Scarred Faces

HIGH The fascinating plot.

LOW The illusion of player choice.

WTF Burtie is insane.

If Hollywood has glamorized anything, it’s the mafia. We’re used to seeing handsome millionaires smoking classic cigars and delivering clever lines that entertain global audiences with glamour. It is somewhat uncomforting that we are so easily charmed by such notorious criminality.

Crime Opera: The Butterfly Effect tells a story of this same world, but without the sparkle of romanticization. Players will witness the broken Gallo family’s downfall after the death of their family matriarch. Unfinished dealings, crumbling marriages, and desperate children force new family leader Gerald (seemingly calm and calculating) and his brother Xander (the more savage variant) into a chaotic and dangerous situation.

We experience this clash and its eventual climax from six different perspectives, namely those of Gerald’s two and Xander’s four children. They range in age from 6-15, and show an obvious difference in the degree to which they are aware of the shady business going on around them. This is what initially forms an intriguing slice-of-life tale in Visual Novel form, as we get to learn about the children and their friends, families, and acquaintances.

This tale eventually turns dark and portrays an extremely grim and horrifying reality for everyone involved. Probably for this reason, the developers have included two ways in which the story can be experienced — the player can opt for either a linear novel (with no choices) or a visual novel with player-driven choices. I chose the latter, but found little significance in my decisions as the player will eventually end up back at predetermined story beats. I would still recommend this route for the additional paths, story details and easter eggs, though.

While there’s nothing spectacular here with regards to gameplay, graphics or sound (all of which get the job done), what carries the experience is — as it should be — a gripping plot which facilitates close character studies. For example, one chapter tells of the experience of Amy, a six year old girl who witnesses her dad shoot and kill a business associate in an outburst of rage. In subsequent chapters, we see her fantasizing about the power of wielding a gun (and killing her family) in imaginary talks with her favorite teddy bear.

Plotlines like these exist for all six children whose perspectives we follow, and this makes for a fascinating narrative that culminates in a tense finale. It’s all well-done, especially in one area deserving of some extra attention — Amy’s older brother Burtie.

Like the other children, he has his own character arc, but in a distinctly different flavor — he’s unstable and sadistic, as if born into the mafia world already knowing what it’s about and pre-adapted to its harshness. Following his chapters encouraged me to ask, what does he symbolize and why is he the way he is?

I have my own reading on this and while it’s just conjecture on my part, I see him representing the player of Crime Opera. It might explains why Burtie is unfazed by anything around him, and why he can enjoy violence while also being angry when his agency is denied – a surprisingly similar portrait to that of the player in unrealistically-dangerous game worlds for the purpose of being entertained.

My own interpretation aside, Crime Opera: The Butterfly Effect doesn’t require any theorizing to enjoy since its story stands strong on narrative tension and thrill alone, and showing this side of the mafia that’s often glossed over is something that I can thoroughly appreciate.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Crime Opera Studios and published by Eastasiasoft. It is currently available on Switch and XBO/X/S. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Content, Strong Language and Use of Drugs. I have nothing to add — these descriptors are accurate!

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This is a visual novel that is fully subtitled. The subtitles are not resizable and quite small. The title is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. Navigating menus and player choices is on the left stick, selecting and proceeding is on the A button. Scrolling back is on L. Auto-progressing text is on Y. Skipping quickly through text is R.

David Bakker
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