Today’s feature is going to go a little bit differently because I am a man with a noted blood-stained gold standard. I have made the darker side of fiction my home and when blood and suffering can be weaved into a solid story, the result is a very satisfied JP. Kindred Spirits on the Roof is my kryptonite on so many levels and it goes beyond just simple romance, but let’s not put the cart in front of the horse. Released in Japan by LiarSoft in 2012, Okujou no Yurirei-san was acquired by MangaGamer last year and is the first game on Steam to be released uncensored. Many media personalities and fans are looking forward to it as a step towards leveling the playing field for other sexually explicit games, but the larger question for this website has little to do with its sexual content and more to do with its overall content.
So, what can we look forward to in Kindred Spirits on the Roof? I think I can sum it up for you guys in two thousand words or less! Here we go!
On an average day at her private all-girl school, Yuna Toomi is eating her lunch on the school rooftop only to be interrupted by two ghosts: Sachi Enoki and Megumi Nagatani. Both girls have been long dead, but began a romantic relationship when they realized neither was passing on to the afterlife and were confined to their old school. Now that someone can interact with them, Sachi and Megumi can finally take steps to move on to the afterlife, BUT FIRST they want to ensure that other girls with crushes on other girls at the school can express their feelings without regret. And guess who’s been drafted to help make their ‘Yuritopia’ a reality?
The best thing about the entire game, for my money, is Yuna Toomi. She’s the traditional deadpan straight man pulled into absolutely insanity by her sudden ability to see Sachi and Megumi. Considering that the rest of the cast have their personalities played up for comedic effect, taking the role of the straight man is extremely refreshing and keeps the game grounded for the most part. Her rationale for helping other girls, although it means prying into the private lies, is also altruistic more or less. Yuna is on the fence until she sees the results of her interference and the joy on the girl’s face who used her distraction to leave a note for her crush. She admits straight up that she doesn’t get the whole ‘love’ thing, and I’m not fooling myself into believing that side of her personality will survive the sugar-coated heart ray that’ll be heading in her direction before the end of the game, it’s nice to see a logic tie in her decisions. She wants to help people find happiness: nothing wrong with that.
And I wish I could say the same for a certain pair of specters, but we’ll get to them in due course.
Another benefit of being on the outside looking in is that it forces the writers to give Yuna a life. This isn’t universal by any means, but romance games tend to focus their attention on the romance. So, that usually means the only thing of note in the protagonist’s life is who they’re developing feelings for and how they express said feelings. Again, I have no illusions on Yuna’s fate, but I was still happy for the time we see Yuna talk to her friends or study or just stare off into the void with nothing but her on thoughts. It helps her feel three-dimensional and that if, somehow, she magically made it through the entire game without falling for anyone around her that she’d be just as content as she was when the game started. I cannot say the same thing for a lot of other romantic leads and I really wish I could.
I also have to give praise to the technical structure of the game. The entire game is non-linear with one main path, Yuna’s, and new paths opening up as she discovers new potential couples. The biggest issue comes down to presentation because despite there being dialogue options, you will have to help those who the game wants you to help and you cannot move forward without experiencing their side of the story. This goes beyond the illusion of choice and it robs the player of the opportunity not to give a damn regardless of what they made Yuna do. Tying everything together and forcing you to read everything in order to move the story forward was a bad call; mostly because without it, I would’ve have noticed the single biggest issue with the demo and the overall story Kindred Spirits is trying to tell.
That issue? All of the relationships are essentially the same.
The characters each have different archetypes to be fair. However, when you get pass the different trope flavors, they all run through the same course of, ‘I love you…but we’re both girls!’ followed shortly by, ‘I’m kissing you…but we’re both girls!’ leading eventually to, ‘I have my face in your vagina…but we’re both girls!’ I get that teenage angst still sells, I think. (I’m not sure what anyone younger than me is into so who knows.) But for the love of Sweet Baby Jesus™ is there any other setting in this game for relationships other than ‘have to be dragged into sex’ and ‘dragging their partner into sex’? Because it feels like those are the only two settings and just sitting through demo’s romantic routes that are set on that well-beaten narrative path was grinding to say the absolute least.
A little variety is all I’m asking for. I know there’s a cultural barrier here, but I find it difficult to believe that this is the limit of Liarsoft’s ability: four or five different versions of the exact same path. Arguably, it’s to show all of the archetypes involved in those scenarios to say that every potential high school romantic version was covered. But the only way to successfully do that is if each one was in a unique scenario that would make their particular archetype feel special and ergo interesting. By making them all similar, the only thing that has been accomplished is to test the patience of anyone who isn’t immediately wooed by the site of two girls blushing around each other. And considering my deep Southern roots, I’m pretty much talking about me here.
Then there’s Sachi and Megumi. You’d think following two particular EVN developers on Twitter would inoculate me to tooth-rotting, lovey-dovey relationship chatter…but these two. I needed insulin five minutes after their introduction. They just don’t stop smothering each other in affection, do you understand me? Every other sentence is, ‘Sachi is so smart’ or ‘Megumi is so cute’. I made it through this demo only because I had my Jeremy Jahns Dogshit Reviews playlist on standby for just such an occasion. But beyond the pap, it actually does illustrate a huge issue with the game: it’s also a hentai.
As I said at the beginning, Kindred Spirits gained press attention for being the first game on Steam that was released with uncensored sexual content. So the question must be asked, ‘How is said sexual content weaved into the narrative?’ Poorly. You see, Sachi and Megumi have been ghosts since the mid-20th Century and have been in a relationship for at least thirty years, but have never had sex with one another. So while they do have the secondary goal of wanting to create an environment at their school for other girls to confess their feelings towards their crushes, their primary goal is to see one of these couples have sex so that they can replicate the act and cross over to the spiritual realm.
That…is dumb. I’ve heard plenty of dumb excuse to include sexual content in games from the Holy Grail, to suicide missions, and even because you saved the girl in question from being sexually assaulted and your reward is immediate sex…yes that last one actually happened. But this? This is a contender for at least second dumbest. Am I, are we, really supposed to believe between Megumi’s death and the events of this story that there were never any other lesbian couples that had sex at this school? And even if that is the case, have they really never tried to do anything sexual with one another? Or do they need to possess someone in order to have their wish and they thought possessing someone without their permission was rude?
Oh Christ, is that what’s going to happen to Yuna? Eventually she just sees so many lesbian relationships she begins to develop feelings for one of her friends, then they possess her and her friend in order to have sex? I mean, this is Japan we’re talking about here. That isn’t too far outside of the realm of possibility but, you know what? I don’t want to know if I’m right about this one. I’m fine not knowing how the story here ends.
For something with this much fanfare I am intrigued at how average Kindred Spirits is. After digging through the demo, the only thing separating it and its contemporaries is the fact that it offers lesbian relationships. Even though MangaGamer and others touted it as being ‘realistic’, by sticking to a narrative formula that promotion line just doesn’t ring true. Of course, if you enjoy the romantic side of fiction sitting through slightly altered versions of the same storyline won’t through you for that much of a loop. However, if Valve didn’t allow it onto Steam uncensored nothing would be lost.
From where I sit, it’s old-fashioned marketing turning an average fighter into a giant killer strictly in the name of hyping pay-per-view buys. Is the full game good? Maybe. Did the demo instill any interest in playing the full game? Nope. At the very least, yuri fans won’t have to stoop to defending something from Winged Cloud. There’s nothing dire about Kindred Spirits on the Roof, but I’m more than happy to give it a pass. If you’re interested in Kindred Spirits on the Roof, check out its Steam page.