petty our problems can be at their core.

Jill herself is far from a blank slate for the player to project onto, either. She’s as much a real and interesting character as the customers, with her own traits, quirks, and history that will gradually come out as the story unfolds. As much as she plays the wise bartender role well, there is so much more to her. Just as the characters she encounters develop and grow, she develops and grows too, and watching her friendships blossom and her life progress is amazingly satisfying to behold.

And that’s the true triumph of Valhalla’s narrative. In a world full of cyborgs and AI, a world living in the wake of disaster and facing disasters to come, a world struggling under any and all problems a cyberpunk dystopia has to offer… the story feels human. The characters feel real.

Often, the characters we remember and tell stories about are the biggest heroes or the most dastardly villains. Yet here, Valhalla's characters are the ones who are often in the backdrop of these epic stories. Despite all that, their stories are just as meaningful and impactful as those of the most notable video game leads... perhaps more so!

Combine all of this excellent writing with a fantastic soundtrack that the player can arrange in the bar’s jukebox at their discretion, some gorgeously retro-inspired graphics and character images, and a very cozy and comfortable feeling atmosphere, and you have a real winner of a visual novel. I frequently found myself smiling or even tearing up at the events unfolding, and once I started playing I was so invested that I couldn’t stop. Once I finished playing, it was all I could think about until my next session. When the story was over, I was both satisfied and yet left wanting to replay it to find out more.

VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action will not be for everyone. Admittedly, there are times when the actual serving of drinks can grow repetitive or tedious, and any gameplay beyond those sections is mostly limited to reading through dialogue boxes, and using Jill's pay to furnish her apartment in between shifts at the bar. But there is a truly sensational story to behold and some deeply endearing characters to meet here if you’re willing to pull up a stool, have a drink, and listen to the tales of Valhalla.

I hadn’t saved the world. I didn’t fix the problems of the corrupt city, but I carved out a cozy niche for the characters to live comfortably in, and made their lives that much brighter. That’s all I truly wanted out of my time with it.

The game is available now for PC at most digital retailers, with releases for the PS Vita and iPad coming soon. You can visit the game’s website here. See you in the afterlife.

These 10 niche games on Steam are "so Japanese" must-plays Tue, 12 Jul 2016 05:08:28 -0400 FlameKurosei

There are dozens of Japanese games on Steam nowadays, and some of them are just plain weird -- like the infamous bird-dating simulator, Hatoful Boyfriend.

However, despite being a bit strange, there are still fans who find something "endearing" about this feathered dating experience.

"Why", you ask? This is what a "niche Japanese game" is about: every person has that charming title that's "so Japanese" that they like a lot, yet can't quite explain why. It might not appeal to everyone, but to the player they fill a "certain something" that makes them so memorable and absolutely worth a try -- perhaps not for being good or bad, but for doing something different.

So without further ado, here are 10 of my favorite niche Japanese titles on Steam (in no particular order).

1. Astebreed

2.5D multi-plane scrolling bullet hell shmup

Ah, Astebreed -- just the title of this game alone can be an eyebrow raiser and a pronunciation challenge, but don't let that keep you away.

Astebreed is a fantastic shmup (AKA "shoot 'em up") title where you play as a cast of characters in mechas (er, giant robot suits) fighting off enemy waves. With amazing audiovisual and a constantly changing perspective, this game keeps you constantly on your toes, itching for the next sequence.

In addition, the "so Japanese" feeling from this piece comes from the bullet hell sequences where so many different projectiles are floating on the screen, much like the Touhou game series. While overwhelming at times, it's an exhilarating experience as you dash and shoot your way to a level's completion.

Here's a short demo of the first chapter to let the game speak for itself:

2. Killer is Dead - Nightmare Edition

Stylish third-person character action

From the creator of the No More Heroes series Suda51 comes another character action title by the name of Killer is Dead (the Steam version called Killer is Dead - Nightmare Edition). In Killer is Dead, you play as slick ladies' man Mondo Zappa, a suited gentleman wielding his "Gekkou" katana for hire.

Here's some gameplay from YouTuber deluxe345 as Mondo investigates a strangely built house:

As you can see, the title also has a distinct cel-shading style much like another one of Suda51's titles, Killer7. The game even messes with the black levels, to the point where "pitch-black" environments appear to be a very dark blue.

