PC Gamer's Best Visual Novel of 2017 is Butterfly Soup, as chosen by our global editorial team. Check out our GOTY hub for the rest of the awards and staff personal picks.
Jody Macgregor: It's been a good year for visual novels. More and more of them are being translated into English and released on Steam, with this year's crop including Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, Muv-Luv Alternative, and Wonderful Everyday Down the Rabbit Hole. Also finally released on PC was Zero Escape: The Nonary Games (opens in new tab), which let us play the first two games in the series after being teased with the third one, Zero Time Dilemma, last year. The final half of The Lion's Song (opens in new tab) by Viennese developer Mi'pu'mi came out in 2017 too.
It's a good time to be a weeb.
It was also a great year for original English-language visual novels, with Dream Daddy and Doki Doki Literature Club! (opens in new tab) (which has now been downloaded over a million times) both blowing up beyond all expectation. There were impressive smaller games like Disaster Log C, Love on the Peacock Express, and Localhost (opens in new tab) too. The influence of visual novels was felt on games in other genres, from adventure game Tokyo Dark (opens in new tab) to sports fantasy RPG Pyre (opens in new tab).
That list of games, long but still incomplete, proves it's been a hell of a year for visual novels. But our visual novel of the year is not one of those genre-blending games that messes with the format or your expectations. It's the relatively traditional Butterfly Soup.
The decisions you make in Butterfly Soup can alter scenes but the overall thrust of the plot is always the same: it's a love story about Asian-American girls who play baseball, and specifically it's about two best friends realizing there's more to their relationship. A coming-of-age story but also a coming-out-to-yourself story.
What makes it great is the character writing. You play multiple protagonists, and each time you switch you gain insights into the others. When I was athletic but shy Diya her internal monologue enriched every situation with jokes and memories, like recalling that the cool rebel Min ran away from home when she was younger, but only because she didn't want to eat a tomato.
Later, seen from other perspectives, Diya suddenly seemed distant. When I wasn't privy to her thoughts I became aware of how easily her quietness could be interpreted as stand-offishness, and then I thought about how I've made similar assumptions about other people and had the same done to me. Like the Butthole Surfers say, "You never know just how you look through other people's eyes." I can't think of many other games with character writing sharp enough to pull something like that off, but Butterfly Soup does it on the regular, and makes it look easy every time.
It's also a funny game. In a year when we needed to add a Best Comedy (opens in new tab) category, maybe that doesn't make Butterfly Soup stand out as much as it normally would but it's still worth celebrating. Butterfly Soup didn't let me pick which member of an anime menagerie to fall in love with, but whether I taught someone to say "hi" in my native tongue or tricked them into saying "I like to fart" is a choice Butterfly Soup left in my capable hands.