Valhalla Review: Sci-Fi Slice of Life

Valhalla uses a bartender's point of view to subvert traditional storytelling tropes. 

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Building a world can be a challenging task. It requires answering questions, many of which will have been unforeseen prior to writing. What condition is your fiction’s world in? How does the character relate to it? What sets it apart from similar stories or genres?

The way a story goes about building this world is often as interesting as the fiction itself, and VA-11 Hall A--or Valhalla, as it’s most commonly known--uses one of my favorite story justifications in recent memory.

Using the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world, Valhalla places the player in the seemingly mundane and routine job of bartender for a run-down dive bar. The current status of the world is bleak. Individuality and personal aspirations have been cut by corporate interests, and people feel more expendable and worthless than ever before.

And so, they stumble into Valhalla for the comfort only found at the bottom of a glass. Being the conscientious bartender that you are, you give it to them, along with the company and interaction they may be craving.

It’s through this that we learn all about the story and world of Valhalla without ever stepping outside of the bar’s interior. Through anecdotes, conversations, jokes, and interactions, we are slowly drip-fed information, piecing together the ideas and elements of this world in an enticing manner. Some characters are better developed than others, but everyone present remains valuable as part of the larger story.

Storytelling methods such as this tend to be my favorite. Rather than guiding the reader step by step through tedious exposition dumps, Valhalla instantly launches the player headfirst into the world, trusting their deductive abilities and choosing to help them understand the world through context. It’s an excellent example of show, don’t tell, and it works wonderfully.

Even the light mechanical elements of Valhalla are easily woven into the story. This is a place full of sad, desperate people who want nothing more than to escape their lives for a brief period of time, and you help them do so by mixing a number of drinks together based on their order. Drinks are made from a number of made-up ingredients like Bronson Extract and Powdered Delta and are used to create cocktails, mixed drinks, and classics. Business and employee management is also an aspect, although to a slightly lesser degree than bar shifts and usually involve making purchases to satisfy the wants of surrounding co-workers.

Failure is possible, but practically everything is stacked in the player’s favor. Valhalla doesn’t judge, it merely asks you to be attentive to your customers and your work. There are no order timers, no angry customers with mood meters, no end-mission rush to spend all of your recently-earned money on building the business. It’s there if you want it, but Valhalla won’t punish you for a lack of precision and strategy. After all, you’re a bartender. You’re the person one may need to see the most when they’re at a low point and in need of an escape. In moments like this, it’s sincerity that matters.

Valhalla is a dark and moody dystopic game with an infectious underlying optimism. It’s comfort food, a relaxed experience welcoming you with soothing music, cooly-colored visuals, casual conversation, and a calm sensation. This, mixed with its brilliant approach of telling a story through the experiences of its characters, makes it a smart and inventive new take on the science fiction visual novel.

Contributing Editor
Review for
VA-11 Hall-A
8
Pros
  • Inventive Storytelling Technique
  • Fascinating World
  • Mechanics Integrate Well With Narrative
Cons
  • Some Characters More Well Developed Than Others
From The Chatty