This analysis contains mild spoilers for the very beginning of the game
I’ve recently been playing through VA-11 HALL-A, or “Valhalla” as the bar of the same name in the game is referred to (I think that made sense). As I was playing I couldn’t help but be enamored by the way the world was built around you.
So, for those of you that don’t know, VA-11 HALL-A is a visual novel game. You’re put behind the eyes of Jill and you’re essentially thrown into this futuristic city. That’s pretty much all the context you’re given. There is a brief (skippable) intro that informs a bit about the city and time period, but beyond that you’re entirely on your own. There aren’t any introductions to Jill or her friends, you’re given a single brief moment in Jill’s life.
That’s where the beauty of this world building stems from. You’re simply given a single story in the greater aspect of a person’s life. From the very beginning characters are referencing events that took place over the weekend as if you there. Because you were. Well, not YOU you but Jill, our leading lady, was. And for right now, you are Jill.
Of course, the game doesn’t want to leave you confused so throughout the day and the rest of the week you’re given more context about the weekend’s events through dialogue. Not some cheesy. on the nose “hey I know you have no clue what’s happening” dialogue, but rather organic conversations that don’t pull you out of the game like some cheap tutorial. This method of giving you context through natural conversations is used throughout the game about various different topics and current events. They use Jill’s curiosity and unfamiliarity of certain topics to their advantage in order to give you, the player, a better understanding of the world around you.
This is something I wish more games could consider. This obviously isn’t some revolutionary technique that’s been done here, and it certainly won’t work for every game out there, but not enough games consider just telling a story. Too many games rely on giving you massive plots about the world ending or some such nonsense. This requires them to give tons of exposition because it’s not something we would be familiar with (beyond the thousands of movies. games, and novels that have their worlds ending).
VA-11 HALL-A’s world is built around you. It’s not just a world for the character’s to exist in; it’s a world that’s built for you.