Welcome back to Mystic Messenger Trash, a game diary in which I chronicle playing Mystic Messenger for the first time. The following contains spoilers of Secret Endings 1 and 2. Content note for physical and emotional abuse.
Since I’m covering two endings here, I decided to break this piece up into sections for your reading convenience.
Secret Ending 1 picks up after Seven’s After Ending, beginning with you and Seven catching up to Vanderwood and Saeran. You both convince Vanderwood to help (because the agency will apparently kill Vanderwood as well as Seven), and try to keep Saeran from returning to Mint Eye. However, Saeran isn’t having it, so he gives Mint Eye your coordinates, and V comes in to hustle you over to meet the “savior.” The twins freak out, and at some point, Seven got shot but still sent Jumin their coordinates?
Anyway, this “savior” is, of course, Rika, something that was hinted throughout Seven’s route. Rika never killed herself; instead, she became bitter and angry that V loved her, and that, coupled with how much suffering there is in the world, somehow led her to be disenchanted with the RFA. In her mind, it was basically the end of the world that anyone suffered at all; instead, she decided to create a “paradise” where everyone was happy all the time: Mint Eye.
We learn through flashbacks that V blames himself for Rika’s life choices. Rika says she’s keeping V around to test something but actually hates him, even as he continues to profess his love for her. Saeran, upset that V is still alive, decides to shoot Rika, only to kill V instead. Rika snaps out of her cult-leader state and goes practically catatonic. In the hustle and bustle, Jumin’s bodyguards have found Mint Eye’s coordinates and come in to save the day.
Secret Ending 2 is about Saeran, chronicling his treatment in both therapy and the hospital, as Rika apparently had him severely drugged. He chronicles his mother’s abuse—the way he’d be locked in a room all day without food and water because he was the weaker of the twins—and how Seven/Saeyoung one day disappeared after promising to save them both. He also implies that Rika also tortured him as she created Mint Eye. Throughout these recollections and during his treatment, Seven is by his side. As the drugs flush out of his system, Saeran wonders if this is his happy ending, although he does try to strangle Seven at some point. The route ends with this bittersweet picture of everyone coming to greet Saeran, who wonders what’s in store for him and his broken brother. (Have I mentioned before that Seven has super hot arms? Seven has super hot arms.)
Trauma in Narrative
There is something to be said for dramatizing real problems for the game. Abusive and toxic parenting leave serious scars on people, even well-adjusted or accepting ones. Seven is neither; he is a world of unprocessed trauma that is compounded by isolation and secrets. Rather than dealing with his feelings of guilt for leaving his brother behind, he shoves them away and writes his brother out of his history. When he feels that V betrays him, and V refuses to give him answers (typical V…), Seven cuts him out entirely and tries to forget him. Hell, he gets shot and then tries to protect Saeran as he bleeds profusely in Secret Ending 1—due to guilt.
Sometimes, I wonder whether such extreme dramatizations of serious problems actually lessen people’s sympathy when they’re confronted with the issue in real life. Would Person A believe that Person B was abused by their parent if the abuse was “only” being told they’re ugly and worthless, rather than being locked in a room without food or water? Would Person B believe their own trauma has merit, because it’s “not that bad”? Plenty of people who have undergone trauma tend to deemphasize their pain, saying that other people have it worse as a way to de-legitimize their own feelings. How much is the over-dramatization of such pain contributing to the ways we discount our experiences?
Secret Ending 2 is a particularly good example of this. We learn, in pretty explicit detail, that the twins’ mother was an alcoholic and severely abusive. The “abusive/alcoholic parent leads to a fucked-up child” trope isn’t uncommon, and the result in this narrative is Saeran, who is just as toxic and abusive. HE TRIES TO STRANGLE HIS OWN BROTHER AND THREATENS THE REST OF THE RFA. His background explains but doesn’t excuse these behaviors.
But alcoholism, while devastating, doesn’t have to lead to abuse (though it often does). Yes, abuse often begets abuse, but then there are plenty of people who don’t turn around and become abusers themselves. And I read Saeran’s story with tears pouring down my cheeks (it’s told in the first person, so it’s quite devastating) and told myself, well, hell, Jamnia. You never had it this bad. (Former editor Soco reminds me that neither did Saeran, because he’s fiction. Which is why I’m worried!)
Of course I didn’t, because I didn’t get drugged and brainwashed into a cult by someone I deeply trusted. That doesn’t make my experiences any less real, and yet, here’s another reason for me to tell myself that I shouldn’t have the trauma-based symptoms I have—because I just didn’t have it that bad.
The Problem With V and Rika
Yikes, where do we even begin with this. In all of the routes, Rika has been glamorized and put on a pedestal, while V has been gaslight-y, evasive, and dramatic. They both have hero complexes, and they’re both two of the most frustrating characters in the game.
Even after Secret Ending 1, I don’t have a full grasp on Rika’s motives. The portrayal of her mental illness just feels… off. Many people with depression (which she supposedly has) don’t lash out against the world; they hurt themselves. Rika’s mental illness is clearly complex, but we don’t get enough to understand what’s going on with her—and whether that portrayal is at all compassionate. It doesn’t feel like it to me; it feels like everything about Rika is supposed to be a shock. I don’t have a good enough handle on Rika as a character to understand her motives and why she goes from the RFA to Mint Eye.
As for V, the blame game just isn’t a good look. He takes responsibility for Rika’s actions, but I don’t understand why. Because he loved her too much? Because he couldn’t “heal” her? And his decision to hide what she became from the rest of the RFA bit him so hard in the ass that I’m surprised he can sit. (… this metaphor got away from me.) Why wouldn’t he tell his best friend—someone who literally has enough money to buy out the country? Or Seven, the person who literally trusted him with his life?
Also—what exactly happened with Saeran? It’s not clear why, after Seven leaves, V and Rika don’t make good on their promise to take care of Saeran. Why do they let him stay in the house with his abusive mother? Why don’t they explain where Seven has gone? WHY DON’T THEY CALL THE KOREAN DCF? (Actually, I looked this up. Apparently, Korea severely lacks adequate child protective services. Without that context, it is very confusing as to why they leave Saeran with such an abusive mother. All that would have taken was one person questioning V and Rika’s decisions.)
The timeline with V and Rika is also unclear. It appears that they meet as adults, because Rika is interested in V’s photographs—except that Rika met Seven in church, and so did V, and Seven was in middle school when that happened. These details might not matter in the grand scheme of things, but they might help untangle the mess that is V and Rika’s relationship.
The secret endings are worth watching for the completion of Seven’s route, but it raised a lot of questions and concerns. All the unproblematic-ness of Seven’s route was countered by all the issues in these endings. They fail to make V or Rika more sympathetic, and while they give us a great grounding for understanding Saeran, they also don’t grapple with the problematic things he does throughout the game.
Given there are still V and Saeran’s routes to discuss, this is not the end of Mystic Messenger Trash. But before Cheritz released those routes (and, with the latest updates, stuff on Rika), it ended here, with Secret Endings 1 and 2—and I’m not sure what to do with that. Mystic Messenger has a brilliant design and mechanics, and at times, the writing is on-part with this innovation. But the plotholes—a compelling mystery shouldn’t be so unintelligible at times—and problematic narrative choices are frustrating, pulling me out of a game I otherwise adore to bits and pieces.
But I still play. I still think about these characters all the time, even though I’m back in school and don’t have time to play a real-time game. I still scream every time the home screen background changes. I guess that’s why, after all this, I’m still Mystic Messenger trash.
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.