The simplest way to describe Sukeban Games VA-11 HALL-A (Valhalla) and it’s upcoming sequel N1RV Ann-A (Nirvana) is to refer to their title screens: Cyberpunk Bartender Action. Combining classic pixel art, anime, and cyberpunk aesthetic into neo-noir storytelling, players bartend as Sam, a single mother working in a bar, and learning about her patrons’ stories while crafting the best drinks she can, adding a puzzling element to the charismatic visual novel throughout. In the sequel, Sam finds herself in a new city, and working in a much more high end bar, and patrons to match.
Tyler discusses the new game, set for release sometime this year on Steam, PS4 and Nintendo Switch, with Brian Kewek, from publisher Ysbryd after demoing at PAX East 2019.
Tyler Carlsen, TYF Staff Writer: So having just played the game, the biggest question I have is; are there any bartenders in your group? How did you get into this state of mind to do the game?
Brian Kwek: That is a pretty interesting question. The developers or publishers…there technically aren’t any bartenders; I mean I bartend at home!
The developers were very inspired by the classic manga called Bartender, so that inspired the subject matter. But a lot of what the game also talks about draws from their life experience. The developers – Sukeban Games, they’re from Venezuela and if you follow the news, Venezuela has gone through some serious economic turmoil, it’s still ongoing. You see, like, a big disparity between the rich, and the folks in the government – living it up versus the folks on the ground. Constant rolling blackouts, markets are empty all the time, that kind of stuff.
Tyler: Where did the idea come from for the style of casual conversation? Everything I saw was just like if you and I went into a bar right now and talked to the bartender, it was a very similar kind of feel.
Brian: That’s literally it, right? You go to a bar and like, *sighs* This is a part of being human, I think the developers and even us as publishers were very interested in the human angle, about what people had to say. So when they first made VA-11 Hall-A, the first game of the series, it was more about capturing the stories of those that live in that dystopian world we [just] talked about. This is not a game about people jumping from rooftop to rooftop or trying to save the world, that kind of thing. This is about people living their lives, trying to get through their everyday hardships, or effected by events coming from above. We’re just sitting at a bar and having conversations about this sort of thing. We wanted to come at this from a ground-up level.
Tyler: So what was the process of moving from VA-11 Hall-A to this game? What did want they to gain from doing a second game or follow up to it? Did anything change?
Brian: With Sukeban, I think the second game is more of an exploration…moving away from the first location, the first game took place in more or less a dump of a city called Glitch City and it’s run by an authoritarian government who are – obviously there is a bit of a parallel to the Venezuelan government up until recently. And the idea is now, the second game is moving to a hyper luxurious destination – if I had to compare the state of the city, the first game you could imagine it takes place in somewhere like Detroit or the capital of Venezuela where of course Glitch City is inspired by, the second game takes place in Monaco. The most expensive places in the world to live, everything is super-lux, you’d have to be the 1% of the 1% to live here. So for the developers, they’re still trying to there’s a serious contrast here – both of these situations are dystopian. But there are still human stories to tell here, even in these most extreme of situations. Even when dealing with a super rich person, they still have problems.
Tyler: I just really enjoyed, it felt very casual, like a movie I was clicking through or a casual conversation. I really enjoyed my time with it. Thank you for taking the time with us.
Brian: I know you guys have a lot of music stuff, could I just highlight something with score, the music in the game?
Tyler: Oh, yeah!
Brian: So the developers are working with a new composer for the second game. The first game, the soundtrack by Michael Kelly (aka Garod), it’s very very well loved – I loved it from the first time I heard it and I think that’s the same for a lot of people. But the developers, for the second game, they want to create a new sense of place. We’re going for new music, with the intention of living up to the mark, the level of satisfaction as the first soundtrack created, but this is a different bar, it’s gonna be a different style.
Tyler: You had to create a new tone for a new game, and a new environment.
Tyler: Well it was very relaxing, very nice to play that.
Brian: I’m glad to hear it. The game will be coming out [in]… we’re targeting 2020 for Switch, PS4, and Steam.