Follow-Up Review: Mystic Messenger and Monster Super League

Thanks to getting sick I haven’t had as much time to explore Orbit Legends as much as I would like before I review it. However it has opened up the opportunity to for me to fiddle with the possibility of follow-up reviews. It’s a segment that I wanted to do from the very beginning, but I wasn’t really sure when would be the best time to introduce it when I first launched the website.

Far too often in the gaming industry do we review games on opening day and then leave said reviews untouched; regardless of publisher attitude changes or patches. For MMOs and mobile titles this can actually be a big mistake. This is because they’re live-service games that continue to evolve past their launch dates. Some games get better over time, while others ride their opening weekend reviews as they steer their games in absolutely terrible directions. I would like to make an effort to return to titles I gave a passing grade on and see if they still hold up after some time goes by.

Now that I sit here nursing discarded snot rags and fighting off nausea, it seems like the perfect chance to give the idea a go.

So welcome to 1-Month Follow-Up: where I look back at mobile games I decided to stick with after their initial reviews and see if they’re still worth your time (and possibly money). For this month we look at Mystic Messenger and Monster Super League.

Disclaimer: if you don’t care about Mystic Messenger, then Monster Super League’s follow-up is on page 2!

Mystic Messenger: Still a Great Game, but Business Practices Have Gotten Worse.

Quirky and still lovable.
Quirky and still lovable.

In my original review for Mystic Messenger I praised Cheritz for finally giving the hacks currently dominating the otome genre on mobile some true competition. And I’m happy to say that, for the most part, the good things that I attributed to the game in that review still stands. The concept and storyline are original, the characters are diverse and delightful, and the overall production quality blows the title’s competition out of the water.

On top of all of the above Cheritz has been diligent since the original launch in June. Patches to resolve glitches are still often implemented, and a cute update involving the character 707’s satellite was added to provide more ways for players to earn free game currency. Cheritz has also mentioned that they’re listening to player feedback and are considering adding more features, such as potentially adding two character routes to play through.

Because of these things alone I do stand by my original stance that Mystic Messenger deserves to be played. Even paid for.

Unfortunately, all of the criticisms I originally gave the game are still around. In fact, many have been exacerbated thanks to the f2p skeleton the game was created with. Cheritz has made some questionable business choices since I picked up the game, and I hate to say that they don’t sit well with me. I have never wanted a paid Steam version of a game so badly in my life!

Let’s start with some features I originally praised the game for.

Mystic Messenger is one of few visual novels on the app store that offers a save/load feature (yes, that’s still bullshit). When I first reviewed the game back in September this feature was free. All players started with three save slots available with the ability to purchase more. This was fantastic.

But apparently…that feature was on a five month free trial…? What?

Yeah, the act of saving and loading your game now costs five hourglasses/premium currency per use. Just why? Why did you have to do this, Cheritz?

So on top of needing hourglasses for literally all other functions in the game, I now have to use them to load up a save file if I make a mistake? Or if YOUR app crashes and causes me to make a mistake? It just doesn’t make sense on any level. I’ve heard that Cheritz implemented the change to combat users trying to get more content for free, but that is such a typical and weak excuse. Again: the ability to save and load our games has been a standard feature in gaming for over twenty years. Why the hell should I have to pay for that now? And it’s not going to stop currency farmers even in the slightest: it just slows them down while making the game more annoying to manage for the rest of the fans.

Piggybacking on that feature is the removal of the max speed button. This fast-forward button was a godsend in multiple ways: for the first four days of either common route it was essential to get through mountains of dialogue we’ve already read. For anyone intending to play more than one route or obtain multiple endings, this was crucial. It was also useful for when the app crashed before it could save your chat progress.

Now if the game closes while I’m in the middle of a chat I have to go through the entire thing again, sometimes multiple times, just to get back to where I was. It’s bloody annoying.

But what’s even more annoying is the max speed button is locked behind that shiny, “limited”, collector’s edition that costs $80. I have to pay $80 to use a fast forward button. I’m sorry, but fuck you Cheritz.

This was another feature that was taken out to prevent “hacking” and currency farming, but again it does jack-diddly-squat except to piss the rest of us off. I should not have to pay money for a base-game feature so simple as skipping dialogue. Imagine if Skyrim didn’t let you do that unless you put in a code to prove you owned a collector’s edition. It would drive you bonkers! Well, it does here too.

