In a year so packed with big-deal games, some of the best are bound to fly under the radar. I hope that Butterfly Soup won’t be one of them — as it’s, without question, one of the most moving, memorable stories I’ve experienced all year.
An indie visual novel available to download on Mac and PC, Butterfly Soup combines lovely, manga-inspired art with a unique premise. A quartet of teen girls are each in the throes of self-discovery — and it’s baseball that helps them find themselves. But an interest in the sport is hardly required for appreciating this story. What really drives Butterfly Soup is a frank discussion of female friendships, queer self-acceptance and ... some very good goofs.
As the game’s download page jokes, “Harold, they’re lesbians.” The bulk of the story involves the growing relationship between two of the girls, Diya and Min-Seo, who quietly come to terms with their feelings for other girls. This isn’t a melodramatic or heartbreaking experience for them, despite the complications that their conservative Asian-American backgrounds throw into the mix. Instead, Butterfly Soup is filled with genuine warmth and humor.
That’s where this game really stands apart: The girls’ relationships are developed through (accidentally all-girl) baseball games, but they’re also forged through instant message group chats that are filled with anime and video game and other age-appropriate references. Shoutouts to Super Smash Bros. and High School Musical don’t feel forced; they’re an indelible part of these girls’ lives. Diya, Min-Seo and their friends aren’t traumatized by their burgeoning queerness in this age of internet culture, and it’s lovely to see their stories play out with good jokes and good vibes.
It helps that designer Brianna Lei is just 23 years old, making Butterfly Soup even more authentic and impressive. I have the benefit of being her age, so this is a game that stems directly from my generation. But regardless of how old Lei is or players are, or what kinds of references the game has, Butterfly Soup is special for a bigger reason: All four leads are women of color as well as queer. It’s not commented upon, either. It just ... is.
I could go on, but Butterfly Soup is best experienced for yourself. It’s a funny and breezy visual novel to get through, but it’ll stick with you. Best of all, the download is available at a “name your own price,” although $5 gets you a bonus artbook. Packed this year may be of good games, this is one not to be missed.