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“VA11-HA11-A” – Check Out Some Cyberpunk Bartending Action – Review

For a generation of people who grew up on video games, we envisioned the near future to be a dazzling, fascinating world filled with endless possibilities and great advancement. Space travel, cybernetic enhancements, flying cars, are ideas depicted in dozens of video games in the early 1990’s. There were many different depictions of what our world would be like in the coming years. Whether it was the dystopic arena death battle of S.M.A.S.H TV or the gritty, fascinating world of Judge Dredd , there was just a buzzing excitement of possibilities.

However, the ideas that struck out the most were those that gave real thought to how we as, as humans, would survive in such a strange world. Films like Ghost In the Shell, The Fifth Element, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day gave audiences insight into how our future would be and how humans would shape it. These are the very thoughts that struck me as I played the wisely titled VA11-HA11-A, a unique, story-driven game by Sukeban Games and recently ported the PlayStation Vita with the help of studio PoppyWorks and WolfGame Studios.

Unlike other games in the genre, VA11-HA11-A focuses on story and characters, but places players into the role of a young bartender, using her mixing skills to learn more about the patrons that visit her bar. In an industry where many game studios put shooting and action ahead of the story in sci-fi dystopias, VA11-HA11-A dares to do something different, and manages to create a game experience that is truly, and incredibly remarkable.


Glitch City, 20 XX, a seemingly gleaming and peaceful city that is has been wrought with corruption and depravity. It is a city that shouldn’t exist as maligned government officials reign supreme and criminal empires run without concern. In this city, every citizen has been infected with a nanomachine virus to keep them in check, and the enforcement group, the White Knights, keep the unfair laws of its government enforced.

For the people that live here, life is a constant struggle. Some dedicate their lives to their families. Some commit to their jobs. But others just give up. However, for many out there, the answers to their plights can be found at the bottom of a glass. Deep in the corners of Glitch City lies a well-known establishment, known as VA11-HA11-A. Considered a diamond in the rough, many seek the BTC- certified bar to potentially find a new glimmer of hope yo hold onto in this dystopic future. this is where our story begins.

VA11-HA11-A is a visual novel with an emphasis on story, as well as cyberpunk bartending action. Players take on the role of Jill, a young woman making her rounds at the establishment, together with her small crew, they make drinks for the patrons who come by.  For Jill’s friends, Gillian and Dana, it’s another day at the bar. For Jill, she feels that every drink served has a potential meaning to it all. Throughout the game, players experience a variety of characters that walk into the bar and uncover a potential mystery that lies at the heart of the city.

As the bartender, players mix and make a variety of drinks. However, how you make them can affect the story and the overall ending. Players can make them big, add additional alcohol, or intentionally give the wrong order. Making each drink is easy, given that the game opens up an easy-to-use database for players to research drinks. This is important as some characters will give more cryptic requests as to what they want to drink. Listening to your patrons is important as going beyond and making big drinks will give you more of a positive ending. Additionally, seeing clues in the text of your characters could yield unexpected bonuses to the story, such as comedic moments or sudden moves.

For games like VA11-HA11-A, the most important aspect is the story and the world to which it takes place in, and the world that has been depicted is absolutely mesmerizing.  The game draws inspirations from early Japanese visual novel and adventure games from the 1990’s. While the game takes place inside of the bar, the characters that waltz in front of you exude distinct, vibrant personalities. These characters represent different perspectives of the city, from a White Knight officer to fully autonomous robots. On the topic of the story, the game features an incredibly strong narrative that gets its players to think.

The characters discuss more than the observations and happenings of the city but their own convictions of why they do what they do, despite the acrimony that comes along with their professions. One character, in particular, became a law enforcement officer to protect others but later reveals that she was attacked by a law enforcement officer as well, unveiling her resolution to keep fighting for the right reasons.

One character is a robot sex worker with a flamboyant personality, but feels a sense of pride in her work, seeing herself at an advantage and perhaps, a means to help others. Another character, an android, takes such pride in her music that she wishes to share that with the world, but despite her celebrity status, always wishes to revisit the smaller details of life.

Many of the other characters have interesting backgrounds as well, from an Editor-in-Chief to a cyborg who fought in secret wars, the style of the game is extremely fresh and engaging. Your character, Jill, acts as sort of a guidance counselor. She isn’t a miracle worker, but with every drink she serves, she listens and responds to the plights of her customers, giving them a direction. VA11-HA11-A’s story is exceptional but also relatable. Players will find an emotion or feeling that resonates from one of the game’s many characters.

Coupled with this is a stellar soundtrack from video game composer, Garoad. The soundtrack is special, especially for those that grew up on video games in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The electric piano and lightly tuned synthesizer evoke a very strong sense of nostalgia.  Garoad’s soundtrack perfectly captures the sci-fi future idea of the 1990’s.  The digital drums and lite tunes create their own world, but also pay tribute to games such as Snatcher, The Silver Case, and Policenauts. It perfectly captures the style of VA11-HA11-A and interweaves in the story of the game.

VA11-HA11-A is the type of game that demonstrates the incredible capabilities that video games posses in storytelling and character interactions. It made me think, it had me laugh, and it had me completely invested in its dystopic world. Form the fantastic presentation to its engaging story, I’m really glad that I was able to play VA11-HA11-A in this age of video games. VA11-HA11-A is one of the best games I have played in 2017 and I hope more people discover it.

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