PAX 2015: Hands-On VA-11 HALL-A

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Yet another of my most-anticipated games from PAX, I got some hands-on time with VA-11 HALL-A (which can be referred to as “Valhalla”) and a chance to speak with the developers.

VA-11 HALL-A is referred to as a Cyberpunk Bartender Action game; it’s a mix of an adventure game, visual novel, and bartending simulator with lots of Cyberpunk and 90’s anime influences. First of all, I remember seeing screenshots of this a while back, and it’s intrigued me ever since. The game is set up similar to those old PC RPGs, where there is a static image of a character on the screen, and it’s surrounded by a menu system that includes the dialog and all of your options. In this case though, VA-11 HALL-A has a slightly animated image instead of a static image.

It’s hard to pin down the art style of the game, but it does have a sort of almost ANSI art look to it; it reminds me of the ANSI art from back in the days of dial-up BBSes when I was in high school in the early 90’s.

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For me, the game has quite a bit going for it. It’s got Cyberpunk, Anime, and drinking—what more could you want?

The core gameplay itself is mostly what you see in the screenshots. Cyberpunk patrons will come into the bar and order drinks, and instead of dialog choices that will steer the story in a certain path, the story direction will depend on how well you serve the drinks. Not only will the story direction and dialog change based on your choices, but the character ending will be different depending on how well you performed.

I asked about how the drink mixing mechanics work, and you don’t have to memorize all of the ingredients to the drinks. Basically, the patrons will tell you what drink they want, and from there you can pull up a menu to mix the drink. However, sometimes a character will be vague and ask you for a sweet drink; in which case you’ll then have to make your best judgement based on how well you know that character and what their likes and dislikes are.

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I also asked whether you could make the drinks stronger for the customers, and was fascinated to learn that yes, in fact you can, and that it may also affect the story. For example, if a customer orders a light drink, and instead you serve them a strong drink, it could change their demeanor.

In addition to what was shown in the demo at PAX, I was told that although most of the gameplay is based in the bar, there are parts of the game that happen outside the bar. One of the places outside the bar is your apartment, from which there are several different programs such as a news program that will keep you up-to-date with events and characters in the world. This news program is also used to learn more about the characters and give you hints as to their personality.

 
Along with the news program in your character’s apartment, you can also access a gift shop where you can purchase items with the money you’ve earned at the bar to decorate your character’s place. In addition to the gift shop, you’ll also have rent that you have to pay using the funds that you get from tending bar. If you are unable to pay your rent, then you’ll be evicted, which results in a game over.

VA-LL HALL-A will be coming to PS Vita this year as well as Steam on PC, Mac, Linux, and iPad. I asked if the game will be PlayStation TV compatible, but it wasn’t known at the time of the interview.

One last thing to note, the soundtrack is already available via Bandcamp, and is absolutely fantastic. More info about the game and links to the soundtrack are on the official website here.

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Written by Jason Honaker

Jason Honaker

A software developer for over 15 years, originally from St. Louis, MO and currently living in Seattle, WA. Started gaming in 1979 on the Atari 800 8-bit PC. I play all sorts of games, but am partial to RPGs and 3rd person brawlers and shooters.

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