French studio Nova-box’s most recent visual novel Across the Grooves features Alice, a banker from Bordeaux, on an investigation into her ex’s mysterious vinyl record. She proceeds down a fantastic, branching tale of adventure, mystery, love, the occult, and 20th century music as she tracks down her former paramour. By the time she reaches him, if she ever does, she’s a completely different person.
Empowered with the vinyl, a white label of music industry folklore, Alice revisits moments central to her relationship: one fateful night at a bar, a quiet afternoon in their apartment, and, potentially, many more. And as we guide Alice through the present day, we constantly make choices that effect her investigation. When Alice meets someone, who she decides to befriend, and who she crosses all branch off our decisions. Through choices made in the past and present, players can radically alter who Alice is and who she becomes. But Across the Grooves doesn’t telegraph the outcomes of your decisions, rather, it evokes the imaginative speculation that the small encounters with strangers, old friends, and exes inspires.
Alice’s life is quickly derailed by the presence of her ex, and though the game is concerned with its (literal) encyclopedic exploration of Europe’s music scene and some secret organizations with ancient Greek names, Across the Grooves is, to me, a tall tale of our own reexaminations of the past. It entertains the guilty “what if’s” that find our thoughts late at night, but it doesn’t squander in the oft accompanied regret of weighing how great things could’ve been if we knew the consequences of our past (in)actions. Despite times many twists and turns, Alice resolves to keep moving forward.