Look carefully at the top left of this screenshot to see what I mean--and I promise it's not your screen melting.

So what makes this title "so Japanese"? Its incredibly bizarre story-line that never seems to make complete sense -- but that's what makes it more intriguing. For example, a unicorn shows up at some point (yes, a unicorn), and this is what it says:

I don't know about you, but it's not every day a hitman in a tuxedo has a tragic backstory with a talking unicorn in it. The image of plain-faced Mondo riding on the whinnying equine is additional icing on the cake.

I can't help but laugh at how ridiculous it is, and this is what makes Killer is Dead such a memorable experience -- a weird story and fun gameplay.

3. Lost Planet: Extreme Condition

Third-person shooter and mecha combat title

Lost Planet: Extreme Condition takes place on a frozen planet by the name of E.D.N. III, where amnesiac protagonist Wayne struggles to remember his past. Armed with the knowledge of handling a Vital Suit (abbreviated as "VS", which are the mechas of this game), he proceeds to travel with a small crew of "snow pirates" in hopes of finding his memories.

Moreover, the small crew travels around the harsh winter landscape searching for large quantities of Akrid (the creatures and inhabitants of E.D.N. III) to harvest thermal energy to survive, and it's usually up to Wayne to slay the big bad encounters.

Here's a short clip from the Colonies Edition of the game (also available on Steam) of the first mission:

Along with fighting Akrid, Wayne also encounters enemy pirates and other VS handlers, so the gameplay goes back and forth between a standard third person shooter and a mecha fighter. Furthermore, there's a lot of handy customization from being able to attach/detach weapons from the mechas, so if you want to heft a giant VS shotgun to kill Akrid on foot, it's entirely possible.

Giant Akrid "Undeep"
"Hello fellow traveler! How nice to eat -- I mean greet you!"

Like Astebreed, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition has that "on your toes" feeling where you're constantly moving forward and enemies spawn, kind of like a Japanese arcade game. However, unlike Astebreed, LP: EC at times has quiet moments.

For example, in one gameplay sequence it's quiet except for the crunch-crunching sounds of your feet on the snow, and then suddenly the ground trembles and a giant snow worm ambushes you.

Do give this game a shot if you enjoy mecha-based combat and diverse boss fights, though I would not recommend LP:EC for the story or for the harder difficulty levels, as they can get quite confusing or unfair.

4. Tembo the Badass Elephant

2.5D level-based side-scrolling platformer

Did you know developer Game Freak makes games other than the Pokemon series nowadays? It's true!

Tembo the Badass Elephant is their recent 2.5D platforming title that has a lot of comical charm. A brave and stalwart soldier, Tembo charges into battle, rescuing civilians and steamrolling enemies.

The gameplay feels similar to old Sonic titles, but in a puzzle setting (well, if Sonic was a heavy rampaging elephant). Like Sonic, Tembo can spin and bash himself at enemies, but he also has his own mechanic of spraying water to stop fires and raise platforming plants:

So why is this a niche title? Unfortunately to many, Tembo the Badass Elephant is known as "that not-Pokemon game" done by Game Freak.

Even a Tembo the Badass Elephant article by CallSignDiver on here GameSkinny wrote this for their introduction:

When I first saw the Game Freak logo in the launch trailer, I have to admit, my eyes lit up. I didn't even know Game Freak made anything outside of the Pokémon series. I had to check their Wikipedia page. Sure enough, with the exception of a few obscure one-offs in the early nineties, the list goes: Pokémon,  Pokémon,  Pokémon,  Pokémon, Pokémon, TEMBO THE BADASS ELEPHANT...What the hell is TEMBO THE BADASS ELEPHANT?

Nevertheless, Tembo the Badass Elephant is an enjoyable platformer that differs from Game Freak's standard Pokemon style, and I recommend it to anyone who loves a side-scrolling adventure.

5. Deadly Premonition: The Director's Cut

Bizarre third-person open-world survival horror

"Did you see that, Zach?!

Clear as a crisp spring morning! F.K...In the coffee!"

