By Jackie Morgan
Disclaimer: This blog post is not sponsored, and all thoughts and opinions are my own.
A few years ago, I picked up VA-11 HALL-A (pronounced Valhalla) on the Nintendo Switch because it was recommended to me by my boyfriend. I’m pretty picky about the games I get into, so I wasn’t expecting for this game to completely surpass my expectations and become one of my favorites. Upon booting up the game, the beautiful 2-D cyber graphics drew me in, and the ethereal techno music was the perfect backdrop for the visuals. You play as Jill Stingray, a 20-something bartender who has trauma to unpack, as she works her usual shifts at her local bar: VA-11 HALL-A. The game takes place in a dystopian city, and via access to Jill’s smartphone and lengthy conversations with bar patrons, you get a sense of how dark and dangerous this futuristic setting actually is. Though, you don’t really have to deal with that, as the majority of the game takes place inside the cozy bar as you create drinks for the customers, whose personalities range from cute and bubbly to snarky, mysterious, and even aggressive.
The first time I played this game, I did so without using any cheats or guides because I wanted to experience the game in a way that was solely based on my own decisions. Decisions in this game are important, as there are six different endings which are based on whether you mix the correct drinks for your virtual customers. However on my second playthrough, I used a guide to make sure that I made no mistakes, and I also did this so that I could unlock several secret characters and recipes. Additionally, one of the amazing steps of personalization that this game offers is the fact that you can set your own music playlist before beginning a bartending shift, which you can pick and choose from a long catalogue of funky and energetic beats.
The main gameplay involves crafting drinks from six main (fictional) ingredients, which is surprisingly quite enjoyable and makes bartending an addictively fun activity. The other main component of the game is getting to know your customers and coworkers, and by communicating with them and learning their tastes, you unlock pieces of theirs and Jill’s backstory.
Overall, this game struck a chord with me because you can feel the soul of it, and the art style and design are candy for the eyes. While this game is edgy with its real-world grit and treacherous setting, it also showcases some of the deepest connections that people can form with each other in the most unlikely of places. This game has become an instant classic for me, and I often find myself yearning to pick it up again even when I’m occupied with new games. This game just has that special something!
Link to the game on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/447530/VA11_HallA_Cyberpunk_Bartender_Action/