Yuri Visual Novel: Kindred Spirits (English)

February 25th, 2016

kindred-spiritsWhen 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.

***

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***

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. ^_^

Ratings:

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

I have just two thoughts left. I want more Aki and I think, quite honestly, Kindred Spirits on the Roof  (also available to play on Steam) was very good. I recommend it highly for Yuri fans. ^_^

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!

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26 Responses

  1. tzivya says:

    I cried at parts, I won’t lie. As frustrating as I found Megumi, her last scene with Yuna was heartbreaking, but not in a bad way. i agree fully with most everything yousaid in this. It gave such good story, and the smut was nor intrusive or intolerable. Uncomfortable, as i always find such things, but not bad.

    All in all so glad I got this, and recommend it to anyone looking for some nice romancey stories with likable people. If not for the smut I’d be getting my daughter to give it a go, as she enjoys such stories. a- all around, only losing points because, even if i enjoyed them in the end, teacher/student relationships are flat out wrong.

    I am apparently stereotypucal of players in that Hina was by far my favourite character, but i do like quite but not stupid badass tiny cute girls. Ariu was definately my second favourite, just because she was so… Curious and happy. Youka was great, but Aki was just so /playful/ and amused. their storyline was pure undiluted joy.

    Yuna had a lot more depth than i expected from a VN main, which i assumed would be bland emptyness. her story made full sense and was equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming.

    I should stop before i end up completely repeating your review, but in short, this was my fiction of the month. Less game than story, if it were turned into an actual nivella it would be a staple comfort for ages. sadly the format makes that unlikely for me so it will just have to be abyearly kinda thing. Maybe they will translate some iff the spinoff works since it is doing well, but I doubt it.

    • I agree about Yuna. When her story started to develop legs was about the time I really became involved. I also expected her to be bland, but right from the beginning, there she was saying all the snarky things I was thinking and I was like, “woah, really?”

      But yes, Aki and Youka was pure joy. Yes, absolutely.

  2. Alice Dougherty says:

    I thought that the relationships between Tsukuyo and Kira and Yuuna and Hina were a bit “meh” comparatively due to them seeming like they very checklisty compared to the others; student-teacher couple? check. childhood friend couple? check. Felt the same way about the Seina/Maki relationship, that it was just there to fill out a checklist right up until Seina… showed a bit more of her character, let’s say, to avoid spoilers. Her comments on her family’s reactions to it makes me think that she’d probably have an easier time coming out to her family than some of the others might.

    I do wish though that’d they’d skipped on having voice over for the sex scenes and instead voiced some others.

  3. Mariko says:

    Still waiting for MangaGamer to work out their payment processor issues so I can buy it (I have no interest in using Steam). I hope they offer it with the release discount when they do, because it has been completely unavailable to order from launch day on, well past the launch week discount period. They did not respond to my inquiry about it.

    Having played the whole demo, I will agree that once you get past the initial looooong and repetitive Yuna + ghosts scenes it gets much better. The pace picks up and having the different stories to jump around to helps. I found myself quite looking forward to reading more by the end of the demo.

    At least in the demo, going backward did not change the art, only the text, which was frustrating if I accidentally clicked too fast. I share the opinion that the art could have been a bit more dynamic and polished. On the technical side, I found I had to set my monitor resolution extremely low to enjoyably view the window. On a widescreen monitor, full screen mode stretches the content badly, and in high resolution the window is tiny and illegible. More resolution options would have been nice.

    Based on your review I’m excited to read the rest. Some of the tropey pairs seemed doomed to mediocrity, so to hear that there’s real growth and character development for everyone sounds wonderful!

  4. AJ says:

    I’m very into VNs, and also a yuri fan (and longtime reader of this blog. Mostly a lurker). It’s great to see a good yuri VN finally get released in English, and I’m happy to see it good a positive review here. For a long time if you asked about English yuri VNs you’d just get reccommended the Sono Hanabira series, which I personally do not care for at all. Those games are just porno fests. Kindred Spirits was quite tasteful by comparison. I really liked the art, and one reason for that is that all the characters looked and dressed like normal high school students. No shiny pink hair or clothes that magically cling to boobs. Outside of the (non-explicit) sex scenes there was no fanservice.

    My thoughts on the couples were about the same as your thoughts. I think the only point of disagreement is that I actually found Yuna/Hina refreshing. I would have expected Yuna to be paired with someone extraverted who pushes her out of her comfort zone so that she could fill a tsundere role. The choice to pair her with Hina instead was one that I appreciated. They were sweet together, and the part of the VN where Yuna questions her feelings and wonders if she can really start a relationship with Hina was the part I found most compelling.

    Youka and Aki were definitely my favorite couple, though. They were delightful together. And Aki turned out to be a surprisingly good character. A spinoff about Youka teaching Aki how to rock would be the greatest thing ever.

    I wasn’t surprised by the length of the VN. It’s actually not very long by VN standards. The number of extra scenes were a pleasant surprise, though. I appreciated that, like you said, the characters have society. The extras show you more about their lives and their relationships outside their romances, and in the end you really feel like you know every character.

    All in all it was a good VN. The characters and relationships were well-developed and it’s fun to read. I appreciated the lack of drama fuelled by misunderstandings, such as the way Nena immediately sets her friends straight. The only real complaints I have pertain to Tsukuyo/Kiri and the voice acting. Never played a VN where the voice acting almost randomly comes on and goes off like that. Guess it was a monetary issue?

    • I agree completely. I didn’t dislike Yuna x Hina at all, as it happens, they just weren’t my favorites. ^_^
      I have avoided talking about Sono Hanabira, because not only is it porn, it’s set in middle school and I find it distasteful on many levels.

