From the Archives: It’s Not What It Looks Like

The discerning visual novel fan who decides to “go public” with his or her love for the medium faces a challenge that you tend not to encounter in the more “mainstream” parts of gaming — the gaming equivalent of the “I read it for the articles” conversation.

Allow me to share an actual exchange I had on Steam when I first fired up my copy of Private Nurse, an excellent visual novel from AngelSmile that we’ll get on to in just a moment. (Full names have been removed to protect the unenlightened. And yes, I deliberately add all the VNs I play to Steam specifically to provoke conversations like this.)

A: Private Nurse? What is that, some Japanese nurse fetish thing?
me: Yes, it is Japanese 🙂 It’s a visual novel.
A: OMG I KNEW IT
A: nuuuuuuuuurrrrrse feeeeeetiiiiiiiish

This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2012 as part of the site’s regular READ.ME column on visual novels. It has been republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

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As anyone who has played Private Nurse will attest, describing it as a “nurse fetish” title is about as far from the truth as you can possibly get — but at the same time I appreciate that the name sounds, well, “a bit porny,” to say the least.

The marketing spiel doesn’t really help, either, making allusions as it does to the main character turning the titular nurse into his “private sexual teacher” — a statement which is just flat-out inaccurate, though, yes, there is sexual content as part of the narrative.

But I digress — there’s likely a whole column in that particular discussion. We’ll save that for another time when we can delve a little deeper into the reasons that these games are marketed like this, though, because it’s certainly not just a Western issue, as the nudity-encrusted back cover of Casual Romance Club (discussed last week) will attest!

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Private Nurse, then.

Private Nurse is, at heart, an introspective story that concentrates almost entirely on its protagonist. This fact alone sets it somewhat apart from more typical ren’ai/romance visual novels in that the focal point of the narrative is not the girl you’ve chosen to try and date — indeed, it’s not even obvious at first glance that there are different “routes” to take in the game — but instead the development of the protagonist Hiroki and his attitude towards the small cast.

In this sense, it has a certain amount in common with 4 Leaf Studios’ excellent Katawa Shoujo, though even that followed the standard “multiple routes” ren’ai template despite featuring a strong degree of introspection on the part of its player character Hisao.

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Hiroki is sick. Or he might not be. It’s never made explicit exactly what he is suffering from, just that he is suffering. Sometimes it manifests itself as physical symptoms or pain; at other times, it is simply a general sense of lethargy and worthlessness.

He practically lives by himself, as his father is dead and his mother is always away on business. He is somewhat bitter and twisted at the beginning of the game, bearing considerable ill-will towards his mother (whom he refers to as “the hag”) and having something of a tense relationship with his childhood friend Ayano who, as these things tend to go, comes over to wake him up every morning.

His school life is crippled by his condition — he often ditches classes in the middle of the day to just go and rest in the school nurse Mio’s office, and it is fairly apparent that not only is his life going nowhere, but that he is fully aware of this fact and unwilling to do anything about it.

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Enter Maria, the titular “private nurse,” apparently hired by his mother to take care of him while she is absent.

Maria sweeps into Hiroki’s life like a summer breeze, shaking up his routines, making him get up early, eat properly and go for walks in nature.

Hiroki initially resents Maria’s interference, saying he will throw her out after a week if he decides he doesn’t need her help but — mild spoiler, I guess — he ends up letting her stay for the full month she is contracted for, during which time Hiroki starts to come to terms with his condition and how to deal with it.

Eventually, the ending of the story is determined by who, indirectly, Hiroki attributes his recovery to — Maria, Ayano or Mio. It’s not a simple matter of “picking” one of the three, however — the choices that you make over the course of the complete narrative help shape Hiroki’s attitude towards the three women; what, if anything, they have done for him; and his attitude towards himself.

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The nice thing about Private Nurse is that it doesn’t make everything completely explicit. It becomes apparent very quickly that there is something peculiar about Maria, for example, but the specifics of who she is never get completely explained — a lot is left up to interpretation and imagination, even as her particular ending takes something of a turn for the odd as it progresses towards its conclusion.

Similarly, Hiroki’s actual condition is never named — we just know that he has been suffering for years. Is it a chronic physical condition of some description? Or is he suffering from severe depression? It could be taken either way — he certainly suffers from physical problems as a result of his condition, but whether or not they are psychosomatic as a result of poor mental health or a symptom of an underlying physical problem is left largely up to the player’s interpretation.

I like this. We talked about “takeaway” from games and visual novels as a reason for playing them a few weeks back, and there are few better ways to get you taking something away from an experience than leaving a few tantalizing unanswered questions for you to figure out for yourselves.

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It’s always a genuine pleasure to come across a game whose narrative actually makes you think, and Private Nurse delivers on that note in absolute spades. It’s a very personal, affecting tale that will likely hold some relevance and resonance to at least a few people reading this right now — and speaking for myself, as someone who has struggled with issues of depression and self-worth in the past, I certainly felt for Hiroki at a number of points throughout the narrative, and found the whole tale rather thought-provoking.

As you’ve probably surmised from this description, then, Private Nurse is a rather sedate, slow-paced and introspective experience that probably won’t be to everyone’s taste. But if what you’re in the mood for is something that will make you think and quite possibly re-examine your own life rather closely, you’re looking in the right place.

If, on the other hand, what you’re in the mood for is Japanese nurse fetish porn, however, then… well, I think that’s a little beyond the scope of this column!


This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2012 as part of the site’s regular READ.ME column on visual novels. It has been republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

If you enjoyed this article and want to see more like it, please consider showing your social support with likes, shares and comments, or financial support via my Patreon. Thank you!

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