[cw: transphobia talk]
Today we’re going to be checking out a few works by npckc, a developer that makes cute LGBTQ friendly games. Her most well regarded game, One Night, Hot Springs, recently got a sequel called Last Day of Spring, so I decided to check both of them out today.
One Night, Hot Springs follows Haru, who gets invited to visit some hot springs with her childhood friend Manami and her friend Erika for her birthday. However, as a young trans woman, Haru has reasonable fears about going out in public.
Thankfully, One Night, Hot Springs is mainly a game where those fears aren’t realized. It is a feel good visual novel where Haru just tries to have a good time with her friends however she can. While she’s scared of going to the women’s baths, she can find her own enjoyment depending on your choices. Whenever she gets too uncomfortable, her friends try their best to accommodate her. In fact, you can get an ending in the first few minutes by refusing to go to the hot springs, keeping Haru in her comfort zone while Manami tries to think of new plans for them.
It is not a game that pretends that trans women don’t face problems, either. There are moments where Haru confronts deadnaming and some bad questions; like, Erika’s trying her best, but she asks some uncomfortable things she doesn’t fully understand is wrong. On the path toward one of the endings, Haru has a frank discussion with Erika about her experiences, being forced to dress in the wrong uniform in high school and being unable to change her identity legally because of laws. Her discomfort manifests as a heart counter in the corner of the screen and she’ll be unable to make certain choices if it’s empty – which is perfectly understandable.
And these problems continue into the sequel. Last Day of Spring switches the perspective to Erika as Japan’s Reiwa era is announced. Soon after the first game, Haru has found a job, yet she’s in a rut after being forced to misgender herself for legal reasons. Erika wants to treat her to something good like a spa day for her birthday – but it’s then that it really sets in how bad things are for Haru.
It is a much heavier game than the first one with regards to transphobia. In trying to find a spa, Erika is bluntly told by pretty much all the spas that they refuse to serve trans women; the hot springs in the first game is pretty much a deviation from the norm. The story even references the fact that mere months ago, Japan’s Supreme Court upheld the requirement that transgender people need to be sterilized before they can have their genders legally recognized. If the previous game hadn’t made it obvious, all of this has led to Haru being anxious and withdrawn, seeing herself as a burden to people that try to help her.
However, Last Day of Spring is not a story about despair. In the midst of it all there is somebody that cares about you and sees you for who you are. Even though Erika fumbles some stuff about Haru’s gender in the first game, she genuinely tries to help Haru as best as she can and tries to create a space for her to relax in. It’s ultimately very wholesome and reassuring and it honestly made me cry a little.
Outside of the writing, the presentation of these games are very cute. The simple drawings lends a lighthearted vibe to the games and their music is equally as cutesy; I particularly like Last Day of Spring’s soundtrack because it has a chillhop thing going on with it that feels befitting of Erika’s character. Also chillhop is good.
One Night, Hot Springs and Last Day of Spring are wholesome games, yet they still make it a point to talk about transphobic experiences and how they can affect trans people. Both games are free, but if you throw a few bucks in npckc’s way you’ll also get an art collection and some sketches.
An important thing to remember when playing these games is that they are more specifically about the experiences of trans people – especially trans women – in Japan. So if you’re a trans person playing this game and it doesn’t line up with your experiences, please keep the context of these games in mind.