Kindred Spirits on the Roof was touted as being the first ‘erotic game’ released on Steam in its original uncensored format, but anybody seeking out this girl-on-girl visual novel for base titillation is going to find themselves sorely disappointed.
If you found yourself interested in Kindred Spirits’ cute aesthetic but were worried about the sexual content, don’t be too concerned. Anyone who’s played Dragon Age or or read an M-rated fanfiction will have seen about just as much action. I’ve gotten a good 20 hours played on my Steam clock at the point of writing, and the most heart-racing scene I’ve encountered so far is one girl getting her hair braided by her crush. Sexual scenes found 10 plus hours further act as lengthy epilogues to the couples overcoming their aversion to communication. By the time you get that far into the game you will be so invested in the characters from your adventures together that I hope you’d be rooting them on. All these lovestruck girls deserve each other.
Unlike the usual romantic visual novels formats, like in most otome games, Kindred Spirits’ different storylines all occur in tandem during a single playthrough. You aren’t expected to restart the game to see through all the different routes, which is what normally happens in dating sim style games. Instead all the couples’ stories occur during a single timeline with you bouncing around different perspectives.
You start out with a calendar and a main route, which introduces the premise of the two ghostly lovers who manifest on the school roof in front of Yuna, a reclusive second year student. This is where you start out the game, in Yuna’s head. These friendly gay spirits don’t like to be forceful: they just want to help foster existing feelings between the living girls at school, in order to make up for their lost time together. Since they can’t interact with the physical world, they need Yuna to help them. Yuna just wants to be left alone, so she goes along temporarily with the ghosts to avoid persistent haunting. This is how Yuna becomes the meddler that the ghosts recruit in order to fulfill their yuri utopia. Err, “yuritopia.”
While playing Kindred Spirits, it’s hard to shake off some of my hang-ups about the yuri genre. Most of the yuri games I’ve seen can be predominantly pandering to a male gaze, much like ‘boys love’ games end up pandering to a female gaze when compared to games made more with gay men in mind. Kindred Spirits isn’t as easily labeled. It features cute, painterly art unlike the bright gradient washes found in hentai game aesthetic usually carried over to male-marketed yuri games. And since the girls are all in relationships with each other instead of with a time-bending player character it feels like their stories have some agency, too.
Kindred Spirits didn’t blatantly objectify its characters during the sex scenes, the girls come off as equal participants. Reading through them is more akin to awkward YA novel heavy petting, where most of the written content is in the head of one of the characters who is panicking and trying to figure out what they’re expected to do in these situations. As a former teen it’s very familiar territory. If anything, Kindred Spirits feels extremely tame as far as it being perceived as “uncensored porn” because of its Steam release marketing.
And as far as “uncensored” goes, a game like this only features women cuddling and getting each other off with their tops removed, while any lower body parts are always tastefully covered. It isn’t really comparable to the kind of games with scenes featuring full penetration. This is why we can’t really put Kindred Spirits in the same bucket as other “sex” games, especially when using it as a sign that maybe Steam will open up the gates for more 18+ content in the future with this precedence. Valve still seems pretty dick averse.
At this point you might think “then why is the sex even necessary in the first place?” I wonder about that myself and then I remember another overbearing yuri theme: pureness. Yuri stories aimed at women often remark that, ‘Oh this is just pretend love; these girls are just practicing before they have to get married; young women don’t have sexual desires like that; it’s not serious they’re playing.’ And that’s totally not fair. In Kindred Spirits the girls taking their relationships beyond conventional “purity” conveys that they all are very real about each other. And based on my witnessed high school experiences, it is more realistic behavior.
During the game you’ll often continue on the weeks as Yuna, enacting rom-com situations in order to get mutually interested girls to actually talk to each other. At other times the game offers an opportunity to loop back to the weeks prior, taking on the perspective of one of those smitten girls you have been helping out. At this point you get to see your cupid machinations play out from their naive point of view and also get some insight on why each couple might be in love. It’s even better when later in the game you get tossed into the viewpoint of one of the ghosts. Then things start to get a bit dark.
Kindred Spirits has one of my favorite visual novel features: swapping between different narrators. Getting inside the head of another character is so good, especially when you, as the omnipresent player, gets to make choices that affect them. Maybe you make the wrong choice intentionally just to see what happens. Sometimes works out for you: missed opportunities with one couple could get you a scene with another character that you wouldn’t normally see. It’s good to experiment. These games give you a million save slots for that reason, so go for it.
This storytelling method is a marathon, not a sprint. I was irritated at the game’s slow burn at first, but now I find that to be part of its charm. Kindred Spirits conveys a boring school life with bursts of romantic melodrama, just like I remember from my school days. Except that in this case, I’m glad that for a change I don’t have to expect the girls’ stories to just stop at handholding.
Come Yourself To Death is a new Kotaku column that dives into the world of sex games.
AM Cosmos is a freelance writer. She occasionally writes about media (otome.sexy) such as animation, comics, and games made by and for audiences of women. And she gets real emotional when thinking too hard about sports anime.