Mystic Messenger Game Review
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Mystic Messenger Game Review

What I really like and dislike from this year's most popular dating simulator.

Mystic Messenger Game Review

Mobile games are becoming more and more popular as countless apps are downloaded mainly for entertainment purposes. Some of these games have become household items: Candy Crush, Temple Run, Angry Birds, Pokemon Go -- the list goes on and on. New technology has made gaming more interactive and engaging. New gaming concepts and styles have been introduced. Although Pokemon Go mostly captured the spotlight and overshadowed many other interesting games released this year, one lesser known gaming app has caught my attention. Oddly enough, it wasn’t a puzzle game or one that required me to walk around -- it was a dating simulation game.

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Dating simulation games, or dating sims, are widely popular in Asia, especially among females. It’s one of the biggest genres of Otome (games geared toward female market) known and often played by many teenagers and young adults. The goal of all dating games is straightforward: establish a relationship with a character in the game through flirting, gift giving, interactions and other ways a typical person would do when trying to get a date in real life. These games can range from simplistic plot lines to complex stories. A variety of genres are made based on different tastes. Some games are sweet and innocent -- others can be more not so sweet and mature.

Most of these games, however, are based on the assumption that the player and the characters are heterosexual and heteromantic (Asia tends to be very conservative on topics involving the LGBTQ+ community). Characters vary in personalities you can choose from and tend to be stock characters: innocent and childlike, arrogant celebrity or from royalty, silent gentleman, awkward and unpopular but ends up being popular, class clown, bully or rival secretly in love and many more.

I never thought I would enjoy playing dating simulators. I’ve seen a few of my friends gushing over cute characters in their own game, but I never really felt like taking the time to actually play.

That is, until I picked up Mystic Messenger, or 수상한메신저 (literally Mysterious Messenger).

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Mystic Messenger, developed by Cheritz, a Korean company known for creating Otome games, is a dating simulation where the player's goal is to establish a romantic relationship with one of the five given characters. It’s the first game Cheritz created on a mobile platform, and over a million players have downloaded the game since. Mystic Messenger’s concept and plotline is quite unique. You, as the main character, decided to download a Messenger app and end up in a private chat room made up of the five characters you have a chance to interact with. Eventually, you and the character you interact with the most will “develop” a relationship before meeting each other in person. Characters include aspiring star Zen, billionaire director and heir Jumin, his assistant Jaehee and mysterious yet comical 707 and game addicted college student Yoosung.

The game was a free download with in-app purchases, but the size of the game itself is rather huge: 357 megabytes to be exact (and sometimes more data needs to be downloaded to continue playing the game). Updates to the game tend to be weekly. It seems like a typical dating game about day to day life involving a messenger app similar to Facebook Messenger and our own phones. It will even sync up to your phone’s time and your time zone. As I wondered what could be in a simple dating game that can take up so much space, I decided to watch the game’s trailer and see the preview screenshots from the Google Play store. I was already blown away by the animation and detail that both the screenshots and trailer showed. From my experience with video games, however, most games will have excellent graphics shown as a preview but the actual game is nothing compared to it. The pictures appeared rather colorful and the drawings have a similar style to Japanese animation, but the character names and the song lyrics were Korean.

Once I opened the app and saw Cheritz’s logo, I was brought to a start screen that showed one of the potential characters smiling with open arms, chips flying everywhere. He appeared to be in space. The instrumental version of the song in the trailers played in the background. The screen was oddly cute; especially with a quote of the character saying he wanted to get married in a space station. While the game loaded, tips to play the game appeared on the screen. Some of the tips were reminders of how the game was played while others were random facts about the characters. A login screen appears that requires an email and password. An account is needed to be made in order to save the game progress, but there is an option to play as a guest. Once logged in, you have the option of choosing five default avatars (four different women and a drawing of a unicorn) or to upload your own picture. You can choose a username to be used in the chat, though emojis and special characters can’t be shown.

The background music changed and had a rather jazzy tune to it. The screen changed to a desk that had four items on them: a book labeled original story, a pocket watch that said load, a floppy disk that says after ending and your “phone” that says "Extra." Everything except for the book has a lock on it. I was given two options as I clicked onto the book: casual story and deep story. I realized that casual story gives the option of choosing three of the five characters while the deep one gives the remaining two. I had no choice but to start with the casual story since the deep story is locked as well. The game gives an option to play the same trailer video in a higher quality, lower quality or simply to skip it. After the video, a chat room appeared. The background of the chat had lines of code, and I was having a conversation with a person named “Unknown.”

