H2O: Footprints in the Sand is a Japanese adult visual novel by Makura that was released on June 23, 2006 for the PC as a DVD; a version playable on the PlayStation 2 under the title H2O + followed on April 24, 2008 with adult content removed, but in its place will be additional scenarios and graphics not seen in the original release. H2O is Makura's first game; a sequel named Root After and Another was later produced in October 2007. The gameplay in H2O follows a plot line that offers pre-determined scenarios with courses of interaction, and focuses on the appeal of the three female main characters. There are two modes of gameplay, the Blindness Effect and Normal Effect, where the former plays on the fact that the protagonist is blind, and the latter mode removes the added element of gameplay the Blindness Effect has. The story is broken into three parts: the original introduction and meeting, following by a separation and reunion, and finally ending with the protagonist choosing one of the girls and spending the rest of the game with her.
A manga adaptation, drawn by Japanese artist Kira Inugami, started serialization in the seinen manga magazine Comp Ace on January 26, 2007, published by Kadokawa Shoten. An anime by the animation studio Zexcs began airing in Japan on January 4, 2008 on the Fukui TV television network. The maxi singles containing the game's opening and ending themes were released at Comiket 70 in August 2006. The game's original soundtrack came bundled with the original game as a pre-order bonus. The name H2O comes from the first letter of the three main heroines: Hayami, Hinata, and Otoha. Footprints in the Sand comes from a poem; the first part of this poem appeared in episode one of the anime and the second half in the final episode.
The gameplay requires almost no interaction from the player as nearly the entire duration of the game is spent on simply reading the text that will appear on the screen; this text represents either dialogue between the various characters, or the inner thoughts of the protagonist. A single choice the player makes determines which girl the protagonist chooses. There are three main plot lines that the player will have the chance to experience, one for each of the heroines in the story. To view the three plot lines to their entirety, the player must replay the game multiple times and choose a different choice at the single decision point to further the plot in an alternate direction. In contrast to visual novel adventure games where the text appears near the bottom of the screen leaving the rest of the window open for viewing the game's visual content, the text in H2O appears over the entire screen in a shaded, but otherwise transparent box. However, there is an option to hide the text in order to see the background without obstruction.
The game can be played in two modes, a Blindness Effect Mode or a Normal Effect Mode. The former takes into account that the protagonist is blind, and while he can imagine what the people he talks with look like, he cannot discern the color of the world around him, which renders the artwork in an almost black and white tone, additionally giving it a stylish and dream-like appearance. As gameplay progresses and the protagonist's condition gradually heals, this convention eventually fades away as the protagonist can now see with his own eyes the world around him. The Normal Effect Mode does not use the effect from the Blindness Effect Mode and therefore the visuals are otherwise unchanged from their originally colored state. The two modes can be interchanged at any moment throughout the gameplay.
There are three parts in the gameplay. The first part, entitled the "Past Chapter" (過去編 Kako Hen?) serves to set up the story and for the protagonist to meet and get to know the characters, especially the three heroines. Following the first part, there is a time where the protagonist must leave for several years only to come back in the so-called "Reunion Chapter" (再会編 Saikai Hen?) and meet the girls he knew before who have changed somewhat. After the player chooses one of the girls, the third part in the story called the "After Game" (アトゲー Ato Gee?) concludes the game, which is also where the majority of the erotic content is viewable. The story consists primarily of the first two parts, which are a flashback from the protagonist's point of view. Within this flashback are around fifty smaller flashbacks from the past of the protagonist and the girls'. While the game is intended to be a serious drama, the gameplay is peppered with unrelated bouts of humor, which come with computer graphic artwork of the characters in a humorous situation depicted in a super deformed style. The pacing of the game is rather slow and tends to reuse the same flashback scenes. Additionally, certain flashbacks are viewable no matter which girls' scenario is pursued and these cannot be skipped.
There is an additional "emergency" button that can be activated if the player does not want other people to know they are playing an adult game. This option shows a random piece of artwork unrelated to the game's content out of around one-hundred images. These images are rather bizarre, one such image containing a black and white photograph of a toy horse head with red "blood" splattered around the edge of the image.
The game was first introduced to the public in Japan as an adult game for the PC on June 23, 2006; an artbook came bundled with the game. A version for the PlayStation 2 entitled H2O + with adult content removed was released on April 24, 2008 by Kadokawa Shoten. The PS2 version contains new computer graphics and scenarios not seen in the original release.
