Hot off the heels of VA-11 HALL-A finally being dated for the PlayStation 4, we actually got to go hands-on with Sukeban Games’ follow-up, N1RV Ann-A, at PAX East. For those out of the loop, VA-11 HALL-A is a visual novel and bartending simulator set in Glitch City, a cyberpunk dystopia. The writing, setting, and music are incredible, and it’s really exciting to see that N1RV Ann-A has not just continued that legacy, but massively improved upon things too. In addition to our hands-on time with the title, we also got to chat with Brian Kwek, founder of Ysbryd Games, the publisher of the title.
The most obvious change to the game is the locale. Kwek made a point of calling attention to the shift in setting during our chat with him. The series is shifting from the grungier Glitch City to the more glamorous Saint Alicia. Kwek made a point of mentioning the first game's setting was perfect, as it allowed the devs to draw parallels from their real-life experiences living in Venezuela. "Whereas with Saint Alicia, we have this ultra-luxurious haven for the rich. It was inspired more by places like Singapore and Monaco.”
Kwek also went on to mention that while the setting is more upscale - we were thinking of a ski lodge the whole time we were playing - this doesn’t detract from the characters being presented. They might be ultra-rich, but they’re still human. And we’re inclined to agree. The brief, 15-20 minute demo showed off just a couple of characters - some of the cast are being held back so we can be surprised upon release - and we were pretty much instantly engaged with the writing, much like we were with the first game. People dealing with their problems at a bar is just as satisfying to navigate as last time out, and even with such a brief amount of time, the game absolutely got us emotionally engaged.
One key area that immediately stood out was the gameplay. The actual act of mixing drinks is more fun and much more nimble this time around. In VA-11 HALL-A, the drinking portions are pretty much just there to add variety, and are generally pretty clunky, but this has been remedied with the sequel. Navigating the drink menus is far faster, the options are easier to engage with and analyse, and rather than being merely “a part of the game”, it becomes a fun, exciting element. And that’s not all we can expect either. We asked Kwek about the title’s evolution in the gameplay department: “There’s definitely more to the game that hasn’t been seen yet. There are some novel segments in there that we hope are going to be really refreshing to the experience.” We didn’t get much more than that about what these things may be, but we’re certainly curious.
One final area where an effort is being made to differentiate the title from its predecessor comes by way of the music. The score for VA-11 HALL-A, courtesy of Garoad, is absolutely incredible - it was one of our soundtracks of the year in 2017 - but the devs wanted to make a point of bringing in a new voice to create the title’s acoustic palette. N1RV Ann-A is instead scored by Juneji. The score isn’t so wildly different from the first title as to be unrecognisable to the series, but it definitely lends a different texture to the sound of the game.
We absolutely love VA-11 HALL-A, despite the fact it may have taken a while to get from one platform to the other, and we cannot wait to get our hands on N1RV Ann-A in a more substantial way down the road. We probably won’t have to wait quite as long, either. “VA-11 HALL-A was our first published title, but this time out, we are aiming to launch it across all its platforms at once as opposed to the more staggered release we saw last time," Kwek said.
We cannot wait to play more of N1RV Ann-A. Are you excited for the sequel on PS4? Will you be playing the first game when it arrives next month? Fix us some drinks in the comments below.