When Okujou no Yurirei-san was licensed by Mangagamer, I promised that when it came out in English I’d make an effort to get all the way through so I could do a real review of it. Here we are, at the far side of the Yuri visual novel known as Kindred Spirits and I find myself with a lot to say about, almost all of it good. ^_^ This is, however, going to be a really long review.
Let’s start with the technicals. This is all on me, as I’m just not the audience for this format, so take this with a grain of salt:
My standard disclaimer about having to click after every line or three of text stands. It’s just a really annoying method of reading. Yes, I could put it on automatic, but that’s not a better reading method for me. And, I found myself listening to the spoken dialogue for a little bit, to get the characters’ voices in my head, then turning the sound off again, to read through the scene faster than it was being spoken. Not that I objected to the spoken bits, but they were so randomly placed and so rarely had exceptionally good dialogue, that it wasn’t like I was going to miss much. Bits I would have liked spoken, like Ariu Aki’s final monologue, weren’t, and there was a (pretty low) limit to how many times I was interested in hearing Komano Hina saying “Yuna-nee'” in a row.
The “gameplay” was…well, to be honest, every decision you made was pointless. I played every single decision both (or all three) ways and they all lead right back to the same dialogue within an exchange or two. So nothing you decided made the slightest bit of difference. Made me wonder, in fact, why anyone bothered making this into a VN, when an illustrated novel with drama CD, might have suited it just as well. I guess it’s just another way to organize the same three media – text, voice and image.
When I had to scroll quickly through a previously read conversation, the various poses and facial expressions almost animated the characters, which was more amusing than good. Like flipping through a drawing on various pages of a notebook. ^_^ In fact, I found the accompanying images silly to painful and rarely felt that they gave me anything but the sense that this was a game. Several times a character embraces another character, and the avatars move closer, but of course don’t embrace, just sort of superimpose and I’d think “lost a chance to really capture that.” Even small things like hand holding that totally could have been shown in-game, were just missed opportunities.
The voice actresses were all decent, although the dialogue didn’t really stretch their acting ability. Most of the best, most emotional parts were text-only. Still, they all brought their characters to life well within the confines of the dialogue they had to work with.
The music was sticky. The OP was something I was singing for days, at least in part because the lyrics drove me nuts, with their lack of scan. I kept rewriting the chorus in my head to make it work better. The background music was another reason to keep the sound off. Too many minutes of the same 20 second riff and I’d be slapping that “mute.” ^_^;
The sheer amount of content was mind-boggling. I’d been reading the thing for a little bit almost every day for well more than a week. Just as I thought I was coming to the end, a bunch of new scenes “unlocked” and I had to go back to the beginning and read all of those. It took me forever to finish this, which means you’re getting a lot of content for your money. In fact, this was the main thing that impressed me. I didn’t actually believe there was a novel’s worth of story in the set up. And maybe not quite a novel’s worth, but definitely a novella’s. There was a lot of story.
Which brings me to the story. The premise is simple and a little silly: two ghosts haunt a girls’ school where they have fallen in love, Sachi died 80 years ago, Megumi 30. For purely selfish reasons, they want to encourage other girls in love to become lovers so they can learn what to do. Not only is this silly, but I have a long-established objection to the “I don’t know what to do” plot complication. I am well-aware that it’s a thing people do feel, and I’m not invalidating real experience, it just annoys the daylights out of me as a plot driver.
Loner Yuna can see and speak with the ghosts, so they enlist her help in getting girls who are in love with one another to become couples. Through the course of the VN there are 7 couples whose stories need to be played out. And this is where the game really shines. I’m going to go through the couples briefly, but there may still be spoilers in this section. If you want to avoid spoilers, jump down to after the second asterisks.
The thing that stands out most in terms of the relationship scenarios is that in almost every storyline, at some point, I said, “Well that was unexpected.” I’ll talk about why a bit later. None of the characters are what they appear to be.
Starting with the couple I liked the least, we had an almost-inevitable teacher-student relationship between Sonou Tsukuyo and second-year Tsurugimine Kiri. Almost everything about the way their relationship was set up bothered me. Sonou is adult, but looks extremely young. I don’t mind the idea of a youthful teacher, but puh-leaze. Kiri has a “cute” obsession that wasn’t terribly cute. Ultimately the teacher is written well, and ends up making Kiri more responsible – and in another arc, becomes a key element of responsibility for another couple – but meh.
