Across the Grooves – Review
Follow Genre: Visual novel
Developer: Nova-box
Publisher: Nova-box
Platform: Switch, PC
Tested on: Switch

Across the Grooves – Review

Site Score
7.0
Good: The visual novel experience is enhanced by the accompanying soundtrack
Bad: Not an easy story to get into
User Score
9.0
(1 votes)
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Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)

It seems like it was yesterday that we took a look at Nova-box’s visual novels Seers Isle and Along the Edge on the Switch, but the French studio is already offering up a new title. Newcomer Across the Grooves made its debut on PC earlier this year, where it received a positive reception, but a visual novel tends to be something that needs to be experienced for yourself, preferably without being spoiled beforehand. As such, we’re taking an honest look at Nova-box’s newest release while trying not to spoil anything. 

Story

Across the Grooves tells the story of Alice, who has grown bored with her everyday life. Although Alice has everything she could need in life, she misses excitement. That changes when the mailman delivers a musical record from her ex-lover Ulysse, however. Not only does listening to the record force Alice to relive her memories, she soon discovers that reality has changed after her listening session. The only way for Alice to restore her life to the way it used to be is to track down Ulysse. The journey she has to undertake is one that will take her not just across the European countryside, but on a path of self-discovery as well. This focus on self-reflection and discovery will hold a mirror in front of the player and will occasionally confront you with the consequences of your decisions in ways that aren’t always easy to stomach. The harsh nature of some of the story paths makes Across the Grooves less accessible to a wide audience, but if the story manages to strike the right chords, you’ll find a very engaging experience here.

As the title indicates, Across the Groove is much closer to Along the Edge than it is to Seers Isle when it comes to both its flow and its themes. However, compared to its sister title, Across the Grooves feels like a much more intimate story. This is of course in part due to the more limited scope and the tightened focus on the character of Alice. Nova-box’s visual novels tend to put well-written, strong female characters at the forefront and Alice is no exception. Of course, any decisions she makes are the result of choices made by the player and while Across the Grooves does fall into the trap of railroading its key story moments somewhat, it’s less obtrusive here than it was in Along the Edge. We particularly enjoyed Alice’s inner monologue as it captures her doubts, and left us wondering whether she actually wanted to return to her former, boring life or whether this was a good opportunity to change things in her own interests. 

Graphics

Aesthetically, we’ve come to expect certain things from Nova-box and Along the Grooves continues the trend set by its predecessors. The illustrations that visualize Alice’s plight are often little more than rough sketches that manage to convey a sense of emotion through expert use of color but are not hyper-detailed. Backgrounds especially tend to be blurred and characters have rough outlines. It’s a style that we imagine to be divisive and that people will either love or hate. In our opinion, the style works well for the kinds of stories Nova-box is trying to tell, as the rough visuals leave enough room for the player to fill in any blanks with their own interpretation without setting things in stone too much. 

Sound

As the music record plays a huge part in the story, we were pleasantly surprised to hear Across the Grooves’ soundtrack. The OST features no less than 26 original tracks, provided by music studio Illustrason, with vocal performances by Christelle Canot. Each track perfectly encapsulates the emotions the story is trying to convey. This is especially apparent when listening to the songs’ lyrics that take on a deeper meaning when placed in the context of the story but they work as standalone songs outside the visual novel as well. While we won’t go as far as saying that we’ll be adding these tracks to our personal playlist, they do perfectly capture the melancholic feeling of a rainy Sunday afternoon. If you have any interest in the game, we highly recommend giving the soundtrack a listen, as it gives you a good feel about the game’s atmosphere without spoiling the story. 

Gameplay

We’ve taken a look at Nova-box’s visual novels before and as we mentioned in our reviews of Seers Isle and Along the Edge, they’ve pretty much perfected how a visual novel should be presented. Features such as the ability to fast-forward, a text log that you can summon at the push of a button and an achievement system that encourages you to return to the story and explore other choices, combined with a user-friendly interface and smooth controls really help to make these novels stand out. Across the Grooves fits the same mold as the earlier releases and includes all of these features, but the addition of a musical element expands upon the foundations laid by its predecessors. 

The implementation of the songs is done in the most elegant and logical way possible. Text boxes containing lyrics take on a different appearance and the words will change color in time with the audio, similar to karaoke. However, on-screen lyrics won’t progress automatically and it is up to you to decide whether you’ll follow the rhythm of the songs or if you’re going to read through at your own pace. We imagine most players will stick with matching their reading with the music, but the ability to decide your own pace here does feel quite liberating. Everything else is par for the course. As we’ve seen with Nova-box’s earlier releases, they found the right balance and we expect any future novels from the developer to stick to this formula, with some additional fine-tuning to fit the story that they are telling. 

Conclusion

We didn’t think it would be possible, but Nova-box managed to improve upon their presentation of a visual novel by fine-tuning the auditory experience. The more intimate nature of the story does mean that Across the Grooves might be less accessible to the general public as it’s more difficult to get into Alice’s story than it was to relate to the misfit band of adventures in Seer’s Isle. However, once Across the Grooves clicks, you’re treated to a wonderful story that might not just teach you more about Alice’s emotions, but about your own as well. 

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Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)
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Across the Grooves - Review, 9.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
Sebastiaan Raats


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