Welcome back to Mystic Messenger Trash, where I chronicle playing Mystic Messenger. The following contains spoilers for V’s good and normal routes in the game, passing mentions of the bad endings, and general in-game lore that you learn outside of Another Story. There are also some spoilers for Rika Behind Story.

Another Story, which encompasses both V’s and Ray/Saeran’s routes, takes place six months after Rika’s “death” (unlike the routes in Casual Story and Deep Story, which take place two years after). Another Story is basically an alternative universe of Mystic Messenger, where the player-character shows up earlier than in the Casual and Deep Stories. For the sake of length, I’m going to assume a baseline level of MM knowledge.

V’s Route: Another Story

After the player somehow gets the messenger app on their phone, Another Story begins with them agreeing to playtest a self-referential/meta mobile game made by a mysterious “developer.” You arrive at Magenta—which you later learn is the headquarters of the cult Rika created, Mint Eye—and are instructed not to leave your room. There are two options: to “play the game,” buying into the situation to trigger Ray’s route; or to trust V—who has infiltrated Mint Eye to do recon and ends up trying to rescue you—to start his.

V fails to rescue you; Rika, the “Savior,” throws him in a dungeon to be tortured. She also takes an interest in you to the point of romantic tension. (This is interesting given Jaehee’s route, but “pursuing” Rika is one of the bad endings.) Eventually, you’re rescued by the others and learn more about V and Rika’s toxic history. Rika finds out where you’re hiding and stabs V, then tries and fails to bring the rest of the RFA on her side. She crashes the party to drug everyone there (as she did to the residents of Magenta) to “attain salvation,” where she’s arrested. Meanwhile, Magenta and Rika’s apartment are both bombed on her orders, with Ray still inside. Rika is arrested, and V agrees to get the surgery to restore his eyesight.

In the good ending, V returns two years later after traveling to figure his shit out. No longer going blind, he asks the player to stay with him. In the normal ending, V leaves the hospital without getting the eye surgery and asks the player to find a place together right away. Two years later, V is a nervous musician (like his mother) who is grateful that you accept him how he is. If you want to have a wild ride, check out some of V’s bad endings, which include actual gay content (thanks, Cheritz??) and an orgy (again: thanks, Cheritz????).

V’s After Ending: The F Is This Forgiveness Crap?

Usually, at the end of a route, there’s an “After Ending” for the character and the player. When I first played V’s route, his didn’t exist; since then, Cheritz released an expensive-AF series of episodes (about 800 hourglasses in total, which is around $25 USD if you buy all the hourglasses in one go) making up his After Ending. These episodes take place during the two years V is gone in his Good Ending. At the end of each episode, depending on player choices, each character either “forgives” or “judges” V for his actions. (As the After Endings go on, it becomes obvious they’re also about forgiving or judging Rika, too.) In order to reset the endings to go on the other path, you have to pay 100 hourglasses, which annoyed me enough that I decided not to do it. Interestingly, when I looked up the “judge” ending on the Mystic Messenger Wiki, it explicitly says that the player is judging or forgiving Rika, not V. This dumps the responsibilities solely on Rika rather than giving V his fair share of blame, but I’ll discuss this in a bit.

A lot happens in V’s After Ending, which I will summarize quickly for the “forgive” route. The RFA learns the truth of Rika and Mint Eye; Seven learns that Saeran (Ray), his long-lost twin, died in the explosion at Magenta and holds Rika responsible; he kidnaps her, which leads to confrontations between Rika and various RFA members. Unbeknownst to the others, Saeran is actually alive; V rescued him and spends months trying to get the drugs out of Saeran’s system—without telling anyone where he is or what he’s doing. Rika eventually repents privately and publicly for her actions, going so far as to expose the prime minister (Saeran and Seven’s scumbag father) for his misdeeds and turns herself into the police. Two years later, Saeran and Seven reunite when V brings the former back, and V and the protagonist adopt a little girl.

Almost everything about this After Ending makes me livid, but what takes the cake is Rika’s demonization and how her redemption and V’s are tied together. And even as Rika takes responsibility for what she caused, I don’t see V ever taking real responsibility for ignoring the issues in front of him until they exploded. He blames himself for the wrong things and repeats the same secrecy that mucked so much up to begin with—and then waltzes back in two years later with a, “sorry about the trauma, here’s your not-dead brother, let’s get married.” There is no accountability for V the way there is for Rika, and that leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

V’s Redemption Is Directly Linked to Rika’s, and Rika Deserved Better

Besides the presence of multiple After Endings, one thing that is mechanically different about the Another Story routes is that it’s harder to achieve the good ending: you need to invite more people to the party than before, and there are fewer opportunities to get party invites. In both V and Ray’s routes, the messenger becomes inaccessible by the main squad for days at a time. That means you have to make the few invites you get count. It took me a couple of tries to get V’s good route, and because of that, I had to wonder about the naming. In my experience, the distinction between “good” and “normal” endings for both V and Saeran felt more blurred and questionable; it was only on looking back where I could see where I was meant to say, “Ah, yes, here is the definitive Good Ending I was searching for.”

Why is that important? For me, it complicates the overall takeaways from V’s routes. What we theoretically get in the good ending that we don’t get in his normal ending as much is personal growth. This seems to be the name of the game for his route overall: as it progresses, V realizes more and more how toxic his relationship with Rika was, even if he doesn’t use that term. In his good ending, V recognizes that he’s spent too long catering to Rika and not enough time understanding who he is by himself; in his normal ending, he is more at peace with who he is, but he’s still striving for perfection to make the player happy. So yes, V grows during his arc.

