I was 21 years old the first time I heard the word "soapland" and upon finding out exactly what one was, I reacted with confusion and disbelief. The concept just seemed too absurd to be true. But really, it shouldn't have. After all, one of the best-selling and most renowned video games of all time introduced me to soaplands back when I was but a middle schooler—even if I didn't know it at the time. The year was 1997. The game: Final Fantasy VII.
Within the first few hours of Final Fantasy VII, Cloud Strife finds his friend Tifa kidnapped and about to be turned into a sex slave by mob boss Don Corneo. The only way to rescue her? Crossdress and get "invited" to Don Corneo's mansion himself. This quest leads you from a dress shop to a gym collecting the items you'll need for your new look. And then you come to a soapland, "Honey Bee Inn."
As a soapland, the Honey Bee Inn is set up much like a hostess club—though instead of conversation, drinking, and karaoke you have wild amounts of sex. To avoid being called prostitution (which is of course illegal in Japan), these clubs are ostensibly bath houses where you are washed by the naked woman of your choice. And if the two of you happen to fall madly in love over the course of your very expensive bath, isn't it lucky there's a bed right there in the bathroom!
It could be said that the Honey Bee Inn isn't exactly your normal soapland as Cloud finds out after he ends up in a bathtub with no less than nine muscular men. While in the club proper, Cloud can peep through the keyholes of occupied rooms, get some makeup applied, and finally choose a room ("group" or "single") for himself. Comedy ensues.
As originally planned, the Honey Bee Inn had many more of the trappings of an upscale soapland. According to dummied content found on the discs of Final Fantasy VII's first Japanese printing, Cloud was originally supposed to come into a reception room upon entering. Here a large screen broadcasts inviting messages from the various girls along with the lengths of bath times they offer. Cloud also encounters Palmer, head of the Shinra company's space program, coming out of one of his regular "bath sessions."
Also cut from the game was a typical looking waiting room filled with snacks and TV for you to hang out in while your bath is being prepared. In this room, you even meet a man who is sure that Tifa is in fact the newest "bee" working at the inn. He has also stolen her panties from her clothesline (though apparently no one ever told him that Tifa shares her home with a four-year-old girl). There's also a shabby employee's room where you can chat with a disenchanted club bouncer during his break.