H2O's story revolves around Takuma Hirose, a blind young male junior-high school student, though the cause for his blindness is undetermined. After his mother died an unexpected death, it left a deep emotional scar on him, which caused him to become very lonely and reserved. Due to this, Takuma and his uncle move from the city out into a rural area and Takuma is enrolled into a new junior-high school. At his new school, he meets several new girls, though three of whom he gets to know the most out of anyone else. They are, the firm and obstinate Hayami Kohinata, the kind and obliging Hinata Kagura, and the cheerful and mysterious Otoha. As Takuma interacts with these girls, his medical condition gradually begins to heal.
- Takuma Hirose (弘瀬 琢磨 Hirose Takuma?)
- Voiced by: Ami Koshimizu (anime)
- Takuma is the main protagonist of the story. He has a moderately quiet personality partly because he suffers from blindness and for his condition, he carries around a white cane he named "Tomodachi sa" (友田千紗?), a pun on the word tomodachi (友達?, "friend"). His mother committed suicide, which left a deep emotional scar on Takuma. To rectify this, he moves to the countryside to live with his uncle. Takuma is naturally friendly and likes to befriend everyone he meets in his new town. There is a rift between the rich and the poor, with Takuma being on the former end of the divide.
- Hayami Kohinata (小日向 はやみ Kohinata Hayami?)
- Voiced by: Harumi Sakurai
- Hayami is a girl in Takuma's class who sits next to him. She has an unsociable personality and a sharp attitude towards others, not wanting to become friends. Hotaru is Hayami's best friend. Due to this, she is often bullied and is referred to by her schoolmates as the "cockroach" (ゴキブリ gokiburi?), but for some reason she does not fight back when being bullied. She has an intense fear of spiders. She is poor and lives alone. Even though she owns a bathing suit, she will not participate in swimming classes because she is poor at it. Hayami's family was rich once because her parents are doctors. Since they charged high prices in medical examinations and were unwilling to take any patients in without the fees, the village people revolted against them, burned their house and kicked them out of the village with the exception of Hayami.
- Hinata Kagura (神楽 ひなた Kagura Hinata?)
- Voiced by: Ryōko Tanaka
- Hinata is the granddaughter of the village headman, and is one of the rich members of town. She is in Takuma's class and is the council president for her class. She has a kind of obliging personality, and is popular in her school. She tends to fall down and be clumsy, and once she even fell down a flight of stairs at school, though luckily Takuma was there to break her fall. She refers to Takuma as "Hirose-sama", a very polite form of expression. Her real name is actually Hotaru Kagura (神楽 ほたる Kagura Hotaru?), the younger sister to Hinata — known as Otoha by Takuma. When Hinata drowned, her grandfather forced Hotaru to become Hinata, and made the village people think that it was Hotaru that drowned.
- Otoha (音羽?)
- Voiced by: Mia Naruse
- Otoha appears to be a normal girl, but she is in fact a spirit, and only Takuma can hear or see her. She is always cheerful, and will appear out of no where, clinging suddenly to Takuma. She refers to herself with the masculine pronoun boku (僕?), meaning "I". She refers to Takuma as the "Promised Person" (約束の人 Yakusoku no Hito?). It is revealed that Otoha is the real Hinata Kagura who fell into a river and drowned. She took the name Otoha from Hotaru's picture book that she drew herself. Otoha shows Takuma a strange world before disappearing, in this world she is his fiancé. Just before she disappears, she confesses her love for him but says that she is not the one he belongs with.
- Yui Tabata (田端 ゆい Tabata Yui?)
- Voiced by: Mio Yasuda
- Yui is a girl in Takuma's class. She has a self-aggrandizing personality and always has two male henchmen tagging along. She often calls Hayami a "cockroach" and along with her henchmen will bully Hayami relentlessly, and while she gets along with Takuma, she likes to tease Hinata. She is very rich and often uses formal speech so as to distinguish herself from the "commoners". She was given a scenario in H2O's sequel Root After and Another. Yui's grandfather died because Hayami's parents would not give him a medical examination without the fees since they were poor back then. This led to the village's revolt against the Kohinata family, and Yui's hatred for Hayami. However, she does show concern for Hayami and saves her in episode eleven of the anime from being killed by one of her henchmen.
- Hamaji Yakumo (八雲 はまじ Yakumo Hamaji?)
