Butterfly Soup: Not Your Average Visual Novel

butterfly soup

Group project summary, by leader Bria Moore

Butterfly Soup is a visual novel that stars four 9th grade girls who join their high school baseball team. Or in the eloquent words of Brianna Lei, the developer, Butterfly Soup is “A visual novel about gay asian girls playing baseball and falling in love.” Furthermore, it is a tale of self-discovery, growth, and finding love. Romance is a central component of the story, though comedy is thoroughly embedded as well.

The four main protagonists are Diya, Min-seo, Noelle, and Akarsha. Diya is socially awkward and an exceptionally talented baseball player. Min-seo, also known as Min, has a short fuse and will not hesitate to cause bodily harm to get what she wants. She is only sweet to Diya. Noelle is a strait-laced and studious girl who is consistently pressured by her parents to succeed. Akarsha is an eccentric goofball who loves to ask ridiculously random questions just for attention. Other less prominent characters in the game are Jin-seo (also known as Jin), Hayden, Chryssa, and Liz. Jin is Min’s twin brother, Hayden is a childhood friend, and Chryssa and Liz are the leaders of the baseball team.

In the game, the point-of-view changes between each girl. It begins with Diya, then moves to Noelle, then Akarsha, and finally Min. In each of their segments, the player learns about each respective character through her thoughts and sometimes through her past. The game begins in the point-of-view as 3rd grade Diya, who is playing on the playground with her friends Min, Jin, and Hayden. They are engaged in the classic scenario of a prince saving the princess (Diya) from an evil dragon (Hayden). Through much debate, Min wins the role as the prince by intimidating her timid twin. After Princess Diya is saved, Min heroically carries her in her arms, thus suggesting a future romance between the two. Some time after this, Min’s parents take Min, Jin, and Diya to a baseball game. After much prodding Diya learns that Min and her family are moving away to Florida. The girls are unsure when they would see each other again. As luck would have it, both are reunited in the 9th grade when Min enrolls in Diya’s high school.

Butterfly Soup is not a traditional visual novel. In traditional visual novels, the player would take the form of a “blank” character, so that they can project themselves into that character. One of the core mechanics in traditional visual novels is the player interacting and flirting with several bachelors and/or bachelorettes. The player would then choose a person that they like, then choose the options that would lead them to their route.

What makes Butterfly Soup unique as a visual novel is that it does not have this mechanic of choosing a person to woo. No matter the choices that the player makes, Diya will always end up with Min. There are no good, bad, or neutral endings; there is only one happy ending. In this way, it is more similar to an actual romantic novel and movie. It can still be considered a visual novel because it is primarily text-based, involves choices by the player, and the story is based on a romance.

Another aspect that makes Butterfly Soup unique is its focus on LGBTQ+ characters. Diya is a demisexual lesbian, Akarsha is bisexual, and Min is a lesbian. Min also identifies as non-binary. Noelle’s sexual orientation is not explicitly stated, though Lei’s description of the game hints that she is a lesbian as well.  Unlike LGBTQ+ side characters in Hollywood films, being members of the LGBTQ+ community is not their singular character trait. They are all fully developed characters with ambitions, flaws, and struggles.

Butterfly Soup is also inclusive in terms of race. Diya and Akarsha are Indian-American, Min is Korean-American, and Noelle is Taiwanese-American. Many members of the baseball team are women of color. In fact, Diya notes that their Californian town is mostly comprised of Asians.

The gameplay in Butterfly Soup is quite simple. At certain points, the player will have the opportunity to make choices. Some of them range from the expected to the hilariously random. For instance, at the baseball game while talking to Min, the player is given dialogue and/or action options: “Let’s go get popcorn,” “Talk about school,” “Talk about baseball,” and “Never mind.” My most favorite are the questions from Akarsha. While walking to school with Diya, she asks, “Would you eat a tiny 2-inch person alive for 100 million dollars?” The player is given a choice between “I’d eat him” or “I wouldn’t eat him.” After this choice, Akarsha would react accordingly. No matter the answer, Diya would then conclude how silly the conversation is. Another example of Akarsha’s iconic questions is: “How many 2nd graders do you think you could beat up if they came at you in waves of 10, with a 5th grader boss coming every 5 waves?” Once again, the player has several options to choose from. In general, choices do not have any significant impact on the story. The only thing that changes as a result of player input is the text for the next couple of dialogue boxes. In other words, the choices have short term effects that do not affect the overall narrative.

Even when it does feel like the player has a major decision to make, it ultimately results in the same outcome. For example, during a scene when the girls were in the 3rd grade, Diya and Min were deciding where to go. The player’s options were “My house,” “Your house,” “Noelle’s house,” “Home Depot lights section,” and “Ask Min to decide.” When traversing the first four options, Min and Diya would come up with reasons why going there would not be a good idea. The only way to progress the story is to let Min decide. Essentially, input from the player is almost meaningless. This is by no means a negative critique; this feature allows the story and the characters to have more focus and development. With it, the narrative would not be able to smoothly switch between the perspective of each main character. In addition, it allows the player to relax and enjoy the story because there is no pressure to “win.”

Choices were not limited to dialogue. At some points, the flow of dialogue would cease, and the player would have a few actions available to them. These actions are one of three types: moving to another location, look at something, or talk to someone. For instance, when Diya is on her way to class with Noelle, she sees a list of test scores on the wall. The player is given three options: “Look at the test scores,” “Talk to classmates,” and “Enter classroom.” Three bubbles on the screen would represent each action.

When not at school, the girls would sometimes communicate through an online chatroom. The screen is filled with text messages. Each of their profile names and pictures are shown as well. This section of the visual novel is much like the rest of the game; instead of reading dialogue between the four, it is text messages between them. The only time the player was able to text a response in the chatroom was to answer “yes” or “no” to whether or not Diya likes Pringles. Even though choices are limited, the story is presented in several dynamic ways to keep the player engaged.

Butterfly Soup has countless instances of humor and comedy throughout. One of its sources of comedy is the reference of real-world memes, puns, television shows, video games, and anime. Furthermore, there are many instances of slapstick. At times, Min would trip and fall out of thin air. One of Akarsha’s daily pranks involves dropping an empty garbage can on Noelle in the classroom. Another comical scene involved Min riding a skateboard with Akarsha on her shoulders while a non-diegetic, off key recorder played in the background. Along with the humorous cutscenes, there is constant witty dialogue and banter exchanged between the girls.

This visual novel is not all laughs, however. There are times when the game dials back the comedy in order to focus on serious character development. One primary example of this is the scene with 3rd grade Min fighting with her parents over what boys and girls are allowed to do and wear. This moment is integral to Min’s growth as an individual. Similarly, Noelle has moments of tension with her own parents. Even though she is an excellent student, her parents pressure her to study more than necessary. They even suggest severing ties with her friends because they feel that her friends are a distraction. These examples of Min and Noelle are only a few examples of how this visual novel is a bildungsroman.

All in all, Butterfly Soup is a visual novel like no other. The absence of significant choices by the player is what sets it apart from most other games in the genre. Because of this, the game is able to freely change the point-of-view, allowing more insight and depth to each character. Butterfly Soup‘s inclusivity of sexual orientation, gender, and race makes it special as well. One of its notable characteristics is its use of humor, but it tones down the comedy in places where it needs to in order to effectively showcase the difficulties of growing up and discovering the self.

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