Every now and then I get off my squarely firm butt to write about something truly spectacular. Ever since the expulsion of my negative energy I found myself less likely to rant on the internet, truly a blessing in disguise.
Playing this game was something I didn’t plan on. It’s the July 4th weekend, and I found myself unreasonably bored during a Saturday afternoon. It became so bad that I was left with the choice of browsing Steam releases for something new to pick up the next couple of hours. That’s how I came across VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action. With the recent influx of anime nonsense on Steam, random cutesy silliness had outgrown my patience, thus I was understandably averted when coming across this title. The game had a review score of
Overwhelmingly Positive, which isn’t that uncommon for a cult-classic anime title (which I tended to avoid), but by mere chance I granted it a second look. The first review I could see told me to `Scroll back up, buy the game, get a drink and take a seat`. It’s hard for me to truly explain, but without even reading the rest of the piece, I obliged immediately.
So I sat down, waited for the GoG download, and booted up the game. The 8-bit title screen hit me with a dark, dystopian vibe, and the chilling synth music sent me into intense focus. It’s just one of those things where a video game instantly clicks with my taste, and at that point I have absolutely no doubt that I will adore what I’m about to experienced. However, it ended up far surpassing my expectations. A long time ago, when I wrote the Tea Tale about Embric of Wolfhummer Castle, the reason the game instantly became my personal favourite was how it instantly spoke to me on a personal level that none other had even attempted. It was a labour of love stemming from great influences of a certain obscure board from a certain notorious website. Va-11 Hall-A, to my great surprise, was the same.
There are plenty of retro-style artsy pretentious ‘diverse’ games made by fuckwits out there, but this was nothing like that.I played a female bartender named Jill in the year 2069 (the light chuckle reaction was intentional), a time and place where advanced AIs roamed amongst men, and prosthetic were most commonplace. After being initially intrigued by a haunting digital ghosts, I was subsequently bombarded with talking business dogs, AI idols, barkeeping best practices, and the literal Legion of White Knights. Strangely enough, the everyday struggle of a 27 years-old beer-gorging, cigarette-smoking cat lady trying her best to pay rents, buy tacky posters, save the business, and woo her gorgeous boss blended in perfectly with the cyberpunk, futuristic, sex-crazed, and synthetic world. You could see the exposition here and there while being lost in thousands of lines of text, listening to everyone telling their stories over a bar counter, but you never forget you’re a bartender. People will ask you to mix them drinks, and you better not screw it up. Despite your doting boss going out of her way to give you pocket change with all kinds of bonuses, you’ll still struggle to find yourself doing well in the financial department on the first playthrough. The mechanics of the games aren’t much to talk about, however, as something made in Game Maker would led you to believe.
The game’s strong point is, understandably, its writing. A dazzling combination of sharp wit, reference humour, suspension of disbelief, and brilliant characterisation coated the game in an authentic, relatable feel. This might be the year 2069, and this 24 years-old AI girl is telling me how her fingers can morph to shoot bullets, but damn it if I’m not interested in hearing what she had to say. This is especially important because I’m not a particular fan of noisy reading in general, having been exposed to a fair number of visual novels throughout the years, but just like in Embric, I found myself hooked to every plot point. Characters here, being professionally produced, stood out as unique people worth interacting with. You don’t get to visit any of them, but instead they visit you. Your boss is a female wrestler/businesswoman of sorts. Your co-worker is a loveless middle-aged man on the run from Hong Kong. Your customers range from idols to prostitutes, from hackers to assassins, from White Knight to Cat Boomer. The best part is that they all have something meaningful to say, all the while consuming a financially sustainable amount of alcohol.
Since we’re on this subject, it would only be appropriate to point out exactly what they were saying. A wide variety of topics of sexuality, love, family, politics, revolts, and death laid bare on the bar, and it takes a couple of drinks to pry it straight open from your customers, your co-workers, and even yourself. I’ve seen more than my share of RPG Maker neo-progressive preachy trite in my time, and it warms my heart to see that serious and sensitive subjects can actually be taken seriously, and infused with love and care into a product that meant to be good and resonating first, and delivering messages second. This is the video game I’ll refer to when busybodies with nothing but outrage and a Patreon page tries to shill out sympathy for their utter lack of talent, honesty, and integrity.
With that out of the way, I’ll close this post by announcing that finally, after almost three years of struggling, I decided that this will also be the last thing I’ll write on this blog. For personal and professional reasons I could no longer afford to have a place where I’m allowed to express my opinions and thoughts like a true free citizen. As regretful as that may be, the repercussions of having something like this place linked to my social media presents an unnecessary risk which I would like to avoid.
What a tacky way to do this. Shame, I must admit.