Well, let me go ahead and spoil this for everyone: Detective Butler isn’t about a crime-fighting detective that is also a butler. I’ll give you a moment to recollect yourselves. I’m hurt about this too, but we must move on. Still though, such wasted potential.
Mystery-based visual novels are a rarity in the West with the only solid series being Sakevisual’s Jisei: which has worn several awards from this very site (in the name of full disclosure). So anytime a new contender is ready to step into the fray, I’m excited because it means new opportunities for an old-school mystery fan!
However, for anyone following me on Twitter this you know that excitement turned to boredom, which dived into hate and finally crashed into a flaming pit of expletives.
I’m going to go ahead and put this out now: if you want to play this game, don’t read this review. There are necessary spoilers I have to include in order to make my point about the game’s defects. For everyone else, please get your comfiest pillow and place it directly in front of your desk. That way when the head-desking starts, you won’t cause inoperable damage to your frontal lobe.
And they say I just a cynical asshole that doesn’t care about people!
The Misadventures of Detective Butler is centered on Gilligan Golder: the teenage son of wealthy insurance CEO Galvano Golder. The two join several of Galvano’s employees on a cruise to celebrate the success of GG Inc (yes that is what it’s called) as well as for Galvano to name Gilligan as his successor. However, when Galvano is found murdered, it’s up to a freelance journalist and aspiring detective named Butler to figure out who’s responsible before they strike again.
One of the biggest issues in this game is the game’s main character: Gilligan Golder. The first act of the game, and really most of the second, deals with Gilligan and his Daddy issues. Galvano’s murder doesn’t occur until the tail end of the second act, and then it carries on until the end of the game. So you would think, giving the hyper-focus on Gilligan that his story would be interesting enough to warrant the attention or, at the very least, he undergoes a character arc that makes him relatable to the audience at large.
About halfway through a flashback Gilligan had explaining his traumatic childhood, my brain made a leap I’m not proud of but it is apt. Gilligan is, more or less, Shinji Ikari from Evangelion. Like Shinji, Gilligan’s core character is apathy towards life and resentment to his Father. Like Shinji, Gilligan’s personal issues are a drop in the water to the larger concerns happening around him that he happily ignores in favor of wallowing in his own self-loathing. But at least Shinji can be convinced to nut up and help fight the monsters threatening mankind. Regardless of where you stand on Shinji Ikari as a character, at least he gets into the damn robot when it counts.
Also, while Evangelion arguably doesn’t expect the audience to sympathize with Shinji, this title fully expects not only your full investment with Gilligan’s story but also a connection with his character. Most of what makes Gilligan’s character so frustrating is that there is no defined arc to him. He blows in whatever direction the wind is going, going from suicidal to vengeful son to wallowing in self-doubt to loyal son so fast that your eyeballs will spin out of their sockets. And at no time does any of these characterizations stick. He’s still the braying jackass he was when the game started; only now he has less of a reason to be so because his world outlook has been repeatedly proven to be false.
I wish I could say more on the titled character, Butler, but he only exists as a conduit for plot convenience. I wasn’t quite as taken aback by his cocksure attitude or penchant for kleptomania as I thought I would be. I think it is because the game shows just how pathetic he is without the writers creating plot holes to help him out, so he came out more of a harmless buffoon and wannabee and not an out-and-out jerk. That interpretation, however, is still pretty loose considering that the writers want Butler to be cool and actively bend logic and the plot itself to keep him from being wrong at any time instead of it being an organic process where he grows on us.
And God help us, they try. The first act of the game is devoted to getting us to like Gilligan and Butler, but since we’ve been over their characterizations it only serves to grind you down. If the biases towards Gilligan and Butler had been removed, we may have gotten a fairer look at the two and found something in both that is relatable. But by the time Galvano’s body shows up, I was happy for any distraction from the awkward melodrama that made up what was supposed to be a straightforward mystery game. Unfortunately, it only gets worse as we get into that mystery half, but first I have to talk about something I really don’t want to talk about, but I must.
I have said this in the past and I’ll say it now: I don’t consider myself a feminist. It’s a title many easily latch onto without doing the proper homework to understand the different classes of thought, and despite opinions about me I do try to do my homework when I can. However, I can recognize the treatment of female characters in entertainment, especially video games, has a long way to go. That doesn’t mean that every female character in a game has to be the ideal feminist icon: most female characters I like aren’t after all (hello Bonnie MacFarland, Tali’Zorah, Zelda, Elizabeth, Clementine, Lara Croft, Cammy, I think I can stop now). It does mean that they should be treated as fairly as their male counterparts are: blood, grit, glory and all in between.
