So far on The History of Lewd, we’ve seen a number of games that straddle the line between the definitions of eroge and nukige. To remind you, eroge typically refers to a game where the narrative is the main focus and erotic content is included as part of the whole experience, while nukige is a term typically used to refer to games where the sexual side of things is at the forefront.
The game we’re looking at today, Foster’s 1994 title Paradise Heights (also known as Koko wa Rakuensou), definitely veers more towards the “nukige” side of things, with some extremely frequent sex scenes. But it’s interesting to note that as with many nukige, particularly those from the mid-to-late ’90s, that the game is far from just context-free erotic encounters; there’s still an overarching narrative, and there are still distinct characters who you’ll get to know over the course of its short runtime.
In Paradise Heights, our hero is Keigo, nephew of the man who owns the titular apartment block. As the story begins, Keigo has just started his new job as the caretaker for Paradise Heights, and over the course of several in-game days he gets to know the other tenants — all of whom are female.
As things progress, there is something of a mystery to get to the bottom of — but everyone lives happily ever after, since despite Paradise Heights being yet another ’90s visual novel featuring the trappings of adventure games, it features a completely linear narrative with no choices to make and no bad endings. Indeed, there are a number of cases throughout the game where you’re presented with “fake” options for the illusion of choice; this always feels like developers trying their hardest to justify describing the experience as a “game” rather than, say, a visual novel as a distinct medium in its own right.
Modern visual novel developers have absolutely no problem with completely non-interactive stories, of course — the term “kinetic novel” was coined specifically to describe them, in fact, and there are numerous examples of kinetic novels that went on to be runaway successes, such as the Nekopara series. But at this point in gaming history, both players and developers still had certain expectations as to what a “game” should include.
Which is kind of interesting, when you think about it, because the overall setup and structure of Paradise Heights is pretty much unlike any other game that was around at the time. More “conventional” games of the era prided themselves in taking you on fantastical journeys to other worlds, or allowing you to fulfil dreams of flight, driving fast cars or space exploration. Paradise Heights, meanwhile, unfolds entirely on two floors of a seemingly rather mundane apartment complex — and as such no amount of adventure game-style “choose your next move” options was ever going to fool anyone.
Paradise Heights’ narrative moves along at a brisk pace, with Keigo’s interactions with the various residents of the apartment block tending to lead to various sexual encounters. And the game takes great care to cover a variety of situations over its runtime — we have vanilla sex; urgent, drunken sex; anal sex; peeping on lesbians; a threesome with aforementioned lesbians; masturbation; a bit of light bondage; a bit of light watersports; even the fantasy of rescuing someone from potential rape, only to be rewarded with, you guessed it, sex.
One thing that is quite interesting when looking at Paradise Heights from a modern perspective is how relatively “understated” the sex scenes are. They’re explicit, for sure, both in terms of the visuals used and the narration and dialogue throughout — but they’re also surprisingly short, and while the voice actors do a good job of appearing to enjoy themselves, there’s none of the “wild, incoherent screaming in passionate ecstasy for five text boxes straight” we get in a lot of modern eroge and nukige. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course; it’s just an interesting contrast in how different eras approached this sort of thing.
On paper, everything that goes on in Paradise Heights seems completely ridiculous and implausible; the game makes no attempt to hide the fact that it’s a thinly veiled excuse for the aforementioned banquet of erotic scenes. But for many people, experiencing the game in the moment will give a distinct sense that it’s at least a little more than just the sum of its parts. The characters are likeable and feel like they’re more than just fetish-bait or sex objects; the narrative has a sense of structure and progression, and the whole thing comes to a satisfying — if slightly silly — conclusion.
I remember feeling this way back when I played Otaku Publishing’s localised version of Paradise Heights for the first time back in the late ’90s. Even as someone in my late teens at the time, I found the contrast between western pornography — which at the time featured either cheesy, completely unconvincing storylines, or context-free “gonzo” action — and what I was coming to understand as “hentai games” to be thoroughly fascinating and compelling.
I vividly remember the exact thought “wow, the Japanese make that much effort with their porn?” running through my head at the time, and I still find it an interesting thing to contemplate when I return to titles like Paradise Heights today. Because although the eroticism of something like Paradise Heights cannot — and should not — be denied, you have to admit that there are far easier ways to enjoy a bit of sexual gratification for yourself than sitting through a 2-3 hour visual novel, only some of which features naked people. And this was true even back in 1994!
Which begs the question, then — what, exactly, are these sorts of games really “for”? Who are they for? Why do they exist? And why have they persisted as a form of creative expression for this long?
The simple answer is that they’re for entertainment; to enrich our lives in some way. They fuel our fantasies, they spark our imaginations — they might even inspire us in some way. There doesn’t have to be a reason any more complex than that; sometimes you just want to sit down and enjoy some time immersing yourself in a simple, straightforward fantasy of a guy who works in an apartment block and gets laid a lot.
Games like this are a great way of exploring and understanding fantasies — and of doing so in a way that doesn’t cause anyone (including yourself) any kind of hurt or embarrassment. From that perspective, they’re valuable and important.
Are they high art or fantastic works of creativity that should be on “required reading” lists the world over? Of course not. But not everything needs to fall into those categories. Sometimes it’s just about having a bit of simple, lewd fun for an hour or two, and then going about your business. And Paradise Heights certainly delivers on that front.
Like most ’90s visual novels, Paradise Heights is no longer commercially available, and you’d likely have trouble running it on a modern system anyway. Thankfully, the wonderful people at the Asenheim Project have preserved the experience and made it playable on the Web — click here to try it for yourself for free.
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