Visual novels are a tough sell even on a good day, mostly because they are really more “novel” than video game. In the absence of a gameplay mechanic, it’s really just an interactive slideshow of pretty pictures with lots of text, and so what carries a visual novel more than the artwork, the music, or any of the visuals, is the writing. If the writing is weak and the narrative does not flow, then there is very little for a visual novel to fall back on. Crime Opera: The Butterfly Effect has gone through an interesting development journey, even facing a ban on Steam due to controversial content; it is however available on the Microsoft storefront for Xbox platforms.
To give credit where it’s due, Crime Opera: The Butterfly Effect does try to distinguish itself from the typical Japanese visual novel experience with its Italian crime drama premise. In this game players delve into the life and times of the highly dysfunctional Gallo family, a wealthy family who have built their empire and wealth by running a mafia of sorts. There are two ways to experience this visual novel: either as a linear “kinetic” experience where you read your way through to the one true ending, or play the version where you sporadically get to make a few choices along the way, most of them being detours to false endings. Either way, the narrative is still fairly linear, and even the alternative paths and endings aren’t necessarily compelling.
Apparently, the current release Crime Opera: The Butterfly Effect is just the first part of what is planned to be a major multi-part series, contingent upon the success of the first release of course. With that said, the storyline of this feels both disappointing and largely undeveloped, and it’s hard to tell whether subsequent sequels can improve the narrative. With no official word on whether these planned sequels will even eventuate, the best we have right now is that this releases as a standalone story. Regrettably, it’s not a good one.
Crime Opera: The Butterfly Effect explores the dysfunctional shenanigans of the Gallo family, a close-knit extended group who are far too close for comfort. As a crime family, it’s inevitable that things often take a turn for the worse in their day-to-day life, but even the synergy and dynamic between the various Gallo family members, and even friends, are filled with problems. The story takes after Italian crime soap operas, and it feels like Everybody Loves Raymond meets The Godfather meets anime in what is an absolute mess of an undeveloped narrative.
The game certainly tries to be innovative with its approach by presenting the story from the perspective of each of the Gallo family children, but this ends up feeling rather repetitive especially when most of these Gallo kids aren’t even very interesting, given how they are a mix of soap opera and anime archetypes. The characters just don’t resonate, there is superficial synergy among them, and it’s hard to really care for them.
The biggest problem with Crime Opera: The Butterfly Effect is that it explores some adult themes in absolute poor taste. It’s one thing to incorporate adult themes to drive a meaningful narrative, but the writing and delivery here simply lack maturity. The story explores domestic abuse, misogyny, and at times ventures into the uncomfortable territory of child abuse, which the game depicts rather poorly and immaturely.
In fact, the writing of The Butterfly Effect just feels juvenile, constantly going for the cheap shock factor rather than building up meaningful plot devices or characters. Speaking of characters, all of them simply lack any semblance of emotional maturity. Sure, it’s easy to forgive the children of the cast, but all of the adults in the story seem too impulsively juvenile in their mannerisms and demeanour; the campy dialogue expression fails to develop a consistent personality for any of them.
The presentation of Crime Opera: The Butterfly Effect has some promise initially, especially with the fancy animated intro video complete with an anime-style theme song. Still, this feels like a lower end production with limited character portraits, generic character designs, and not to mention the presentation of font and text could have been a little cleaner. At the very least, the soundtrack serves as an appropriate accompaniment to all the drama which ensues.
Crime Opera: The Butterfly Effect fails to capitalise on its unique premise and setting by falling short where it matters. The writing is juvenile, cringe-inducing, and at times even offensively embarrassing. It takes some level of care and maturity to explore adult themes, and unfortunately the writing here just doesn’t feel appropriate. Not to mention the cast of impulsive characters are just so haphazardly developed. Crime Opera: The Butterfly Effect feels like one of those obscure campy novels from the supermarket clearance bin.
Head to the Xbox Store in order to download Crime Opera: The Butterfly Effect on Xbox One or Xbox Series X|S