Yuzusoft produces some of the highest quality visual novels in the genre. All of their English releases have been solid – Riddle Joker, Senren Banka, Sabbat of the Witch – but this one? I’m not so sure.

So right upfront – yes, this is a very well-produced visual novel. By that, I mean that the character designs, the backgrounds, the animations, the UI, pretty much all the stuff that allows you to even get into the story in the first place is some top tier work.

The backgrounds – while not the best I’ve seen from the studio – are fitting for the story being told without being overly generic. The character designs are equally well-done, with clean linework, great color and outfit choices, and a variety of facial expressions and other little animations to really bring them to life. And as usual with Yuzusoft visual novels, the settings and customization are easily some of the best in the medium – going far beyond what is usually found with these games and including obscure things like mouse gestures, customizable key binds, and even controller support.

Really, the only thing bringing down the production is the music. I wouldn’t say it is necessarily bad, but – like previous Yuzusoft releases – it’s just mediocre at best, being a bit too repetitive and only having a couple standout tracks out of like thirty or so total.

Café Stella and the Reaper's Butterflies (3)

Aside from that though, the game’s production is absolutely solid and the base is all there for a great story to take place. It’s just unfortunate that my main problem with the game ended up being that very story.

Now to preface – yes, I love slice of life visual novels; I consume way too many of them for my own good and a lot of my favorites are from that very genre. So when I say that here we have a slice of life visual novel where hardly anything happens, you know it’s not doing something right. I literally spent almost one hundred hours on this game not because it’s a long visual novel, but because the progress was so slow and boring that I frequently found myself having to stop and take small breaks just to avoid burning out on it.

Take the common route for example. Its purpose is to introduce the characters and the cafe setting – which it actually does pretty well very early on. The rest of it though? It’s almost entirely filler. You get several chapters worth of character banter as they set up this cafe and an entire story arc dedicated to some forced drama where a father is struggling to find a cake that he likes and his daughter ends up serving as a sort of mediator with the cafe staff to produce that very cake. The daughter helps out in the actual making of the cake and it becomes this whole “made with love” kinda thing and the father finally enjoys a cake for once.

Café Stella and the Reaper's Butterflies (4)

The purpose of this arc was to help push part of the fantasy plotline – which I will get into shortly – but again, it’s simply way too long for its own good and is forgotten almost immediately after it takes place. Considering that this arc alone takes up like 25% of the common route, it really goes to show just how little this VN has to offer outside of back and forth character dialogue and slice of life moments.

The fantasy plot as well. It’s there, but not really. It’s the reason why the cafe starts up in the first place, but it’s hardly ever present throughout that process. The main heroine is a reaper, but it’s such a moot point during the common route that it wouldn’t even be that surprising to forget that aspect of her character entirely. Unlike previous Yuzusoft releases which blend the fantasy elements seamlessly into the story, this one feels like it was tacked on simply because the studio seems unwilling to produce just a straightforward slice of life comedy.

What you are left with is a visual novel without a clear-cut direction. Does every visual novel need one? No, not necessarily. But then you better have some solid character writing and fun slice of life stuff to carry the thing and that is simply not the experience I had with Cafe Stella. For one, the characters are far too “samey” for that to really work. Literally every single heroine aside from one has the “teasing” trait and you bet the game won’t let you forget that. 

Café Stella and the Reaper's Butterflies (2)

And when the main character is not being teased by any of the heroines, the writing falls back on the typical eroge tropes that are just tiring at this point if you’ve played more than a few of these visual novels. I’m talking stuff like the MC being made out to be an accidental pervert on numerous occasions, the random panty shot, and even something as stupid as an entire scene dedicated to one of the heroines accidentally having coffee beans fall down her clothing and making her nipples look erect.

I don’t know, maybe I’ve just played too many of these games, but this stuff detracts from the story more than it adds and when the slice of life stuff is already as basic as it is, you’re not really left with much.

That is until you get to the character routes, which salvage the story in some ways, but also have numerous problems of their own. While the heroines may not be all that different character-wise, the stories they tell are at least pretty varied. There’s the fantasy plotline of Kanna, the backstory-heavy plotline of Natsume, and a couple other surprises from the rest that make the experience more than just a straight slice of life comedy.

Café Stella and the Reaper's Butterflies (1)

That said, they don’t always land. Kanna’s route, for example, has the same problem as the common route where a lot of it is simply unnecessary – including an entire story chapter dedicated to some forced fantasy drama that sets up for a reasonable story development, but shoots itself in the foot at the end and reverses the whole thing like it never happened. It comes across as a cheap gimmick to force some character progression and any emotional impact that was supposed to be there is lost as a result.

That and this game continues the Yuzusoft trend of being WAY too reliant on H-scenes in the latter half of each character route. You’ll start a route, go through the usual buildup to a relationship, and then BAM, suddenly they are going at it every other scene and the scenes in-between simply serve as filler which is noticeable even with the 18+ content disabled. The romance is incredibly forced in some routes and honestly, the progression felt like the Sims where you go from friends to dating to living together to “have my babies” in like two days. It really makes it hard to take the romance elements seriously and I would definitely not recommend the game if you’re looking for decent romance.

And yeah, that’s pretty much all I got for this one. There are some other things – I really liked the timeline feature, for example – but I find this one hard to recommend even to those that liked past Yuzusoft titles. It’s simply far too basic story-wise and while the production is solid, the writing is not and left me disappointed more than anything.

Café Stella and the Reaper's Butterflies (5)

Café Stella and the Reaper’s Butterflies is a massive step down from Yuzusoft’s previous releases. While the production remains solid, the story and writing are anything but, with too much filler, forced romance, and an overreliance on typical eroge tropes bringing down the experience. It might be decent if you’re not already familiar with this medium and the studio specifically, but you’re much better off playing Sabbat of the Witch, Riddle Joker, or Senren Banka instead.

Score: 3.5/10

Quote: Café Stella and the Reaper’s Butterflies is a massive step down from Yuzusoft’s previous releases. While the production remains solid, the story and writing are anything but.

Café Stella and the Reaper’s Butterflies retails for $35 USD on Steam.

I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I I wouldo my game reviews here.