Until relatively recently, I was never the biggest fan of visual novels. I’ve always found them dull – almost verging on tedious. But since writing for Gaming Respawn, I’ve had the chance to review a couple (such as The House in Fata Morgana and Root Double: Before Crime * After Days), and I’ve come to the conclusion that I actually quite enjoy them, and the concept of Crime Opera: The Butterfly Effect was one that intrigued me from the get-go. I was a little apprehensive though when I discovered that despite having now debuted on Nintendo Switch and Xbox, it had originally been banned from Steam due to controversial content. Apprehension aside, I decided to pick it up, and I’m happy to say I haven’t regretted my decision.
There’s no denying that Crime Opera: The Butterfly Effect touches upon some dark and at times downright uncomfortable topics – abuse being one of the most problematic. This theme is prevalent throughout the story from the very start. The story focuses on the Italian-America Gallo family. After the death of the family’s matriarch, her sons, Gerald and Xander, find themselves surrounded by former allies who want to take over their business. The brothers are obviously important characters, but the story is actually told from the perspective of their children, who range from the ages of six to fifteen. While not actively involved in the family business, they experience the violent fallout, some of which, in the case of Xander’s children, was taking place within their own home by the very man who is supposed to protect them.
This juxtaposition of violence and childhood innocence was something that really stood out to me, making Crime Opera: The Butterfly Effect a unique take on the genre. That being said, it should be noted that Crime Opera is intended to be a six-part series that follows the Gallo children through to old age, and this entry is a prologue of sorts, so it is likely that in future episodes we’ll see a loss of this innocence.
Graphics and Music
It goes without saying that to appeal to anyone, a visual novel needs to have good writing, but what is equally as important are the music and the artwork. Without those two elements, you steer away from the territory of a visual novel and more towards that of a typical novel. The music is great and fits the tone of the game perfectly, and I particularly enjoyed the anime-esque introductory theme.
The character designs themselves were good, but there could have been a little more variation when it came to the sprites. Each character only seemed to have a handful of expressions, leading to some situations where the expressions didn’t quite match up with the rest of the scene. One character had what looked like a bruise appear on their face in one breath then disappear in the next.
There was also a problem with the smaller characters. Due to the positioning of the text box and the fact that the sprites were not full-bodied, there were times where these younger characters would jump up to remain in view, resulting in the rather amusing (and out of place in such a dark story) sight of half a floating body. This was only noticeable when you removed the text box, but considering this was an option, it was an oversight that should have been rectified.
The backgrounds were detailed and varied, but there just weren’t enough of them for my liking. There were too many times that the screen was simply black with a wall of text and a number of scenes that, while described very well, could have benefited from some accompanying art. In addition to the sprites and backgrounds, a couple of drawn out scenes would have added a lot of value to the delivery of the game. A visual novel should be visual, after all.
For whatever reason, the decision was made to use transitions, both when moving from scene to scene and when the characters were talking, resulting in a rather choppy changeover (though admittedly, this might have been smoother on Xbox) and characters fading in and out of view when talking. I found this very distracting, but thankfully, within the options menu, there was the option to turn these transitions off, allowing for a much smoother experience.
At the very beginning of the visual novel, you’re given the option to play through the game with choices or as a linear, kinetic story. Regardless of which you go for, there is only one true ending – ‘wrong’ decisions will lead to false endings, which upon completion, will prompt you to restart the game. It’s worth noting that while there are 24 chapters, there is no chapter select, so when you restart, you’ll need to fast-forward until you get back to the decision that led you down that path. For that reason, I recommend that you manually save the game when you reach a decision so you can easily pick up from where you were without having to backtrack.
For the completionists amongst us, it would have been nice to have a list of these endings somewhere to signify that we’ve seen it, as is often common practice where multiple endings are involved, but that’s just a minor omission that didn’t take away from my enjoyment in any way. I enjoyed playing through all these routes, but I would have liked to have seen a couple more, with more player choices cropping up throughout the game. As engaging as the story was, even when playing through the visual novel, the story was pretty linear.
As I mentioned before, the story is told almost entirely through the eyes of six of the Gallo children. Children are often unreliable narrators, which gives Crime Opera a unique and varied narrative structure. In terms of context, Kevin, being Gerald’s oldest son, has the most to offer as his age brings about knowledge and maturity that some of the younger children simply don’t have. That doesn’t mean the other children don’t have anything to offer though. Through Shana we see the burden of being Xander’s oldest child and the protector of her siblings. Through Amy and her growing dependence on her ‘talking’ teddy bear, we see how trauma can impact a young child.
Each one of them has their own unique perspective and way of thinking, and that really shines through in the writing. Since the majority of Crime Opera is told through internal monologue, it was important to get this right, and the developers did a great job with this – reading through the thought process of six -year-old Amy was vastly different from reading through that of fifteen-year-old Kevin.
Experiencing the story through the eyes of the Gallo children means that there is a lot going on behind the scenes that they, and by extension, we don’t see. The game gives us the choice to experience the story this way or gain a little more insight by reading through the TIPS that come at the end of most chapters. These TIPS show you some of what is going on when the children aren’t around and mostly focus on Xander and Gerald. It’s entirely up to you whether you watch them though – both watching and skipping have their merits.
The aim of Crime Opera: The Butterfly Effect is not so much to tell a whole story as it is to set the scene and introduce us to the cast of characters we will follow forward in future titles. This entry is the first in a proposed series of six visual novels following the Gallo children through to old age, so there is plenty of time for the characters to grow, change, and, given the nature of the story, probably suffer a whole lot more.
While it might suffer from a few technical glitches, the story and writing that underpin it more than made up for it, in my opinion. The music is great, as is the artwork, but as I mentioned earlier, I’d have liked to have seen more of it. Dark themes are prevalent throughout – in a story about a crime family, that is to be expected – so it’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but by the time I reached the end, I was left wanting more, so needless to say, I’ll be keeping an eye out for the sequel.
Developer: Crime Opera Studios, Ratalaika Games
Platforms: Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Release Date: 28th April 2021
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Crime Opera: The Butterfly Effect was provided by the publisher.