Games — Mystic Messenger

Zen selfie

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.

Download Mystic Messenger on Android or iTunes.

Games — How Idea Factory (Otomate) Creates Otome Games

Siliconera recently posted an interview with Norihisa Kochiwa, development director of Idea Factory. Otomate is a studio under Idea Factory that focuses on romantically themed visual novels aimed at women. Some of their games have made it over to the west, such as Hakuoki, Sweet Fuse, and Amnesia: Memories. In the interview Kochiwa goes over thematic decisions for new games and bringing out their titles worldwide.

“What we at Otomate would like to focus on and strive toward now is to work with various partner companies and creators to bring more of our Otomate titles to fans worldwide! We appreciate all your continued support!”

“Also, we would love to have feedback from western otome fans! Our first step is to try and introduce otome games as part of gaming culture in western countries, and grow the otome genre with our fans!”

It’s nice to hear that they are making efforts to bring out more otome games globally! We’ve seen part of their efforts recently with Idea Factory International releasing Amnesia: Memories for PlayStation Vita and even porting it to Steam!

Additionally, the otome games Aksys announced for Vita a while back just had their release dates revealed. Code: Realize will be out October 20th and Norn9 will be out November 3rd!

Games — Amnesia: Memories released!

Otome dating sim Amnesia: Memories was just released for PlayStation Vita and for PC via Steam on August 25th! You can even get a significant 40% discount on the brand new Steam release if you buy it before September 1st. The iOS and Android releases will be out later this month!

But honestly “dating sim” seems kind of a misnomer when applied to something like Amnesia. In the West it’s used as kind of a blanket term to describe any romantically-themed interactive game, which can be both easy to understand but also confusing when nuance is concerned. The term “otome” is gaining some prominence, though (it’s even used in the Steam tags). But Amnesia itself plays out more like a mystery adventure visual novel, where your traumatized heroine tries to navigate existing relationships with guys she doesn’t remember via parallel worlds, thanks to the help of ethereal Orion who acts as your guide and your snarky commentary (he says what we’re all thinking, in a very meta sense).

So don’t go into Amnesia expecting to build sweet relationships among a pool of options. Instead each guy is honestly kind of a jerk and at times terrifying, and through dialogue choices you’re trying to suss out what your relationship even was in the first place without raising suspicion. It’s like watching a soap opera mid-season and trying to work out all the backstories. I find it very interesting!

Thinking about all this I’m reminded of this recent article by Carli Velocci in Bitch Magazine about text-based horror games and how marginalized women engage with it and use it as an outlet for everyday fears.

Games — Understanding Dating Sims

After publishing my article on DRAMAtical Murder, Polygon has let me write up something new, this time concerning dating sims in general. I’ve always wanted to make a sort of how-to-play 101 piece on dating sims to link to my friends because I noticed a lot of them were having trouble understanding visual novel gameplay systems and repetitive story branching. It’s not exactly the mechanics breakdown I promised in my otome history post but it is another step in the series.

Also published recently is my friend Miellyn who wrote an article about romance in a wide variety of video games for Vice, and she was kind enough to get a quote from me for it. We were both on a Romance in Games panel at PAX East 2014, which was quite bawdy and a lot of fun! There’s also a lot of BioWare folks quoted in the article as well, along with my good friend Arden who made Kindness Coins.

I’m so excited to see interest in these kind of games and topics of romance increase. There’s a whole lot more to be explored in the genre and the inspirations these games cause could turn into some really unique games down the line!

Games — Norn9: Var Commons coming in English!

Blessed be otome fans in the year 2015.

After announcing Code: Realize a couple of weeks ago, Aksys just posted that they’ll also be bringing over Norn9 to the Vita. Norn9 is an interesting game because you can choose to play as one of three fully-voiced heroines, each with three different guys to choose stories with (so nine male leads total).

The art for the game looks very nice and from what I’ve heard of the music so far I’m very impressed!

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Koharu – voiced by Ayumi Fujimura

Koharu’s routes:
Kakeru Yuiga – voiced by

Yūki Kaji
Senri Ichinose – voiced by

Hiro Shimono
Masamune Tōya – voiced by

Takuya Satō

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Mikoto Kuga – voiced by Ayahi Takagaki

Mikoto’s routes:
Natsuhiko Azuma – voiced by

Daisuke Ono
Sakuya Nijō – voiced by

Mitsuki Saiga
Itsuki Kagami – voiced by

Kōji Yusa

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Nanami Shiranui – voiced by Asami Seto

Nanami’s routes:
Akito Syukuri – voiced by

Noriaki Sugiyama

Ron Muroboshi – voiced by

Tomokazu Sugita

Heishi Otomaru – voiced by

Hiroyuki Yoshino

Norn9: Var Commons will be out for Playstation Vita in Fall 2015. You can preorder now!

