This may very well be one of the games that I have had to methodically play the longest in order to get a proper review out of it. But ultimately it was all worth it for a chance to play what might very well be the best mobile game I have ever played. 2016 has been a weird year for video games. When two of the potential game of the year winners happens to be a mobile game and Triple A games don’t have much of an opportunity…I don’t know how I am supposed to feel. But at either rate, this mobile gaming dating simulator may very well be one of the best video games of 2016.
In Mystic Messenger, you take on the role of the protagonist who has been tempted to a random apartment by a strange person asking for help to return a phone to a missing person. Once there, you realize that this apartment belong to a now deceased young woman named Rika who helped run Rika’s Fundraising Association with her friends and acquaintances. The organization consists of six members and five potential love interests with differing personalities. There is 707, the adorable and eccentric hacker; V, the undateable and mysterious leader; Zen, the egotistical sexy man; Jumin Han, the cautionary tale of what happens when 50 Shades of Grey mixes with American Psycho; Jaehee Kang, Jumin’s overworked and lovable assistant; and finally Yoosung Kim, a video game playing college student.
The idea of this association is that it holds parties in order to raise funds for other organizations. After randomly falling into the chat room, the RFA decides that you are the perfect person to carry on Rika’s duties and thus you are recruited into the organization. The game carries on from there as you attempt to contact and woo people into coming to your party while you find love in one of the five other characters.
Playing to a Phone’s Strengths
Unlike other mobile games that attempts to compete with the graphics and design of console and computer games, Mystic Messenger instead plays to the strengths of the phone as well as the already built-in strength of Korean/Japanese style dating sims. Luckily visual novels are quite easy on developers so you don’t need something with the greatest graphics in the world in order to be solid. But combine this with the fact that the game focuses around using a phone makes it all the more immersive.
The chat/phone/text machine that you are using in the game is the screen of an iPhone/Android like smartphone. It makes it so that you do feel as if you are interacting with the game the same way the protagonist is interacting with members of the RFA. It is a clever way to create a mobile game and one that the phone implements well.
Sure, there are drawbacks. More often than not, you end up on the other end of a chat room/phone conversation while everyone else gets to go off and have fun doing plot related activities, but beyond that, it is expertly crafted and well done.
Probably the Best Mobile Game I Have Played
I never thought I would be saying this in the span of one year with two different mobile games… But Mystic Messenger has just usurped Pokemon Go as the best mobile game that I have ever played. Don’t get me wrong, Pokemon Go is still fun to play and I play it all the time. But the game is just walking around and catching Pokemon that spawn on a GPS coordinated map. Sure, it is a good time and it is well done. But, it doesn’t have some overarching complex plot, inspiring graphics, and such an immersive quality as Mystic Messenger. Sure, it is immersive, but you still feel like you are a person walking and catching Pokemon on a phone. Not to mention the excessive amount of Pokemon that you can catch kind of devalues the bond that you have with Pokemon.
Mystic Messenger has a full story, great characters, and works the phone to its advantage. It is truly an innovative game and easily has Pokemon Go beat in terms of gameplay and structure.
The Game Plays You
Fun fact, this was the part of the game that my girlfriend thought I would hate the most. Turns out that I still don’t know how I feel about it so I through it in the “who the hell knows?!” category. The idea of the game is that chats and emails appear at certain intervals over the day. A chat can pop up at seven in the morning, half past five in the afternoon, and so on and so forth. This is how the game sort of makes its money. If you do not do X amount of chats, if you want extra content such as phone conversations, if you missed a chat and would like to retroactively go back and do it, or if you just want to play the game and skip the 10 day long session, you need to shell out for the hourglasses in order to alter time.
These timed chats are not too intrusive and there is some leeway in how many chats you can miss. However, you do miss portions of the game if you do not interact with them and some of these times are obviously inconvenient if you have a normal 9 to 5 job/school existence and go to sleep before three in the morning. In a strange sort of way, I kind of like this gameplay mechanic and I kind of don’t like this gameplay mechanic.
The pros to it is that it gives the game a more life-like feel to it. That these people are calling, messaging, and entering chatrooms whenever they are free throughout their day. However, on the negative side of this, you definitely get the feeling that the game is playing you. That you are at the whim of this game and have to play it whenever it dictates you play it. Being a grad student and a person with a semi regular sleep schedule, it is rough to finish chats whenever I am about to go to class, have a semi-regular social life around 6-9 at night, and if I go to sleep at 2 and wake up around 9. Luckily the game keeps me with a decent stream of hourglasses. But spending 10 of the little fuckers in order to miss the chats that I missed because I was asleep can be quite irritating. Especially if you have to live this life for the better part of two weeks. So ultimately it doesn’t find itself in a pro or a con category.
So… Let’s be honest… This game has some shit opinions on what constitutes a healthy relationship. Granted, this can sometimes be a problem with dating sims. They are built on stereotypes and archetypes that people find attractive, no matter how toxic these tendencies may be. This game is no exception as some of the characters, even in instances of a good ending are downright terrifying.
Most of the cast is somewhat possessive it would seem. From my experience and from things I have seen on the internet, characters like Yoosung, Jumin, and to a lesser extent the others can be downright possessive of you as a character. They see the female protagonist as something to be possessed and something that must be protected. Zen gets particularly nasty with how he talks about men and “all they ever want is sex” and “all men are animals” rhetoric.
Most of them can be somewhat problematic and create a toxic relationship, but none are worse than Jumin Han. Jumin is meant to be the problem character who can be changed through your love. The problem with this is that Jumin’s flaws are downright horrific. He is horrifically possessive, can trap you in his apartment, is controlling to a terrifying extent, and just all around is a creepy individual. Someone like Jumin Han is very much, at the very least, a spousal abuser in training or at the worst a person who will not bat an eye lash at the thought of killing his partner if things don’t necessarily go his way. Yes, he does admit that he has a problem. But a major problem with several abusive relationships is the idea that the abuser admits that they have a problem and people continue to think they can change them. Promoting someone like Jumin as viable and desirable love interest is somewhat terrifying.
These problems culminate into a big ball of problems that promote toxic relationships.
This game is awesome! Sure, it has questionable morals and the time based gameplay can become irritating at times. But the rest of the game is absolutely on point. The story is solid, the gameplay is perfect for the type of game that it is, the graphics are great, the characters are fascinating, and it ultimately plays to the strengths of the phone instead of attempting to be like computer/console gaming or worse being more pay to win gambling-esque mobile gaming garbage. This game is definitely worth the download and don’t be surprised if it ends up with at least an honorable mention on the best and worst of 2016.
Final Score 4.5/5
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