Knife Sisters (2019, PC), from Bobbi Sand and Transcenders Media, is a visual novel that explores consent and relationships via a diverse cast of twenty-somethings. Players experience this story of (mis)adventure, anxiety, and community through the perspective of Leo, who is nonbinary (!!), socially awkward, and seemingly incapable of feeling love. Leo lives among and adjacent to characters such as Ayana (Leo’s best friend) and Dagger (the newest addition to the apartment where Leo lives). Leo must navigate peer pressure and the complexities of relationships (romantic and otherwise) while assisting Dagger with what I’ll describe as a bit of a mystery (I’ll avoid any major story spoilers here).
Ultimately, Knife Sisters is a story of choice. Dialogue options progress players through the six chapters (it took me roughly five or so hours to finish the game). One thing I appreciated about the dialogue and writing was that what I selected resulted in what I expected. I’ve played through a few games where the options selected did not reflect the dialogue or action I was led to believe it would. Thankfully that was not a major issue here. Dialogue options were pretty standard in that they reflected different emotional responses and conversational approaches to any given interaction. My version of Leo was inquisitive and questioning but rarely confrontational. Players may also elect to not choose one of the dialogue options presented. Of course, avoiding the dialogue options is also a form of choice. But dialogue choices aren’t the only ones players can make. Should Leo hang out with Vicki tonight? Or Vicki AND Mo? Choices will sometimes determine the progression of a relationship and the sexual encounters Leo will experience.
Let’s talk about sex and representation. Knife Sisters avoids the awkward dialogue and objectified lens that so often accompany sexual encounters in video games (AAA games, I’m looking at you). It is worth noting that if BDSM is not your thing or you find it triggering, this is a game to avoid. Sex plays a significant part in the narrative and can’t be avoided. In all transparency, I know little about BDSM, but I do think Knife Sisters did a decent job at portraying consent, sex, and queer relationships. Through Leo, players can determine certain aspects of the sexual encounters and ask for consent along the way. This modeling of consent is great, and I would love to see more of it in media.
And the representation! I don’t think I have ever seen such representation in video games, both in terms of substance and presence. This game is incredibly diverse and was enjoyable to experience. The protagonist is nonbinary, and their romantic interests are Mo, who is also nonbinary, and Vicki, a trans woman. The presence of nonbinary and trans characters was especially meaningful for me to see. I can’t think of another video game that explores queer relationships in quite the same way. (Btw, I’ll always accept recommendations for queer games!)
Beyond the representation and sex, the art style and music are notable, especially the art. I love the black and white illustrations which pair perfectly with the subject matter explored in-game and the emotion of various situations throughout. The gray-scale fits perfectly, especially with the occult undertones connected with the game’s mystery elements.
All-in-all, I think that Knife Sisters is a near-perfect example of the power of indie games, and what they are sometimes able to do that other developers are not (or are unwilling to). If you’re looking for a relatively quick but quality game that explores the topics and themes of consent, peer pressure, anxiety, and community, you might give this one a shot.