Jaehee's character page as seen on the official Cheritz blog for the game.
Jaehee’s character page as seen on the official Cheritz blog for the game.

There’s also a nitpick I have concerning the game’s female candidate for dating: Jaehee Kang. What I’m about to say may be considered spoiler territory, however it’s important for anyone who was happy to have a female option in an otome game. When I first picked up Mystic Messenger I gave Cheritz props for not only including a date-able female character, but to also have her route be accessible within the free story branch that comes just from downloading the game.

While I still think Jaehee is a great character and I’m glad she exists, at the same time we were fooled a little bit. The player cannot actually be romantically involved with Jaehee. Upon reaching either the normal or good endings of her route you realize that all of your hard work handing Cheritz’s various f2p handicaps gives you basically a friendship ending. Which seems odd considering how she’s advertised as a bachelorette.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m all for friendship endings being a thing in otome games. We need more of those. Part of what made Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side: 3rd Story the amazing game that it is was due to the ability to gain friendship endings with all of the characters, men and women both. But Jaehee’s route in Mystic Messenger feels very…tacked on compared to the others. It doesn’t help the fact that so many hints are given throughout her route that love is possible. So when you’re suddenly slammed into the friendship zone (even in her best ending) it got pretty disheartening.

Finally: at first, I enjoyed the idea of the game being played out in real time like Animal Crossing. And to a degree I still like the premise of it. However it becomes a real issue due to how the game is structured. Each chatroom is unlocked for free at a given time until the next one unlocks. Then the previous chatroom becomes unplayable (only view-able) unless you use five hourglasses to unlock it.

The problem here is that these chats can crop up anywhere from half an hour to three hours after a previous chat was unlocked. So unless you’re glued to a fan-made walkthrough (bless the users that go through the effort to make these!) it can be nearly impossible to predict out how long you have to play through a chatroom. Which then often leads to needing to use premium currency.

While you don’t have to participate in every chat to get the good ending for your character, you do have to participate in enough chats that your character of choice also takes part in so that you can rack up affection points.

But the game isn’t always honest with which characters are active in a given chat, partly due to immersion and story telling. There have been multiple times where I’ve skipped a chat to see that only Zen’s in the room…only to see two hours later Jumin did take part in that chat and I missed out on crucial point opportunities. Bye, bye hourglasses…

All of this creates a far more stressful atmosphere than games like Animal Crossing does. With Animal Crossing there’s literally no penalty for missing certain events or times. You can simply just go about your game, or you can time travel or restart to experience what you missed. The worst that will take place is you might lose a couple of neighbors, be overrun with weeds, and get shouted at by Rossetti. With Mystic Messenger you’re banned if you time travel, and now have to waste premium currency to backtrack with the “premium” save/load feature. It’s all the more reason why I want a fully unlocked version I can pay for so that I’m not feverishly checking my phone every hour.

You “beat” the game and unlocked the secret endings! …Now cough up $5.00 to see them.

After you clear 707's route in deep story mode, you unlock access to both
After you clear 707’s route in deep story mode, you unlock access to both “secret” endings.

I wish that was a joke, but it’s not. See, once you earn the good ending in a character’s route their after story is unlocked. This is nothing more than a new scene showing off what happens after the good ending takes place. And Cheritz has the audacity to ask that you use 20 hourglasses each to view them. So you need 100 hour glasses ($2.99) to see the final pieces of the story if you want to see them for all five characters. This is after all the of the other previous bullshit you magically have to pay for.

But it doesn’t stop there. Once you clear the good ending for the game’s poster boy, 707, you unlock two secret endings. These endings are broken down into seven episodes each, making 14 more pieces of story to read through.

Now admittedly these are all voiced, well written, come with more CG art, and are actually pretty long. It took me a couple of hours to get through all 14 episodes. So in that regard I give Cheritz kudos.

However, each episode costs 10 hourglasses a piece to unlock, so 140 hourglasses total. These scenarios can’t be unlocked by any other means. You either have to use saved up hourglasses, or buy some. And due to the way the cash shop is split in its packages, that means you either have to pay $5.00 (for one 100 hourglass pack and two 30 hourglass packs), $6.00 (for two 100 hourglass packs), or you can say “fuck it” and pay $9.00 for 300 hourglasses.