~Agent York

In Deadly Premonition, you play as FBI agent Francis York Morgan investigating in the fictional location of Greenvale, Washington. The town has a mysterious murder of an 18 yr. old woman, and it's up to York to solve it.

This game is categorized as "open world survival horror", but it goes beyond the standard "wandering around solving puzzles and smashing ghoulies" fare. Directed by the talented Swery65, this title has the additional "so Japanese" charm on full tilt.

In particular, York and other members of the cast have little quirks -- traits which make them weird and interesting. For example, York constantly talks to his "imaginary friend" Zach, even when others are around. He also drives around in a police car starting long anecdotes about movies and DVDs to Zach:

"Who is Zach? Are we (the players) Zach?"

And who can forget the cheerful whistling tune prevalent in the game. It makes certain sequences seem almost everyday and normal, in their own eccentric ways. Here's a small scene where York encounters Mr. Stewart, a handicapped old man with an interesting way of speaking:

In terms of gameplay, Deadly Premonition runs on a timed schedule, where certain places (such as a store) only opens at certain intervals, so there's a need to speed up the day to complete key events. How does York fast-forward time you ask? Via a cigarette and his own little mind-world of home furnishings and red leafed vistas, of course:

Yes Metal Gear Solid V fans, Big Boss is surprisingly not the first to implement this mechanic.

...including a charming can of "the pickles" in his diet.

While there are combat moments against various zombie-like enemies, most of the time York is driving around town, asking questions and collecting items for the people of Greenvale. He also consumes a variety of items to recover, including a charming can of "the pickles" in his diet.

To sum it up: Deadly Premonition visually won't win any awards, but the gameplay mechanics and cast of characters has its own unique style that's hard to find outside of a Swery65 title.

6. Jet Set Radio

Third-person sporty trick-based platformer

Jet Set Radio (known in Japan as Jet Grind Radio) is a fantastic rollerblading and spray painting adventure, originally found on the Sega Dreamcast in 2000. Since then, the game underwent an HD facelift and is now available on various platforms, including PC via Steam.

With a distinct audiovisual style, Jet Set Radio takes place in a fictional city of Tokyo-to (known to in-game characters as "Tokyo" for short). With protagonist Beat, players skate around Tokyo, performing tricks and tagging walls with their signature of choice while evading the authorities and rival gang members. The music as loud and expressive as its cel-shaded art style, and will likely leave its graffiti'd mark on your mind after a short moment of play.

Here's the debut trailer for Jet Set Radio:

7. VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action

Story-focused pixeled bartender simulator

VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action's title speaks for itself -- set in a post-dystopia world, you play the day-to-day as a bartender named Jill, mixing drinks and chatting with the various customers in beautiful pixel format.

For example, here's a screenshot of the player mixing a requested drink:

The characters at the bar are all have their own motivations and roles, ranging from cat-eared ladies to robotic helmet men, each with their own life stories and dialogue to discover:

Other than working and paying the rent, Jill can use her profits to shop for some fun customization of her room, ranging from action figures to even some fresh wall decor. She can also spend time drinking and chatting with her pals, giving the game a very immersive charm.

For more details, here's the trailer for VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action:

If you enjoy simulator games with a shot of personality and story (no pun intended), I suggest giving VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action a try.

8. Stardust Vanguards

Multiplayer local free-for-all in a mecha anime theme

You thought this would be entirely about single-player games huh? Well surprise -- here's a local multiplayer title where you can fight it out against your friends and the game AI to see who reigns supreme!

Titled Stardust Vanguards, this niche Japanese title is a pixeled dueling free-for-all. Up to four players can each choose a colored mecha to shoot, dash, and even summon minions in the skirmish based on a gradually increasing meter.

At certain points in the match, the AI will send out waves of its own enemies against the player mechas. Thus, players can choose to either form temporary alliances to slay this universal foe, or continue smashing each other to bits with the threat of the AI team winning.

Here's the trailer for Stardust Vanguards for a quick look at the gameplay style:

9. Corpse Party

Anime-styled third-person overhead survival horror

Deadly Premonition doesn't quite have the spookiness that horror aficionados desire, but perhaps Corpse Party will satisfy that need.

Corpse Party is a game about a group of high school kids doing a chant on a rainy night, causing them to be taken into an alternate dimension where unsettling child ghosts roam the halls.

