Welcome back to Mystic Messenger Trash, a game diary where I chronicle my experiences of playing Mystic Messenger for the first time! The following post will contain spoilers for Jumin’s good route (and one of his bad ones) of the game. Content note for abuse.

Jumin’s route is among the most simple ones so far: as his father starts to date actress Glam Choi, she tries to set Jumin up with her “student,” Sarah. Jumin doesn’t take kindly to this scheme, especially when Sarah declares them engaged. Then Zen has one of his psychic dreams, in which he’s walking around a creepy building in the mountains and sees Elizabeth the 3rd, Jumin’s cat. Jumin, level-headed businessman that he is, does the only reasonable thing: he puts Elizabeth the 3rd in a cage for her safety.

Around this time, Seven reveals that a hacker is after the RFA (Rika’s Fundraising Association), which freaks Jumin out. He asks you to come stay with him until it’s safe. You agree, spending the night in his penthouse, waking up to Jumin making you strawberry pancakes. (Honestly, I didn’t know Jumin could cook?) You convince Jumin to go to work instead of staring at Elizabeth the 3rd, except as soon as he agrees, the crafty cat escapes and leaves the penthouse. Devastated, Jumin decides that his obsessive love for Elizabeth was too much and that, when he finds her, he’ll return her to the person that gave her to him in the first place: V. But that’s not all: Jumin decides to replace Elizabeth with you, a human being who can give him everything he needs and see him for who he truly is. And since you’ve now become the most precious thing in his life, he must keep you in the penthouse for your own safety instead of allowing you to return to Rika’s apartment, much to the chagrin of the other RFA members.

Meanwhile, because of course there is more drama, there’s a whole rumor about Sarah and Jumin that’s been mysteriously leaked to the media. Pressured by his father, Jumin decides that during the RFA party, he’ll finally make everything clear. With the help of Jaehee and Seven (aka they did all the work), Jumin reveals that Glam and Sarah are actually sisters, not mentor-mentees, who planned to get rich through both him and his father. And then, because Jumin is nothing if not practical, he proposes to you. Oh yeah, Yoosung and Seven also head over to Mint Eye, the creepy building in the mountains that serves as the hacker’s headquarters, and find Elizabeth, who Jumin agrees to take back.

Unlike Zen, Yoosung, and Jaehee’s routes, Jumin and Seven’s routes are part of the “Deep Story.” I assumed that meant that we would get more of the backstory about Rika and the RFA, but honestly, Jumin’s route gave us just as much as Zen’s, which is to say: nothing. The reason I did Jumin’s route before Jaehee’s was because I heard that her route has more of the story in it, and I wanted to build the story gradually. Having gone through this route, I actually would have done it before Yoosung’s, as it almost felt like a step backwards in story. Given that Jumin is good friends with V and was good friends with Rika, I’m surprised that there wasn’t more.

And for me, that fear wouldn’t be linked to getting a bad ending—but instead, the fear that the person I loved, my abuser, would leave me.

When Soco warned me that Jumin is messed up, I thought it was because he is clearly dealing with undiagnosed and untreated depression. He has a wealth of self-esteem issues about his lovability or reasons someone would stay with him (no wonder people ship him so much with Zen) that are there if you read below the surface. It was around this time that I began to wonder whether this game isn’t just an exploration of mental health; it seems that everyone deals with some sort of issue.

But really, I don’t think Jumin is any more messed up than the others, and I think he displays some growth during his route. For example, when Jumin first kisses you in his penthouse, my breath literally caught in my throat. From someone who says “I don’t like to be touched,” that kiss wasn’t just a scare-tactic for Sarah. It was a sign that he was changing.

But something that I failed to realize—that Soco actually pointed out to me, the real reason why she said Jumin is messed up—is that Jumin’s route is also super abusive. You have to watch what you say for fear of making him angry. It doesn’t totally surprise me that I didn’t catch onto this, because for five years, I was in an abusive relationship, so saying “Jumin, I’ll stay until we find Elizabeth,” instead of “PLEASE LET ME GO HOME” made immediate sense to me. Of course I would placate him, because the fear of his wrath was greater than I could bear. And for me, that fear wouldn’t be linked to getting a bad ending—but instead, the fear that the person I loved, my abuser, would leave me.

A screenshot of Jumin speaking to you. The text reads: "I've finally found you, and I don't want you to disappear from my eyes. So quit thinking about leaving. If you do, I might go insane and send out wanted ads all over the country." Mystic Messenger, Cheritz, 2016

Y I K E S. When I first read this, I immediately rationalized it as Jumin’s insecurities, which still DOES NOT MAKE IT OKAY.

Mirroring abusive dynamics in a game—where everyone but the player-character is screaming that his behavior is not okay—worries me, just as Zen’s toxic masculinity and Yoosung’s inability to stand on his own worried me. As the player-character, we seem to trust that Jumin does have the best of intentions, but so do a lot of people who are in abusive relationships. Abusers aren’t abusive all the time, and it’s hard to escape the relationship—it takes on average seven times for someone caught in the relationship to leave, meaning that someone will leave seven times and return six before staying away for good. Jumin is a prime candidate for not letting you go.

