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Three years ago, I played VA-11 Hall-A for the first time.
I knew nothing about the game, other than some art I saw online, one gif in particular: it had a cyber punk atmosphere, but with a cozy feeling that I usually didn't get from media of that genre. When I got a copy of the game, given the promised coziness, I planned on playing it during the fall season, but life got in the way and I booted up the game, for the first time, in December.

I didn't know the game takes place in that same month, so it was a welcome surprise: not only I happened by chance to play it at the right time, but the day by day structure gave me a reason to play the game slowly, following the days in real life. I didn't know how long it was, I didn't know what it was actually about, but this helped completely immersing myself in the game.

Now, I can't describe myself as a weeb: the word has a funny connotation, but it represents well the fans and what they enjoy. I have watched some anime series and films, but very long ago and I never cared too much about other types of media in the genre: I can enjoy many of them, but most times I find them too exaggerated for my liking. VA-11 Hall-A is not an exception: it's a weeb game for the most part and it isn't afraid of showing it.

There are other, more objective things that might be source of criticisms. The game is mostly a visual novel, which makes it already not exactly a complex game, but it also lacks depth: while it offers multiple different dialogues and some secrets to unlock, the game is linear and the player has little impact on it. Focusing on the visual aspects of the game, the game sometimes present diversions from the 'behind the counter' setting, characterizing most of the game: they are a welcome addition, but also too few and far between. Finally, sometimes the writing can feel a bit flat or have some sudden changes in the emotions portrayed, exacerbated by the excesses of some dialogues and by the randomness of the music, that only sometimes it is chosen by the game.

Yet, when I ended the game as it ended itself, late in the night of a new year, I was sad. So deeply sad. Any grievances I had with the game felt insignificant, any objective flaws not important; my only wish was that it didn't end.

Despite the surrounding craziness, the story of the game feels real; despite their futuristic traits, the characters feel real. The events it describes can be cruel, but not more than what real life can be and never too much as to deny optimism. It's a relatable and kind story, of essential empathy.

Three years ago I played this game for the first time. Every year I have replayed it and every future year I will look forward to play it again. However, this year is the most important. When I played it for the first time, it was just before 2020, and this new year might be the start of a new beginning for the world. But it's also personally important.
I'm now 27, the same age of the protagonist and I'm in a similar situation. I ended a chapter of my life and I now have to find a new way forward. I'm sad, bust most importantly scared: I don't know what the future holds, but I know I have to take action and stop going through the motions. I wouldn't say this game changed my life, but it for sure impacted me and I will always hold it near to my heart.

This isn't really a review: I started writing it late in the night and it's now morning. This game is so important to me, like only other few are, so all I've written is more for myself.
Only know this: a videogame doesn't need to be perfect or mechanically deep to be worthwhile. Gameplay is always important, but hardly the point of the this art form. This game is proof of that.

See you next year, Valhalla.

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Steam Replay 2022

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