Butterfly Soup (2017)
Developed by: Brianna Lei
I didn't grow up playing any visual novels and I've always somewhat shied away from them, without meaning to. You could say I was intimidated by the amount of reading expected. However, I've recently started playing visual novels with my partner, which has helped me ease into them and kept me from being distracted. However, Butterfly Soup is the first one I decided to jump into it all on my own, after hearing praise about it from multiple people. Butterfly Soup is a visual novel set in 2008 about four teenage girls playing baseball and dealing with the hurdles of adolescence and young romance.
The reason I've had a hard time committing to visual novels in the past is because it's often a lot of reading and not a lot doing. However, Butterfly Soup was just the right length and contained interspersed high-action scenes as well as moments that legitimately had me stop for a minute to laugh out loud. Jokes in games can go south really quick, and often do (or maybe I'm quite picky about them), but this game just hit the right amount of humor every time for me. It actually felt like the dumb, senseless things my friends and I would’ve said in our teenage years, but written in a way that the joke actually lands. It’s nothing new for visual novels to include a phone or computer UI in game as part of the conversation, but Butterfly Soup showed up and re-created messy anime chat groups from mid 2000's.
The music is in Butterfly Soup so bubbly and adorable, after I finished the game I just spent some time on the splash page listening to the main theme. It’s consistent with the very pretty hand-drawn colorful style of this game. It's not a spoiler for me to mention that this game is full of some young lesbian romance - it's in the game's description and pretty much what everyone has heard about it. Butterfly Soup uniquely captures what it is like to be young and realize your close friendship is developing into a hardcore crush, and how accepting that crush would mean accepting something much heavier. Friendships and romances build up through the story in Butterfly Soup and feel realistic; I found myself so heavily invested in their relationships and quirky crush moments. It's been a slow start, but video games are beginning to tell new stories that can reach everyone, and I'm really excited to see that continue.
Although I am Mexican-American, where I grew up and went to school I was surrounded by primarily Asian-Americans. We shared a common experience as children of immigrants, so that really felt like my community. Butterfly Soup takes place in a primarily Asian community in the United States, so disproportionate so that the main characters are shocked to see white people out and about. I’ve never played a game that places you in the perspective of what it's like to be a kid raised in a specific community that exists but is rarely given light to. Growing up for these kids comes with its advantages, but also very unique challenges. I especially related to two friends, both children of immigrants, trading off words in their native languages, only to mispronounce them and ask your friend to remind you what it was again the next day.
The term "emotional" when used to describe a game can mean a lot of different things for me. It doesn’t always mean the emotion is tragedy or sadness. This game was emotional in that it made feel genuinely happy and warm, and so connected to the characters. Although, these characters aren’t all lovable the entire time you see them grow, but it does makes sense in the story and adds to the real meaning of the game. They’re teenagers and they haven't really figured out who they are yet or what they are supposed to be doing. It brings me back to a time where I had a much harder time controlling my emotions, too.
As much as this is a visual novel about young, awkward, lesbian romance, I’d actually say it’s more than anything a story about how important friendship is during those uncomfortable teenage years. Sure, the love story is what pulls you in, but everyone can relate to being a teenager feeling like the world is out to get you. I wish I had played this game when I was in my late teens, but then again, maybe it all only makes sense when I look back it from this safe distance, ten years later. Why is it called "Butterfly Soup", you ask? I can't give that away, but it does have to do with the themes I just mentioned.
If visual novels aren’t normally a go-to for you, I feel you, I'm new to it too. I truly recommend starting with Butterfly Soup. It stays interesting the whole time, it’s sweet, it’s relatable, and it’s free on itch. I actually downloaded it for free when I decided to give it a try, and went back immediately after finishing the game to pay money for it because it was VERY worth my time, and because you can pay to get a special concept art e-booklet from the creator.
Butterfly Soup is available on PC and Mac.
Played on: PC (itch.io)
Playtime: 3 hrs
How I heard about this game: Mentioned on the Let's Place podcast