VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action

– Time to mix drinks and change lives –

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VA-11 HALL-A (PC [reviewed], Mac)
Developer: Sukeban Games
Publisher: Ysbryd Games
Released: 
June 21, 2016 (PC), “2016” (PS Vita, iOS)
Price: £10.99 (PC)

Billed as a “waifu bartending” game, I was expecting elements of a dating sim to be more prevalent in VA-11 HALL-A. Then, after playing for a while longer I became immersed in this neon-drenched cyberpunk world, and witnessed some kind of coup taking place in Glitch City. I thought perhaps I was in for a more action-packed adventure instead. In the end, I got neither.

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PLOT

In VA-11 HALL-A you play as Jill, a bartender at the aforementioned bar, guiding the story in a thematically appropriate way: mixing drinks for different customers, all with their own interesting stories and relationships. Certain drinks allow you to add as much or as little alcohol as you like, meaning you can get certain patrons very drunk and uncover extra dialogue – great for replays! Jill is also an easy character to empathise with; between her shifts at the bar, she sits in her tiny apartment, under a kotatsu, spending her time online, slowly filling up her tiny apartment with various memorabilia and posters of the idol *Kira* Miki. You’ll also find that Jill spends entire shifts distracted if she doesn’t buy a thing she wants, affecting your ability to get orders right and how much you get paid. Gamers and anime fans can relate.

Given what cyberpunk as a genre usually implies, and the ominous chords that play on the title screen, you couldn’t be blamed for assuming you were in for a dramatic or dark gaming experience. Instead, VA-11 HALL-A is a slice-of-life simply using a cyberpunk environment as a backdrop to tell the stories of the curious and interesting characters you’d expect to inhabit a dystopian cyberpunk city.

DIALOGUE

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Given that VA-11 HALL-A is a visual novel, you’ll be doing a lot of clicking and a lot of reading. This might seem a tad tedious to gamers who don’t usually indulge in this genre, but the dialogue in VA-11 HALL-A really is a treat. You can tell this game was a labour of love for the creators at Sukeban Games, and thanks to the fantastic storytelling VA-11 HALL-A is a highly engaging experience. The dialogue a joy to read and immerse yourself in; it’s crass, humorous and charming. It brings to the forefront themes that any regular user of the internet in this day and age would find familiar and relate to. Also, I love how fellow bartender Gillian is frequently referred to as a “fuckboy”.

 

SOUND

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My preferred playlist for mixing drinks ~

This review wouldn’t be complete without talking about one of my favourite parts of playing this game: the music. The neon-drenched, 80s/electronic, J-pop inspired score bridged the difference in making VA-11 HALL-A a good game and a great game. The requirement of having to fill the jukebox with tracks from the OST at the start of each shift was a great touch I really appreciated. I’d go as far as telling you to play the game based off of the soundtrack alone; Michael “Garoad” Kelly has done a fantastic job in creating a score that caters to not only the somber atmosphere of the bar, but also an eclectic range of tracks that cover the more upbeat scenes and emotionally charged exchanges between characters. But even without playing the game I’d recommend listening to the soundtrack on Soundcloud or Spotify. You can also purchase the soundtrack on Kelly’s bandcamp, either for free or a donated amount to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

REPLAYABILITY

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On my first go, playing through VA-11 HALL-A took me just under 10 hours, on my current playthrough I’m on a mission to get as many customers drunk as possible. The option to get customers more inebriated than required opens up new conversation options and plot paths. On the flipside, if you get an order wrong you’ll end up with a displeased customer who may simply choose not to pay and you lose some of your wages. If this happens enough times you’ll find that Jill is short on cash when rent is due and facing eviction from her apartment. Both instances open up new possible endings and achievements. A huge plus of starting a NG+ is that it allows you to keep all your money so you can fill up Jill’s apartment with as much crap as you can afford and you also get hints for each ending at the start.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

I’ll make this simple, if you like:

  • Vibrant pixelated anime aesthetics
  • An atmospheric soundtrack
  • Interesting, unique characters
  • Raw, funny and thought-provoking dialogue

…then play VA-11 HALL-A.

The dialogue is a core element of the game and you won’t find an action-packed adventure here. Having said that, I would still recommend VA-11 HALL-A to a gamer unaccustomed to visual novels, as I believe there’s a game in every genre for everyone. If what I’ve written here has piqued your interest enough, definitely don’t hesitate to try it out for yourself.

