Friday, May 3

Review: VA-11 HALL-A [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Having never played a bartending game in my life before this year I find it unusual that I’m now reviewing my second one. The first, The Red Strings Club was set in a cyperpunk-y future and mixed the bartending with some adventure and puzzle-solving elements as you tried to stop a misguided corporation and scientist from taking steps to remove human emotions. Moving in a completely different direction we now have VA-11 HALL-A (simplified to just be Valhalla), a game also set in a cyberpunk future but that’s far less driven by an agenda, instead pretty well emphasizing the simple enjoyment of conversation and being a sort of voyeur in people’s lives more indirectly while you ply them with drinks.


As much as the game hinges on drink-making I wish the controls were implemented a little less wonky way and that some key mixology terminology like “blended” were better explained in terms of how they’re performed mechanically in the game. In general the principles are easy, you’ll read the recipe, telling you how many parts of each component go into the drink and you’ll want to dutifully combine them with precision. Some variations like when people ask for no alcohol, a “big” drink, or you take it upon yourself to turn up the alcoholic content of a drink in order to lubricate a patron a little extra come into play though and in these sorts of situations the drinks you choose can help dictate the story elements you’ll see.


The story really is the main attraction here, though not in a traditional narrative sense necessarily. There’s an overarching picture being painted in general across multiple people but the fascinating part of the game is really the singular interactions with people and the stories they’ll tell depending on your interactions with them. Keeping up with what your regulars prefer and looking up just the right drink for a particular occasion will help you be more effective but overall what you’ll learn about people over the course of the game is at least interesting… if you’re into reading a lot of dialogue at least.


One element of the game that may either attract or turn people away is the frank way sexual and sometimes borderline creepy elements will get thrown in. It’s all well and good, and people should be free to enjoy what they like, but there are bit of it that feel like they’re thrown in more for shock value than being meaningful. Nothing ever gets super uncomfortable but there were times where my thoughts strayed to “Really?” nonetheless.


If you’re down for a game with a different speed and feel, and value observing life described in little moments, Valhalla is unique and should have quite a bit of appeal. If you’re not firmly in that camp the degree of enjoyment you’ll get out of the game is more likely to vary wildly from amused to outright bored to tears. This is definitely one of those titles that’s a credit to the strength and diversity of what’s available on the system, just know that it’s not going to be an experience for everyone.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Conveys its stories in small bites and across multiple people, sometimes with unexpected elements and surprises
  • Though it may not seem like it you’re able to exert control on the conversations you’ll have and even who you’ll talk to through your choices in drink making

Cons:
  • The mechanics for making drinks, and how thoroughly they’re explained, can use some more work
  • Some tendency to gravitate towards shock value for its own sake at times
  • Though “action” is included in the title the game has nothing I’d use that word to describe in it