Here's a small clip of Corpse Party's gameplay and story:

"butter up my pooper" scene:

As you can tell, the game's characters have a typical "anime style", but don't let this fool you.

The game's western release has a surprising amount of goofy localized dialogue that makes it a stress relief while retaining its creepy charm.

For example, one of the most well-known moments from Corpse Party is the "butter up my pooper" scene, where Seiko needs some ointment for her bottom that's been "drier than a desert".

(Don't believe me? I included screenshots of the scene on the right for your own visual entertainment.)

I recommend Corpse Party on Steam if you want a pixeled horror game that has anime elements and an unsettling story about brutally murdered elementary school kids.

Otherwise, carry on to the final title of the niche Japanese list!

10. D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die

Eccentric third-person whodunit with rhythm elements

The last but not least title on this list is also by SWERY65, a game by the name of D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die, commonly known as D4.

D4 is another investigative game starring protagonist David Young in his quest to find his lover's murderer, but with a different perspective.

Unlike the open-world Deadly Premonition, D4 is an episodic (almost like a point and click) title. To inspect an object, the player hovers their hand-like cursor over parts of the screen, and in return a series of small descriptions appear on the object. Players can also use this curse to "grab" or "push" things to earn collectible points, or to discover new clues.

So what makes D4 "so Japanese" and niche? Well, if you found Deadly Premonition's cast to be slightly strange, then D4's characters are something straight out of an abstract art gallery.

"Traveling fashion designers"

For example, by now you're probably wondering who the peculiar green-haired characters are at the top of the article -- I won't give away too much because of spoilers (and you really should see their characters yourself for maximum entertainment), but let's just say they are both "traveling fashion designers".

Also, other than investigating with the hand cursor, D4 has various QTE sequences that function just like a Japanese rhythm game. In particular, there's a "Synchro Rate" mechanic where a player has to act in character of what David would do (as both a detective and as himself) in a given situation.

Here's an example demonstrating both the wacky cast and one of the rhythm game moments:

I recommend this for any person looking for a unique episodic title to add to their library. Like Deadly Premonition but more streamlined, D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die has a unique take on investigative gameplay in an amusing light.

And that's it for my list of 10 niche Japanese games -- I hope you found at least one new title to enjoy as you peruse Steam's enormous library of PC titles. Oh, and speaking of which, do you have any niche Japanese titles that you love on Steam? Do leave a comment below!

[Images retrieved from Giant Bomb, KnowYourMeme, and Steam]

A Sirring Look At This Cyber-Dystopia: A VA-11 HALL-A Review Fri, 24 Jun 2016 05:18:32 -0400 Evangelio Arencibia

Take a moment and imagine that it's the near future, and you are a broke bartender working in lowly hole-in-the-wall bar named VA-11 HALL-11 (affectionately called Valhalla) trying to make ends meet. You feel as if your life has reached a dead end, and that there isn't much to do other than work or read articles from tabloid sites on the internet.

Your regulars consist mostly of a blonde hacker who can't hold a relationship to save her life, a kind assassin who comes to the bar to set his mind at ease, and a robot sex worker who takes pride in her job -- and they, along with your co-workers, are your only friends. This is the life of a woman named Jill, the protagonist of VA-11 HALL-A, a cyberpunk bartending simulator developed by Venezuelan studio Sukekan Games, and published by Ysbyrd Studios.

Right off the bat, VA-11 HALL-A feels reminiscent of old-school '80s and '90s sci-fi anime, with it's jazzy and catchy soundtrack, cyberpunk aesthetic, and wonderfully detailed character designs. Even with the limited setting of the bar and Jill's apartment, the game feels very much like an older adventure game, though it doesn't play like one. 

In truth, there isn't much gameplay in VA-11 HALL-A at all. It's a bartending simulator that's focused less on the serving drinks part, and more listening (or in this case, reading, as there are no voice-overs) to your customers' woes. There are two parts to the core gameplay: serving drinks to customers, and hanging out in Jill's apartment. When making drinks, a majority of the time, a customer asks for a specific drink, and Jill (the player) puts the ingredients in the blender and mixes it.

The drink mixing mechanic is interesting.

