Cherishing Cheritz: A deep dive into otome’s underappreciated company

 Cherishing Cheritz: A deep dive into otome’s underappreciated company

Certain otome developers have been in hot water recently, what with newer releases having botched translations (tsk, tsk, tsk Aksys) and the disappointing removal of mobile only titles making them impossible to be played ever again (tsk, tsk, tsk Solmare). These unfortunate incidents have brought about a microscope lens homing in on certain developers, with interviews that read as negative and belittling of their target audience and shaming of these niche titles aimed at women only aiding more fuel to the fire. This made me reminisce on the very appealing entrance of South Korean based company Cheritz, what with their one and only goal being to provide female orientated titles to appease the appetite of fans like myself. Considering that they have always met this promise head on, I felt it most appropriate to take a moment to celebrate the many successes of this company fulfilling our needs in English available otome games, and why this is the case.

Who are Cheritz?

Cheritz was founded in 2012 in South Korea as a company dedicated to creating only otome titles. Their most recent and biggest hit was their mobile exclusive title Mystic Messenger, released in 2016 which received a massive player base and online attention for its innovative creation, appealing, multi-layered story and amazing cast of lovable characters (especially that Elizabeth the 3rd!). To celebrate the appeal of Cheritz, I want to discuss their three titles in more detail, and highlight the reasons they deserve all this attention. When discussing why we should cherish Cheritz, I feel we can separate this into 5 categories.

Heroines

A major contender for being the sole reason any player considers when picking out an appealing game is the allure of a compelling and well designed main character (MC) to draw us into the world and the story. Concerning many otome games, this is of important and prolific discussion due to many of the MC’s being mediocre to downright disappointing and atrocious blank player character self inserts. This phenomenon of the Twilight Bella-esque characters who you would otherwise think are undeserving of the male attention they receive can be traced back to one of the most successful earliest releases for Western audiences concerning otome games. This is in the case of Amnesia’s blank slate of the amnesiac heroine, with even no ‘canon’ name as the main indicator that she is simply a projection of the player. Due to her situation, Amnesia’s heroine barely has a personality, behaving passively throughout the game, instead her comrade Orion providing the majority of decisions and actions. Other examples are Ozmafia!!’s Fuuka, and Diabolik Lovers’ Yui for both being extremely naive, unexplored, and disappointing leading ladies with questionable decision making (hilarious when you’re the one picking!) and zero development or growth.

In Cheritz’s merit, they have said to be listeners to female gamer’s wants, and I would look to one of the most obvious factors to show they deliver this promise is with their heroines. In their earliest work with Dandelion – Wishes brought to you -, our heroine is named Heejung, whose hardships and struggles in life will be most felt and understood by those in South Korea, but is still a heroine with an astonishing amount of depth and characterisation not often seen in MC’s. As an extremely caring person, especially so with animals (bonus points from me!), she’s a genuinely kind soul who players immediately feel and care for. This is reinforced once learning of her hard and harsh family dynamic and her low self-worth due to feeling overwhelmed and stressed on succeeding in her academic results to avoid her parents’ disapproval and disappointment.

With parents who look down upon her and decide her worthiness by her only following through with her business career path, Heejung’s true passion lies in her skills and joy in painting instead. Heejung has failing scores and has almost no social life due to this upbringing and negative space in school, which all makes for a sympathetic heroine with a continuous uphill battle in developing and improving through the game’s routes. Heejung is a deeply sad and depressing character, but with parallels I feel plenty of us can relate to, she was the first example of Cheritz to provide us with a heroine with substance, goals, and most importantly, a well-rounded personality. What a great start!

As one of my favourite ever heroines in a dating sim is with the company’s next title of Nameless – The One Thing You Must Recall. Our heroine is once again not nameless (hah) this time, as her ‘canon’ name is Eri. Eri is even more relatable universally than Heejung where the social differences is not of a main focus in Nameless. Instead, Eri goes through a loss as soon as the game starts, with the sudden passing of her grandfather. The state of loneliness she feels is permeated even more so when learning of her parents working overseas. Eri’s personality is immediately noticeable and even more layered than Heejung. She’s shy so she’s not social in her school, yet mature for her age, but is a pessimist due to her situation and suffers from low-self esteem. This one sentence encapsulates what makes Eri perfectly imperfect. What’s most evident and felt through our screens is just like Heejung, Eri is also a very lonely and sad heroine.

