I’ve been playing a bunch of VA-11 HALL-A over the last couple of days, and I adore it. You can see some random screenshots and thoughts over on my Pile of Shame microblog.
I also wrote a review on Steam for it earlier, so I figured rather than spending time thinking of a different way to write the same enthusiastic words, I’d simply share it here, too.
I’ve been waiting to play the full version of this for quite some time now, ever since the very early demo enraptured me with its snappy writing, strong characterisation and wonderfully distinctive take on the dystopian future setting. And I’m delighted that the full version has, so far, surpassed all my expectations and hopes.
VA-11 Hall-A is kind of hard to pin down. At heart, it’s basically a visual novel, but rather than making binary choices that filter you off down one of several discrete routes, the choices you make as protagonist Jill when going about her daily life at home and at work affect what happens next in the story, including the characters you encounter, how Jill gets along with her clients and co-workers and how everyone reacts to the events unfolding in the backdrop.
Interestingly, VA-11 Hall-A presents its overarching narrative almost entirely from the perspective of Jill behind the bar and in her apartment. Significant things happen in the world, but you don’t see them directly; instead, you tend to see the people involved immediately before and/or after the events, or read about them on the news web pages and forums the morning after. Sometimes whether or not you dosed them up with alcohol before the event in which they were involved has an effect, too; prepare to feel guilty if that happens!
To give too many examples would be to spoil the experience, so I’ll leave it at this: VA-11 Hall-A does a much better job of almost any visual novel I can name at making its world feel “alive” and like the actions you take actually matter, rather than simply picking a route through the story. There’s nothing wrong with the latter approach, of course, but this way of doing things helps keep the people who expect a bit more in the way of traditional “gameplay” happy as well as those of us who are along for the ride primarily from a narrative perspective.
To sum up: great writing, wonderful characterisation, superb music and a glorious, beautiful PC-88 style aesthetic (with perfect pixel aspect ratio even scaled up to 1920×1080) makes for an absolutely lovely, unconventional and entirely memorable game.
I adore VA-11 Hall-A and pray with all my heart that it sees the success it deserves, both here on Steam and elsewhere on the Internet.
I haven’t yet finished a playthrough, but you better believe when I do there will be some detailed thoughts and feelings about the whole thing going up either here or over on MoeGamer (from which my previous article on the game’s demo is quoted on the Steam store page! Awesome!) — so watch out for those.
This is exactly the sort of highly creative, wonderfully inventive, beautifully presented and sharply written stuff I love to see from the indie scene. And I hope it becomes the sensation it sincerely deserves to be.
Find out more about the game and buy it — please, please, please buy it — on the official site.