An Octave Higher

An Octave Higher is an Original English Language Visual Novel (OELVN) developed by Kidalang (Yohan Alexander and Yusdi Saliman) and published by Playism. The game is available on Steam or on the developer‘s website. I have to admit that I’m normally really sceptic about OELVNs, but this experience ended up being a pleasant surpise! Throwing all typical Japanese stereotypes out of the window, this was a refreshing experience. For the sake of introducing VNs as a successful entertainment medium in the west, I think more OELVNs like An Octave Higher should be made.
This review does not contain any spoilers.

Welcome to Overture, a city built upon magic. A city where every human being is gifted with the ability to use certain kinds of magic, when enough mana is present in one’s body. A city where magic is the fuel to live a good life, the fuel that keeps the science and engineering branches running. This city of magic, where a lot of places eventually got devoid of magic…
Follow the characters through this city of magic and experience the struggles in their daily lives in this unbalanced society: the wealthy bourgeoisie and the impoverished proletariat.

An Octave Higher doesn’t really have an opening video, this was the trailer they presented for the game. It pretty much sums up what this VN has to offer, and it looked really attractive to me. The music and audio is by Tony Sugianto, character design by Panji Prakoso and art by Aditya “Tyo” Satyagraha, Dedefox, Miridhani Riani and Yohan Alexander.

This VN does not contain any (visual) sexual content.

Game structure
The game has routes you can access in the usual way, answer questions and depending on set conditions you will get a certain ending. You could use a walkthrough for this, usually I’m not playing without a walkthrough if I know a VN has more than 2-3 routes, however for this VN, I feel like playing without a walkthrough gives you the best experience.
There are a total of 6 endings; 1 true ending, 1 alternative ending and 4 normal endings. Most endings are based on relationships between characters. Choices are pretty straightforward, so it’s not hard to set the route conditions. If you bought the game on steam, you get an achievement for every ending you unlock.

An Octave Higher is a short story with a total gameplay time of approximately 8 hours. You will experience the story through the eyes of three different main characters, Frederic Godwin (left), Franz Byron (middle) and Elise Shelley (right). Their perspectives switch often throughout the story, showing you the three different worlds in Overture. The story commences by illustrating the life of the wealthy aristocrats. You will follow Frederic Godwin, a well-known figure in the Overturian aristocracy as a result of his father’s position. Lord Godwin is the founder of the largest magic machine manufacturer and manages most of the factories in Overture. Magic is a really valuable thing, and mana is like the oil and other fuels in our own lives, almost a necessity to live nowadays. With unlimited access to mana, the aristocrats can enjoy entertainment by means of magic, like the well-known game “Sorcer”.
Octave2Frederic has become a famous Sorcer player and his arrogant character disregards any other useful purposes of magic if it does not involve his own entertainment. Scolded by his father for his foolishness, he runs off, humiliated and upset. Before he even notices for how long he has run, he has entered the prole district, the bottom of society. A filthy place, with gloomy looking people and casuals, or so he thinks… until he meets Elise.

Through the eyes of Franz Byron, a major student in “magical science”, you will view life from a middle class, bourguise perspective. Working under his professor Johann Poe, famous in the world of magical science, he took on an ambiguous research project that may revolutionize the magic industry. As Franz is really knowledgable about magic, the VN lets you follow a lecture given by him to a class of first-year students in magical science. You will get a detailed, very detailed.., explaination of how magic works. Franz’s best friend and one of the characters you can get an ending with is Aretha Blyton. She is a major student in magical engineering and is really light-hearted and comical despite being a genius. However ambigeous he is, Franz does not believe in the future of his own research subject.., untill he meets Elise. And as professor Poe is struggling to get Lord Godwin to fund Franz’ research subject, Franz suggest a new, very strange but interesting theory. To both his and Lord Godwin’s surprise, the one and only Frederic Godwin speaks up and shows interest in the research project, something that doesn’t seem to directly benefit him. Or does it…
Through the eyes of Elise Shelley you will experience a totally different Overture than you might expect from such a magical city, the life as a proletariat. Elise works in one of the factories managed by Lord Godwin and lives in a brothel somewhere in the prole district. As soon as Elise turns 16, she’d have to work at the brothel if she wants to keep living there. The future does not look bright for her, as she can only dream and wait for a miracle. One day, through a made-up excuse, Elise manages to get an extra mana flask from her boss. She tries to create her own miracle through her magic by fixing the piano in the yard behind the factory with healing magic, a magic that does not work on inanimate objects. As she is about to give up on her dream to play the sound of the piano again, she meets Franz.

“..can the choices you make save everyone?”

Positive points

Story: Even though it’s pretty short, after the true route if feels like you have completed a big journey where a lot of things happened. The pacing never falls off and some events keep the story unpredictable. The setting of this story is really thought-through and feels quite original. As I am a person that loves details in a story, I really like how they reworked our physics models to make them work and logically explain them with magic. On the other side it descibes the issues revolving around such a powerful ability like magic in an hierarchy, which sets the basis for this story.

Game structure: The addition of choices worked out really well in this story, some VNs are better of without them but in An Octave Higher it added something extra. There also weren’t too many choices, only if a real decision had to be made or if it was of influence on the ending you would get eventually.

Characters: All characters were likable, unless they were meant to not be, this also depends on the ending you pick of course.

Music: A lot of music in this game is based on classical masterpieces, even a layman could recognize quite a few songs. Personally I liked most of it and it was really fitting.

Art: Beautiful backgrounds, and they are all hand-drawn. Also the sprites look nice and had quite some variety in faces. There were also some effects when magic was used normally or during battles. It made everything less static and even though it was nothing too special, I thought it really contribued to my reading experience.

Negative points

Story: The extensive explainations about magic, magic machines and how they work in this society could be seen as info-dumping. For some people this could be a bit too much explaining for the sake of the story. I wouldn’t say you really need everything that is explained, however I do feel it enriches your experience.

Art: The art in CGs is not consistent at all, and depending on the angle this also goes for certain sprites.

Characters: For some characters the story hints to their past, making you wonder who they, where they come from or what happened to them. This part of the characters is however mostly left undeveloped. This is not of importance to the story at all, but it’s a detail.

My rating: 7.5/10

Should you read this visual novel?
If you want a western style VN of decent-good quality – Yes
If you love VNs for their stereotypical Japanese characters and settings – No
If your main reason of interest is romance – I wouldn’t recommend this
If you want to try an OELVN for the first time – Yes

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