Many of her routes bring her out of her shell, and develops her to improve these drawbacks that affect her. And with the decisions we make to see her progress into a better version of herself, it’s never been more clear that these are not personality based but instead guiding posts to see Eri blossom and improve for her own self-worth and better standing in this isolated world of hers.

In what would be most people’s lesser liked heroine, the nameless heroine of Mystic Messenger is the most blank of all across many otome titles (no surprise considering it’s a mobile game however, a common design choice on this platform). This may come across as strange for my complimenting of the company for their heroine’s, but hear me out. For a mobile game, it’s almost expected that our heroine is as simple as what we get with Mystic Messenger, but Cheritz still manages to make an appealing heroine through our options we get when making choices. While there has to be a sense of player denial due to the heroine’s questionable decisions to progress the story (an obvious one being her agreeing to enter a house unknown to her when conversing with a stranger; yikes!) I would argue it only makes her even more comedic due to her being so air-headed and ditsy; it’s endearing.

This is furthered by Mystic Messenger’s choices being chock full of hilarious options, and by consistently selecting these lines, it portrays our faceless heroine as something more, even if it’s the most bare-bones creation of the leading ladies. I find this really effective in the format of Mystic Messenger specifically, as the LI’s always engage in comical back and forths, so the MC sliding into these DM’s with such ease and providing so many laughs herself adds even more comedy to its already silly setup, and makes the cast all the more connected and human. She can be a witty, quick thinking joker, and by creating this humorous MC, it may in fact make what follows all the more manageable, because now it’s time to explore what lies beyond the surface of these wonderfully illustrated games.

Stories (trigger warning)

Both Dandelion and Nameless have fantasy elements but are still grounded in reality. With these two entries tied by being set in the same reality (we’ll get to more on this in the next section), both explore the development of its leading ladies through the smaller arcs with the love interest (LI) routes. As you would expect from a visual novel, Cheritz’s route endings pack massive emotional punches when considering the situations both its heroine and LI’s endure. Some are bittersweet, some are traumatic, and others are down right shocking (hint to secret otome LI tropes such as yandere’s!). What Cheritz effectively does is provide darker, more subtle material to an already deep story through the heroine’s all important character arcs.

As we’ve already discussed with why Cheritz’s heroines stand out, Heejung represents South Korea’s stigma on mental abuse and the working class. Eri experiences themes even darker with being affected by death, manipulation, abandonment issues and suicide. While many of Cheritz’ fans are newer with experiencing Mystic Messenger as their first game of the company, the seemingly vanilla appearance of Mystic Messenger hides such themes and plenty more, from assault, kidnapping, blackmail, and loss, to name only a few. Cheritz is not shy when making their storylines sinister that spice up the shoujo-esque overarching plot, constructing an already mature plot into creating an otome title more adult than many others the West have received. These themes are most often explored through the LI’s, best exemplified in Mystic Messenger.

Due to the fantasy elements of both Dandelion and Nameless, Mystic Messenger in comparison is so solidly set in a normal, everyday reality that its darker material really penetrates and strikes a cord. Yoosung has to come to terms with the death of his cousin, Jumin has developed a skewed perception of romance due to his womanizing father, Jaehee struggles with feeling happy in her current career being under Jumin, and Zen has to cope with being unable to date due to his career in the entertainment spotlight. Each arc with Mystic Messenger’s characters delve into previously explored themes Cheritz fans will notice such as South Korea’s stigmatization on mental health and work pressures. These human situations and interactions exclusively portrayed through texts is something so unique to Mystic Messenger that it’s no wonder it blew up like it did.

These very hard truths and harsh realities only grow bigger in scale the more Cheritz adds to it, with the mystery of the original fundraiser’s of Rika and V’s whereabouts and past being explored, and more routes added. Its characters have never felt so real and so imperfect that the creation of the game being the sending and receiving of texts makes this set of LI’s all the more raw and human. It truly feels like you’re conversing with someone, down to the endearing mistranslations, the characterisations portrayed through mere communication by the limitation of mobile phones (emotes, stickers, voice mail, calls) and the always updated lore.

