I’ve never played VA-11 HALL-A (too many games, too little time), so I was going into my press demo of the follow up, N1RV Ann-A, pretty blind on how the actual gameplay worked. I new that, like its predecessor, you were acting as a bartender, hearing the woes of patrons, and mixing them drinks to ease their pains and worries, uncovering larger plots and narratives as the game progressed.
I had no idea how good a method this was of conveying narrative.
Escape from VA11 HALL-A’s Glitch City to Saint Alicia, an idyllic paradise with an upscale bar called N1RV ANN-A. But opulence and extravagance are merely smokescreens: the artificial island hides a seedy underbelly. Its dystopian economy touches all aspects of life as bar patrons contend with mafia extortion, trafficking and other sordid crimes. For bartender Sam, trouble hits close to home. Her relationship with her partner Leon, who moonlights as a Yakuza, is on the rocks, and she works hard to care for their 8-year-old son, Tony.
Like I had surmised, the basic premise is largely the same: You’re serving as a bartender as the swanky N1RV ANN-A, located in the tropical resort Saint Alicia. The demo I played only had you interacting with one person, an artist named Parka, but there is no doubt that a setting like Saint Alicia, a cyberpunk resort town, has a ton of potential to draw on in terms of characters and plots.
Mechanically, N1RV Ann-A is pretty simple: you have a conversation with a client at this bar, and at certain times they are going to want a drink (not an unreasonable thing at a bar). Depending on the conversation, they will probably want more than one, and as the bartender, it is up to you to mix these beverages.
Mixing drink is straightforward, but fun. You’ve got a number of standard recipes you can reference, but ultimately it’s in your hands to mix these correctly…or incorrectly. Parka, the client who you converse with in the demo, is a first time drinker, and asks for something not too heavy on the alcohol. I obliged her in this request, but in talking to some of the folks at Ysbryd after playing they confirmed that you can very much serve something a bit harder and have a very different conversation as Parka opens up a bit more.
What really surprised me about N1RV Ann-A was the was it handled a pretty mature and potentially complex issue. Parka is an erotica artist, and is coming to the bar looking for some liquid relief from the criticism and public backlash she has faced from people calling her work disgusting or vile. The conversation goes into some pretty graphic details, but brings up an interesting point: Parka doesn’t actually care for the erotica she’s making; shes more interested in the creative freedom it afford her. She knows that it makes people uncomfortable, but wants it to. That’s her goal, and she wants the freedom to artistically explore ideas and stories that aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea.
It’s a surprisingly nuanced conversation, and N1RV Ann-A handles it in a much more measured and mature way than I initially expected than when I first saw where the discussion was turning. Granted, this is all based on a single conversation in a demo, but I was pleasantly surprised, and have a lot more interest in seeing what kinds of topics N1RV Ann-A tackles, and how it tackles them.
N1RV Ann-A is currently scheduled to release on Nintendo Switch, PS4 and Steam in 2020