The most obvious relationship that isn’t developed until the very end is Yuna’s own. It was extremely obvious to this reader, even if it wasn’t to Yuna.
Next up were the ghosts themselves, Sachi and Megumi. They appear already having had a 30-year history of being in love, and their own personal stories before that. They are the classic “Yuri” couple – Sachi is the cool Yamato Nadesico type, with old-fashioned school uniform and long black hair, while Megumi is the apparent energetic-girl partner. Megumi is, throughout the game, ill-tempered and rude, which I found both delightful and annoying as it gave Yuna a chance to be snarky but also get to frustrated on our behalf.
Maki Seina, a first-year, and Aihara Miki, a third-year, are the first couple we run into and, honestly, I thought they were going to be dire. But their story quickly changed dynamic as soon as the story picked up and this arc was the first to do a sharp turn into something unpredictable and interesting, as so many of them did.
The broadcasting club has three members, Ichiki Umi, Futano Sasa and Miyama Nena. I thought immediately, “ugh a love triangle.” I could not have been wronger. Not only was it not a love triangle, but it all made perfect sense and gave the characters a chance to gain depth beyond the love story.
One of the couples is together before we begin the story. Captain and Vice Captain of the track team, Amashima Matsuri and Inamoto Miyu, they are very much a Sei/Youko couple with a plan for the future. Their arc involves actually addressing issues like family and societal approval or rejection and things that folks in school have to consider when planning to live in the actual world. Although they never say they are lesbian, they speak of a long-term relationship and speak about liking girls and loving each other in the context of their and other characters’ arcs.
My favorite couple by far and away was ridiculous. “Rocker” Koba Youka, a girl who had been dead inside until rock and roll gave her life, falls madly, passionately and absurdly in love with the member of the disciplinary committee who marks her late, Ariu Aki. These two characters were so wonderful, I smiled every time we went to their arc. Without question, Aki was my favorite character. If she had a VN all to herself, I’d be thrilled. Aki also does not use the word lesbian, but speaks of always, only, having been attracted to other women.
Which brings me to the sex scenes. They were each according to that couple’s measure. I was worried that the VN was structured so that the sex scene was the final scene for each couple, but it really wasn’t. It was a stage of development they go through as a couple, with one exception.
In every single scenario, the characters go through actual development. That was a complete surprise to me. No only do we get tidbits about their pre-VN lives, but when crises pop up and are resolved, the characters change and grow. For this alone, the entire was worth working through. But even more than that, I mentioned that the characters aren’t what they appear to be. This was true for almost all of them. In several cases, their back stories simply changed how you thought of them. But in a few cases, their step away from stereotype is much less subtle. Maki Seina, an apparent typical first-year, for instance, claims to be extremely strong and is in fact proud of the fact. She mentions it to several people. It was small touches like this that really make the characters come alive. Komano Hina, another first-year and a critical part of the ribbon story, also turns out to have depth that is only hinted at. She could easily be seen as the “monotonal character,” but is capable of eloquence when needed. None of the characters is left undeveloped. Yuna, as our protagonist, is fully developed and really quite likable.
Which leads me to final quality of this VN that made it so enjoyable. The characters have society. They speak with one another across storylines and years in school – not only about school things or plot complications, but also personal issues. They tell their stories to us and to each other. Ariu Aki ties several of the arcs together, as does Hina, and Nena, and Yuna’s friend, Ano Fuji, in ways that aren’t forced at all. The story part of this story is really very enjoyable. And every single couple is portrayed as being love – not fake love, or practice love or something else. These are women who love the women they love. That was quite wonderful.
There is a final thing that surprised the heck out of me, but as it’s a huge spoiler, I’ll skip it. Let’s just say that I was surprised again by the end – not what it did, but what it didn’t. Ask me in 6 months when everyone’s had a chance to get through this. ^_^
Art – 6, but not the point really, just sort of a bonus
Story – 9
Characters – 9
Yuri – 10
Service – 7 Nudity and sexual situations
Overall – 9
Many, many thanks to Mangagamer for providing a review copy if this VN! I’ll be the first to admit, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. If you’ve played it through and want to submit a review, contact me and we’ll talk!