When VA-11 Hall-A (pronounced “Valhalla”) released back in 2016 it was met with a general sense of curious intrigue. With a distinctive pixelated art style, a somber color palette reminiscent of the underworld itself, and a subtitle like Cyberpunk Bartender Action, it was bound to turn some heads.
And turn heads it did (over 200,000 of them in fact). The witty writing, likable characters, and fascinating exploration into various aspects of modern society done from behind a bar counter was just as much a recipe for success as the various drink recipes in-game were.
Now developer Sukeban Games is bringing the next installment of the cyberpunk bartender action series in the form of N1RV ANN-A (pronounced “Nirvana”), a story set in the same universe as its predecessor, but with a new city to inhabit, new characters to meet, and new tales to tell. After going hands-on with N1RV ANN-A at PAX East, its first ever playable appearance in North America, it’s clear that Sukeban Games isn’t resting on their laurels.
Welcome to N1RV ANN-A
Moving away from Glitch City of the first game, N1RV ANN-A takes place in the (seemingly) idyllic metropolis of Saint Alicia. You step into the shoes of bartender Sam and something immediately apparent is just how different of a protagonist she is compared to VA-11 Hall-A’s Jill Stingray.
On the surface level, there’s the fact that she has an accent, throwing words like “yer” and “dont’cha” around every other line. There’s also her bubbly and hospitable disposition that stands in stark contrast to Jill’s cool and composed demeanor. She’s not afraid to show her excitement or curiosity about something but still manages to present the aura of a mature and responsible individual that someone can confide in, and that’s important considering the entire game revolves around people confiding in her.
The N1RV ANN-A demo involved bar patron “Parka” (said to only be an alias) coming in for her first alcoholic experience. After telling Sam that she’s never had alcohol before, Sam figures she should start her off on something sweet, and this is where fans of the original VA-11 Hall-A will notice another massive change. That is, these are actual alcoholic beverages with real alcoholic ingredients.
Gone are the aldehyde and bronson extract of the original to give way for rum, whiskey, and tequila. It’s a rather startling change considering VA-11 Hall-A established the rarity of genuine alcoholic beverages in this world, and that shift wasn’t explained within the context of the demo. Considering the significance of the presence of these drinks, though, I can’t imagine a reason won’t be given in the full game.
After selecting the proper ingredients for a sweet drink and manually “shaking” it with the mouse (which is accompanied by a rather suave animation of Sam doing the same), I served it to Parka who was grateful for the easy-to-drink beverage. This is where the captivating exploration of themes Sukeban Games is known for begins to shine.
After a little small talk, Parka rather meekly reveals that she writes erotica as a profession and her latest work was about a mother coming onto her son. She laments the general perception that any content a creative produces has to be pushing an agenda of some sort. How just the act of writing such a story makes her a pedophile, or if someone portrays a foreigner in a slightly negative light that makes them a xenophobe, when that might not necessarily be the case. It’s an intriguing point-of-view that made me hearken back to my days in high school English Arts class about author’s intent and the importance of being able to distinguish it within works.
Sam accepted all of this and was even able to calm Parka’s nerves, somewhat. This despite being the mother of an eight-year-old son herself, demonstrates just how capable of compassion Sam’s heart is.
Cheers to Sukeban Games
My time with the demo ended after I served Parka a drink she wasn’t particularly fond of and had to leave before her senses got too far away from her. I walked away from the booth feeling incredibly optimistic. The young writer’s episode of frustration is only a sliver of what N1RV ANN-A will have to offer yet it already sets the precedent of what to expect from the full product. A compelling narrative built on the stories of bar patrons whose individual stories are just as compelling as they are thought-provoking of the kind of society we live in.
“N1RV ANN-A” will be releasing in 2020 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Switch.