I’ve been anticipating the Vita release of Va-11 HALL-A (henceforth known as Valhalla) for over two years now. It was hit by delays, and of course, with the Vita’s life-cycle drawing ever closer to legacy status, I was worried the port might be scrapped altogether. Thankfully, Wolfgame made good on their promise and delivered a port which, in Japan, has already acquired a bit of a cult-hit status. Is it a great shot of single malt, or a pint of cheap lager? Let’s find out.
You know how some games have no story at all? Or very little? Games like Pac-Man or even the original Donkey Kong have barebones narratives and still work great. Others, like visual novels, depend solely on their storytelling. Valhalla is a mixture of great storytelling and gameplay, but relies much more heavily on the former than the latter. To good effect, too, as the characters are rich, funny, scarily relatable and sometimes just plain creepy.
You play as a Bartender in a shady bar in a shady city. People come in, talk to you, you serve them drinks, and off they go. You gotta make enough to pay rent, some subscriptions, random expenses, etc. The interwoven stories, driven by fantastic characters, are what make Valhalla great. I don’t want to spoil too much, but from the get-go you’ll meet a mixture of dime-a-dozen bozos and ultimately-quite-important people, all the while getting them a drink and making rent.
The gameplay consists of two main parts: the bartending part, and tending to your personal life at home. The first is done through the above interface, in which you mix a series of ingredients to make drinks according to what people want. At first, it’s easy as they tell you straight up the name of the drink they want, or the type of drink. Later in the game you’ll have to do a bit of guesswork as clients make real-life-y vague requests, like “give me something strong” or “my girlfriend just told me she doesn’t like Harry Potter” (maybe that last one is just me).
The at-home part is done, for the most part, through your phone’s interface (your in-game phone, that is), and I’m pleased to say it’s an Android device. Aside from that, you’ll read news from your subscriptions and get the odd message. It’s here that I have to admit that I struggled a bit, as the interface can sometimes be activated through the touchscreen, and other times you must use physical controls.
There was a patch released for the game that, due to my poor internet connection, I was unable to download. I’m hoping it streamlines the interface so that you can use both touch input and physical buttons throughout.
The gameplay is strangely addictive and most definitely satisfying, but the highlight here is the character development and story. It’s just so well written, funny and full of geek/otaku humor (in a good way) that it’s no surprise that the game was a huge hit in Japan. Sure, I wish the interface for the Vita version was a little bit more polished, and I wish there were more references to Athena no Seinto (hey, one can hope), but overall, Va-11 HALL-A is one hell of a great game.
Is it too late in the Vita’s life-cycle to make a splash? Maybe. There’s no denying that this port would have sold many times over what it’s selling right now (at least in the west) had it come out even 12 months ago. I’m hoping that when the physical version releases (wink) people will swarm to play this over in the west. In the meantime, though, Japan is having a very healthy serving of Latin-American game development with a dash of Japanese culture, and you know what? That’s fine with me.
Here’s the trailer (which in my opinion, doesn’t do the game that much justice)
At a glance:
- Title: Va-11 HALL-A
- Developer: Sukeban Games
- Publisher: Wolfgames
- Format: PSN Download
- Memory Card Space Required: 273mb
- Cross Buy: No
- Cross Play: No
- PlayStation TV Compatability: TBC