Friday, December 22, 2017

A few thoughts on VA-11 HALL-A (Vita) now that I've put nearly five hours into it

Besides Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, most of the games I've played in recent weeks and months try their best to sound, look, and even feel like ones that were released in the 1980s and 1990s.

Golf Story and even the Project Octopath Traveler demo for the Switch are two examples. The Vita port of Undertale, which I finally started a couple of weekends ago, is another. And then, of course, there are the just-hit-the-PlayStation-Store pair of 2064: Read Only Memories and Papers, Please. (OK, so I've yet to start those last two titles, but I'm planning to do so in short order.)

As successful as those games are at replicating their "retro" forebearers, VA-11 HALL-A outdoes all of them. How so? Find out by reading my impressions of this saucy, cyberpunk-y visual novel.

I adore the game's PC-98-esque graphics--I've loved the PC-98 "look" ever since I first traipsed across it many moons ago. (If you've never heard of the PC-98 before now, it's a lineup of Japanese 16-bit and 32-bit personal computers that dominated the domestic market in the 1980s and 1990s.) To see what I mean, check out this old NeoGAF thread, which is crammed full of luscious PC-98 game screenshots. Anyway, VA-11 HALL-A does magnificent job of looking like it was made during that era, and I couldn't be happier about it.

It has a glorious soundtrack--If I had to single out one aspect of VA-11 HALL-A as being head and shoulders above the rest, its soundtrack would be it. It's filled with the kind of music you want to listen to even when you're not playing the game. I don't know if it should be described as synthwave, synth-pop, ambient, or something else entirely, but it doesn't really matter. Calling it "blissful" is as spot-on as any other label you could slap on it. (The complete VA-11 HALL-A soundtrack is available on line, if you're curious.)

The story is surprisingly captivating--I honestly didn't expect to enjoy VA-11 HALL-A's story as much as I'm currently enjoying it. I expected it to be weird, and kind of wacky, too, but I didn't think it would be as interesting and even poignant as it is. As things stand, I never seem to tire of this game's nearly endless stream of text. I've rarely, if ever, said that about a visual novel before I tackled this one, which to me suggests VA-11 HALL-A is a pretty special example of the genre.

It seems I may be playing it incorrectly--Or at least too rigidly. Sadly, I didn't realize that until just the other day--which means I've been playing the game this way for more than four hours. Oh, well, I may as well continue along this current path until I reach VA-11 HALL-A's end credits. I'll do my best to approach my digital bartending duties as designer Christopher Ortiz seemingly intended during any subsequent playthroughs. Which means I won't be so robotic about always serving patrons what they say they want. (I thought that was the point, but it sounds like you're supposed to be creative in how you respond to customers' drink requests.)

Have you played some version of VA-11 HALL-A since it first released (for PC) back in 2016? If so, what are your impressions of it?

See also: a few thoughts on Golf Story, Super Mario Odyssey, and Yomawari: Night Alone

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