 

 

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Mob Psycho 100: Final Impressions

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Mob Psycho 100 left a strong impression for 12 weeks in a row and the season finale did not disappoint.


There were a number of moments in Mob Psycho where my expectations were completely subverted, but the finale had to have the most notable example yet. As badly as I wanted (and expected) Mob to explode again and wipe out the remaining Claws, having Reigen being the star of the final battle was even more satisfying.

This final reflection of the show wouldn’t feel complete without talking about who turned out to be my favourite character.
I didn’t want to like Reigen at all in the beginning, but with each episode and as we got to see more facets of his character, he earned more of my respect. At first, like many others, I assumed he was just a scam artist; taking advantage of Mob’s gentle heart and esper abilities. But he takes his role as Mob’s mentor seriously and he implores Mob to never use his powers to harm others, for his own good.

It starts to be apparent that there was something more touching to Mob and Reigen’s relationship around episode 3, but the finale is where this is shown most acutely.
Mob forms numerous friendships over the course of the show, but Reigen is the only person to tell Mob that his powers don’t make him special. And despite his tremendous abilities, he must never use them to harm anyone, in fact, it’s his responsibility not to.

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When his friends are losing the fight against the remaining Claw members and Mob is about to give into his emotions to save them, Reigen steps in and pulls him back from his murderous rage. After Mob channels his energy into his mentor, Reigen proceeds to overwhelm the Claws in what is one of my favourite scenes of the show.

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As he bats away Ishiguro’s gravity balls like they’re soap bubbles, snaps Sakurai’s sword, and mocks Muraki’s shoulder pads, Reigen shatters their delusions and “drags them back to reality”. Perhaps it’s because he’s a conman himself that Reigen has such a good eye for BS; after stripping each Claw of their dignity, he makes it clear that they’re just kids who never grew up and that there powers aren’t a big deal: “You’re so addicted to your powers, you’ve developed tunnel vision”.

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Irony; thy name is Reigen.

Mob Psycho’s action scenes were visually stunning throughout, but the finale really pulled out all the stops. Yuzuru Tachikawa storyboarded and directed the episode and constantly bombarded us with striking shots. Miyo Sato’s paint-on-glass depiction of the transfer of Mob’s power to Reigen was more charming, and engaging than a mere info dump would’ve been.

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I wasn’t sure of what to expect from Mob Psycho 100 going into it  (especially after the wackiness and satire of OnePunch-Man), but what I got was a surprisingly deep and often symbolic story of an ordinary boy with extraordinary powers, and a genius interpretation of ONE’S creation. Well-written source material, paired with Tachikawa’s storytelling and directing made every episode loads of fun to watch at a time when new-season anime don’t tend to grab my attention for long.

Getting caught up on the manga is an absolute must now, but hopefully we’ll be getting a season 2 announcement soon!

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Spotify | Gaming

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I’m an OST fanatic.

Many of my favourite games (Earthbound, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne and Majora’s Mask, for example) are on that list largely due to the emotional connection I have to their soundtracks. I’ll always appreciate a great OST and have played great games that I wish had paid more attention to their sonical value (ahem, Bravely Default. The same boss theme for every boss. Really?)

So it was to my obvious delight that earlier this month, Spotify launched a new Gaming category! There, you’ll find various gaming playlists created by the Spotify community, such as Dark Souls III, Assassins Creed and Guitar Hero Live. Spotify has also created its own selection of gaming playlists, such mixes include Electronic Gaming, Hip Hop Gaming and Retro Gaming.

The highlight of this new Gaming category for me, however, are the original soundtracks; located at the bottom of the section on the mobile app, or the middle tab on the Spotify Gaming site.

I had previously made a Video Game OST playlist using the normal search, but it currently only contains Sonic Adventure 2 and Jet Set Radio’s soundtracks. By using the Spotify Gaming search, I could sort the music alphabetically ad have a proper trawl through the tracks to see what else I could add to my playlist.

Here are a few of my favourite finds on Spotify Gaming so far:

Welcome!

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In the Tofu Cute stand at Hyper Japan this past July

Thanks for stopping by and checking out my new blog, The Fangirl Mixtape!

I want to use this digital space to share the things I love and bits and pieces of my life. This blog will showcase anime and manga, video games, music, books and basically whatever I’m fangirling over currently (hence the blog name!).

Plus, I spend a lot of my time online anyway, so it’d be good to do something productive 😜

I hope you enjoy your stay!

 

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