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across the grooves
The innate power of music

The unparalleled transportive power of music is undeniable. The gut-punch of nostalgia you get when you listen to a song from your childhood (for me it’s Someday by The Strokes) is why most of us stop exploring music as we grow older and stick to the classics. Even without weighing in the nostalgia factor, good music can instantly make you feel pumped up, joyful, introspective, wistful, or straight up depressed.

This innate quality of music goes widely unacknowledged by many games and it’s usually used as a mere passive score in the background. There are, of course, exceptions – like DOOM and indie titles like Transistor whose soundtracks are still included in my playlist – but for the most part, music is never centerstage or a primary focus in games. 

Across the Grooves aims to change just that, by demonstrating just how incredibly effective music can be when it’s given the care and polish it deserves. It’s an interactive graphic novel by France-based studio Nova-box about the power of music expressed through a sci-fi story about love, identity, and possibilities. But does its narrative deliver on its ambitious promise? Let’s find out.

Story & Narrative

across the grooves
A good pair of headphones makes life exponentially more tolerable

You play as Alice, who leads a comfortable but boring life as a banker in Bordeaux, France, living with her fiancé, Jean-Baptiste. Out of nowhere, a package from her ex-boyfriend Ulysse arrives in the mail, containing a mysterious old vinyl record. Naturally, curiosity triumphs and she ends up listening to it which inadvertently puts her in a strange dreamlike trance. When she returns to reality, she finds that she’s accidentally traveled through time somehow and she’s in an alternate reality, one in which she’s never even met Jean-Baptiste.

across the grooves
A night well spent

Thrown for a loop, you then take off in pursuit of your ex on a wild sheep chase through major cities of Europe to unravel the mystery of this magical record and find your way back to your original reality (or do you?). During all this, you read through the inner monologues and musings of Alice to get a sense of who she is and what she’s like. 

So that’s the gist of Across the Grooves, it’s an urban fantasy story taking you to various popular tourist destinations like Paris, London, and Glasgow, each with its own strong sense of place, meeting various interesting characters (some of whom you can romance), and gradually unearthing the legendary history of this record.

across the grooves
The infinite possibilities of identity

This is done purely by choice-driven gameplay, which results in the branching of the narrative depending on the choices you make. Additionally, not only does the story alter, but Alice herself does as well, which is an interesting twist I haven’t seen in any other similar games (we’ll get to that later, in the Gameplay section). Some choices are minor while others drastically change the story and result in wildly different outcomes for Alice as well as the secondary characters. The narrative with all its branching paths is surprisingly well-written and well-thought-out, so I was constantly looking forward to trying out different paths to see the different outcomes. 

across the grooves
Led Zep being Led Zep

The mystery, or rather, mythology behind the record is suitably well developed, with magical stories connecting it with a slew of legendary real-life classic rock bands like the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. With legendary tales of dealing with the Devil and such, the vinyl record is successfully cast as an incredibly intriguing and fun item to spin the narrative around. I always felt compelled to learn more about this record and its true origins, and this magical realism/urban fantasy aspect of the narrative really shone through and kept me motivated to progress in the game.

across the grooves
Look at how badass she looks! Wish she lived up to it

While Alice changes in a believable way over the course of the narrative, the same can unfortunately not be said for Eva, the principal antagonist of the story who never really delivers on her potential and isn’t nearly as scary or dangerous as she sets out to be. Also, while most of the secondary characters you meet genuinely feel like real people as opposed to cardboard cutouts and lead to some moving moments, I definitely craved more screen time with them and wanted to know more about them, which sadly does not happen. A lot of the times it felt like they just disappeared from the story after just a brief interaction which while interesting, felt shallow.

The origins of the record might be slightly disappointing to some, but the journey to it remains fun and exciting, and like most time travel tales, it can get a little confusing at times so make sure to pay attention if you want to follow and make sense of it all. 