The person began to talk about how he found a phone and had asked you to come to a location to pick it up. What I thought would be a sweet and innocent game changed into something more mysterious. The game had sets of responses to Unknown that would be used as text messages to respond. Although I tried to refuse (because stranger danger), the game eventually made me choose to go to the location. The location was an apartment, and upon entering the apartment, the game suddenly “crashed.” Lines of code scrolled down my phone screen and a AOL signal nearly pierced my ears.

Just when I thought the game was going haywire, another chat appeared. This time, the characters were holding a conversation with one another before noticing me.They were brought together as members of a charity group called “Rika’s Fundraising Association.” Rika and V, the founders of the group, organized parties where affluent and diverse guests attended and donated proceeds go to local charities. The group has not done any recent parties since Rika’s apparent passing and V’s constant absence. Once I arrived on the scene, plans for the party has gone underway. I was in charge of inviting guests via email as a side task while trying to hook up with one of the characters.

Since the game’s style involves interacting with characters by text messages, calls and attending chat rooms, there is no actual “face-to-face” interactions -- at least for the casual stories. Responses are always based on options the game gives to you. The same goes with emails. In order to convince guests to attend the party, you have to try to get on their good side -- by that, you have to do proper responses. Some of the responses can be real-life facts while others are simply based on the guests' interest. The potential guests come from suggestions either of the five characters will bring up in the group chats.

Once you respond to the guests three times with correct answers, they officially attend the charity party. All the possible endings are not only based on how you interact with the characters, but also how many guests you manage to convince to attend the party. Though the game shows that you have 11 days to invite as many people as possible while responding to calls, text messages, group chats and trying to gain more “love points” for a certain character, it seems doable.

The game, after a few days, will eventually put you on a path of being an interest for a character you seem to please the most. Each character has a total of four potential endings: three bad, one normal and one good. An after-ending is unlocked after obtaining a good ending. There are also secret endings that revolve around the founders of the charity group.

References in the game are abundant. Most of the references are simply knock-offs of its actual real counterpart. For example, a game mentioned in the group chats called League of Loneliness of Life references the actual game League of Legends. A popular chip brand in Korea called Honey Buttered Chips is renamed as Honey Buddha Chips. This play on names and many other things created a rather casual yet fun atmosphere every time you open the game.

Let’s start off with the technical stuff.

The size of the game is to compensate the amount of detail put into the game. As a messenger app, the design strives to have the functions of a typical messenger app like Facebook. Characters not only typed messages, but also sent photos and called one another. Each one has their own profile picture and status that update every now and then. Although text messages cannot be sent whenever, and you are only able to respond when a character sends you a text, you have the ability to call the characters any time. Some may respond, while others will have a personalized voice message played instead. With calls, not only texts of their voices are displayed on the screen, but you can also hear their voices. The game tips recommend putting your mobile device against your ear as if you are actually calling them. Character voices are not just exclusive to calls. The personalized emojis of themselves used in the group chats also have their voices used with it.

When you go deeper into the game, a visual novel sequence is shown. With the visual novel, you get to see the situation of the character outside of the chat.

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In many cases, you can also hear their voices. Each voice is rather unique and done by known voice actors in Korea. According to Cheritz, a total of 60 hours worth of voice audio is recorded for the game. Countless of pictures and graphics for the chats, visual novel sequences and even the characters’ statuses are available as well. The chats sent on the group chats use a variety of font types, sizes,and different bubbles to emphasize an emotion. I do like how cute it looks, but it gives off a more unorganized appearance to it. Still, the game has a casual kind of feel to it that I do enjoy.

Because Cheritz is a Korean company, all the audio and texts are originally in Korean. The game version available outside of Korea is translated into English. I was very iffy about playing the game because of this reason, since anything translated into another language means certain meanings and references will be lost in translation. Though the translators have done a good job trying to translate the texts from Korean to English, there are some typos and grammatical errors that cannot be missed. It goes as far as misgendering a minor character and spelling other characters' names incorrectly. Although the texts are in English, the voices are still Korean. That’s a choice I’m glad they made, as it avoids more words being lost in translation. It did not really ruin the whole experience. I find it slightly beneficial for those who want to learn Korean, as the texts can be used as subtitles when answering the characters’ calls or seeing the visual novel sequence.

