I would like to start off this review of sorts by saying that, although there were many things that bothered me about this game, I did thoroughly enjoy playing it as well as love the characters from Mystic Messenger. However, as the title may give away, I have a few qualms over some of the topics brought up during the game, and how they were handled. More specifically, the two secret endings are what caused most issue for me, so this review contains many spoilers about these endings, so please be aware before you proceed.
* Note: I will be talking about things pertaining to depression, anxiety, and suicide, so if you are easily triggered or upset by these topics I suggest refraining from reading any further. *
Firstly, one thing that bothered me that isn’t part of the secret endings was when they brought up the topic of Jumin being gay. There were a plethora of different comments, but the general attitude of the characters was that being gay was somehow “weird” and abnormal. While I understand that this game originates from a different country that may still have more closed minded views of the LGBTQ community (not that each country still doesn’t face these issues), I just hoped that Cheritz wouldn’t have used it in a negative way that made being gay seem strange. While it wasn’t a major topic in the game, I wished if they brought it up they would’ve been more open about it, especially being a game that has a female love interest (though you’re technically just “friends”). It can be a tricky and sensitive topic, but seeing the way it was handled I almost wish they had just excluded the “lol Jumin’s gay gross” jokes from the game.
Edit: I’ve also heard some comments about the choice of saying you aren’t female in the beginning and their dismissive action. While it was probably meant as a joke, there is definitely a lack of understanding as to how that can be upsetting, most likely for many nonbinary/transgender individuals who have to deal with being misgendered and their gender being written off quite often.
Continuing with a more difficult topic is how they presented mental illness in the game, especially in the secret endings. We find out in these endings that Rika has issues with depression and anxiety. She seems to be getting help from a therapist (though the most we know is that she saw them for three weeks), and that V is very supportive of her even when she expresses self depreciating thoughts. While it may seem touching at first, these illnesses somehow completely twist her mind, which lead her to creating a religious cult and even blinding her fiance, V. Mental illnesses are a very sensitive topic, and the way they dealt with it was, in my opinion, very poorly. Having anxiety and depression do not necessarily make a person become dark and twisted in the mind to the point of abusing others. The usage of these illnesses to “explain” Rika’s actions seem more so offensive to those who deal with these mental issues on a daily basis.
Edit: Upon further discussion, there most definitely was other issues gone undiagnosed by the mental health providers, that caused her to rationalize her brutish actions and act in such a way. It is also upsetting to see some people defending her actions. While I wish she got proper care and treatment, it is important to understand that she committed crimes; drugged and abused people, most likely more than just V and Saeran, and that shouldn’t be dismissed because of her mental illness and it shouldn’t have been hidden either.
Additionally, we face criticism of mental treatment and medication when Seven takes care of his brother Saeran. Seven refuses to allow the hospital to use medication to help treat him even when his brother is obviously in a very fragile and critical state, after being through so much trauma in his past beginning with his abusive mother up to being drugged and manipulated by Mint Eye. Saeran needs professional help, but Seven decides to “save” him from going to the psych ward because apparently it’s the 1930’s and the hospital is performing lobotomies on their patients. But seriously, mental hospitals are there to help, but the game just made it seem like medication and professional help are bad. “Saeren, they won’t let you escape the psych ward! They want to give you medication and proper treatment so that you can hopefully recover from the many years of abuse and trauma you’ve endured!” Excuse my sarcasm, but seriously, “saving” Saeran from the hospital when he’s in such a state is NOT okay, and the way everything seemed “solved” after Saeran gave Seven the good ol’ attempted murder choke isn’t helping, either.
Edit: Again, being informed that mental health care in South Korea is definitely lacking. The mental health care field worldwide is still developing and still needs improvements. With so many negative stigmas, and a possibly bad psych ward, Seven’s actions seem much more understandable, though I still do wish he had gotten some sort of outpatient care that he needed.
Lastly, the most upsetting issue was V’s death in the first secret ending. More than that, the treatment of V as a character. V existed the whole game to be doubted and blamed, and the game pushes the player to try and see him as the bad guy. Whether you thought so or not, you learn the truth that he didn’t really do anything wrong, and was a victim of abuse on Rika’s part. He tried to forgive her and still love her, despite her foul actions, and I couldn’t help but feel absolutely awful for V the entire game. His death was the worst part. As you may know, suicide is a very sensitive topic, and the fact that a character who was treated so horribly throughout the whole game killed himself, actually made me sick to my stomach. While your reaction may not have been as intense, I think it’s fair to say that V as a character was treated poorly, and having him commit suicide at the end, after him blaming himself and enduring the issues he had, seems downright cruel.
Edit: While the game was confusing at first, it seems that Saeran had actually shot V, and not committed suicide. Still it is quite upsetting. I also realize the V is not completely blameless. He didn’t tell anyone, which ended up hurting everyone more. HOWEVER, I think it’s important to look at this from his view, even if you do disagree and think he’s done more wrong. He didn’t say anything to try to protect others, which was futile. He also endured abuse from Rika, and was most likely scared of what would happen. It is common for abuse victims to try to rationalize their abusers actions and to think its showing love. I am not an expert on the topic, of course, but V’s behavior is not atypical of someone who has been in an abusive and toxic relationship. I think it’s also important to address how unhealthy their relationship was, while the attempts at being supportive were appreciated it ended in physical abuse, and to sum it up, had a lot of words that should have remained unsaid.
I understand that the topic of mental illness is touchy for many including myself, and while I do like to separate fantasy from reality, there are just some topics that are really delicate and you have to use quite carefully. Cheritz use of anxiety and depression turning someone into an abusive dictator, as well as having a character who was treated awfully throughout the whole game commit suicide, is just very upsetting and even triggering to a lot of individuals. I know I am not the only one who was in the least a bit urked by this, I just felt that the way they used these topics and these characters just seemed very shallow. Of course mental illness exists, and is more common than people may think. But, with a topic that can be very difficult for many people. I think they used these illnesses poorly and left many players feeling very personally offended or sickened by its portrayal. I could go on for a very long time talking about how much I hated it, but I’m sure that would be ridiculously boring. I hope that those of you who may have felt similarly can relate, and please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions below! (respectfully, of course).
I would also like to say that if anyone else became very upset over these topics, or it didn’t sit right with them and would like to discuss it, feel free to comment and ask for my skype, discord, whatsapp, etc. if you’d like to talk! To finish things off, after bringing up these topics I think it’s important to put resources out for those struggling with these things! So, if you or anyone you know are having a difficult time, here are a few things that can help ! 🙂