Tell me about it

The main criticism I have with the story though is its tell-don’t-play philosophy. The narrative involves a LOT of listening to other people talk and not nearly enough exciting action. It’s primarily just conversations. I would’ve loved to play through some of the cool stories characters go on about instead of just listening to them passively. Also, the whole premise of the story falls apart when you realize that everything could’ve been resolved a hell of a lot sooner if Alice just contacted her ex through social media and talked to him about everything. 

A minor gripe I had was that some of the dialogs in Across the Grooves flow slightly weird in the way that they’re worded, which makes sense as this was localized from a French script. Also, there are a LOT of references to classic rock history and the like, so if you’re not heavily invested in it, they can go over your head and leave you feeling lost. Luckily, there’s a lexicon available that gives you background info on the bands, concerts, and locations mentioned which I highly appreciated. 

Gameplay & Mechanics

French Robert Downey Jr.?

The gameplay is purely making choices. There’s literally nothing else in terms of gameplay, which makes sense as the game’s aiming to be an interactive graphic novel, not a mechanics-heavy title.

Each choice you make shapes Alice’s personality in different ways, though it isn’t really made clear exactly how. When a choice is selected, the appropriate symbol (there are 4) lights up on the top of the screen – the Skull, the Spiral, the Lightning, and the Flower. Through experimentation, you get the sense that the Skull represents honesty or aggression, the Spiral curiosity, the Lightning hastiness, and the Flower innocence. I do wish there was some more info, or a menu tracking the choices you’ve made and how it influenced Alice, but that’s sadly not present. 

I can’t overstate how much I appreciated this

Alongside the extremely helpful lexicon, there’s also a log that’s always available, which lets you go back and reread conversations if you get confused or missed something. The lexicon even provides some recommended tracks to listen to from the mentioned bands! These kinds of quality-of-life elements are great and contribute heavily to my enjoyment of a game, so kudos to that. 

All in all, my first playthrough of Across the Grooves took me 4-5 hours, but the replayability factor of the branching narratives increases the playtime a whole lot. There are in total 5 chapters and an epilogue, each of which takes you 30-45 minutes to play through. 

Visuals & Music

Beautifully trippy

Yes, the time-travel Europe-trotting music-heavy narrative is compelling, but the real star of Across the Grooves is definitely the exquisitely hand-drawn, watercolor-esque visuals. It’s quite honestly the most beautiful game I’ve played in years, especially for visual novels, which accounts for the ungodly number of screenshots I took throughout my playthroughs (a lot of which are stellar candidates for wallpaper of the year). Even the side characters that you only meet a couple of times are impressively well-drawn and a joy to look at. Not succumbing to the typical, overused anime style is a gigantic plus as well.

Just beautiful

Being a game all about music, Across the Grooves definitely has an appropriately rich soundtrack. Though not necessarily my style, I imagine the bizarre, psychedelic tunes, some with vocals, most with unnervingly unconventional time signatures will be appreciated by aficionados. To be completely frank, I didn’t enjoy the almost improvised-sounding lyrics, the lack of any kind of rhyme scheme, and the limited vocal range of the singer. But hey, what do I know? Maybe I just have a bad or under-developed taste, but personally, I didn’t feel like the music here even came close to the caliber of Transistor.

There are also some karaoke-style sequences with the highlighted lyrics on-screen, but they were pretty much never in sync with the vocals which was slightly frustrating and felt unpolished.

The most immersive foley sound effects around

The highlight of Across the Grooves is ironically not the music itself, but the background noises, the foley sound effects when you’re in a bar, or a record store or something. It’s immersively rich and feels authentic, which definitely contributed to the sense of place. 


All in all, Across the Grooves is a compelling interactive graphic novel to play through. Featuring gorgeous hand-drawn, watercolor art as well as an… interesting score, and an inherently intriguing premise for the narrative, it’s definitely worth playing through for music nerds, time travel fanatics, and just fans of good stories. The authentic characters, the strong sense of place in the various European cities you visit, and the informative lexicon only help bolster the title to greater heights. 


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