Necrobarista Will Likely Invite Some VA-11 HALL-A Comparisons

Necrobarista Will Likely Invite Some VA-11 HALL-A Comparisons

You’re going to hear many comparisons between Necrobarista and VA-11 HALL-A: A Cyberpunk Bartending Simulator in the coming days, weeks, and months. As Necrobarista inevitably gains traction, the concept of a genre story told exclusively inside a drink-slinging establishment may start to feel a bit familiar.

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Necrobarista – gameplay images via Route 59.

For me, there’s one crucial difference between the games: whereas VA-11 HALL-A chose to engage the player with a bartending mechanic and a money management side objective, Necrobarista (at least in the very, very, very short demo I saw) seems to be more of an interactive story. The game takes place in an underground speakeasy where the spirits of the dead get 24 final hours in our world before having to move on to whatever’s next. That’s about as much as I could glean from the demo and a short conversation with one of the developers.

My demo felt more like a vignette than anything else: a sequence where a spirit plays five-finger-fillet against one of the speakeasy’s employees, betting two whole hours of his afterlife on this game. The demo took place in two parts: visual novel scenes where the events of the duel played out, and a couple moments where the player moves the camera around a Police Squad-style frozen room, reading bits of flavour text about the characters’ past and getting some commentary from people in the crowd.

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Necrobarista – gameplay images via Route 59.

With so little to go on, it’s hard to me to form a cohesive, informed recommendation. At the very least, I feel comfortable saying that I found the core gimmick of Necrobarista very enticing, but the script feels overwritten. There’s plenty of verve in the writing, but there’s no honesty. The stuff in the demo feels like it was written for a short story contest, all flash and flavour but no texture. It’s like asking the waiter at the Outback Steakhouse to over-season your steak; at that point, why not just get something else, Ray?

And yeah, of course it feels like a short story, it’s a demo, but that’s why I said “contest.” Those stories don’t exist to fulfill an artistic need, they’re trying to be the most loquacious of the bunch. Maybe the full game will be more authentic, or maybe it’ll feel like somebody was trying to really impress their NaNoWriMo group.

That’s where the VA-11 HALL-A comparisons fall apart for me. VA-11 HALL-A worked for me because it felt real. The characters felt like they had a life outside the game, even if I didn’t see it. Yeah, some of the dialogue could be a little too clever, but the condescension inherent to the way people talk to service employees kept all those interactions grounded in some form of reality.

Necrobarista Will Likely Invite Some VA-11 HALL-A Comparisons
Necrobarista – gameplay images via Route 59.

The reason I’m actually still kind of looking forward to Necrobarista is because that kind of ethereal wordiness can really set a mood if you give it long enough. (See also: Kentucky Route Zero) But in short bursts, especially at a convention, that mood becomes something you might have to fight through rather than something to let wash over you. I’m disappointed to say I had to fight through it—I hope the rest of the game isn’t the same way.


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VA-11 Hall-A Prologue Redux Coming to PC, Vita

VA-11 Hall-A Prologue Redux Coming to PC, Vita

Sukeban Games’ cyberpunk anime-inspired bartending visual novel VA-11 Hall-A was one of the biggest sleeper hits of 2016. Released on Steam, itch.io, GOG, Steam and Humble Bundle, the game was originally revealed through a Prologue demo available on itch.io. Now, VA-11 Hall-A is getting a “remastered” version of the prologue through the upcoming Prologue Redux release.

Read moreVA-11 Hall-A Prologue Redux Coming to PC, Vita

Humble GameMaker Bundle Offers $15 For Nearly $2,000 In Game Development Tools

Humble GameMaker Bundle Offers  $15 For Nearly $2,000 In Game Development Tools

YoYo Games’s GameMaker: Studio software suite is a powerful little development tool. It’s the engine behind such hits as Sukeban Games’s VA-11 Hall-A and Heart Machine Games’ Hyper Light Drifter. It’s also known for being incredibly approachable, with dozens of tutorials freely available online to check out. But it can also be a tad expensive.

Read moreHumble GameMaker Bundle Offers $15 For Nearly $2,000 In Game Development Tools

VA-11 Hall-A (PC) Review

VA-11 Hall-A (PC) Review

Larger-than-life experiences are a staple of many games, and for good reason. Nobody is going to raid a tomb, steal a sports car, or shoot a demon in their daily life. Games let us do all those things, and then some. When a market becomes saturated in spectacle however, some might crave something with a bit more nuance to it. Something smaller, more intimate, and humanistic. Where you don’t pull off an elaborate headshot or outrun an explosion, but instead sit and chat about life, death, love, and everything in between.

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This is what VA-11 Hall-A is about. An experience where players get to simulate the quiet intimacy of genuine human interaction, sans the pretentions of many “art” games. At its core, it is a game about talking, and a game in which the goal is to get people to talk more to Jill, the player-character.

Jill is a bartender at a dive bar nicknamed “Valhalla,” one that reeks of “dog urine and hand soap.” It’s a bar that happens to be located in a futuristic dystopia of a society, where hackers engage in large scale cybernetic warfare, and a Big Brother-esque police force called the White Knights maintains order—when they’re not sometimes turning on their own. Your part to play in this, though, is relatively small. Because, ultimately, Jill’s tale just boils down to trying to live her life out in peace while mixing drinks for a diverse mélange of characters, most of whom are agents of change in the world.

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In VA-11 Hall-A, the only way to find out more about these characters’ lives and to spark friendships, or even relationships with them is through mixing drinks. There are no options to simply click a line of dialogue and see where things go. Jill has to take their order, then decide whether to make it as-is, add a little more kick, or mix something different entirely. What you make and how you make it directly impacts where a conversation will head.

Considering this is the only way to influence the narrative, it comes as a relief that the drink-mixing mechanic is charming and fluid. Once you understand which ingredients do what, it’s easy to fall into a rhythm and start mixing the fictitious beverages like a seasoned pro. During my time with the game, I started committing the cocktails and their ingredients to memory, becoming immersed in serving drinks and altering the plot.

“Alter” is the operative word here, because the outcome of the narrative changes significantly based on what you prepare. If you play your cards right, Jill will learn about the connection that certain characters have between each other, how they feel about each other, what they think about the state of society, etc. It’s easy to give the customer what they want, but a little experimentation at the right time goes a long way and leads to a more fulfilling, enriching narrative.

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In fact, I’d go so far as to say that VA-11 Hall-A has one of the most fulfilling narratives of 2016. The myriad ways in which it explores human sexuality, emotional fragility, and the consequences of surveillance through a deeply humanistic lens is nothing short of fascinating. Sukeban Games bills their title as a “waifu bartending” game, but it’s a lot more. Without going into spoiler territory, this title goes places I never thought games would dare to, or even could, tread, such as the ethicality of sex work, or intimacy involving perceivable minors.

Not only is the narrative—with all of its outcomes—riveting and emotionally involved, but it also forced me to challenge and reassess my subjective worldview. This is a game that can, depending on your disposition, change your life, which isn’t something to take lightly, nor is it something 99 per cent of games can claim to do.

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With an aesthetic influenced by MSX-90 titles, and a soundtrack that has roots in 80’s J-Pop and 90’s RPGs, VA-11 Hall-A is retro futurism at its finest. Not only is it a title with an original and novel concept, but it manages to push players out of their comfort zone, and to potentially question the way they live their entire life. It is, without question, one of the finest examples of art in gaming that I can think of.