A currency system is used in a game, and I figured out that was where the in-app purchases were. These two currencies are hourglasses and heart points. Hourglasses are used to make phone calls, attend missed chats, unlock after endings and deep story and other game purchases. Although they occasionally pop up during group chats, and the occasional freebie from the Honey Buddha Chips at the bottom of the screen offers them, they are difficult to obtain for free. Everyone gets 30 to start with, but it later shows that it’s not enough if you missed a lot of group chats or want to make a call. The only way, besides the two ways mentioned, is to exchange the heart points for some hourglasses. Heart points are obtained when you give a correct response that pleases a character. Hearts can be lost if responses are incorrect, and 100 of them can only be exchanged for one hourglass. Because they are so rare, my friends have told me to use them sparingly -- unless I am willing to purchase them by actual money.

There’s a possibility of “missing” your group chats because the game follows you in real time. In order to play the game successfully, you have to attend at least 50 percent of the chats per day -- especially for the first few days. The purpose of this is to not only gather as many potential guests as possible. but also allows the game to calibrate which character “fits” you the most. The algorithm is based on which character you received the most heart points from and whether your responses pleases them the most. Though you can go through the chats you’ve missed, you don’t have the opportunity to up your chances of getting a certain character. Hourglasses make it possible to not only reopen the chat again -- as if you never missed it -- but also to unlock all the chats that will happen later in the day.

Trying to attend chats without having to use your hourglasses is quite difficult. Because it follows your time zone, group chats notify that they are open as early as 1 am and continue on every one to two hours. On top of that, Wi-Fi is needed to play, save and update the game. Even with no internet access, your mobile device will still notify you for emails, texts, calls and available group chats. Those who use data will realize that the game, just like Pokemon Go, will drain your phone pretty quickly. Even though the characters in the game often advise you about getting enough sleep and eating well, they don’t seem to allow you to do the former. Often, the early morning chats are simply them talking about their inability to sleep and any strange thoughts they have. Missing a chat will also result in missing a call from a character.

Although most of the chats may not actually contribute much to the game plot, some may have potential guests. Since the only way to get guests is to have the characters suggest them and you respond with asking for their email, the chances of not getting enough guests for the party becomes greater. It’s also important to keep in mind that you have 11 days to do all of this.

If there is one thing that all Mystic Messenger players are most irritated about, it is the bugs. The bugs go beyond grammatical and spelling errors, and range from shaky graphics to replying to emails already replied previously. The game updates weekly to fix these bugs in the game. I understand that Cheritz is a small company and Mystic Messenger is their first mobile game. Yet, according to the bug report application, it takes between three to five business days to address the bug. Report applications are sent every 30 seconds. I wondered why Cheritz decided to take on such a huge load when they knew it will be impossible to make an immaculate game. Cheritz’s update adds more data storage to the game and requires an update in order to continue playing. Luckily, the company is generous enough to offer free hourglasses after each update as a way to compensate.

The controls are rather simple. A tap is all that is needed to respond, take calls or even control the speed of the responses of the group chat. There are no mini games or other controls. Contact or help buttons are available and accessible. The game settings can change ringtones, notification sounds, and save a game or load a previous one. I’m quite impressed with the detail into it. It would have been a lot nicer if we could input our own responses, but it’s the closest thing we can really get to artificial intelligence for a game. I do wish my sleep did not have to be compromised (poor college student after all) but I understand the choice of making the chat be in actual time and unable to pause or postpone the time. It adds a bit of reality to it.

Now let’s get onto the story and characters. This is where I’m going to put on a spoiler warning.

As I mentioned earlier, I was surprised at how mysterious and kind of scary the game actually is. According to my friends, if I play the game five times and each time I choose a character in a certain order, I would see the whole plot. The order goes as following: Zen, Jaehee, Yoosung, Jumin and 707. It sort of explained why deep story is locked when I first started playing the game. The characters appear to be typical tropes in any dating game. Zen is the attractive minor celebrity who seems to be narcissistic and flirtatious towards you right away. Jaehee, the only female in the game, is the hard-working and stressed out chief assistant who works under Jumin. Yoosung is a adorable college student who is addicted to a game called League of Loneliness of Life. Jumin is the director and heir of his father’s wealthy company and quite arrogant towards others. 707 is a funny, slightly confusing hacker who goes by his baptismal name Luciel, but is actually named Saeyoung.

