The History of Lewd: X-Change Renewal

We’ve previously covered Crowd’s 1997 visual novel X-Change here on The History of Lewd, and my conclusion last time around was that it was a morally questionable nukige that had some interesting potential, but the majority of that potential was squandered on providing a flimsy excuse to get from one rape scene to another.

With JAST USA’s recent release of the X-Change Renewal Collection, a bundle that contains three X-Change games with remastered graphics (from 2004) and a revamped interface that plays nice with modern machines, I thought it was probably high time I revisited this game — particularly since this new English version promised to be not just a visual remaster, but also an expanded and retranslated edition.

X-Change

After spending some time exploring this new version, I have to confess that I now feel quite a bit more positively about X-Change than I did first time around. It’s still no great artistic masterpiece or anything like that, make no mistake — but it’s a lot better than it was. And that makes it worthy of talking about again, I’d say!

For those unfamiliar or just in need of a reminder, X-Change tells the story of Takuya, a high-schooler who is frequently getting into chemistry-related accidents thanks to his friend Satou. One day, he accidentally spills a chemical on himself while helping to clean up the laboratory, and is rather surprised to discover that a few hours after the incident, he has completely transformed into a girl.

What then follows is perhaps best described as something of a “sex comedy”, since although the core concept of girl-Takuya coming to terms with her new form — and determining whether or not she actually wishes to change back — is the basis for an interesting narrative, this is still an adults-only game at heart. And consequently, there’s a fair amount of unavoidable sexual content along the way.

X-Change Renewal

In the original X-Change, most of this sexual content felt distinctly rapey given the context of its setup; Takuya was continually violated against her will, and by the end of the game it just felt like she was utterly defeated. She seemed to be more putting up with continual sexual assault as a matter of course rather than making any attempt to resist.

While rape fantasies are very much a real thing — and something that can be safely explored so long as they remain strictly within the realm of consensual fantasy — it was a little hard not to find the vast majority of the original X-Change’s sexual content unsatisfying at best, actively unpleasant at worst.

Given the overall tone and presentation of the narrative, I suspect that was not necessarily what developer Crowd was going for. Contrast the cheery, light-hearted setup of X-Change with something like Ring-Out!!, for example, whose narrative setup makes it clear that we’re in for a rough ride from the very outset, and you’ll see what I mean.

X-Change Renewal

I don’t have a comprehensive list of the changes JAST made for the re-translation of X-Change Renewal, but I can say with some confidence that the sexual scenes now feel a bit more… fun? I’m not sure if that’s quite the right word, since there are still a number of sequences in which the question of consent is murky at best, but the newer version does at least feel like it does a better job of positioning girl-Takuya as someone who is genuinely curious about her sexuality and how her body responds to various stimuli.

In fact, this makes sense given the way the narrative proceeds; Takuya has no idea when the transformation is going to wear off — if at all — and early in the story, it is established that at the very least, her friend Satou is working on an antidote in the background. Not only that, some heartfelt scenes with the “childhood friend” character Asuka and some saucy encounters with new character Kate raise questions over whether or not Takuya really wants to change back.

With the inherent “time limit” in mind as well as Takuya’s own questions, it’s understandable that she might want to explore all the possibilities that she would never be able to experience again after turning back into a boy. And that includes getting involved in some relatively extreme sexual situations that she isn’t quite sure if she’s ready for.

X-Change Renewal

There’s obviously a canonical way for the story to go, however, since most of the “bad” endings conclude with a prominent “Game Over” message, even if they do provide a sense of closure in one way or another. And on top of that, the game’s sequel follows on from the “good” ending, in which Takuya returns to normal and gets together with Asuka, anyway.

But the possible other routes the story can go are at least interesting to ponder. Probably the least satisfying in this regard is the one where Takuya models for the (all-male) art club, they rape her immediately after the supervising teacher leaves, and she is so blinded by irrational sexual desire that she refuses to take the antidote that will change her back to being a man.

One of the new endings, based on the new school nurse character, also follows this model, and is equally unsatisfying — particularly with how underdeveloped this new character is on the whole, too.

X-Change Renewal

By contrast, however, the new “good” ending featuring the aforementioned Kate is rather heartwarming, if perhaps a little disrespectful to a character who appears initially to have been set up as an openly homosexual young woman. It’s a little less troublesome if you interpret her as bisexual instead, but her seemingly sudden change in attitude doesn’t quite sit right. It would have worked better if there was at least an option to end up with Kate while Takuya voluntarily stayed as a woman.

But it is what it is, and X-Change is the sort of game where the more you think about it, the more you can pick holes in it. The important takeaway from today should be the fact that X-Change Renewal is absolutely a superior visual novel to its previous version.

While it would have been nice to have a few more options to avoid some of the sexual encounters — Takuya attempting to remain “pure” and keeping only Asuka in mind would have provided an interesting twist on the main narrative — the new translation absolutely does a better job of making X-Change feel a bit less actively unpleasant.

X-Change Renewal

It’s still no great work of art or anything — but it is more enjoyable. And that better experience makes me much more inclined to check out the two sequels, so we’ll do just that very soon!

X-Change Renewal is available now from JAST USA’s online store.

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Pete Davison
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