Games — Code: Realize coming to the West!

2015 is shaping up to be a good year for otome games! With Ozmafia!! being worked on by MangaGamer for a PC/Steam release, and just last week Amnesia: Memories was announced by Idea Factory International for Vita and PC/Steam release, now we have Aksys Games coming back strong with Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~! (which you can preorder now)

You play as Cardia, a girl growing up in a magical steam-powered alternate history where it’s become apparent that she’s been afflicted with some kind of Rogue-like poisonous touch, and the story covers how she deals with that in her everyday life all the while finding love with men based on historical and literary figures.

I don’t have much details on the characters yet since I’m trying to go into the game without spoiling too much but I can tell you who is there, what they look like, and who voices them.

Arsène Lupin voiced by Maeno Tomoaki (Decim in Death Parade, Camus in Uta no Prince-sama)

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Abraham Van Helsing voiced by Suwabe Junichi (Aomine in Kuroko’s Basketball, Space Dandy in Space Dandy)

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Victor Frankenstein voiced by Kakihara Tetsuya (Toudou in Yowamushi Pedal, Natsu in Fairy Tail)

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Impey Barbicane voiced by Morikubo Shotarou (Makishima in Yowamushi Pedal, Yosuke in Persona 4)

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Saint-Germaine voiced by Hirakawa Daisuke (Rei in Free!, Kakyoin in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure)

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Aksys says the game will be out in the Fall and Amazon lists a pre-order date of November. A small announcement site can be found here and the official Japanese site is available if you wanna see more screenshots.

Games — Amnesia: Memories

At a recent press event, Idea Factory International announced that they would be localizing their first otome dating sim, Amnesia, developed by their sister studio Otomate. One of Otomate’s other games, Hakuoki, had previously been released by publisher Aksys Games.

This is super exciting news because ever since the opening of Idea Factory’s North American branch fans of dating sims have been hoping it would open up their subsidiary Otomate’s library of titles. Idea Factory International had been seeking a publisher for Amnesia last year as well but no news ultimately came of that.

Seems instead they opted for a digital-only release, which sounds wise as it eliminates the overhead costs of manufacturing retail disks and obtaining dwindling Vita retail shelf space. In addition to the Vita they announced they’ll be releasing Amnesia for PC via Steam as well. This was amazing news as a PC version currently doesn’t exist in Japan, so this’ll be a port purely with the Western market in mind. The larger install base on PC will be sure to help with accessibility and bringing in new players. Maybe eventually the iOS/Android port will make its way over in English as well to cover a wide range of platforms.

Amnesia is certainly an interesting choice in title. It has some existing popularity among otome game fans, and the character styles and UI look especially gorgeous on the Vita. But the game has some particularly troubling character routes, so I’m really curious to see how well the game goes over with new players expecting happy romances. Also the matter that the main point-of-view character doesn’t talk in the game text and instead intent is inferred based on side commentary or how your partner reacts, similar to drama CDs, may come off as awkward to people who have only seen otherwise in the dating sim games they’ve played.

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You play as a nameless Heroine who has lost her memories due to an accidental collision by an other-worldly sprite named Orion. He wants to set things right and offers to help guide you through the metaphorical doors that lead to regaining your lost memories.

After the introduction the game starts with you outright choosing one of four character routes to attempt, via worlds themed by card suites. The twist is the stories throw you into already established relationships, and it’s your job to figure out why you’re partnered with that particular guy in that version of the world without raising suspicion about your affliction, and piece back together your lost memories.

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Shin – Heart. Childhood friend of the Heroine and Toma. Was bullied due to his family’s bad reputation. Studying to enter University. Voiced by Tetsuya Kakihara (Toudou from Yowamushi Pedal, Natsu from Fairy Tail).

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Ikki – Spade. Childhood friend of Kent’s and co-worker to the Heroine. Is very popular and has a large group of fangirls who jealously keep romantic competition at bay. Fourth-year University student. Voiced by Kishou Taniyama (Natsuki from Uta no Prince-sama, Jean from Attack on Titan).

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Kent – Clover. Childhood friend of Ikki’s and a University graduate. Was the Heroine’s tutor. Voiced by Akira Ishida (Kaworu from Neon Genesis Evangelion, Togami from Danganronpa).

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Toma – Diamond. Childhood friend of the Heroine and Shin. Second-year University student and acts as an older brother type. Voiced by Satoshi Hino (Noiz from DRAMAtical Murder, Shinkai from Yowamushi Pedal).

And I can’t really recommend the anime adaptation of Amnesia. It’s a complicated, confusing, and unsatisfying sampler of all the game’s routes combined into a short season. Wait for the game instead, which isn’t that far off!

Amnesia: Memories will be available in August for Playstation Vita via PSN and for PC via Steam, with Playstation TV support being patched in later.