On Otome Boys

**Spoiler Warning for Mystic Messenger

I recently completed Yoosung’s route on Mystic Messenger. Now, Otome Games like MM aren’t something I find myself spending much time on often (just out of personal preference) and while I found myself enjoying Yoosung’s route and the rather unique form of gameplay MM provides, I also faced one of the biggest issues I have with games like this one that I want to address.

In my experience, in these sort of games where the characters are what you’re meant to be motivated by never seem to make them all that great narratively. While most of them are really pretty and appealing, I usually come away from them feeling rather unimpressed. I think part of the reason that is is because creators of these characters focus too hard on making them likeable in a real-world sense, and forget that they’re still characters in a fictional world.

What I mean is that a lot of characters in Otome games would be impossible to dislike if they existed in real life. They’re physically beautiful, they have easily understood personalities that make absolutely nothing they say or do surprising to someone who is familiar with character tropes, and what flaws or tragic pasts they have only serve to heighten their appeal rather than give them any sort of downfalls to pursuing their stories or paths. They’re appealing to the eye, of course, and have personality traits that would endear you to them, but also won’t surprise you with any unwanted emotional baggage. If I were to meet any Otome character in real life as a real person, I would have no trouble at all liking them, or even falling in love with them.

In any other story besides the wish-fulfillment-oriented story of an Otome game, these characters would never work. In order for a character in a real, fully fleshed out story to work, they have to have actual flaws. They have to have obstacles to overcome. While they should probably be somewhat likeable, they also have to be human (or at least close to human). Characters in Otome games are not usually like this, because they exist to be perfect, to fulfill a fantasy of the person playing them. (This is the main reason I’m not a big fan of these types of games, mostly because I like flawed characters and also am not too motivated by self-insert romances, although I know a lot of people who are, and that’s okay.)

However, a lot of recent Otome games have attempted to go against this formula, and present a more complex story with more flawed characters. There are actually a pretty good amount of these, and I usually quite enjoy them, but most of them aren’t really huge mainstream successes. In fact, MM is the first really popular Otome-style game I’ve seen to exemplify this new movement, and I’m happy to see it gain success.

While I only played one route, I’m pretty confident that I’m not interested in any of the others due to the huge amount of effort that would require and what I’ve heard from the friend who got me into this game in the first place has said to me about what the other routes entail. But I overall really liked the characters as they appeared in Yoosung’s route. I thought they were all believable and well-thought out and I could honestly see all of them being appealing characters for someone to pursue… except… well…

707.

707, or Seven, or Luciel, or whatever his name is, is probably the most popular character of all the options, and on the surface it’s not hard to see why. He has a striking design, done up all in reds and oranges and yellows. The game itself seems to push his appeal pretty hard – his good ending is known as the “true ending” that reveals the most complete image of the story in its entirety, and there’s a popular and decently supported theory circling the fandom that he is self-aware of his role in an Otome game, and “waits” for the time the player gets around to playing his route. In addition, his route is harder to get to and usually requires the player to have completed at least one route before attempting his. AND on top of that, he gets the most attention from official merchandise and art of the game.

You might have noticed I have said nothing about his personality, and that’s because, well, as far as I can tell, he doesn’t really have one? I know, I know, I’m maybe not at the best position to judge because I haven’t played his route, but god, what is his personality? I mean what is it? Who is he?

As far as my initial impression, he seems like the hacker/tech savvy guy of the group. He possesses pretty impressive technical ability, almost to the point where it’s unrealistic, but that’s something I can excuse if it’s the only crazy thing about him. But… it’s not. He’s also some sort of world traveler. One conversation involves him just dropping that he once was stranded on an island with a civilization who worshipped him as a god because he… gave them a Nintendo DS? I think? It was really just such a random detail that it left me confused. On top of that, he has some deeper stuff going on with the main antagonist of the game being his brother, and the darker past there, and he’s also caught up in the religious cult of the surprise antagonist character Rika and… honestly, it’s confusing.

He possesses so many different faces and aspects of his character that it left me just dumbfounded. Maybe he’d fit in better with a different narrative, but compared to the other characters of MM, it’s downright odd how unfocused he is.

Let me use Yoosung for an example. Yoosung is the youngest character, and as such his innocence and naivety is important to his role in the story. Because he is young, he has the unique struggle of balancing schoolwork with his responsibilities as an RFA member. In addition, going right along with his juvenile nature, he’s obsessed with video games, which is simultaneously one of the flaws he has to overcome in his route. Finally, he is the cousin of Rika, and her death left a permanent scar on his psyche, one that was never able to fully heal due to the older members of the RFA refusing to talk about it outright, because, among other things, they wanted to protect him as the youngest member of the RFA.

Yoosung is a pretty multifaceted character, and he develops throughout the story in a way that was really interesting and engaging for me. Along the way, he learns to focus on school, to lessen his unhealthy obsession with video games, and ultimately, he learns how to move on from Rika’s death and find happiness. He has definite flaws that he overcomes with the help of the player, and that makes him a pretty successful character.

At the same time, however, he is a very simple character to understand. Basically all of his personality traits and conflicts stem from his youth. He’s in school, he plays video games, and he hasn’t quite gotten over the death of a beloved figure he looked up to. He is innocent and naïve. All of these traits fit in with his overall character of being young, and because of this, he makes sense as a whole.

Seven, on the other hand, draws personality traits, experiences, and obstacles from a bunch of wildly different ideas. His hacking ability should mean that he’s a smart guy, but he also uses a lot of “lol so random” humor that makes him seem more juvenile and dumb. This also conflicts with the worldly, mature ideas his many exotic experiences across the world paints him with.

Now, yes, it’s okay for characters to have contradicting traits sometimes. Often, this can be really interesting. But for Seven, it just makes no sense in the context of the other characters. NONE of the other characters in this game are quite as contradictory and all over the place as he is, and that, on top of the other traits I’ve mentioned about him, makes him stand out really strangely from the other characters in a way I didn’t really appreciate.

I think part of the reason this bothers me so much is that I feel like he’s closer to the classic Otome character I was describing before, where what flaws he possesses doesn’t really serve to make him deep, but rather just makes him more likeable. He has a tragic, complex backstory of which he is the victim, but at the same time, that doesn’t seem to make it more difficult for him in any real way. He just feels… cheap. I feel like his path is being pushed at me as the correct path for the story to go, without giving me any reason to care about his story. I mean, he doesn’t seem that affected by his past, so why should I be?

And yes, I know he’s hiding his true pain behind a mask, and he’s more affected in his actual route. But it’s harder to get to that route, so why should I bother? He didn’t give me any meaningful reason to pursue him in the basic routes. He’s a weird and unfocused character that doesn’t deserve being put on such a higher pedestal than the other characters. Why is he so much better than the other characters, who make sense and have natural flaws?

In fact, why play Otome games with characters like Seven at all unless I want to play with the fantasy of dating a perfect human?

I guess what I’m saying is that all the other characters of MM are the sort of characters I’d like to see in Otome games going forward, but it bothers me that Seven, who shares more similarities with more classic Otome characters, is the most popular one. It bothers me that aesthetic appeal is being put above character depth when the other characters clearly show that you can have both!

But, eh, whatever. If you like him, I don’t blame you. The game certainly seems to want you to.

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