Mystic Messenger: A Glimmer of Hope for Mobile Otome, with a catch

I have a severe love/hate relationship with otome games on the mobile platform. On the one hand: I’m forever grateful to them. Five years ago visual novels becoming a profitable market in the west was a fool’s dream, and given that otome games are a sub genre of an already very niche aspect of gaming, the chances of them being localized en masse was downright impossible. Fans had no choice but to get together and start independent fandom translation projects in the hopes of sharing their favorite games with more people. The efforts behind the Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side series is one of the better known examples of fandom dedication.

This was of course until Aksys localized Hakuouki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom for PSP back in 2012, while companies like Voltage and NTT Solmare Corp (Shall we Date?) took over the mobile scene with their flood of otome games. Now these three in particular are not the first names that brought the otome genre into the west commercially. However they are probably some of the biggest contributors that got the ball rolling in turning otome games from an underground, niche hobby to a rapidly growing sub genre. We’re getting more games localized from big companies in the coming year than the previous three years combined. That’s not something to sneeze at.

Yet I also hate mobile otome companies. Or rather the proper term might be despise. The reason I downright loathe mobile otome games is because they’re some of the best examples of the absolute worst service practices that mobile has ever brought to the gaming industry. Premium versions of these games chop their titles to bits and force you to nickel and dime for your time, while the free to play (f2p) variants are usually absolute trash with cash shop tactics that could easily have you paying more for a sub par game than you would have for a professionally made game like Hakuouki or Norn9: Var Commons. Hell, even Hakuouki’s experience was completely stripped down and chopped up from it’s PSP and PS3 counterparts to fit the market practices that are considered “normal” now in mobile, and it utterly ruined one of the aspects that made Hakuouki  stand out from several other titles in the genre.

Now keep in mind that there’s exceptions to the rule. I’m sure there’s some games out there that people have fallen in love with. However I really haven’t ran into any otome game in mobile that I ever felt was worth the asking price. From clunky UI, to main characters constantly looking the same title to title (Voltage is the worst offender of this one), to terrible localization practices of Japanese titles, to horrendous customer service. To be frank: while I appreciate what otome mobile gaming has done in helping the niche grow, the actual games on the platform are (for the most part) not worth your time or money.

That is, until Cheritz came along with its first f2p mobile title: Mystic Messenger.

Who is Cheritz?

2btenno-imgurCheritz is the Korean-based otome developer behind the games Dandelion: Wishes Brought to You and Nameless: The One Thing you Must Recall. I have been a fan of Cheritz ever since Dandelion dropped on their main website. They’re an example of a publisher that knows what they’re doing and doesn’t treat their consumers like morons. Every game that has launched under their umbrella has done so in multiple languages on launch day, including English, because they’re aware that otome gaming has a world-wide audience.

And unlike publishers that try to use niche as an excuse for shitty business practices, Cheritz is known for putting out quality products at reasonable prices. Every game so far, including Mystic Messenger, has had top-notch voice acting, original plots with a mix of light-hearted humor, unique characters, mostly clean UI, and bright but experimental art styles.

In all honesty I didn’t touch Mystic Messenger at all when it first launched back in June because I had just stopped paying attention to mobile otome altogether. However the game has garnered a lot of hype within the last month with fan art all over Tumblr. Even videos showcasing routes have gotten tens of thousands of views. When I finally broke down to check the app store, seeing the name Cheritz was what made me inevitably take the plunge.

And I’m so glad I did.

What is Mystic Messenger and how does it work?

Mystic Messenger main interface
Mystic Messenger main interface

The concept of Mystic Messenger is surprisingly simple: you play a heroine that has downloaded a mysterious chat app only to be confronted by a hacker named Unknown upon opening it. Unknown tricks you (or rather, the game forces you) to go to a mysterious apartment in the name of helping Unknown return a phone they found. Yet upon entering the apartment the messenger app goes nuts and suddenly you’re linked to an entirely new chatroom with five other characters who are just as surprised as you are to see you there.

The characters are part of a group called the RFA: a charity organization that holds parties to collect donations to aid as many good causes as possible. However the group hasn’t been able to hold said party in a number of years due to the crippling depression of losing one of their founding members. That’s where you come in! The prologue ends with you joining the RFA and moving into the oddly secret apartment to help put together the party. The goal of the game is to not only throw a good party by securing enough guests, but to also land a good ending with either one of the four single men or the one eligible woman.  But don’t let the cheeriness fool you: the game can get very dark, very fast.

From this point forward the game…well, it acts like a chat app, and it sets up the atmosphere of one surprisingly well. Truthfully I’m shocked it took this long for a developer to cash in on this idea. Most of your time will be spent in the chatroom menu itself. The game takes place over the course of eleven real-time days, and chatrooms themselves unlock at various times of each day in real time according to the time-zone the app detects on your device on start-up.

This creates a system similar to that of games like Animal Crossing where the times you’re available to play effects which characters you get to talk to and simulates an environment where the characters have their own lives. If you’re a night owl you may find yourself between one of Zen and Jumin’s arguments, or if you log in during the day you may catch Jaehee or Yoosung taking breaks from their busy schedules. Of course there are odd chats where characters appear at times they normally don’t, but you get the idea.

However that’s not the only way to contact and earn affection with the characters: after certain chatrooms take place (regardless if you participated or not) one of the characters will “call” you. You can also initiate phone calls to any character of your choice. There’s also texting, however that’s limited to the characters initiating texts with you and you picking between two response choices.

Eventually visual novel mode will unlock once you finish the common route (the first four days of game play) and start one of the character’s romantic routes. After certain chatrooms there will be more story told through a more traditional visual novel style that otome fans will be more accustomed to.

Continued onto the next page: What the game does right ->