Warning: some elements of this review are NSFW.
Bonds is a well-written exploration of a woman’s kink.
The story begins with our main character Robin describing how she’s always enjoyed the feeling of helplessness that comes with being tied up. It started when she was a kid and has persisted into her adult life, embarrassed as she is to admit that. Everything comes to a head one night when she and her best friend Alicia watch a movie featuring a woman being tied up. Flustered, Robin makes the joke that the ties on the woman are horrible, and that she could totally tie up Alicia better. Obviously this Robin trying to bait her into tying one another up, and it works. Thus begins our adventures in expressing affection via cross body knots, often for profit.
Initially, I found the story in Bonds to be a little skeevy. Pretty soon after Alicia and Robin start tying one another up, Alicia comes up with the idea to sell photos of the girls online as a part-time gig. It’s something that they’ll do on their own to private requesters, and honestly the pricing for their product was a little high (cursory research has lead me to believe most pictures are sold for $3-5 and you usually have to order a set of 10-20. The big money’s in private snapchat or personalized videos). It felt a little exploitative, like the writers decided exploring something which fell under the category of kink necessitated trying to make a profit from it. What eventually swung me around to liking Bonds was the way the girls would handle the requests.
In order to advance through the visual novel, each chapter requires you to complete at least three picture requests in your inbox, featuring various restraints, outfits, gags, and blindfolds. But it’s not mandatory to complete every request, and you have the power to decline any scenarios you’re not comfortable with. Don’t want to do pictures with tape gags? Do you feel that dressing the model as a school girl is a step too far? In that case you can reject those pictures outright and move on to a request you’re more comfortable with. One customer asked for a naked photo of Alicia, and the other two girls were quick to support her decision not to take the picture because Alicia was clearly apprehensive doing it. You as the player have the power to draw your own boundaries in how far you want this kink to go.
Even the pictures you sell are relatively tame within the realm of bondage photos. In total there are three different women who model for the pictures, and two of them are posed just sitting on the edge of the bed, legs together and feet on the floor. Some requesters just want their favorite model dressed in jeans with her hands tied; others are all about that sweater dress and stockings look. There’s not a lot that’s inherently lewd about most of the pictures or poses (with exceptions for some CGs), and you never see any extreme forms of bondage like spreader bars or being whipped. It’s surprisingly sweet and soft, set against a story that constantly emphasizes how much the women are enjoying and fully consenting to this.
On top of that, even when the group takes on a more risque assignment they always implement some precautions to keep one another safe. One requester asks for a video of a girl tied up and walking across campus. The girls discuss it and ultimately accommodate this request by tying up Robin, then covering the ties with a winter coat and the gag with a medical mask. The trio and their customer know that she’s tied up, but the public is completely unaware and Robin’s social standing at college is preserved. There’s even a scene that points out the larger risks in a market of selling NSFW photos. The ladies realize a little too late that marketing photos online might have some unintended consequences, such as when one of their customers inadvertently runs into Alicia in real life and attempts to ask her out. There’s nothing inherently threatening about the interaction and there aren’t worse consequences later for it; the women just acknowledge that they didn’t consider this risk when they started their business, but ultimately choose to continue making and selling the photos.
The reason Bonds works for me is that is understands that exploring your kink is a process, and you are likely going to have some hiccups along the way. There are some acts that you might not be comfortable with, and being interested in one aspect of the kink does not necessarily mean that you’re going to want to delve into the more extreme elements of it. You have the right to put the brakes on things once they make you uncomfortable, and any half-decent person around you will respect those boundaries. When the girls choose to close down their photo business at the end of college, their customers are a little unhappy but ultimately understanding and supportive of that choice (the beauty of fiction, right?). Exploring and experiencing a kink should ultimately be safe and fun for all parties involved, and Bonds gets that.
Bonds is available on itch.io and Steam for around $6, and I’d recommend getting it.