- Voiced by: Yui Sakakibara
- Hamaji is one of Takuma's classmates. Despite his feminine appearance and voice, he is in fact a boy who crossdresses like a girl. He has an optimistic personality, and likes to play innocent when he plays bad jokes on others. He seems to favor Takuma. He has a little sister named Yukiji (雪路?), and his family owns a convenience store. In the epilogue of the story, he has a child with Maki, who was his best friend in the series. Maki is seen holding the child at the Kagura household, who could have been mistaken to be Takuma's child due to the hairstyle, but the hair color belongs to Hamaji, therefore, making him the father.
- Rin Misakura (御桜 稟 Misakura Rin?)
- Voiced by: Rui Takagi
- Rin, like Takuma, is an exchange student from the city. She has a kind and gentle personality, and is a hard worker, but is rather clumsy. Rin is the main heroine in Makura's third game Sakura no Uta.
A manga adaptation began serialization in the seinen manga magazine Comp Ace on January 26, 2007, published by Kadokawa Shoten. The story was based on the visual novel version that preceded it, and illustrated by Kira Inugami. The first bound volume was released on December 26, 2007, and the second was released on March 26, 2008.
An anime adaptation by the animation studio Zexcs began airing in Japan on January 4, 2008 on the Fukui TV television network, and is directed by Hideki Tachibana; the final twelfth episode aired on March 21, 2008. A preview video was streamed on Kadokawa Shoten's official website for their magazine Newtype on December 19, 2007. Most notably, the video contains an English narration, a rarity for Japanese trailers. The first episode of the series was previewed on December 23, 2007 in Akihabara, Japan, and the final episode was previewed on March 20, 2008, in Machida, Japan. The first episode opens with a partial recitation of the poem "Footprints", and the end of the poem is recited in the second half of the final episode. The anime has been licensed for release in English by Kadokawa USA.
The game's opening theme is "H2O" and the ending theme is "Tomorrow", both sung by Monet. The maxi singles for the opening and ending themes were released at Comiket 70 on August 12, 2006. Two more theme songs used in the game were "Dream" and "Footprints in the Sand", also both sung by Monet. A character song album for Otoha entitled Otoha's Ghostly Bon Festival Dance (音羽の死霊の盆踊り Otoha no Shirei no Bon Odori?), sung by Mia Naruse, was released on October 22, 2006 at the DreamParty Tokyo convention. An arrange maxi single titled H2O: Prelude containing arranged versions of "H2O" and "Tomorrow", was released on December 21, 2007. The game's original soundtrack came bundled with the original game as a pre-order bonus. The opening theme for the anime version is "One-winged Icarus" (片翼のイカロス Katayoku no Ikarosu?) by Yui Sakakibara and the maxi single was released on January 25, 2008. The ending theme for the anime is "Kazahane" (カザハネ?) by Haruka Shimotsuki and the single was released on February 22, 2008. "Footprints in the Sand" by Monet is the ending theme in the anime's final episode.
Across the national ranking of bishōjo games in amount sold in Japan, H2O premiered at number two, and ranked in again the following ranking at number thirteen. H2O was the second highest selling game for the month of June 2006 on Getchu.com, just behind Summer Days, and for the first half of 2006 was the fourteenth highest selling game on the same website. H2O dropped to the twenty-fifth highest selling game on Getchu.com for the entire year of 2006.
- "An example image of the super deformed artwork in the gameplay". Retrieved 2007-11-13.
- "An example image from the emergency button option in the gameplay". Retrieved 2007-11-13.
- "Preview of the art book's contents at H2O's official website" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2007-11-13.
- "Regista's H2O + official website" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2007-11-11.
- "PS2 differences at H2O +'s official website" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2007-11-12.
- "H2O: Footprints in the Sand Trailer Streamed". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
- "H2O preview video streamed online" (in Japanese). Kadokawa Shoten. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
- "Anime's official website" (in Japanese). Zexcs. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
- "Shocking Last Installment World Preview: H2O Final Episode Pre-screening Event" (in Japanese). MediaWorks. March 7, 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
- "Kadokawa USA Announces Six New Licenses". Anime News Network. 2008-07-06. Retrieved 2008-07-06.
- "PC News ranking for bishōjo games; H2O ranks 2 and 13" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2007-11-15.
- "Highest selling games of June 2006 on Getchu.com ranking" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2007-11-15.
- "Highest selling games of the first half of 2006 on Getchu.com ranking" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2007-11-15.
- "Highest selling games of 2006 on Getchu.com ranking" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2007-11-15.
- Official visual novel website (Japanese)
- Regista's H2O + website (Japanese)
- Anime official website (Japanese)
- H2O: Footprints in the Sand (anime) at Anime News Network's Encyclopedia