29 Sep 2017
When I lived in America, I fell in love with dive bars. In a country where I only knew a handful of people, I would go to these dark and dingy palaces, filled with quirky clientele and watered down drinks. The bartenders were more than willing to talk, because a new face means the potential of a big tip. See, these local watering holes had their "locals", and just like a small town, there was a sense of community.
That is what struck me most while playing VA-11 HALL-A, it gives off a sense of community. A sense of family as these quirky and lovable characters come in day, after day, drip feeding you information about the ominous Glitch City, the political situation, and their own lives. The game masterfully gives you a feeling that you are a bigger part of this picture, yet it manages to do this by literally only showing you one screen, one viewpoint, one position behind the bar. When you simply the core gameplay loop, VA-11 HALL-A is a very simple game:
The world that VA-11 HALL-A inhabits is one that is all to familiar; human augmentation and lifelike androids known as Lilim are dividing society, megacorps run everything, and resources are scarce. While Glitch City wouldn't look out of place in any sci-fi movie starring Tom Crusie, it fits into this video game with an earnest yearning to be something real, something tangible, without you ever really exploring it.
The only reason you know any of this is because of your interesting clientele. There's the legendary hacker who is a contract worker, stealing and selling information to the highest bidder. There's the bounty hunter who is a lovely gentleman, but could kill you without even blinking. The hyper aggressive, super sexist newspaper editor who is obsessed with being manly. There's the biker who acts like a macho man, but is actually gay and enjoys sugary drinks rather than the sour trash he is actually ordering. You get an amazing cross-section of the population, all purporting their own point of view, their own thoughts and feelings, on many of the issues that Glitch City residents deal with every day.
Glitch City and your clientele are only a distraction though, because the game is actually telling a far more personal story. One of anger, regret, loss and acceptance. One that focuses on facing your fears, growing up, and being accountable for your actions. Despite the fact that talking corgis are running around the bar spouting one liners that had me chuckling on more than one occasion, VA-11 HALL-A has something important to say. Something that I feel most empathetic humans could connect with, in some fashion.
That's more than I can say for most games. I'm not into anime, and I'm not into visual novels. Yet, the premise of a bartending game was enough to rope me in and take a punt, and I'm so glad that I did.
Because VA-11 HALL-A is probably the best game that I've played this year.