Crime Never Pays
I haven’t played a lot of visual novels. But recently, they’ve been growing on me quite a bit. So I decided to give Crime Opera: The Butterfly Effect from Crime Opera Studios, Ratalaika Games and eastasiasoft a try. While mafia crime stories aren’t typically my cup of tea, the framing of the game piqued my interest.
A Mafia Story With a Twist
Crime Opera is the story of an Italian-American mafia family, the Gallos, and their struggles after the death of the family matriarch. Instead of experiencing the story through the eyes of the adults, however, it unfolds through the eyes of their six children. It’s a jarring experience to watch an adult, violent story unfold through the eyes of adolescents ranging in age from 6 to 15. It’s jarring in a surprisingly good way, though, as I can say it’s quite unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced before.
Through the Eyes of Children
The game is separated into chapters, with each chapter focusing on the viewpoint of a specific Gallo child. In descending age, they are: Kevin, Shana, Ronnie, Burtie, Izzy, and Amy. There are quite a few other supporting characters in the drama as well. Each child has their own issues they’re trying to sort out: Kevin, the oldest son of the elder Gallo brother, Gerald, wants to join the family business; Shana is struggling to deal with her abusive father, the younger Gallo brother Xander, as well as her feelings for her friend Gavin; Ronnie, stuck in the middle, is doing his best to look out for his two youngest siblings, Burtie and Amy, who are displaying some troubling symptoms of mental illness; finally, Izzy, Kevin’s younger sister, is forced to deal with being swept up in the family business through no fault of her own.
From the Mouths of Babes
What impressed me most about Crime Opera is that each character’s chapters not only felt distinct (and not a simple rehash of another character’s point of view), but the tone shifted drastically to match. Kevin, as the oldest of the two family’s children, tends to be more mature about things. Yet at the same time, he’s a 15 year-old boy, and he can act impulsively without considering the consequences of his actions. Shana, as the oldest of four children, takes the brunt of her father’s abuse, and struggles to figure out if she should stay to protect her younger siblings or not. Amy, as the youngest, frequently talks to her teddy bear, who begins talking back and starts giving her… questionable advice. You quite literally see the world through their eyes. Amy doesn’t realize the adults aren’t playing when a murder takes place. Izzy doesn’t realize that she’s been kidnapped by a rival family member. And Burtie… well, I’ll let you discover that one on your own.
Great Artwork with a Few Flaws
The artistic direction of Crime Opera is unique and charming. The character portraits have a lovely retro/nostalgic feel to them. The music is exceptionally good; it always fits the mood, and was frequently catchy enough that I found myself humming along with it now and then. That being said, there are some flaws. The character portraits are too small, and frequently covered up by an enormous text bar at the bottom of the screen. The backgrounds fall into two categories: lovingly detailed, or essentially blank. Of the detailed backgrounds, there are only a handful and they’re recycled frequently. The blank screens, meanwhile, make sense for some of the scenes, but are overused when a detailed background would have been a better choice.
An Old Story With a New Perspective
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Crime Opera. The story is mature and intense, but filtered through the eyes of children and adolescents. The framing is unique, while the story asks readers to grapple with difficult subjects. With multiple endings based on the choices you make, and the promise of five more entries in the series, there’s plenty to draw you in. Honestly, the only thing holding the game back is a few questionable design choices. If those are resolved in the next entry, I think we’re looking at a very promising series.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One; Publisher: eastasiasoft; Developer: Crime Opera Studios, Ratalaika Games; Players: 1; Released: April 28, 2021; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $9.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.