It’s time again for my uh… apparently bi-monthly series on Short-But-Sweet visual novels that touched me in some way, and this time I’m diving into one night, hot springs by @npckc!
It starts with Haru getting a call from her friend Minami, asking her to come along for a birthday getaway to a hot spring. Haru has some reservations. Haru has understandable reservations about going–the policies of Japanese hot spring operators are unhospitable to trans bodies. So if Haru wants to have a fun weekend with her friends, she has to navigate not just her own shyness, but the anxiety of the public eye on her at all times.
one night, hot springs left a strong impression on me because it is both realistic and kind. It doesn’t shy away from the story’s central social issue–being trans is to be misunderstood, prodded by “good intention” questions at best and threatened with emotional or physical violence at worst. The game acknowledges this, but doesn’t allow it to undercut its central sweetness and kindness. It paints a compassionate portrait of Haru, and keeps the tone upbeat and full of possibilities. This blend of realism and kindness is rare in mass-market trans narratives, so games like this tend to be forced to pick up the slack. Which isn’t ideal, of course, but as someone who’s still trying to strike that balance in their own writing, it was nice to see this game handle it so seemingly effortlessly.
And while I’m aware it was probably somewhat out of necessity, given this is a game jam creation, I’m in love with the game’s simplified, almost children’s book style. The characters are all preciously cute as paper cut-outs, and their simple animations of bouncing up and down or blushing with hands raised really sell their personalities. There’s also a nice mechanical surprise. The game splits off into various endings depending on your choices, like just about any visual novel, but Haru’s dialogue options are restricted by her behavior up to that point. A bolder Haru will find more choices open to her, but a sheepish one feels no less well realized, and having to play a bit of guesswork in sleuthing out what choices shunt you onto what paths kept me a little more invested in finding all the endings than the usual visual novel clean-up. I’ve always been a huge Choose Your Own Adventure dork, so I immediately got to wondering how the code for these invisible stats worked behind the scenes, and if I could do something like that myself.
Through playing this, I began to understand inherently something I had accepted intellectually, but not emotionally, about why some of my friends have an instinct towards sheepishness/shirking away, no matter how hospitable I’m trying to be. Seeing it from Haru’s point of view gave me insight into how their discomfort with accepting hospitality wasn’t a direct reflection on my failure to provide the right hospitality. At the same time, I immediately saw myself reflected in the brassy, ballsy Erika, who takes Haru under her wing and threatens to beat up anyone who looks at her askance. Moments of identification like that are pretty rare for me in games (in fact, i wrote about the last one, Love On The Peacock Express, here!), so I’ll never say no to a folding myself into a nice futch. :3