One Night, Hot Springs (here on Itchio) a short visual novel that takes about twenty minutes to play. It’s the free-to-download first chapter of A Year of Springs, which is available for $5 on various platforms, including Nintendo Switch. The story is about a 19-year-old girl named Haru who spends the night at a fancy onsen hotel with her childhood friend Minami and Minami’s friend Erika. Everything seems set up for a fun girls’ night out, but Haru is worried that being trans might make getting into a public bath tricky.
Minami and Erika are both a bit clueless about what it means to be transgender, but each is kind and supportive of Haru in her own way. The onsen staff are kind and supportive as well. No one particularly cares that Haru is trans, but they still go out of their way to make sure she feels comfortable, just as they would for any other guest. Haru is shy and doesn’t want to cause trouble, but a staff member assures her that plenty of people need (and deserve!) a bit of extra attention, and that trans guests aren’t actually as uncommon as one might think.
There’s a big pink banner with a content warning for transphobia hovering over the game’s page on Itchio, which is why I didn’t take the plunge and buy the full game. I got seriously burned by The House in Fata Morgana, and I don’t want to play another visual novel about a trans character being abused or harassed. It turns out that I need not have worried, thankfully. If you’re honest to everyone about your character being trans, the ending you’ll get is called “The World Can Be Kind, Too.”
There’s an educational element to the game, and this can be something of a bummer, as the social and legal realities of being LGBTQ+ in Japan aren’t great. Still, One Night, Hot Springs is mostly about simulating the experience of spending a relaxing evening in the company of good friends at a beautiful onsen hotel. The artwork is cute yet polished and offers the player lovely visions of traditional architecture, delicious food, and screenshot-worthy outdoor vistas.
One Night, Hot Springs is just as wholesome as its artwork is adorable, and I really enjoyed the story. I was inspired to get the full game, A Year of Springs, and I’m looking forward to playing it soon.