One of the best things about video games is how they allow players to visualize and go through experiences that they may never go through themselves. For some, its dragon riding in a fantasy setting; for others, its owning a farm and falling in love with one of the town’s residents and living life happily. For One Night, Hot Springs however, it’s far more personal.
Developed by npckc, One Night, Hot Springs follows the tale of Haru, a trans woman living in Japan who has just been invited to her friend Manami’s 20th birthday event at the local hot springs. This is a momentous event for her friend, who has always wanted to go to the hot springs, but brings up complicated feelings in Haru due to their identity.
Due to the game being a visual novel with multiple choices, you can go about the event in several different ways. For one thing, you can completely reject Manami’s request. As a trans woman, Haru is understandably uncomfortable about being put in a position where bigots may perceive and cause harm to her. This unlocks an ending where the friends do something different, but begs the question of ‘what would have happened if Haru had taken a chance instead?’
I played through the game three different times because, while short, some choices and options make each time a little different and, to be frank, this game is worth the repeat plays.
As someone who, if I’m being honest, may never really get their gender or relationship to it, I found comfort within Haru and the goodness of the people surrounding this character in their journey. Haru finds kinship with Eirika, a cis-woman who is also Manami’s friend. Eirika is absolutely clueless about the trans community but is completely accepting and wants to know more. It is up to the player whether Haru wants to talk her through it.
If the player takes the plunge and speaks more to Eirika, they learn that she has dated women in the past and doesn’t believe in labels but that, overall, people should get to be who they want to be. No questions asked. Their conversation is also the very first time Haru is able to express her worries and hopes as a trans woman, and it brings the two of them closer together.
That doesn’t mean Haru doesn’t face prejudice in One Night, Hot Spring. When signing over her information, she must put the name and gender that she was assigned at birth, which causes the receptionist to treat her coldly and misgender her. Even Eirika, as well-meaning as she is, is so blunt that the way she asks questions may come across as triggering for some players. Especially because Haru is so hyperaware of her existence in a space that she’s certain isn’t safe for trans people.
This game was released in 2018, and it pains me to say that the worries Haru feels are still so valid even now, especially with how anti-trans legislation is practically sweeping through the UK and the US. But this game isn’t set in either of those places at all, but Japan, which comes with its own share of issues in regards to LGBTQ+ individuals. As Haru explains, her fight to be recognized as a woman in Japan means that she needs to change her gender on her birth certificate, however that comes with inhuman requirements. First of all, she must not be married, have no children who are minors, must have gender affirming surgery and then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, must be forcibly sterilized. And, as far as I’m aware, this requirement is still upheld even in 2023. In a world where 50% of trans youth (in the US alone) have considered suicide, it’s not hard to see why the trans community feel so ostracized.
Yet, what shines through in One Night, Hot Springs is the belief that there is kindness to be found in the world and your community and that is where safety and love is. It’s a message that I feel is so necessary in today’s climate, and is what makes this game from npckc so special.