Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly Review – Flying Mystery
Platforms: PS Vita (reviewed)
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release: 27th April 2018
Often, visual novels interest me solely because of their art style. While I never was a fan of playing too many titles of the same genre in a row, yet, when Aksys announced their fittingly dubbed “Summer of Mysteries” with Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly being the first title, my endeavour was broken in pieces. When a game looks so beautiful and circles around a mysterious manor, someone like me can´t simply ignore such a novel.
Awakening in a giant mansion, strapped from her memories and chased by a giant monster, that´s the situation our heroine finds herself at the start of the game. However, by quickly finding new allies she manages to escape from the nearing death, only to be faced with more questions. Why are the people hunted by monsters in this house? Why can they cast magic, in order to slay those terrifying beasts and why can no one remember how they got there?
All those questions are the very core of Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly which is, as Aksys’ promotional name implies, a mystery through and through. Given, the set-up doesn´t seem like the most original one, with the characters able to cast magic, fight monsters and so on. However, during its relatively short length of ~20 hours, it manages to tell a captivating tale. Mainly due to the well-executed pacing, seamlessly shifting between tense monster chases and more idle chatters in the “safe zones”. Especially since such an action focus is hard to pull off solely in a visual novel, I was honestly surprised at how well the battles, in particular, were written. For instance, the beasts were never shown in detail, leaving most of them to your imagination, hence creating a way more terrifying experience than other similar novels.
Even though it´s hard to describe without spoiling the experience, Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly´s plot boasts more than just a few twists. Every few hours the game managed to come up with either a surprising character or revelation. At the same time, it never needs to drag out mysteries longer than needed because there´s just so much content crammed into a relatively compact format. Additionally, it also dared to create an unusual dark, gritty atmosphere for an Otome, where death often seems like the most believable outcome and no one escapes truly unscarred. So for anyone believing that the plot could slide into a lovey-dovey adventure where strong man help weak women, while she can never contribute in any way, is truly mistaken.
Unfortunately, in exchange for such a densely packed story, Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly´s Otome aspect falls surprisingly short. For a visual novel genre that completely focuses on presenting the player a bunch of cute, loveable husbandos, this aspect gets surprisingly few screentime here. Often their mouths only serve to give more exposition during battles or after them, not to make us fall in love with them. As a consequence, their personalities fall rather flat, never surpassing their initially established stereotype. Most of the characters don´t even undergo a somewhat decent evolution, simply staying the same. Unless you decide for one of their routes, I never really got to love anyone just as much as in, for example, Hakuoki. Considering the default ending is without romance at all, the clear focus is clearly not on the Otome part of things, so I still wonder why it gets marketed like one. Instead the sheer amount of men, which almost seems unnecessary when they´re often nothing more than templates.
Another somewhat confusing part is the gameplay, yes, you heard right, Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly is a visual novel with gameplay. Namely, the monster “battles” are transported into light shooter sections, requiring you to shoot all the butterflies appearing on screen. Depending on your performance, there are all kinds of dumb rewards. Honestly, a nice idea, but executed in such an underwhelming, easy fashion that it adds literally nothing to the game, simply seems out of place than anything else. If they were longer and in a more interestingly designed fashion, maybe it could´ve worked. Luckily those passages are rare and not long compared to the rest of the game.
Last but not least, the catchiest thing about Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, its art style. It boasts a diverse artistic presentation, able to shift between dozens of colour palettes to create own designs for each and every character or thing. While I never remembered many names, I often recognized them through their unique colour design. One is red, another one green and so on, combined with distinct attires. Especially the tendency of overdesigning everything isn´t nearly as obvious as in Code:Realize for example. Instead, the protagonists in particular, never seem “too” detailed. Yet, central aspects of the plot like the masks some wear still impress with their simple art. Add in a beautiful soundtrack, created to enchant, you got an atmospheric visual novel like only a few others here. During my playtime, I didn´t even notice how obvious some of the decisions didn´t change anything at all.
The biggest problem I have with Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly is, that I don´t know exactly what it wants to be. On the one hand, it tells a truly captivating mystery with twists, turns and gripping fights, wrapped in a coat of amazing art. On the other hand, nothing about the characters can truly carry the Otome part, even though the marketing never stops telling us what great husbandos await us. So, in the end, Aksys Games’ first “Summer of Mystery” visual novel may not exactly be something for Otome fans, it definitely offers something for people, who can look beyond the lovey-dovey side of things.
[A Review Code was provided by Aksys Games]