“It’s time to mix drinks and change lives”

Va11halla, or simply ‘Valhalla’ as the locals call it, is a dingy bar situated in Glitch City, a dystopian city filled with corruption, crime and mega-corporations amongst the other tropes that is the Cyberpunk genre. The city is rife with issues, many which would make an amazing game in their own right. You have the balance of power between the mega-corporations and the politicians, the social unrest with the ‘White Knights’, who are designed to keep the peace, but seen as hired thugs, or the nanomachines running in every person in the city to keep track of them, but can be life-threatening if the body starts to reject them. But you’re not directly involved in any of these stories, you play the simple role in this game. You’re the bartender, you serve drinks and listen to the patrons of Va11halla, and through this, you meet the many interesting characters of Glitch City and the individual stories they have to tell.

No Blitzkrieg action, only drinks.

Va11halla calls itself a ‘cyberpunk bartender action game’ which sounds a bit more intense than what it actually is. Va11halla is more of a visual novel, something you sit back and invest yourself in the story and world of Glitch City and its characters. In fact, before the game starts it tells you to ‘get a drink and some snacks and sit back and relax’. Think of it as Phoenix Wright if you didn’t have to go from place to place finding clues and investigating, the game pretty much plays itself with only minor deviation depending on what drinks you serve. Serving drinks is the main ‘gameplay’ of Va11halla. A patron comes in and after some dialogue, he asks for a drink, then you use the menu to select from the 5 different ingredients and their quantities and if it has ice or is aged. The gameplay is extremely simplistic, but you do need to pay attention to what the customer says. Sometimes they won’t ask for something specific but ask for something with a particular taste such as girly, bitter, sweet, manly or fancy. Serving the customer the right or wrong drinks can affect the story in very minor ways. Keeping a customer happy means they might open up to you more as the game progresses, serving the wrong drinks means they might keep to themselves a bit more and hold back information on a particular character. At the end of the night, you get paid which you can use to spruce up your apartment and buy little things to keep you happy so it’s easier to remember orders that night at the bar. Upgrading the apartment, getting more money and learning about the characters isn’t required to finish the game, but that last part of hugely important, the characters and the world they are in. Va11halla goes to show that you don’t need to shove exposition in our faces in order to get us invested in a games world.

Jill’s apartment stars out quite drab, but you buy little items to make it spruce up the place.

You play as Jill Stingray, a 27 year old girl who works in Va11halla with her coworker Gillian, a competent and well mannered bartender, and Dana, the boss with a robotic arm who refuses to let anyone know what actually happened to her arm, claiming “it’s more interesting if its left a mystery”. Throughout the game, you learn more about these characters and their history. Gillian has some connection with the Hong Kong riots and some other shadier business and Dana used to be in the police force and had a small bout in wrestling a few years back. Va11halla does an amazing job of introducing characters and getting you really invested in who they are and what their story is. The developers described the characters as ‘average non-heroes’, people from old games and movies who were never fully realized. You learn more about them and the city itself through these interactions, to the point where you’ll just know a patron’s regular drink when they ask. When a character came in I was always “oh I wonder what happened with them since I’ve seen them”, sometimes it’s general chit chat, but other time there are large scale events that happen that had me genuinely concerned for the characters involved. Characters range from Dorothy, a super energetic ‘lilim’ (android) based with the looks of a younger girl who works as a sex worker. Donavon, a newspaper editor knows that if he prints garbage people will eat it up regardless. Stella, a ‘cat boomer’ – a girl who has cat ears as she needed genetic engineering to save her life and Alma, a close friend to Jill but also a hacker. There are many more but these characters are all so well developed and rounded I was always intrigued to hear the goings on of Glitch City and their own lives from them.

A “Cat Boomer“.

The games stylistic presentation is fantastic also. The games art style is mostly designed from anime, but the game’s environments and interface carry a certain aesthetic to them, similar to old computers of the 80s and 90s. Character models are full of personality even though they only have a few frames of animation, you can tell exactly how they’re feeling and the artists have done an amazing job of making each character unique with their own style going on. Music in the game is another area where the game has got it perfect. Very few of the tracks really stand out – but in a game like this they don’t need to, it’s future-esque music with a heavy vaporwave aesthetic, something to put in the background while working – just as I am now. Other areas of the game that really stand out are just the smaller things. At one part in the game, Dana chills at your apartment and you just drink while talking, while choosing to drink as the convo goes on. At no point are you required to drink, but you do so to get into the feel of the game. There are a few moments like this that just got me totally lost and invested in the game’s world and I applaud it for doing so.

That old PC feel…

There are so many games out there where you play as the hero, as the one to save the world or take down the bad guy. In some of these games, you’ll have exposition thrown and it just doesn’t feel natural. Characters don’t just talk about themselves or the major plot elements while you’re waiting to go on a mission – and even when it gets it correct, you just don’t care because it might not even be relevant; Va11halla does the complete opposite. I got so invested in the world of Glitch City and it’s characters that I wanted to know more, and in certain cases, you don’t get an answer because realistically you wouldn’t. Some people may leave a bar and never come back and it did leave me wondering what will happen next. Va11halla is a fantastic game with a heavy emphasis on story that nails how to tell a story without being boring and wasting time. I just wish there was more to it. All games must end and this game last as long as it needs to, not too long but not too short. I just wanted a bit more into looking around the city or maybe visiting other bars to speak to the characters on your day off maybe. It might take away from the straight forward story, but some variation wouldn’t hurt.

One of the best characters.

Va11halla is the story of Jill Stingray and her life in Glitch City with the characters that visit, and I am so glad I got to play this game. Story in a game is massively important but a game that is pure story with very little gameplay? It works when done correctly, which this game has done near perfectly to the point I cannot wait to see what happens next, which luckily is coming with “N1-RV Ann-A” (or N1rvana) next year. If you love the Cyberpunk world, a dated but aesthetically pleasing presentation, and a story of a simple bartender and the interesting array of characters from a dystopian city, you need to play this game.

A Nintendo Switch review code was provided by Stride PR.