As opposed to many people who shared my excitement, the release of No Man’s Sky was just about everything I expected. However, what I didn’t expect was that, for me, its release would be completely overshadowed by another game. Back in July, messing around on Tumblr, I found some screencaps of a mobile dating sim and thought to myself, “what the hell, I’m not doing anything else right now,” and downloaded it. Looking back on it now, this could have been the biggest mistake of my summer, but only because Mystic Messenger is perhaps one of the most engaging dating sims, mobile or otherwise, that I’ve ever played. Three months of playing and still going strong, I figured now was about the time to write about it.
As the game itself does have a potential pay-to-play quality to it, I’ll be writing from the perspective of someone who has only done all of the character routes—not the after stories or secrets.
Spoilers for Jaehee’s route behind the cut.
Mystic Messenger is a dating sim from South Korean company Cheritz that tries to blur the lines between fantasy and reality and manages to do so surprisingly well. The premise is that upon downloading the app, you are contacted by a mysterious person only known as “Unknown” through texts. Whoever this mysterious person is, they claim they’re trying to return a phone they found, since it seems to be full of important information. Following their request, you travel to an apartment in South Korea in an attempt to find the phone’s owner. However, upon entering the apartment, the app shifts from Unknown’s text messages to a strange chat room. As the characters talk among themselves, one by one they recognize you—a stranger—in their private chatroom. Though everyone is confused, especially since the apartment you’re in is a classified location whose occupant died a year earlier, you’re eventually asked to join the RFA: an association dedicated to raising money for charity through lavish events. Since you’re in the previous leader’s apartment, many take it as a sign from her spirit that you were meant to join, and so you take over her past responsibilities. As the week passes, you begin to learn more about the characters, and also learn that the RFA is steeped in secrets that could potentially put the whole group in danger, especially you.
The game is split up between two different stories: the common story and the deep story. The common story is unlocked from the very beginning and contains the routes of upcoming actor Zen, the game-addicted college student Yoosung, and the overworked assistant Jaehee. The deep story takes eighty hourglasses (the real-money currency) to unlock and houses the routes to the cold-hearted business man Jumin and the humorous hacker 707. While in general, the deep story carries more of the actual main plot—707’s route is the quote-unquote canon route of the game—the common route isn’t excluded from the main plot either just because it’s free.
An interesting twist to this game is that it’s all done in real time (unless you pay via hourglasses for timeskips). One of the reasons I’m still playing three-ish months after I started is because each route takes eleven real life days, and with five currently available routes, that’s a lot of days. However, each affection-raising “event” takes place in the form of chatrooms which echo the real-life aspect of it. For example, if you get on in the morning, you might find the characters talking about their breakfasts or leaving for work, and if you get on later you get to hear them all telling you to get to bed early. Further blurring the line between fiction and reality, one of the features of Mystic Messenger is that the characters can actually call you during the day, and you can call them as well (although calling them costs hourglasses). After a while, it really does feel like this group of characters is an actual group of friends that you’re a part of.
Really, though, what made me download the game in the first place was the characters, which is to say Jaehee specifically. While I’m a total sucker for most types of dating sims, I was intrigued to see one, and a mobile one no less, which starred a female love interest who was as important as any of her male counterparts. Yet even after playing through and reading the general consensus of the route from the fanbase, I’m of two minds about it.
Jaehee is, in my mind, literally the best character in the game. She’s hardworking, careful, caring, perceptive, and very attuned to worrying about what others think of her despite being a highly successful assistant. Taking the last point into consideration, I’m not exactly surprised that her route is played more as “we’re best friends :)” than “we’re gay.” South Korea, like many parts of the world, the U.S. included, is really just starting to put fair LGBTQ+ representation in their mainstream media, and it still seems to be rather controversial on some level. Taking this into consideration, in her esteemed position under her somewhat conservative boss Jumin (also in the RFA, if you remember), Jaehee wouldn’t exactly be eager to go around admitting that she may have feelings for her fellow lady member in the RFA. In fact, she mentions a couple of times in her phone calls that she doesn’t want to scare the player off with her feelings, and that maybe it’s weird she feels this way about another woman. So although the dialogue is telling me “best friends”, everything else around the route is screaming, “gay. Oh my god, it’s so gay.”
However, despite the obvious lesbian overtones, Jaehee remains the only character that the player doesn’t get to kiss in their route. It would have been nice just to add something physically romantic, since all the other characters have something like that. Even holding hands. Please. It’s 2016 and I’m desperate.
Additionally, there are several opportunities where the player can call the male characters out on their sexism (ie: “you must be protected because you are a delicate woman”). Making this better is that they never get angry at you for doing so—they apologize and move on. Even the other characters join in on calling them out at moments. This is a dating sim, though, so there are still some moments that could be potentially uncomfortable to sit through. However, luckily much of that is hidden behind the bad endings, which you usually have to go out of your way to get by being a jerk to the characters. I will say, though, that both Yoosung and Jumin have yandere tendencies, so if you’re not into that, you may want to read a guide to make sure you don’t get those endings.
While it seems like a lot of the game’s content is stuck behind a paywall—and it is—Cheritz has set up a system where even free to play players have a chance to unlock everything if they’re persistent. Starting a new game gives you thirty free hourglasses, and during the chatroom events, there’s always an opportunity to get some randomly. Not only that, but the hearts you gain from raising affection are their own type of currency that can be traded in for hourglasses later on. Going through the first route, I ended up having almost enough to unlock the deep route at the end of it; the hourglass rewards are pretty liberal. And unsurprisingly, while the game is partially voiced, the vocal parts are in Korean. What was a nice surprise, however, is that the translation is really well done—there are a few grammatical and formatting mistakes here and there, but nothing that impacts the enjoyment of the game.
Overall, I highly recommend this game if it sounds like something you’d be even marginally interested in. Mystic Messenger is available on both Google Play and the iOS app store for free! Since the game is recent, please expect there to be bugs and maintenance, but also know that Cheritz is working tirelessly to put out patches as fast as they can. Once you join the RFA, let me know who your favorite member is!