Their interactions are quite entertaining, as Zen and Jumin always argue with one another, 707 often takes advantage of Yoosung’s naive personality, and Jaehee complains about having to care for Jumin’s cat. Minor characters like V, a photographer that’s often absent; and Rika, his financee. Unknown also makes an appearance and turned out to be Saeyoung’s long lost twin brother Saeran.

As you play each round with a different character, some secrets and situations come up -- some not as simple as romance problems. The game starts to show these characters going through problems that all of us have gone through in life -- proving ourselves despite discouragement, following dreams that can fail, coping through the death of a loved one, fearing that we will lose those we love soon and enduring pain silently to protect our friends and families.

As you go through Yoosung, Jumin, and Saeyoung’s route, the identity of Saeran is revealed. The secret endings, which involve V and Rika, reveal what truly happens behind the scenes. Rika, who V said committed suicide, was actually alive and a founder of a growing cult with questionable motives. V hides this fact from the charity group to protect them from the cult’s “dictatorship” methods by lying to the characters. He remains with her even after their relationship becomes unhealthy and resulted in him being rejected by the charity group and eventually killed by Saeran or committing suicide.

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Although the story is told through text messages, calls and visual novel sequences, it unravels the plot in an unusual but effective way. While text messages, calls and chats give a more first person point of view, the game has a way to switch to a more third person perspective with the visual novel sequence. This gives the plot a unique way of revealing the story line and has a sort of dramatic irony towards it. Each character has their own style of texting, though all of them look down on typos, and their styles match with their personalities. The five potential interests, despite similar tropes used, are rather unique in their own way.

All of them have traits that make them appear to be likable, but will show their true feelings and personalities once you warm up to them-- just like becoming close to someone in real life. Some of them even break the fourth wall to give you a more interactive experience. Often times, these jabs include questioning your decision to download the app, pointing out bugs in the game and even letting you tell the character that the whole thing is just a game.

There are some criticisms I do have about the game. The characters are presumed to be heterosexual -- and the game assumes that you are a female (even Jaehee, despite many fans say otherwise, will consider you only as a female friend). 707 is considered an exception, as he is accepted to be bisexual or pansexual, as well as an enthusiastic cross-dresser. However, as Korea is a conservative country when it comes to sexuality, the game treats non-heteronormative actions as comical deviancy. There are points in the game where Jumin’s sexuality is questioned for humor purposes and some of the response options for group chats are actually homophobic.

How the game handles mental illness is also one of its shortfalls. One character experiences depression and anxiety while another suffers from severe abuse and trauma. The game shows how Rika's mental illness has twisted her into creating the cult and hurting those around her. It doesn’t give a good message to those who also suffer from the same mental illness-- as it implies that those who have mental illnesses will turn evil. With Saeran, the stigma of seeking medical treatment for mental illness is seen in another secret ending. Saeyoung refuses to have his brother treated even though Saeran has experiences not only parental abuse but also severe brainwashing from Rika’s cult. It follows that Korea’s opinions on these matters differ from ours, but it’s still a sensitive topic regardless.

Despite all this, the one thing I really noticed from this game is how to get the character to fall in love and win the game -- and it's not just the fact that the characters always tell you to eat your meals. Like all dating games, the goal is to make them fall in love with you before a certain deadline. However, unlike other games, it doesn’t rely on on simply loving. Being successful in dating games includes going with what the character wants and doing what they character hints to love. In the case for Mystic Messenger, it’s much more realistic. Yes, you do talk about their interest and act in a certain way to get their attention, but each character has things that are truly needed more than just going with the flow.

Sure, love and support is important in all good relationships, but so is keeping it real. With Zen, you have to be supportive but also know that his worth is beyond his appearance. Being with Jaehee means helping her realize her dreams, but also be willing to support her decisions. Yoosung will see you as his new inspiration instead of Rika, but it is you who helps him move on by differentiating yourself from her. Jumin needs you to be mature and trusting, but also not needy. Because Saeyoung’s comical personality is his facade, you need to be the one who accepts him for who he is and trust him. You go beyond just pleasing and blindly loving a character without really knowing what they want. I’ve never really seen a game go this far to show that the game should end with you being in a healthy and realistic relationship full of love, support and understanding what each other needs in life.

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If you’re willing to blow some cash or lose some sleep. It’s a pretty interesting game to look into with its own pros and cons. Overall, It has a pretty good plot and the concept is great. There are some things about the game that bother me. But I have a huge respect for a small company like Cheritz for creating such a complex and fully- loaded game. The game is available on both the Apple Store and Google Play


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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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