Not because the drinks themselves are hard to make (it's actually rather easy mixing the drinks), but Jill is at the risk of becoming distracted at work if she doesn't pay off her bills or buy an item she wants. There are also times when the customer isn't aware of what he/she wants, and will give vague instructions, or will even intentionally throw the player in a loop with oddly phrased orders. At certain points, Jill can mix drinks to have more or less alcohol (if any at all), thus changing the outcome of the conversation, the situation a costumer gets in after drinking, or even the game's ending. The player doesn't decide what Jill can say, as she has her own defined personality, but entire situations and even characters Jill meets can change depending on the drinks she mixes.

The segments of the game in between Jill's shifts at Valhalla are set in her apartment, where she lives alone with her cat named Fore. In her apartment, Jill can read articles from the tabloid news site Augmented Eye, read threads on the blog site Danger/u/, keep up with pop star and Hatsune Miku parody *Kira* Miki's blog, customize her room, pay bills, or go shopping for decorations.

It is very important to keep note that if you aren't a particularly good bartender, Jill will be strapped for cash, and the player will have to decide whether they want to save funds to pay bills, or to go out and purchase whatever Jill wants so that she doesn't distracted.

What truly makes the game shine are Jill's interactions with the other characters.

None of them, including Jill herself, are anybody special, and are simply trying to get by to the next day without getting mugged or murdered. Along with the regulars who visit Valhalla, there will also be less frequent visitors -- such as Donovan, an editor at the tabloid site Jill reads, and Sei, a rescue worker for a police force of sorts named the White Knights. There are also Jill's two co-workers, Dana and Gillian, who are both mysterious for differing reasons, with Dana seemingly having an absurd life and Gillian being a complete mystery. 

All of these characters are incredibly expressive in both dialogue and animations, bringing them to life. The writing is compelling enough to balance comedy and drama nicely -- even if the comedy does fall flat sometimes, as much of it relies on references to other media that the player may not be familiar with. 

If there is one thing that gets in the way of the drama, especially in the bar segments, it's the soundtrack.

While I think most of the soundtrack is well-composed and memorable, in the bar during Jill's shift, the song playing is from a jukebox where all of the songs are player-chosen. It's an idea that sounds great in theory, considering the player is managing a bar after all, but a happy and upbeat song can come on when someone is having an emotional breakdown. It doesn't ruin the scene, but it can take the player out of the moment. 

When everything comes together, there are genuinely moving moments in the VA-11 HALL-A's story. When a piece of Jill's past catches up with her, she becomes an incredibly compelling protagonist faced with issues that many people in real life have faced, in one way or another. And as a result, her actions are realistic for what she is going through. It shows that, even in the future, people are still people, and no matter what happens, the world keeps spinning, as it always does. 

Cyberpunk Bartender Action: VA-11 HALL-A releases tomorrow! Tue, 14 Jun 2016 06:05:32 -0400 ericafeldfeber

The highly-anticipated Cyberpunk Bartender Action: VA-11 HALL-A by Sukeban Games will officially be released tomorrow, June 21. It will be launched on PC, Linux, and Mac -- with iPad and PS Vita versions set for a later release date. 

The game takes place in a dystopian future, where....

"...corporations reign supreme, all human life is infected with nanomachines designed to oppress them, and the terrifying White Knights ensure that everyone obeys the laws."

But, this game is not about those people.

You play as a bartender at VA-11 HALL-A, otherwise known as "Valhalla." Although it's just a small bar downtown, it attracts quite the odd crowd, including:

"The most fascinating people this side of dystopia. Keep your clients lubricated and you will be made privy to the most interesting stories."

In this story-telling, dialogue-driven game, your experience is heavily influenced by the choices you make as a bartender and through the drinks that you prepare. 

As more of the characters share their stories with you, you have the opportunity to discover their daily lives in a "cyberpunk dystopia."

The visuals are inspired by old Japanese adventure games for the PC-98, with a modern touch.

"Get to know your clients, their tastes, and prepare the drink that will change their lives."

For more information behind the game and its features, visit the developer's website or blog

You can also download a demo version of the game (for Windows).

Cyberpunk Bartender Action: VA-11 HALL-A will be available on Steam starting June 21, 2016.