I’ve played many games over the years, but none has so perfectly captured the human experience as poignantly as the short visual novel One Night, Hot Spring. This thought provoking title, gives players the opportunity to step into the shoes of Haru, a 19 year old transgender Japanese woman who has just been invited for an overnight trip to a local hot spring by her oldest friend Manami. While Haru is initially reluctant to attend, she eventually give in to the request. But, what would normally be a simple night out with friends is made much more difficult for Haru, who is still legally male must contend with the rigid gender structures of the Japanese hot spring. As the night wears on and Haru’s anxieties rise the player must decide how Haru reacts to the various obstacles she encounters.
npckc‘s short visual novel One Night, Hot Spring does that and more, by giving players the unique opportunity to experience life through the eyes of a transgender woman in Japan. I originally included the game in a list of ten LGBTQ positive visual novels in celebration of Pride Month and of all the titles on that list, One Night, Hot Spring was by far my favorite. The game was developed by indie developer npckc for the 2018 Trans Gal Jam.
The biggest source of conflict in the story comes not from any external force, but from Haru herself. Her anxieties and fears shape her experiences at the hot spring, making simple tasks such as filling out the hot spring’s intake form or choosing which bath to use seem like a daunting task. But, for Haru they are, unlike her cis friends, Haru is legally still male, despite living her life as a woman, so choices that normally would warrant a second thought must be considered with the utmost care since they affect not only how Haru perceives herself but how those around her do as well. Most of the game’s can be divided into one of two categories: Haru let’s her anxieties keep her from performing a task or she is open and honest about her situation resulting in a positive outcome.
Surprisingly, despite focusing on such a sensitive topic, there is a overwhelming sense of optimism in One Night, Hot Spring. During her trip Haru is introduced to a number of characters not familiar with her or her situation, each of whom handle the revelation with varying degrees of grace. The staff are almost always understanding, offering to let Haru use the reserved family bath instead of the public bath in order to avoid any uncomfortable situations. However, Manami’s friend Erika, who also goes with them on the trip poses an even bigger obstacle. While she is accepting of Haru, she admittedly doesn’t know much about transgender individuals and more often than not makes a few unintended faux pas, such as asking Haru very pointed and personal questions. In these instances you can choose to withdraw or you can be open with Erika. While there are no “wrong” choices, by choosing to let Haru’s anxiety take control will result in a less enjoyable experience at the hot spring and strained relationships between Haru, Manami, and Erika.
Even as a cis individual, there were quite a few times when I truly felt the weight of my choices and that is what really makes One Night, Hot Spring stand out. It gives players the chance to experience first hand what it’s like to experience the world the way Haru does. While this is not the end all for transgender experiences, each one is unique to the individual, however, it does give some key insights into some of the obstacles transgender individuals have to contend with in their day to day lives. I highly recommend playing through each of the game’s seven endings, since they give the player a better grasp of who Haru is and how she perceives the world around her. Even the bad ending which results in Haru choosing not to go to the hot spring and Manami offering an alternative way to celebrate her birthday that won’t exclude Haru. It’s one of the more heartbreaking outcomes, but, an important one, because adds even more realism to the game and Haru’s experiences as a transgender woman.
It’s just one of the many LGBT experiences, but, One Night, Hot Spring offers an intimate look at a single moment in the life of Haru, a young transgender woman living in Japan. The game’s show don’t tell policy gives gamers the unique opportunity to see the world from a different perspective, it’s a chance to not just walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Whether you’re a member of the LGBT community or one of its allies, One Night, Hot Spring is a fun, heartwarming, and at times informative visual novel that I hope gives way to more games like it in the future.