      I’m hoping we get some better series since this one seemed to have managed to avoid most of the worst issues with Yuri VNs.

      Thanks for weighing in!

  5. Hjy says:

    Story and characters were cute and we’ll developed for a visual novel. That’s the game’s true selling point honestly. Also loved that fact that it’s longer that I thought it would be, considering the pricing and all.

    I had some issue with the sex scenes. While the audio is enjoyable by itself, some of the level of moaning doesn’t correlate with the action taking place. As a girl myself, sometimes i just found myself thinking “what, that doesnt even feel like anything, i think the noises are getting out of hand.” Ex: Sasa touches umi’s side, she moans continuously for about a minute. I get that it’s fan service noise but I think it could have been decreased by a quarter maybe? Or maybe the writing could be more…descriptive as to make that level of moaning more believable (though it’s on steam so I guess it can’t be too graphic)

    • I had the sound off for all sex scenes, so I could move past them quickly, right after exactly what you pointed out with Umi and Sasa. I reminded myself that I really didn’t need or want to see/hear this and I find first time scenarios excruciating in the extreme and utterly unsexy.

      But it’s not Steam’s fault – this is a Japanese game and they are just making the localized version available to a wider audience. ^_^

  6. Julia says:

    Finally found the time to play through the game, and I have to admit that, despite the critique I may offer, I really did enjoy it.

    Getting the one thing that made me seriously cringe out of the way first: the ghost ending… a.) did they really have to go down that route? b.) ffs, could they at least please have reversed the order of events? Maybe it’s just me, but I found the sequence thoroughly unpleasant, being unable to shake the feeling that there was something incredibly violating about the premise. I probably still would not have cheered even if it had been an established couple, conscious of each other, and in a full understanding about what they are about to do, but my goodness did this setup feel icky. The fact that there was a subsequent event some time later does not redeem it in any way, but it did help sooth my ruffled feathers a bit, giving at least a little closure.

    Moving on to the good: I could not agree more on the point regarding the characters having society. It made the entire story come to life so much more, and really set this one apart from so many other visual novels. I also love the bonus sequences, which, while repetitive on occasion, give us so much more insight on the thoughts and motivations of individual characters. I guess that’s just it: the fact that all of the characters feel like individuals. Not some copy and paste version of a standard cliché, but characters with strengths and flaws, who are not defined by simple stereotypes, although some of them would have all too easily fit into such a mould.

    Generally, I found myself clicking rapidly during certain scenes, as I could only take so much moaning-silliness, but have to admit that the dialogue in said scenes made them feel as respectful as possible for that type of activity, with it quickly becoming clear that the characters really do care for each other. I particularly had to laugh, in a good way, at the scene with Matsuri and Miyu, as the banter between the two struck me as spot on. I also liked the fact that most of the … ehm … let’s just call them “staple actions” were not included, seeing as the “we only recently go together” – “this is our first time” – “why are we acting like porn star pros with 20 years of experience?” approach tends to get a tad boring after a while.

    8/10 I guess? Would certainly purchase and play again, and would be ecstatic if future publications built upon the strengths of Kindred Spirits, leading to more and more worthwhile Yuri games out there.

    Oh, and one last small critique: could someone please get Hina to realize that at some stage it might be appropriate to drop the “-nee”, at the very least in certain situations… ;p

    • Yeah, I thought the premise was squicky, too. But the story ended up being good enough that I could, not so much forgive, but accept.

      • Julia says:

        Ah, yes, the overall premise was questionable too. The thing that really got my back up, and that I was trying to refer to, was the ghosts’ “first time” actually, and the means by which this was achieved.

        • Yes. I didn’t much care for the sex scenes, but I basically fast-forwarded through them without sound.

          • Julia says:

            Terribly sorry, but it seems my rather circumspect way of describing the issue completely failed to convey what I was trying to communicate. :(

            It is not actually the sex scene that I was talking about (skipped most of that as well). Let me stop dancing around the issue and try to be a bit clearer about the part that I found concerning…

            !!!There be spoilers here!!!

            When Sachi and Megumi have their first time, it is by completely possessing the bodies of Yuna and Hina. Both of them have no recollection of what happened after they handed their bodies over to the spirits, although Hina later says that she has had glimpses in dreams, and the only reminder is that it was real is Yuna telling us that they had a couple of marks left on their bodies. Yuna’s and Hina’s relationship had merely progressed to the point of kissing by this point in time.

            While Yuna had at least some vague inkling of what she might be getting herself into, Hina explicitly stats that she does not really understand the request, and that she is merely going along with it because Yuna asked her to (which she did right after confessing her own love for Hina – “I love you too! By the way, mind if we lend our bodies to some spirits so they can have sex with them?”). Even Matsuri and Miyu are taken aback by the very early big step in the relationship when Hina asks them about having sex on campus, albeit without of course knowing what is really going on. Fact of the matter is that both Yuna and Hina gave up their bodily autonomy so that Sachi and Megumi can use their bodies in lieu of their own for their first time, all the while without having done anything other than kissing in their own relationship.

            Even if Yuna and Hina would have already had their own first time, I would have still found this questionable, but at least they would have had a clear understanding of what is happening and what they are agreeing to. As it stands, I felt the scene to pretty much violate the two of them, in particular Hina.

            !!!end of spoilers!!!

            I guess trying to get that point across without spoilers is just way too vague. Sorry about the endless back and forth.

          • Sorry I was being obtuse. I understand your point, now. While I agree, it wasn’t the worst thing in the story for me, so it sort of had to get in line with the rest of the ugh moments. ^_^

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