Anybody who knows me will surely know that visual novels are not my idea of fun. The reason being, well, I’ve never really tried them. I’m not a typical nerd. I don’t like reading books, comics bore me to death, and I can’t stand superhero movies. I know, I shouldn’t even be here!
With all of that being said and with my admissions out on the table, I’ve come away from VA-11 HALL-A pleasantly surprised. Has it converted me? Not quite. I can’t see myself picking up every visual novel that gets released, but I can definitely see myself at least paying a little more attention to them.
VA-11 HALL-A is a visual novel, through and through. It’s set in the seedy, desperate, and corrupt Glitch City – a neon-soaked, cyber-punk city full of some of the best-written characters I’ve come across in video games. You take on the role of a sarcastic barmaid who mixes drinks and listens to patrons spill their beans all over the bar. It might not sound like the most interesting premise but it’s actually really well done and I appreciate the thought that has gone into each and every character that pops up in this quirky release. It kind of makes me wish I was once again a bartender, but this time in a big city and not a crappy rural town in Wales.
If you’ve played a visual novel before, you’ll know what to expect. And by that I mean lots of reading. If you’re illiterate (what are you doing here?) then this isn’t the game for you. Likewise, if you’re looking for bombastic set-pieces and lots of bang bangs, this isn’t for you. This is a nuanced game that is best enjoyed with a decent whisky in the hand and no distractions around. At least that’s how I got through the five-hour story.
Gameplay is light and that’s to be expected. It is a visual novel after all. You’ll spend most of your time reading lines of text as the diverse cast of characters pass through the shitty bar you work at. And it is shitty. So shitty, in fact, that its owner is closing it down and you’re soon going to be out of a job. But until then, you do your best to keep the patrons happy and their drinks top-notch. This is where the gameplay comes in.
Between pouring their hearts out and insulting you and your shitty bar, customers will order drinks and it’s your job to give them exactly what they want. It’s really simple and getting orders right isn’t a challenge at all. There’s a handy recipe book with all of the instructions to make every drink. Some are easier than others and I found myself able to memorise a few recipes during my playthrough, though it’s not required at all. It might be simple but it provides a nice break between lengthy dialogue sessions.
VA-11 HALL-A relies on simple graphics to present its world and the characters within it. It’s stylish and certainly fits the setting, though I can’t help but wonder if the user interface could have been a little more refined for a DualShock 4 controller; this was originally a PS Vita release, after all, and it kind of shows in its controls, but that’s just about the only negative I can find.
You’re not buying VA-11 HALL-A for its graphics, though, nor its gameplay. The reason you’ll buy VA-11 HALL-A is to enjoy the sharp writing. I was genuinely floored by some of the characters in this visual novel with their top-tier insults, witticisms, and stories. Some were more enjoyable than others but there was always one constant: your character. She is fire and she burns as good as she gets, something which I found hilarious. Strong characters are always welcome here.
There’s much to be said about the characters and the themes brought up within VA-11 HALL-A, but to go into more detail would be to spoil it. The writers deserve every praise they get for this one and I won’t steal their thunder by ruining it here.
What I will say is that if you’re like me – normally averse to visual novels – I think this one may be worth a look, providing you’re up for a lot of reading and have a decent sense of humour.
VA-11 HALL-A PS4 Review
Overall - Fantastic - 8/10
VA-11 HALL-A is a stylish little game that surprised me. I’m a complete newbie to the world of visual novels, but if the rest are even half as good as this little gem, I may have to invest in some decent reading glasses.
- Stylish, simple graphics that don’t distract from the writing.
- Sharp as knives characterisations.
- Hilarious at times, a little close to home at others. The story deals with some delicate themes and handles them masterfully.
- The UI could be better.
- Voice acting would go a long way to converting non-believers (and the blind.)
Reviewed using PS4 Pro.