Some have likened Jumin’s route to a Fifty Shades of Gray nod, and while that may be true, I actually didn’t get the same “omg BDSM” vibes from him wanting to keep you in a cage. He was worried about Elizabeth and put her in a cage—and she still ran out of the house and went missing. To me, he is so fragile and scared of being alone that he wants to keep you locked away—in the penthouse, in a cage, whatever. Sure, maybe he’s into kink, I dig that. (I can buy the argument given that in one of the bad endings, you’re not allowed to leave his penthouse and appear with your arms tied behind you back and your shoes with a cord between them.) But like Christian Gray (God, why do I know this), it’s indicative of some deeper problems. To be clear, I’m not saying people in the BDSM community are dealing with unresolved emotional issues—I’m just saying that regardless of whether Jumin is into that, he still has to deal with his issues.

I wanted to briefly mention the way that sexuality and gender is handled in this game, tying it back to this idea that Jumin might be into kink. Between the discussion of Jumin as either “gay” or “androgynous” (I do not think that word means what you think it means) to Seven’s casual crossdressing, there’s a lot to unpack—but let’s focus on Jumin. From what we get of him, it seems that he’s aromantic and asexual, and that’s something the game seems to support… at first. Instead, through his route, we vaguely explore the possibility that he behaves like this as a defense mechanism. That might be fine, except aro/ace people already don’t get enough representation as it is, and people even within the queer community treat them as outcasts. If the reality is that Jumin behaves as such because he’s harboring a societally questionable fetish on top of watching his father’s behavior with women, I worry that we’re sending the message that aro/ace people can’t actually exist without a deeper psychological issue.

Aro/ace people already don’t get enough representation as it is, and people even within the queer community treat them as outcasts.

Jumin proposing to you after knowing you for 10 days was another fantasy, one that makes me hit my head on the wall. Let me be clear: I knew I wanted to marry my husband after we’d been dating for about a month. I knew that I’d be happy with him, that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. And he had already fallen for me after our first date—he told me he loved me a week after we started dating. Falling in love with someone quickly can be a reality. But choosing to marry them that fast? Marriage is a lifelong commitment (no one thinks they’re going to get divorced when they marry) that is as much a practical decision as a romantic one. It’s about finances, your goals in life, your views on family, and companionship. That’s not something you jump into, even if your heart tells you that you’ve found the right person.

It’s unclear from the After Ending and Valentine’s Day ending how long after the engagement you and Jumin get married. It feels like scarce weeks or months, and that worries me. When I moved in with my now-husband, it was a scant three months after we started dating—and even then, I knew it was going fast; I knew that I loved him “too much.” It’s lucky for me that eventually he proposed to me, and even that wasn’t long after—eleven months after we started dating. We got married only a few months later.

So yes, I understand the impulse to rush into things with someone you love. I completely understand the desire to spend the rest of your life with someone, even if you haven’t known them long. But I also look back at college-aged Naseem, who desperately wanted to marry their abuser, and remember Soco’s comment that Jumin is abusive, and I pause.

I want to end on something totally different. I don’t usually talk about the after endings in these pieces except to squeal about them, but I did want to make a note of the way the game breaks its format in Jumin’s Valentine’s Day After Ending. It was a huge disappointment and totally pulled me out of the game, despite being totally precious and getting this adorable picture of Jumin giving you a hundred presents.

A screenshot from Jumin's after ending. He sits on the floor in front of a yellow wall, surrounded by presents wrapped in blue. In his hand, being offered to a the player, sits a red velvet box with some sort of fancy jewelry in it. Mystic Messenger, Cheritz, 2016

HNGGGGHHH TOO CUTE

When you open up the Valentine’s Day After Ending, the game is no longer speaking to you in second person. Instead, it switches to first person. You’re supposedly narrating as you lament that Jumin is on a business trip during your first Valentine’s Day after getting married, and you stare out the window and at your bookshelf as you think about things. All of it is written in first person, and I hated it.

One thing that’s really marked out Mystic Messenger as different is the chat conceit. As I mentioned in the first piece of this series, it feels as though the characters are speaking directly to you, the player, and not a stand-in character. Other otome games I’ve either played or casually looked through have a separate character, drawn-out and with a distinct personality. Even The Arcana, which never shows the player out of respect for the gender of whoever picks it up, doesn’t totally immerse you into it; you’re still playing a character who narrates the game, and not yourself.

Already we get places in Mystic Messenger where that breaks, like in the images of you and your chosen RFA member, yet in these instances you never have eyes (an anime/manga way of distancing the character and making them less distinct) and, for the most part, you only see these glimpses of “yourself” in the final scene at the party. I’m okay with that; I understand the necessity of a stand-in in order to get those final images.

And I even get why the Valentine’s Day After Ending is written in first person: to convey information about your relationship with Jumin when he’s not around. But I think that could have been done differently. For instance, Zen calls you up and gets mad that Jumin’s out of town—and that’s how you learn it’s your first Valentine’s Day with him since you got married. Why couldn’t you have had a conversation with everyone in this way? Or why couldn’t you log into the chat room and have people say what you’re thinking? It wouldn’t have made for the best writing—sharing things a character knows but for the viewer/reader to learn isn’t great exposition—but then, it would have kept the magic alive.

Overall, like the other problematic aspects of the game, Jumin’s route explores wish fulfillment in a troubling way. Our handsome director harbors some deep-seated problems that he could have explored with you in a meaningful way. Instead, we get echoes of abuse that make me bite my lip and wonder why we keep romanticizing it.

Read the rest of the Mystic Messenger Trash series.

By day, Sidequest’s Managing Editor Naseem Jamnia used to do sciencey things, but they now slam their keyboard and call it art. By night, they play a lot of video games. And regardless of the time, they spend way too much of it on Twitter, @jamsternazzy.

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