For all the money big-time publishers pump into their triple-A games, the final product often comes out lacking what indie titles have in spades. There’s a simple charm to games made dutifully and lovingly by one-person teams or small studios, and it shows. What they lack in budget and polish is made up for with heart and creativity. I’m aware not all indie games end up this way – like Ark: Survival Evolved or the countless early access titles which never get off the ground – but I believe it holds true for the majority.
I went into Butterfly Soup with low expectations. I’d heard good things about it and decided to give it a try, since I’m a fan of romance visual novels. The trailer certainly helped. It demonstrated a quirky sense of humour, with several references to internet memes that had me laughing hard enough to wake the neighbours.
Butterfly Soup, designed by Brianna Lei, is about Asian girls falling in love and is both complex and breathtakingly simple, as romance often is. There’s baseball sprinkled in, though the main focus is ultimately the budding friendships and relationships between the characters. The main cast consists of four girls: Diya, Min-seo, Noelle, and Akarsha. I found it easy to relate to them, being an Asian myself.
Each girl is wildly different in personality, background, likes and dislikes, and the way they speak or act. Interactions between them can be ridiculous, disastrous, downright amusing, or, sometimes, all three. I found this variety refreshing and it lends an element of unpredictability to Butterfly Soup, making it feel exciting yet still grounded in reality. The game is also sprinkled with a generous amount of internet memes and group chats, but successfully uses them and never comes off as trying too hard.
The length of this visual novel is on the shorter side. It takes around three to four hours to finish, but does what visual novels lasting up to ten hours fail to do. I was completely enthralled with the story from start to finish, alternating between deep, bellowing laughter or grinning like an idiot. It’s not the sort of laugh which has you replying "lol" to a cute gif. It’s the sort which bubbles over and erupts, where your voice hits a pitch that you never thought was possible. I lost count of how many times I had to hunch over to calm down because one of the characters said something to set me off.
The writing is amazingly fun, dripping with personality and wit. The game flaunts how over-the-top and mischievous it can be, while still managing to touch on problems that aren’t exactly family friendly. Those moments never felt forced. They were handled carefully but never shied from touching on the truth. The game also never felt overtly preachy or self-righteous. I did not expect this kind of depth in what was supposed to be just a fun, romance visual novel.
Butterfly Soup also has sweet visuals to accompany its story. Simple backgrounds draw attention to adorable looking characters, and there wasn’t a single one I disliked. There’s plenty of variation in their expressions and poses, my favourites being Noelle’s face palm and Akarsha’s fake gasp.
Another point in the game’s favour is the easy to navigate UI. The main menu is a tooth sweetening affair with Diya and Min-Seo in the background, and wanting to save mid-game is as simple as pressing the ESC key and clicking on an empty save slot.
With a heart-warming story about growing up, lovable characters, and a sense of humour, there’s nothing to dislike about the game. I actually consider it to be among the best games of the year. Butterfly Soup is the perfect example that visual novels, or games in general, don’t need an overwhelming scope, big budget, or jaw dropping visuals to be great.
I can’t recommend it enough. You can get it for free here, which I did at first, but I went back and paid for it after I’d finished. I sincerely hope more people give it a chance because it’s a game you really shouldn’t miss.