Just how do you review a game titled Nurse Love Syndrome? Based on the title alone, it’s hard to believe that the game’s anything more than a niche fetish visual novel. The game description doesn’t help either, describing ‘a fantasy Japan’ with ‘a protagonist with healing hands’. But what lies underneath the flashy title is a grounded but encouraging look at Japanese nurse life that had me enthralled the entire way.
Warning: Mild spoilers below.
In fact, many of the small details depicted in this title feel so realistic, it could only have been written by real nurses. Madoka Madoka and Sakura Sakura, the two writers behind the game, draw upon their experiences as former nurses to show the everyday duties of a nurse, the challenges faced, and mull over what it means to take on this caretaking role.
In this game, you play as Kaori Sawai, a fresh nursing school graduate who’s about to enter her first job as a nurse at the local Yurigahama Hospital. Surrounded by other beautiful nurses like the mature and collected Chief Otsuka, the reliable moodmaker Yasuko Yamanouchi, and her beloved high school senpai Nagisa Fujisawa, Kaori is ready to give back and work for an industry that helped her recover after a fearsome car accident in her childhood.
However, while Kaori is earnest, she’s a bit slow on the uptake, something which frustrates her as she deals with the pressure of both her first job as a member of adult society, and the stress of working in a field where the slightest accident could lead to grave consequences.
While Kaori is helped along by her kind colleagues, who are willing to accommodate questions and all the problems that comes from being a newbie, Kaori quickly realizes through various experiences in her first year that she’ll need to discover what sort of nurse she personally wants to be, and use her one asset that is her never-say-die attitude to mature into a fully-fledged nurse, no matter how much pain and crying there is in the process.
Above and beyond being a yuri romance visual novel, Nurse Love Syndrome is best appreciated as a story of growth. It’s an emotionally compelling journey that uses the visual novel storytelling medium to its favor, showing off the entire journey, from the initial period of unease over a new job, to the slight dip you get when you start getting used to the work, to self-contemplation over what it means to work in a field so linked to death – and life.
That isn’t to say that this game is so focused on ideals that it fails to look at the reality of the darker aspects of the industry. Topics addressed in this game include things like hazing and bullying, taking care of mental stress patients feel from just being in a hospital or seeing other patients collapse, how nurses should approach patients, how nurses deal with exercising right to die, and stalking. These topics are addressed on different character routes, becoming the backdrop for more personal struggles between the cast of characters.
For those people coming in from Nurse Love Addiction, the other visual novel by Kogado Studios set in the same universe, this game might come as a bit of a shock in tone. While localized second, Nurse Love Syndrome was the first game developed by Kogado Studios’ Chimarisu team, and the effort put into this game is as clear as day. In fact, it has been stated in an interview with Famitsu that the reason why Nurse Love Addiction has more of a focus on the yuri side, is because they mostly did what they wanted to do with the nurse angle in Syndrome, which speaks testament to how much went into this visual novel.
Finally, you may notice that, well, for a yuri visual novel, I’m not talking about the romance a lot. I’d like to address this in a second playtest, but the point when you go from ‘common’ route to character-specific route feels jarringly clear, and while romance is the premise, the game sold me so much on Kaori’s journey that it was almost disappointing to head back into that niche. There’s no other visual novel I’ve played so far that I’ve burningly felt the need for a ‘common’ route ending or ‘group’ ending than with Nurse Love Syndrome, and I feel like that speaks to the game’s strengths.
Nurse Love Syndrome is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation Vita, and PC via Steam.