That is such a dick move on multiple levels. First and foremost why make the scenarios such a specific price point that doesn’t match anything you offer in your cash shop? No matter what package I decide to buy I’ll be spending more money than I want to just to see them. Even if I waited to read every single after ending for each character (so this assumes I’ve already spent money and/or a couple of months to get the good ending for every route), I only need 240 hourglasses for all of the after ending content. So even the 300 hourglass package leaves me with more product than I wanted or needed. And chances are you didn’t wait to lump them all together because few gamers are that patient, so chances are you only need 140 of the bloody things.

Secondly, why the hell do I have to pay for these? The mobile platform is literally the only platform in the gaming industry where I have to pay more money to view the secret endings that I’ve supposedly earned. Oh, did you clear Kingdom Hearts with a 100% completion rate? Congratulations! You’ve earned the secret ending. But to view it you must pay Square Enix $5.00 or more. That sure would have been a kick in the teeth, wouldn’t it? Yeah, the feeling’s mutual.

The pricing does not matter, it’s the principal. I don’t care if I have to pay a penny to read these things: if you’re telling me I went through hoops to unlock and earn these achievables then they should be mine. No question or further payment needed. Also what a way to be a dick to the people who have supported the game monetarily. Particularly to VIP package owners who already spent $80 on your game (as these are not included in that package! Go figure). But please, give us even more money because we’re a humble f2p app.

Screw that logic with something sharp and sand-papery.

There is still no standard version I can pay for, yet Cheritz continues to pump out more collector’s editions.

When I first reviewed this game I lamented over the fact that the freemium version we have now would require purchases worth around $70.99 (or even more) just to experience the full game at a comfortable pace. This is also assuming you only want to play each route once (so only one ending each), without factoring in the cost of the after endings. The game also has a collector’s edition that’s currently going through another printing. What was originally a pre-order item has become so popular that it’s already been re-printed and sold out twice between the original review and now. The next shipment is due November 22nd.

This is very rare for Cheritz. As I’ve said before I’ve been a fan of the publisher since their flagship game, Dandelion, could only be purchased and launched through their own website back in 2012. Cheritz has always offered physical character goods in their store, but they almost never restocked them once they ran out. It’s usually pre-order or bust. So what they’re doing with Mystic Messenger‘s VIP packages is a first for them in four years.

This tells me one thing: they’re making a hefty enough profit with Mystic Messenger that not only can they pay their bills, but they can afford more printings of these packages multiple times. And so they have, multiple times since the game’s launch back in June. While the collector’s edition is fantastic in terms of the physical items you get, it still doesn’t unlock the full game for the customer. This requires you to potentially pay $40 or more on top of the credits you’re given in the package, for a potential total of $120. For a mobile app.

If Cheritz can afford to keep making these supposedly limited, physical collector’s editions, then where the hell is my standard edition Steam port? Cheritz could have $30 out of me, tonight, if they would put up a fully unlocked version of the game on Steam alongside their other two games. And I know for a fact there’s a lot of hardcore fans out there who already bought the VIP package who would gladly do the same.

Yet they haven’t. Which worries me considerably. I’m incredibly happy that Cheritz has found a massive growth in success with Mystic Messenger, but I hate to think that they’ll abandon the qualities that made them great publishers in the first place because of the greed that can come with managing f2p games.

At the end of the day, Mystic Messenger is indeed a fantastic game. However it’s severely handicapped by its f2p model.

I still recommend both otome veterans and newcomers to the genre to play Mystic Messenger. However there is no way the game is worth more than $30. So that’s the metric I would go with if you plan to use the cash shop. Though at this point I would rather wait and hope for a Steam port where I don’t have to go through all of these various gating mechanics. I actually don’t want to play the rest of the routes I haven’t touched precisely because of them, if that tells you anything. I wouldn’t have even bothered with the secret endings I supposedly “earned” if Cheritz had not been generous enough to gift hourglasses to players because of game updates.

That’s horribly sad, because there’s so much good writing in this game. Just give me my Steam port and let me be done with this nonsense. I probably won’t pick the game back up until that happens.

Read on for the follow-up for Monster Super League –>