There was a point in my early adulthood when I considered becoming a bartender. I don’t drink, myself. In fact, I’ve never had a sip of alcohol in my life, but I have found myself inside a lot of bars in my day. I suppose that makes me weird. Well, a lot of things make me weird, but that’s beside the point. While media often likes to portray bars as nothing more than backdrops for eventual fisticuffs or drunken foolishness, I’ve always found them kind of… welcoming. Even for someone as anti-social as myself, I do enjoy watching people, listening to their stories, experiencing them at their most transparent.
At its core, that seems to be what VA-11 HALL-A is about. Sure, there are many many offbeat characters and a cyberpunk dystopia to deal with, but it’s primarily about the mundane routine of a girl that’s seen everything, willing to put on a happy face just to make rent and prompting longer and more involved confessions from customers the more socially lubricated they become. It’s about people and their stories.
I often talk (and complain) about fictional worlds and their ability to feel lived in, as if they would exist with or without my input. Obviously, the main character Jill isn’t out to save the universe or thwart a villain, and her insignificance to that world, odd as it may seem, is an advantage. No one is afraid to tell her anything because she doesn’t seem to matter. The people you meet, be it a blatant Seinfeld reference, an egocentric newspaper EIC, or a loli android prostitute (don’t ask) all feel… real, or at least the closest they can given the context. It’s a fairly linear experience, but the writing is such that found myself wanting to both savor each conversation whilst also feeling the urge to rush through and see what came through the door next.
It’s times like this when the format works against me. I simply don’t have time to see it through till the end, at least not in the near future. This is made all the more frustrating by the fact that I strongly suspect I was on the verge of a major twist and/or a dark turn. Perhaps it’ll have to wait for a rainy day or a lazy weekend, when I’m at my least motivated to do much of anything. That may sound like a contradiction, but the game itself, upon start up, advises you to lay back and relax. I can certainly see myself spending a day being horizontal, face smushed against a pillow, listening to some sweet tunes and using my free arm to mix drinks for a cyborg whilst he tells me about life.
There need to be more games like this.