And yet. It might be unfair, but for me, it’s not an excuse for all the things V did and didn’t do—his paltry growth is not enough for me to find him anything other than selfish. I went into V’s route hoping I’d understand his actions better and came out liking him even less than I did before.

You know who I did like better? Rika. The weird almost-romance you have with her aside, V’s route made me realize how much help Rika needed and didn’t get. Playing the Rika Behind Story made it all the more obvious that her codependent relationship with V exacerbated her preexisting mental illnesses. It is also wild to me that we learn Rika was not only in therapy, but even medicated—and yet, I have to wonder whether V was attentive enough to realize how abusive her therapist was being. Of course, it’s no one person’s responsibility to make sure a person with psychiatric disabilities gets the help they need; plus, seeking therapy for and having mental illness/psychiatric disorders, in general, are deeply stigmatized in Korea. I recognize there are likely cultural reasons for Rika’s own story to play out like it did.

I cannot help but see much of [Rika’s villainy] as linked to V’s own behavior: his communication failures leading to others’ pain and his inability to accept responsibility for the events he actually played a role in, instead choosing to blame himself for things that aren’t about him.

But dang, V is treated as someone who has little to no agency despite his actions—or inaction—causing much of the events of the story. Upon meeting him, Rika declares him “a white blank container” and worries, “As soon as I ask him to love me, he’ll treat me as mad and forsake me.” V asks her to show him the darkness she tries to hide, despite her familial trauma, and offers to marry her to reassure her that he’ll never leave, even if she does something “out of human comprehension.” Excuse me, what? V proposes to Rika to reassure her, not because he loves her? Not because they have shared values and want to build a life together? Rather than this coming off as “look how kind V’s being,” it rings alarm bells for me.

In linking together V and Rika’s redemptions, we entangle these already codependent characters even more. For a woman with as much unresolved trauma as Rika, that feels deeply unfair. I don’t mean to say Rika shouldn’t face the consequences of her actions, but her villainy is complicated. I cannot help but see much of it as linked to V’s own behavior: his communication failures leading to others’ pain and his inability to accept responsibility for the events he actually played a role in, instead choosing to blame himself—without meaningful follow-up actions—for things that aren’t about him.

V’s Route: The Takeaways (or, V’s Redemption Is a Big Nah from Me)

A lot of what I’m discussing doesn’t seem to be the large-scale cultural critique that I usually offer on Mystic Messenger Trash. And, for the most part, it is a discussion of V’s character arc and my dissatisfaction with it. But I also think it’s emblematic of a larger issue, one I’m cheekily calling “this time on AITA.”

For those unfamiliar, AITA (Am I The Asshole) is a subreddit wherein people share some sort of conflict in their lives and ask the eponymous question. And a lot of posts are about cishet men causing harm to their female partners and being completely oblivious as to how, or doubling down time and time again. Of course, the issue here isn’t people posting to AITA, but that patriarchal societies view labor concerned with emotional work, like caregiving, as “women’s work,” and “women’s work” as lesser than “real work.” It’s the real-life version of a female character only serving a male character’s emotional growth, and the male character feeling entitled to it. And perhaps worse than that, we, the viewers, often give the male character a pass, or agree with that entitlement.

An ending image for V's After Ending: Forgive. In it, V and the avatar of the player character are sitting on the grass with their adopted daughter between them, coloring on a tablet. V is grinning while the player character smiles. Behind them is a giant glass house. Mystic Messenger, Cheritz, 2017.

So V gets to get his happily ever after while Rika takes the fall? Not okay in my book!

This is exactly how I felt when I played V’s route. For me, V didn’t deserve his redemption, because his personal growth comes from the direct harm of those he claims to care about. He doesn’t seem to learn from his mistakes, either; while his good ending does show personal growth, it’s at the result of ghosting everyone, including the player he professes to love, for two years. (And no, I don’t care that he’s trying to “save” Saeran and Seven in this interim—we have time and time again demonstrated how his secrecy has harmed people, something he claimed to have learned by the end of his route.) He asks the player to wait for him while only sending a handful of letters every now and again, and without any contact with the others. (Here is where the normal and “good” endings get blurred for me: in the normal ending, although V has no time to figure his shit out on his own, he doesn’t abandon everyone.) Instead, in the After Endings, the player is left to navigate what he left behind as he gets to ignore it.

Perhaps that is what really irritated me by the end: for all that V was supposed to be redeemed, he actually, in some ways, got worse. I was kinder than V deserves in the After Endings, going down the “forgive” route for each of the characters. Even cast in this light, I still found V to be selfish. Despite everything, he continually lies to Seven about Saeran; his route, without his After Ending, leads to Saeran allegedly attempting suicide (via a bomb explosion) after everyone else in Magenta leaves, which absolutely destroys Seven when he finds out. V continually lies to the rest of the RFA to “protect” them, leaving them without closure and with unfair grief. In the third episode of the After Ending, Yoosung remarks what a change it is to be in an RFA without secrets—because even though it’s painful, Jumin vows not to repeat the same mistakes and hide the truth from the other members. And, surprise, but when the RFA knows, they are able to react appropriately!

Sure, this isn’t necessarily a Cheritz problem and is more about the character arc. But I am disgruntled that someone sat down and decided to give V a “redemption” that hangs on harming those who care about him—and that so many players are happy to buy into it. And in reality, I think a lot of people are willing to forgive the bad behavior of cishet men, even (or perhaps, especially) when that behavior harms women. V is no exception.

Read the rest of the Mystic Messenger Trash series.