With that in mind, let’s follow the bouncing ball on this one. Cecila is a bubble-headed maid (also the only Hispanic character in the game…oops!) who still believes Santa is real as well as ghosts when she is not forgetting the keys to clean the rooms, Eliza is a manipulative gold digger who slept her way into Galvano’s inner circle and Blythe is a uptight bitch. Yes, uptight bitch is her entire character and no, it doesn’t go any deeper than that. But that doesn’t take the cake: oh no. That honor goes to Gilligan’s mother: a potential domestic abuse victim (it is never proven, only assumed by Gilligan thanks to his parents’ bickering) who dies in a car explosion to give Gilligan’s back story traumatic weight.
Let me repeat that: Gilligan’s Mom dies for the sole purpose of attempting to give weight to a very clichéd, poorly delivered back story. That is literally it. If this isn’t that ‘Woman in Refrigerators’ trope in full force, I don’t know what is.
To single out women in this instance feels off because there are no likable characters in this game. However, all of the male characters, even the obviously evil Captain Jack, are given massive chunks of back story to try and justify their characterizations. It isn’t effective: but it is there. The women are all just bitches, whores or idiots…or dead. I welcome anyone who has played the game or who is going to play the game to tell me where I’m wrong, because I’d prefer to be wrong here. I just don’t think I am.
And now that we’ve discussed the characters, let’s talk about the larger story!
Let’s transport ourselves to a world where everything I just said was just my opinion: all of it. It is already my opinion but go with me on this one. Let say I am completely wrong about Gilligan, the girls; everything. It’s all just me over-thinking things. Even if that was the case, this story would still be God awful. Once Galvano’s body shows up, idiot logic takes over to try and string this thing together and ‘keep the mystery alive’. Instead we are left with canyons within canyons of plot failures that derail any potential suspension and turns into a bigger test of endurance than Goldbar Games intended.
Let’s start with Galvano’s corpse itself. Death was caused by stabbing that was preceded by blunt force trauma to the head. Glass shards in the elevator means the only logical weapon that could’ve done the deed was a bottle both due to the type of glass left behind. So, going from there, the logical choice is to go to the bar and see if any possible merchandise could work as a potential murder weapon.
NOPE! It looks like it is supposed to be a closed room murder: with the two keys the murderer would’ve needed to commit the crime in opposite locked rooms. So we’re going to investigate that and let Butler spout off like an idiot for roughly thirty minutes on theories easily proven impossible.
Okay fine, so we’re not going to investigate the murder weapon. Okay fine. Considering the crime appears to be a crime of passion, it seems that the catalyst for his murder happened the last time he was seen. So let’s focus on everyone he interacted with in that time to try and figure out a motive to the crime,
JP, are you paying attention? The keys to the murder scene were locked inside of a room that Galvano still had locked with his body when he died! THIS IS TOO GOOD OF A MYSTERY TO PASS UP MAN!
FINE! You know what? FINE! Let’s see this Locked Room Mystery that you’re so proud of game. Go on!
…Isn’t Detective Butler so cool? He knows everything about everything!
The story is so sure of its own brilliance; it ends up circling the drain long before you get sick of trying to figure out the locked room mystery. And since it is a kinetic visual novel, we have no choice but to follow along the fixed path: groaning all the while. Yet, somehow, it gets worse. After pulling everyone along, I swear to Almighty God, the story itself doesn’t even bother trying to figure out the mystery it was so intent to impress us with. We instead get a hand-wave explanation of how it happened as part of a much larger, MUCH more convoluted conspiracy that leads right to the moment they drop the convoluted conspiracy in order to spiral into the Ending.
This ending….holy God. Last call people. If, for some reason, you just have to play this game for yourself LEAVE THE REVIEW NOW. Because, this deserves to be spoiled…this deserves to be spoiled hard.
The murderer is Blythe. This is fairly obvious only because it isn’t since there is no real evidence of her guilt or motivation. But her being guilty gets us closer to the end of the game, so we’re going with it. Anyway, Jack acts as her accomplice for the evulz, but since no one on board is an actual member of law enforcement he takes command of the situation and holds Blythe in the boiler room. There Gilligan is fed a rambling, incoherent sob story about how she hates Eliza for screwing Galvano and Galvano for passing her over for the CEO role. Therefore Gilligan sympathizes with her in a moment that caps off proof of his terrible development and has her handcuffs removed so that she can be comfortable for the rest of the trip.
