It’s been busy for me lately! But not in a bad way. It’s all been fun stuff.
I’ve started writing a column on sex games at Kotaku! Which I cheekily named Come Yourself To Death (I’m very excited to cover Hadaka Shitsuji when that localization comes out). So far there are two pieces, the first on the yuri (girl/girl romance) game Kindred Spirits on the Roof and the second on a game jam game about explicit consent, Cute Demon Crashers. I have a list of interesting games I plan to play and write about, so please look forward to that!
I met my current partner on the internet 15 years ago. We found each other in a newsgroup (which was like an email-based forum aka Google Groups) and built our relationship via a related IRC chatroom and the phone calls. So flirting with characters in a chatroom format feels rather nostalgic.
Cheritz, the Korean developer that created Mystic Messenger, is a studio I’ve followed for a couple of years now. I bought their debut game, Dandelion, directly via their website. They were early adopters of localizing their otome games into English and I was all about supporting that, back when options were very slim.
I was initially taken in by Dandelion’s cute hook of dating animals that turn into men, but stayed for the surprisingly bittersweet endings and endearing characters. I later recommended their follow-up game, Nameless, in my Offworld article about otome games. And I did a bit of a Let’s Play of it.
Mystic Messenger is a free-to-play mobile game, very much unlike their more premium priced PC games. But the Cheritz soul is still there. This time instead of a day-to-day simulation or liner visual novel experience Mystic Messenger’s story is told through interactive chatrooms that naturally unlock every couple of hours. You can expedite this process using the hourglass currency you can earn and buy, but I really recommend sticking to the natural cadence of the game. It makes for a better experience.
You can also use these hourglasses to backtrack to inserting yourself into missed chats. Otherwise if you don’t keep up the chat opportunities will pass and you’ll be reading through archives, watching the characters chat about you while you observe. It’s kind of lonely and extremely effective to encourage you to pay attention when the chats first pop up. That’s also why I transferred the game to my phone instead of my iPad.
Through your chats and text messages you’ll first learn that Jumin is a trust fund kid who loves his cat, Zen is a narcissistic up-and-coming actor, Yoosung is a college student obsessed with an MMO, Seven is an erratic sysadmin, and Jaehee is an eternally suffering personal assistant.
Over time you’ll get to know and prefer some of them over the others, either consciously or unconsciously choosing your chat responses to pay attention to and side with one of them. After a couple of real time days the story will branch and that character will be your focus for the rest of the game.
Oh and sometimes the denizens of Mystic Messenger will literally call you. You can put your headphones in and have professional Korean voice actors chatting in your ear. I always pick up immediately for Jumin and Jaehee.
In my head I have a good idea of how long it takes for my Love Points to completely regenerate. At my current rank I’m capped at 38 LP, one generates every 6 minutes so that’s 10 points per hour. Therefore it takes just shy of 4 hours till I’m losing resources.
When I first started playing Love Live I didn’t really think of LP as valuable but now after a week I have been trained to find every edge. 38 LP is about 3 normal song plays or 2 hard song plays for the rhythm game that’s at Love Live’s core. Each play through yields me attempts at or progress towards individual song achievements. If I can manage to Full Combo a song for the first time, meaning I only score Perfect or Great timing in an unbroken chain for its duration, when set to Hard difficulty I will be rewarded 1,000 Friend Points. Those points yield me 10 Regular Scouting attempts which earn me new members eligible for Idolization or fodder to level up the rest of my team, in addition to a 5% chance at a more powerful and unique Rare cards appearing.
Love Live can sound pretty gruesome when you conflate the gameplay systems with the actual setting. In the game you play this imaginary force within an all-girls school and rallying the idol club, idols being Japanese pop stars and mega entertainers. As explained in the anime, the premise is the school is slated to be shut down due to lack of prospective students and the school’s idol group is started by concerned students in order to drum up admissions. In the game you start by picking one of the main 9 members from the anime and then are given 8 other Normal students to begin your team for playing the rhythm game. As you progress you will earn more Normal teammates through song completion rewards.
After you start getting duplicates members you can initially combine two of them with the Special Practice function in order to Idolize the card, changing the girl’s art into something less like a student and more like an actual performer’s costume, and which also increases her rarity by a bit (she’s still a Normal but with 2 stars instead of just 1). Any further duplicates can be used in Practice to boost the levels of any particular card of choice. The consumed card disappears. Where does she go? Blood for the Blood God.
As you start Idolizing girls and using them on your teams in songs their Bond will increase. When the Bond stat is maxed out you’ll be alerted that you’ve unlocked a side story for that particular student. The stories are just a couple of thematic lines from the girl but the real reward is the single Love Gem given to you after viewing it. At this point it’s arguably best to feed further spare students to this girl in order to fatten them up to max level for the Album bonus, then in turn feeding them to one of your more permanent golden goddess characters.
These earned Love Gems are the real life currency of Love Live and I’ve learned that they are extremely precious. You only get them in singular-to-small quantities from log-in events, difficult song rewards, unlocking side stories, and achievements. 5 Love Gems can be used to make a single attempt at an Honor Student Scouting (#SOLOYOLO), awarding you one guaranteed Rare or above card, and maybe even Super Rare or an Ultra Rare. Rares, Super Rares, and Ultra Rares feature one of the 9 main girls from the anime in a multitude of thematic outfits, even these can be further Idolized if duplicates are obtained. If you spend 50 gems in one go it gives you 1 free draw, totaling 11. Some timed promotional events encourage full 11 pulls by guaranteeing at least 1 SR or above. To put this into perspective straight up buying 50 Love Gems costs $30.
I scrimped and saved my gems
(in addition to spending $4 for 6 gems in order to make up for the solo pulls I foolishly succumbed to days prior)
and used them during a recent 11 guaranteed SR+ promotion as my friends recommended I do. It’s painful waiting to accumulate that many gems. I ended up luckily getting a coveted UR card in my batch (Nico-Nico-Nii!) and once I set her to be the character displayed in my profile a multitude of random friends requests started rolling in. It was kind of unsettling.
Dunno what kind of impression I’m giving with this but I’m actually having a lot of fun with the game now that I know what the hell I’m doing with regards to its economy. It’s satisfying noticing yourself getting better at being able to complete a particular song on harder difficulties, eventually breathlessly pulling off that a Full Combo for the juicy rewards. It’s also surprisingly exciting getting duplicates for the first time because you know you can then Idolize your cards and see their new fancy art, which begins the process of maxing out their bonds and levels. And then the cycle continues
My favorite Muse is Nozomi.
A systems designer friend described the game as sounding like Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA with Puzzle & Dragons resource management. Sounds about right!