I stumbled upon An Octave Higher by Kidalang when it was on sale for $2.99 on Steam. Being a visual novel with fine graphics at first glance, the game looked promising just like any other visual novels out there. It’s fair to say that I didn’t have very high expectation. Visual novel is a rather underdeveloped genre, after all, especially outside of Japan. It consistently provides a nice and relaxing source of entertainment but I never really expect a masterpiece.
The plot starts off like any stereotypical fantasy literature—a universe where magic is possible with seemingly lighthearted plot of a guy (Franz) trying to help a girl (Elise) fix a piano despite the discouragement from almost everyone around them. The characters initially appear stereotypical. The jerk, the smart guy, the always-positive girl… Cotton-candy kind of plot, doesn’t it? At first glance, the game looks like it has all the cliches you’d find in a young adult book. It really seemed that by the end of the story, at least in the good ending, that the piano would get fixed despite the odds. Because magic. Because love. And stuff.
Spoiler: It remains broken, just like my heart. ;w;
Boy, was I wrong. Of all 6 endings, I initially found only the 4 endings in part 1. (See the walkthroughs for all endings here.) With only few choices throughout each playthroughs, all 4 stories are sufficiently entertaining but lacking in intrigue and content value. Once I discovered “Amadeus” storyline and character development came into play, though… It’s amazing how the quality of the plot seriously skyrocketed. It’s gotten unexpectedly deep and thought-provoking.
Consistent with its low popularity, visual novels are so limited in number out there. Most are centered around love/erotica with flimsy, one-dimensional characters and little plot if any at all. It’s so rare to see social issues getting featured or even mentioned. An Octave Higher breaks the trope by tying in the concepts of revolution, class conflict, and even controversies in the fields of psychology and academics. Being set in a fictional universe it is, but it mirrors a lot of elements and dynamics of what’s happening in the real world today.
Capitalism and revolution are prominent theme in this game, especially in part 2. Despite being dangerously tricky topics to feature, this game pulls it off splendidly in my opinion. And that’s something I really don’t say lightly. I’ve always felt annoyed whenever this “rich vs. poor” topic gets talked about in the media because, often times, it’s just another case of selective blindness. One side always gets portrayed as “good” people who can do no wrong and are doing the best they can in their circumstances while the other side as the “bad” people who are always looking to take advantage of the former. And whatever solution (in a form of promoting one system over the other) always gets portrayed so idealistically by their agents, like there couldn’t possibly be negative unintended consequences at all. Lacking a firm stance on pretty much everything I am, but my view always remains that if there existed such a thing as a perfect system where everyone can win, we’d already be in it.
An Octave Higher strikes a fine balance by leading us through the mind and rationalizing process of the capitalists while at the same time managing not to minimize the pain and unfair treatment experienced by the poor, instead of either simply portraying all capitalists as greedy exploitative bastards or all poor as lazy but otherwise all-capable humans who want to be spoon-fed everything while contributing nothing. Having Elise, who is a part of both worlds, as the main narrator in part 2 is an excellent choice in my eyes. Like most people (who probably haven’t really thought that much about the issue), she struggles through the story as she grows past her black and white beliefs, and steadily realizes the complexity of social problems. Her character is so “pure” in a sense that she maintains an aura of light and everlasting optimism, contrasting with the otherwise dark and difficult theme. After a rollercoaster of emotions, the final scenes in the “true ending” nearly made me cry. And despite the amount of fiction books I’ve read including the really good ones that I’m more invested in, I’ve never ever cried over fictional stories. For this game to have such an effect makes it undoubtedly a piece of art.
Another thing worth noting is that the magic system in this game is very impressive, even though you can’t use any spells. All those formulas and terms… It’s clear that the developers put a lot of time and effort into them.
Background music in visual novel tends to get really daunting after a while (who would want to listen to the same song over and over for two hours straight?) but I find the background music in this game to be very calming. The sound effects are neatly composed as well.
That concludes my commentary for this game. In short, it’s much better than I expected, with a lot of thought-provoking concepts built in, as well as beautiful graphics and well-developed universe and characters. English visual novels are already tough to come by but this one is worth your time, especially if you are a bit
of a millennial hipster or an intellectual snob fascinated by social issues and seeking a little more depth in your entertainment. I’d say this is one of the best visual novels out there that I’ve played… and I’ve played way too many of them. I have not encountered a bug either. The gameplay is very smooth and relaxing. Highly recommended.
Verdict: Going to campaign for an anime adaptation.
My rating: 9.5/10
Resources for players