This is part of our series reviewing visual novels and storytelling games. You can watch our streams and hear our live reactions on Twitch.
Butterfly Soup is an LGBTQ coming of age romantic comedy about four high school-aged girls navigating new and old relationships while also joining the school’s newly christened baseball team.
This visual novel by Brianna Lei is in turns funny and upbeat and sad and thoughtful as Lei gives attention to the growing pains of transitioning into adulthood and coming into one’s own while also dealing with strict, overbearing parents in a society that just doesn’t accept you. It takes place in California in 2008, at the height of Prop 8 protests, and this rampant homophobia forms the backdrop of these girls’ everyday existence.
The game focuses on each of the four main characters in turn. We start with Diya who is strong, quiet, anxious, and a sucker for a cute dog. She’s a big softie who has just realized she has a crush on a girl and isn’t quite sure what to do with this information. With the help of her friends (and some happenstance), she’s able to work through her social anxiety and join the school’s baseball team.
Next, we follow Noelle, a perfectionist who loudly declares she doesn’t always need to be right (except she does). She has no time for shenanigans and tomfoolery in part because her parents have set her on a very strict life path. As such she is an overachiever who has to work hard to maintain her status as the smartest kid at school. She finds herself roped into joining the baseball team despite having the upper body strength of a limp noodle.
Then, we see a bit of Akarsha’s life. As an irreverent jokester, she often clashes with Noelle in arguments that belie a deep fondness for one another. Akarsha has intentionally positioned herself as the comic relief in order to distract from her own feelings. Akarsha’s lines are some of the most hilarious in the game, and she always knows the exact wrong (and, therefore, right) thing to say. Her comedic brilliance shines even as she gets roped into joining the baseball team and finds her abilities tested.
Finally, we focus on Min. At five-foot-nothing, Min is a tiny bundle of rage and knives, ambivalent towards gender, and fully devoted to Diya. Min is also the self-declared rival of Noelle as they compete for Diya’s friendship. Her size is no impediment to her passion and skill as a pitcher for the new baseball team.
Akarsha: Would you kiss a girl for 1 million dollars?
Min: I guess? I don’t have that kind of money, though.Butterfly Soup (absolutely knocking it out of the park with every interaction)
The cast is rounded out by a funny and eclectic supporting cast which includes Cryssa and Liz, co-founders of the baseball team who must put up with endless headaches resulting from the antics of the main characters. There is also Jun-seo, Min’s meaker twin brother, and their token white friend, Hayden. We are introduced to several of the main character’s parents as well, who are faceless and often provide dark backdrops to what is, for the most part, a light-hearted comedy about budding romance.
As a story, the game is a shining example of a coming of age novel with queer elements which is also deeply rooted in several Asian American cultures. As a game, it is mostly linear, with the few choices the player does make coming up again with surprising emotional weight throughout the game. Butterfly Soup is also peppered with interactive sections where the player can explore and find interesting vignettes and character moments not included in the “main” narrative.
As we played, we found ourselves both laughing uproariously and also deeply touched by the introspection these characters displayed. We connected strongly to the rejection of gender norms and heteronormativity, both major themes in the story, but also to the small moments: tiny interactions that highlighted the different characters’ neurodivergency and distaste with the constricting elements of society.
Lei does an excellent job making the cast of Butterfly Soup feel relatable. These characters act exactly like real teenager girls would in everything from the tension of interpersonal relationships, to the jokes, to using a menstrual pad to scare away a car of boys. We were impressed by the authenticity of the conversations and interactions these characters have with one another. Some of the debates started by Akarasha could have been word-for-word renditions of debates we ourselves had in our own high school cafeterias. Truly, Lei’s writing shines in every moment of Butterfly Soup.
Lei has mentioned a potential sequel, and we’re deeply excited for the second installment. We’d recommend Butterfly Soup for anyone looking for a quick dose of queer comedy, an excellently told coming of age story, and character driven narrative. But really, this is a story anyone should be able to enjoy and learn from.