But just when you think it’s over, IT ISN’T! Somehow Blythe has a gun because apparently everyone is too stupid to frisk the woman and she kills the guard; accidentally shooting one of the boilers while mocking Gilligan. She then reveals that she is a completely evil bitch who planned the murder for the evulz and just wanted to ice the old man. After standing in the middle of an EXPLODING BOILER ROOM longer than logically possible (but screw logic amirite) Blythe escapes to her car because they’re on land now. Somehow Butler has the keys of the Golder vehicle and the two speeds off after her. This ridiculous chase ends when Blythe’s car FUCKING EXPLODES FROM A BOMB BUTLER MADE FROM CLEANING FLUID AND ATTACHED TO HER CAR. A CAR HE HAD NO ACCESS TO AND NO REASON TO BELIEVE WAS HERS. AND SHE SURVIVES THE EXPLOSION WITHOUT A FUCKING SCRATCH. I SHIT YOU NOT.
The only way this works as a story is if you check your brain at the door and laugh whenever something implausible or stupid happens. But this game also wants you to sympathize with Gilligan and its other (male) characters as well as be completely invested in the investigation. On top of all of this, you’re supposed to buy that Butler is the ultimate chess master who is always one step ahead and has already figured out everything ever just by looking through a few cheap thriller novels.
It’s just dumb: unforgivably dumb. The characters are either unlikable or just uncomfortably written. Gilligan himself can’t carry a glass of water, much less the weight of his glued on, childhood trauma. And as much as the writers were sure they’ve written a great mystery story, when the only plausible explanation you can come up with only creates a BIGGER plot hole than the ones you are already trying to crawl out of…you got issues: serious issues.
PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY
The Presentation is mostly well handled for the most part with a mixture of anime-style designs and photographic backgrounds. It isn’t perfect mostly because the camera tends to zoom in on certain scenes; leaving the sprite blurred. The Event CGs are also mostly good with a few odd proportions here and there. After beating the game, several bonuses unlock including an area for the soundtrack as well as a metric butt ton of planning sketches, script drafts and even an unused mini-game. While it cannot make up for the actual game, it is nice to see so much behind-the scenes details.
Now, here’s the truly baffling turn: this is a kinetic novel. There are two scenes in which you can chose the order in which to interrogate suspects, but at the same time you cannot find out any more information than Butler can. This may be due to the limitation of OnScripter, which was used instead of Ren’py. However if that was going to be the case, then extra care needed to be taken to ensure the tightness and logic of the script. Since that didn’t happen, guess how I feel about it?
The atypical menu is scuttled in favor of a hot key system that is more of a guessing game than anything. Outside of that I mostly enjoyed the Journal system. Because of the lack of choices, it doesn’t really offer hints but it does give Gilligan more insight! So we know what happened to everyone after it’s all said and done by reading their bios! Ready for these revelations?
- The obviously evil and highly publicized Captain Jack Equinox, former gang member and proven accomplice to murder, managed to escape police custody and is still on the run. However, actual murderer Blythe Calico was arrested and is currently in prison. This is not helping the portrayal of the fairer sex guys.
- Eliza Jones, distraught over the death of her lover, refused to accept the position she tried to screw her way into: partially blaming herself for his death.
- Chef Donald Ackerley will become the captain of a ship that was the scene of two murders and was blown up.
- Cecila Querida was hired by GG Inc after the destruction of the ship. Now she has a whole new set of keys to lose!
- Howard Iujuan, the last man standing, will take over GG Inc as CEO until Gilligan is ready to become CEO. And speaking of which –
- That’s right. Gilligan: who spent most of the game hating his Father because of the abuse he thought he put his mother through. Gilligan: who took an entire scene to internally lambaste wealth and the wealthy. Gilligan: who was stupid enough to release his Father’s killer from her bounds, which resulted in another death and large-scale property damage…now wants to be the son his Father wanted him to be and take over his company. Is there any way to analyze this without it ending with, ‘His Mom really did die for nothing’?
- Butler rides off into the sunset: apparently to the sequel.
I didn’t think the site could handle the snark, but I was wrong! Moving on!
Detective Butler takes just over five hours to complete based on control and reading speeds. It is also free but, if you’re just possessed to play it, once will be plenty as it’ll unlock the bonus and answer any remaining questions you may have.
At least this had the common courtesy and sense not to have a price tag. And despite my issues with the story, there are some moments of genuine entertainment where the mystery angle and the Daddy issues take a back seat. Underneath it all, there are green shoots of potential that this group may be able to use in their future works.
But this isn’t about the future. This is about the present. What we currently have on our hands is a failure to launch: pure and simple. The characters are all unlikable, with the females’ borderline offensively written. You can’t go more than three lines without falling head first into a plot hole and no matter how they try to make Butler a brilliant mastermind detective, it neither seals the plot holes or helps his character. And that Ending…it is nothing short of a slap to the face of mystery fans everywhere as it just ramps up the nonsense to try and give this one an infamous finale.
On that front, they definitely succeed. Here’s looking to something MUCH better from these guys in the future, but pass on this one.
I wish there w