By David Fernandes / May 14th, 2015
|Title||An Octave Higher
|Release Date||March 27, 2015|
English-made visual novels or, as they’re more commonly known, Original English Language Visual Novels (OELVN) are certainly not a new thing, but have been gaining more traction over the years. With what little offering of visual novels that can be found on Steam, is An Octave Higher worth a look?
The game takes place in the sprawling kingdom of Overture, where magic is the key to it all: education, the driving force of most, if not all, industries, to the country’s militia, and is even used in everyday livelihoods for the upper districts and for those who can afford mana potions. The city is divided into a three-class system. The Aristocrats on top are the wealthiest, living in their manors and are in charge of most industries of any and all magic machines. The Bourgeois are the middle class where most can afford to use magic and to go to schools that teach the usage of magic. They primarily live in the middle city that takes care of itself. Lastly, the Proles, who make up the poor class that you will usually see in dead-end jobs, are rotting in the shanty towns that make up the lower quarters of Overture.
As you can probably tell, the game really hammers in that theme of social classes and inequality. Anyone can use magic — it just depends on whether you can afford the daily use of mana potions to bask in it or the education to learn the many trades behind it. This is strengthened by introducing each of our three protagonists and their respective roles in society. We’re first introduced with Fredric, son of Lord Godwin, the owner of the largest industrial company of magic machines, winning another match at this worlds popular wealthy sport, Sorcerer, which was to celebrate his father’s birthday. Against a mystery opponent who was far more skilled and experienced, he feels cheated and his father’s passing comment doesn’t help matters, leaving him quite bitter.
We then switch perspectives to our second protagonist, Franz, who has neither any love nor hate for Proles, but, instead, just focuses on his future project. Franz keeps to himself, which leaves him without many friends, barring his childhood friend. His project is the study of Compassion, which is this world’s equivalent to healing magic, which was abandoned many times with lack of understanding and progress; seen as only used for minor healing at best and not worth much else. Franz believes otherwise. Instead of letting old studies dictate its future, he wants to use Compassion magic in the form of a magic machine that can revolutionize health care and make the jobs at hospitals more proficient and cheaper.
Which takes us to our third protagonist, Elise, who holds the key to this equation with her prowess in Compassion magic and a broken piano outside of her work place. Abandoned as a child when her parents fled debt collectors and later taken in by the owner of a brothel, her future seemed to be set in stone. At the age of 16, she, too, would become a prostitute at this establishment as the money she makes at the factory isn’t enough for her living expenses. Only having the comfort of music to help the days go by, she would play pretend on the piano in question. Franz catches sight of her trying to fix the piano with Compassion magic, thanks in part to Fredrick tricking him by giving him a fake address out of spite. While the piano still laid unusable, he heard a faint sound of the piano key as the faint white glow dissipates. Thus the mystery begins and the fates of these three become intertwined.
While on the generic side, the story starts off strong, especially with a giant action scene to give that initial interest, then slowly introduces each of the three main characters and the game’s main theme of class disparities between them. This is thanks in part due to its excellent use of switching viewpoints and perspectives, giving a feeling of the characters being worlds apart, though connected through strong motivational ties. Thankfully, all three characters get enough screentime to give them all a fair share of the limelight concerning their stories and different goals surrounding this meeting of chance surrounding the piano. The arrogant hothead Fredrick, the punctual and down-to-earth Franz, with Elise’s innocence and constant curiosity of how everything works given her ignorance about upper class lifestyle; so many differences, yet they blend together nicely.
All the while, a revolution is brewing up thanks to the faction known as the Libertard, who seem to favor launching attacks on the more well-off citizens of Overture. This group is mostly comprised of Proles who feel that magic, which is also seen as the world’s hope, belongs to all and not exclusively to the wealthy. The story really adds so much depth in the first two hours, I was quite impressed with how everything had its bases covered. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. The game features an overused, but interesting theme in the background with an antagonistic political group with sympathetic goals in mind. Meanwhile, the protagonists are embroiled in a mystery of self-discovery and possibly unrequited love between two of them. Its premise of a 19th century world with magic technology was intriguing enough; everything else was just icing on the cake.
That said, while I enjoyed the game’s world building in Overture’s way of life revolving around magic machines and history surrounding it (and even moreso its clever use of using magic theories in place of real mathematics), I would have preferred if the secondary cast served more of a purpose than the occasional info dumps. Barring the tidbits of their past or current motivation, it felt like such a waste them not getting nearly as fleshed out as they could have been. Structured like most visual novels, there are choices peppered throughout the story. Choosing one will usually affect which dialogue sequence you will see next, possibly unlocking one of number of game’s CG images and all adding up to what ending you get.
So, while there are six endings to achieve, four out of six weren’t so fulfilling as they have little to do with the game’s mystery surrounding the piano, but more to do with romance, if you can call it that. They were very underdeveloped and never felt like they had a place here to begin with. I simply didn’t find it believable among the characters. Instead of trying to up the quantity, I’d prefer if they cut out the fat and, instead, focused on the quality of the remaining two, like the True Ending and Libertard Ending, as they are what drove the central plot. As is, the second half feels rushed with little buildup for the climax and abrupt ending. It’s a shame, since the pacing was off to a good start, and I felt compelled by the mystery that initially brought our three protagonists together.
Though, like its writing, when it comes to the production values it also hits a bit of snags. The static backgrounds are wonderfully hand drawn, even taking the effort of a number of them seamlessly changing to correspond with the ongoing scene. However, some images suffer with quality issues like proportions, consistency and perspective being way off. On the other hand, while the designs themselves mostly fit with the time period, the character art is another matter. While it’s great that they’re so expressive, the quality of the drawn characters is drastically lower than the backgrounds they’re in front of. As such, it clashes heavily.
To be honest, my personal outlook on OELVNs has been, for the most part, largely unimpressed for a variety of reasons. With An Octave Higher, I decided to give this sub genre a chance and I was pleasantly surprised. While having a set of issues I’ve outlined, it also holds up nicely as a whole by the end of the tale. For newcomers of the genre looking for that gateway game, I would recommend this as it’s very easy to get into and not overly long. I finished reading all of what it had to offer in about 12 hours with the game costing $11.99. However, for those who have already gotten the taste of the genre and are just itching to get their hands on another, I’d say wait for a sale, unless its premise really interests you.
Review Copy provided by the publisher.
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