Review – Across the Grooves

Visual novels are a dime a dozen on the Switch’s eShop. It feels like half a dozen of these games are added to the system’s library every week; to the point I can barely differentiate one from another, especially since almost all of them feature anime characters and exaggerated plots. It took French studio, Nova-box, to create a visual novel that truly piqued my curiosity from the get-go. A story revolving a mysterious vinyl record with the power of altering its listener’s past and overall reality? I had to give Across the Grooves a try. I’m thankful I did, as this is something truly special.

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LISA!!!

In Across the Grooves, you control a young French lady called Alice. She lives a typical middle-class life in Bordeaux, working at a bank, and living with her fiancé. One day, she receives a parcel from her ex-boyfriend, containing an old vinyl record, with no label or B-side. She decides to listen to the record, out of morbid curiosity, and she quickly enters into a trance-like state, reliving her past for the duration of the song.

Once she snaps back to reality, she realizes the life she once knew was gone. Her fiancé was nowhere to be found. She had never met him in this new timeline. The record changed her past, altering her present. She then embarks on a journey, not only trying to look for her ex-boyfriend in order to understand the decision behind him sending her that record, but also to undo the effects of this mysterious macguffin.

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That’s a song from Ozzy’s solo career, not Sabbath!

I will be honest with you, the first few fifteen minutes or so of Across the Grooves were incredibly boring. I wouldn’t be impressed if I found out that a lot of people decided to quit the game right from the start due to its very slow opening chapter. After beating the game, I do appreciate the decision. Things escalate pretty quickly afterwards; therefore this slog of an opening helped showcase how mundane Alice’s life was before the record arrived at her doorstep.

Across the Grooves is less of a straightforward romantic visual novel and more of a full-fledged mystery story. What starts off as a story of a confused girl trying to look for her estranged fiancé eventually turns into a trippy plot featuring parallel realities, occultism, mysterious organizations, and a ton of references to classic rock bands. The game features a small glossary that is updated whenever a character mentions the name of a band, giving you a brief description of the group, as well as the developer’s favorite tracks from their respective discographies.

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I have all four symbols from Led Zeppelin IV’s tattooed on my back. Suffice to say, I loved this moment in the game.

Despite the borderline static gameplay, I did appreciate how my actions actually changed the course of the overall story. You can take some very drastic decisions that not only result in completely new outcomes for your character, but also for everyone around her. Since the story is extremely well-written and way smarter than you’d initially expect. I was always looking forward to the next branching path, as I had absolutely no idea of the path my actions would lead Alice into. Across the Grooves is a game that is quite replayable as a result.

Its art department is excellent. There are no animations or voice acting, making the game feel like an interactive comic book. The game is entirely comprised of beautifully hand drawn still images. Whenever you’re in a drab, urban environment, you’re presented with nearly colorless depictions of towns like London and Paris. Whenever you’re in a park, you’re bombarded with gorgeous landscapes full of tones of green. As to expected, you’re presented with beautiful, albeit nonsensical imagery whenever your character listens to the mystical record and enters another trance-like state.

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Let me remind you that I played this game on a Nintendo system.

The game is very quiet for the most time, but that does not mean that songs have not been included in some moments. Whenever you’re in the aforementioned trance-like sections, you’re greeted with some fittingly bizarre psychedelic tunes with actual vocals. The instrumentation is excellent, full of pedal effects and unconventional time signatures, but I can’t say I enjoyed the vocals. I did not enjoy the lyrics, the complete lack of rhymes, and the singer’s limited vocal range. In a weird twist, a game so heavily focused around music was best enjoyed whenever music wasn’t being played in the background.

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Yep. Definitely a French game.

This was a fantastic surprise. Across the Grooves might feature some questionable sound department choices and some limitations caused by its visual novel nature, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the story and its themes. I even gasped a few times due to some clever plot twists and squealed like a little kid whenever the characters mentioned some of my favorite classic rock bands during a dialogue section, like Led Zeppelin or Aphrodite’s Child. This is a game that won’t solely be enjoyed by visual novel enthusiasts, but anyone who loves music and any story directly related to classic bands and occultism. It’s the rare case of a visual novel that features a bit of something for everyone.

 

Graphics: 8.5

The graphical department is essentially comprised of lots of hand drawn still images. Thankfully, they are incredibly well-drawn.

Gameplay: 6.0

It features an in-game glossary about classic rock bands and musical suggestions, touchscreen support, and branching paths that actually result in completely different outcomes. With that being said, it’s still a visual novel. All you’ll do is read and click.

Sound: 7.5

The game features long instances of complete quietness, which might sound odd for a musically oriented title. Luckily, it ended up being a good decision, especially when the absence of sound is immediately replaced by subtle background noises or guitar chords. The in-game songs feature good instrumentals, but terrible vocals.

Fun Factor: 8.5

The first few minutes were excruciatingly boring, but the game quickly turned into a compelling mystery adventure with hints of occultism and classic rock. It is also very replayable, especially for a visual novel.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Across the Grooves is available now on PC and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of Across the Grooves was provided by the publisher.