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 Yoosung’s good route of the game. Content note for discussions of mental illness, depression, and suicide.
Yoosung’s route involves giving him a reason to start living outside himself. First, Yoosung stops playing LOLOL (what appears to be an MMORPG like League of Legends or World of Warcraft) as obsessively as before, at the expense of continually comparing you to his dead-cousin-that-he-maybe-had-a-crush-on, Rika; then it’s about giving him a reason to continue to trust V and the other RFA members, despite the presence of the security bomb in Rika’s apartment; and finally, it’s him deciding to sacrifice himself in order to make sure you’re safe. Yoosung decides to accompany Seven to the hacker’s hideout, which results in him being maimed (??). The good route ends with him coming to the party with bandages around his eyeball, and telling you that he might lose his vision in that eye.
I’m really concerned about the “casual racism” that drops in this route. It only happens once, and that once was enough: On one of the days, Seven tells you a story of how he came to a deserted island and “taught the natives the joys of Nimtendo” (despite the serious issues with this line, I love when Cheritz decides to rename popular items or brands) and was worshipped as “the magician of civilization.” Then, on top of this, you get an email from the dark-skinned Tetris champion, from this island, where the first line says (spelling error and all), “Grunt grunt! I am Tetris Champion, Fire Cayote of Eternal Boulders!! Grunt grunt!!” So much of this is problematic that I don’t know where to begin—from the “let me, the Civilized Man from Civilization, come save you, the Primitive Savages!” to the only use of dark skin so far, this is very Not Okay. Racism is never casual. I’m guessing Cheritz put in this scene to be funny, but it fell way flat.
In this route, we get a hint that maybe there is more to this story and game that meets the eye. In one scene, Seven says that we don’t learn more about Zen’s past “in Yoosung’s route”—and this immediately screamed Doki Doki Literature Club. He also later calls the unknown hacker “the first NPC.” I don’t know if the game will follow DDLC’s path of breaking the fourth wall, but I really hope not. (In DDLC, one of the characters gains sentience and speaks to you, the player in the real world.) I love that it all feels so real and personal, and learning that maybe Seven knows it’s a phone game will make that come crashing down.
But the thing that troubled me the most in Yoosung’s route was the way Rika’s mental health was handled. As someone who deals with depression and has tried to kill themself, I hated the way Rika’s supposed suicide was discussed. For one thing, it was simply dropped in mid-conversation, without any real set-up. It wasn’t given any exploration, so it felt more like a “shocking!!! news” than an honest exploration for the characters. For another, while feeling true to some degree, Yoosung’s denial—“I didn’t know, therefore it can’t be real”—inadvertently enforces the idea that someone can’t be “sick” without others knowing. Many of us who deal with invisible illnesses will try to hide what we’re going through—and that doesn’t make our struggles any less. Finally, when Yoosung says that Rika “was never a weak person who’d kill herself,” he’s reinforcing the harmful belief that people who commit suicide are weak. This idea is not only deeply painful to hear but makes my blood boil; it lacks compassion, displays deep ignorance, and tells people who struggle with suicidal ideations that they are weak and a burden—things many of us already tell ourselves.
I’m really worried about Rika’s mental illness being used as a plot device—that it didn’t exist and was just a convenient excuse to explain Rika’s disappearance. I know more will be revealed as I continue along the routes, but I’m concerned that the game might head in this direction.
This wasn’t as much of a sticking point as the sexual harassment was in Zen’s route; that route was centered around Echo Girl being a shitty person. But this route is about Yoosung discovering who he is and, more importantly, who he wants to be. Part of that is letting go of Rika, which means discovering the truth of who she was. And to Yoosung, Rika’s perfection is “marred” by her mental illness, rather than being used to acknowledge that she was a person with struggles, too.
Many of us who deal with invisible illnesses will try to hide what we’re going through—and that doesn’t make our struggles any less.
This could have been a place to discuss Yoosung’s own depression, something that is somewhat hinted at but never explored. Before Rika died, Yoosung was apparently the top of his class and off to a good college—but after, he couldn’t bring himself to do anything but game. Look, my sweet cinnamon bunny, I’ve been there. I’ve used gaming as a way to escape from everything around me, because things were too much for me to handle. If this route had explored that, and if Yoosung had decided to perhaps seek help instead of replacing his love for Rika with love for you, then we might have had a serious discussion of mental health.
Instead, sweet Yoosung builds himself around both you and Rika. During a visual novel scene, you learn that Yoosung wants to become a vet because Rika’s dog went blind and died by running into traffic. As you become closer, he transitions his feelings—and therefore, sense of self—from Rika to you. (On a gameplay level, this made it surprisingly difficult to ensure his good ending, as you’re given choices between “I am not Rika” vs “As long as you love me, I don’t care if you think I’m Rika,” and weirdly, that line wasn’t always clear in the answers.) During the route itself, Yoosung constantly says he wants to be a better man for you, that, “as a man, I want to be responsible for my woman. At least in the economic sense…” That’s troubling: Yoosung’s sense of self comes around because he wants to be good enough for you. This rings of disaster.
Yoosung is clearly the sweetest member of the RFA as well as being the youngest, and it worries me that his sense of identity is lost without you. Our senses of self and desires, especially when we’re young, are often predicated on our relationships. That’s not healthy, and though Yoosung “turns out fine,” not all of us do.
It’s admirable that Yoosung feels motivated enough to take a hard look at himself, but his reasons for doing so are lackluster at best, dangerous at worst. He ignores the foundational aspect of why he spent so much time gaming—depression over Rika’s death—and instead uses his energy to “protect you” from both the bomb and the hacker, thereby changing himself from “gamer” to “boyfriend.”
It’s so true that when you meet someone you love, you change for each other. I think that’s natural—I know that there are things about myself that I’ve changed for my husband, even if I didn’t mean to, and vice-versa. But things that happen over the course of a relationship are very different than waking up and deciding, one day, that in order to “win the girl,” you need to change. In the relationship, the change happens with both of you over time; Yoosung decides to change himself for you, not because of you. And that does him a disservice.
Like Zen’s, Yoosung’s route is riddled with wish-fulfillment, following the idea that your partner loves you so deeply that they’ll do what they can to deserve you. Yoosung is also so head-over-heels for you that he’s like a puppy, and he says it was worth sacrificing his life for him to protect you, someone he’s never even met in person before. What this route could have done was examine why Yoosung felt compelled to behave like this, taking a critical look at both his interactions with you and with Rika. If it had, we might have had a nuanced discussion about the portrayal of Rika’s supposed mental illness rather than a callous mention of it. We also might have seen Yoosung grow as a person, choosing to live for himself so that he can be the best partner for you instead of living for you directly.
Two routes into the game and I’m still completely hooked. As I mentioned in the last piece, it’s because I so deeply love Mystic Messenger that I’m critical of it, wanting it to do better. Yoosung’s route is another example of the places in which it failed, and I hope that Cheritz addresses these issues in future games.
Sidequest’s former managing editor Naseem Jamnia used to do sciencey things, but they now slam their keyboard and call it art. Their debut novella, THE BRUISING OF QILWA, introduced their queernorm, Persian-inspired secondary world; their middle grade horror debut SLEEPAWAY comes out in 2025.