Theorize this! (Spoilers)

In the case with many fandoms and franchises, the rabbit hole can go as deep as your detective skills takes you. This is no different to the many keen eyed fans of Cheritz, with a plethora of theories to come about that not only attempts to connect the worlds of the three games together in scarily coincidental fashion, but certain references and throwbacks to their earlier games may be nodding to many secrets and revelations to be revealed in Mystic Messenger and Cheritz’s games to follow. Something as simple as linking the two heroines from Dandelion and Nameless due to Heejung’s parents divorcing and moving away from one another could hint to Heejung’s father conceiving another daughter with a different woman, making Eri Heejung’s half sister!

This is down to the similarities of the two heroine’s looks, specifically in their shared eye colour. Such similarities open up endless possibilities, with characters blatantly designed to look similar to others from a different game. There are so many to mention, from Dandelion’s Jiyeon and Mystic Messenger’s Yoosung appearing like twins, and Nameless’ Red and Mystic Messenger’s 707 sharing an almost identical nickname (Warrior of Justice/Defender of Justice). The most notable however is with Mystic Messenger’s Zen sharing similar symbols on his clothes, the same eye colour and hair style as Dandelion’s Jieun. The similarities don’t stop there, as their routes are structured in the same way with both acknowledging their in-game existence and knowledge of the Wizard character. The parallels between the games are endless, with wider implications to follow.

A major aspect of Cheritz’ games is the Wizard character, originally introduced in Dandelion who happens to be the creator of the pocket universe Heejung lives in, and influencer of its character’s actions. As a pocket universe, Heejung’s world is not a part of reality, where the Wizard has full control of the happenings of the game despite what we would assume is our guiding of Heejung with our choices. Furthermore, the term puppeteer is introduced in Nameless, where Eri’s grandfather created the LI’s who happen to come to form as mere puppets; they do not exist. This is coined as proxies. What this ends up creating are recurrences within each game that could be more than just coincidences and telling of something so much greater.

In Cheritz’ latest game, Mystic Messenger further suggests that each of Cheritz’ games are centered around these pocket universe where a single mastermind has control of the game and acknowledges that there is a player character. Theories suggest that certain characters (specifically 707 and Zen) make multiple remarks that break the fourth wall, such as acknowledging when the player is on a character route, and will always fall in love with the MC no matter the route taken. Creepily enough, 707 has even more suggestible dialogue that questions your perception of this seemingly innocent game, as he blatantly yet jokingly remarks that the MC resets the game and knows of her arrival before the game even happens (don’t forget, he’s been “watching you from the start!”).

Considering that the opening song of the title hints to being in the viewpoint of 707 himself, all these subtle suggestions reinforce 707 actually being another Wizard character, coming back to Cheritz’ original title! So all this time you’ve spent caring for the RFA’s members, how does it feel it’s all been conceived right from the start to make 707 amused and entertained?

The theme of memories is also prolific within each game, with Nameless literally stating this as the end goal to recall something important Eri has forgotten, and as the Wizard characters way of creating the pocket worlds by using the MC’s memories (Dandelion), affecting even the LI’s themselves that they are technically coerced to fall in love with the MC. Shocking stuff! For example, the seemingly harmless hourglasses of Mystic Messenger may in fact represent memories, with the only two self aware characters gifting the MC with them the most. This links back to how certain characters are merely puppets and therefore do not truly exist in their pocket universe. Don’t these crazy, head scratching possibilities spice up an already tasty game?

Gameplay

Speaking about Mystic Messenger, how could gameplay not be a category? Mystic Messenger is formatted entirely on our current most used way of communicating with mobile phones, with around 90% of us owning one. While Mystic Messenger is free to play, its system of a real time clock is a very daunting task to commit to depending on the player’s schedule. While its main hindrance is due to this, this has not stopped the title of being recognized as one of the most popular otome title’s ever.

As a free to play title for mobile devices, it’s evident why and how it reached so many of its players, but its chosen format is especially notable for being so relevant to everyone who has a mobile phone, so it’s hard to resist indulging in its unique gameplay mechanics. For one thing, it has never been done before, and by its exclusivity in being the format of game and no other, it’s often the only reason fans suggest playing the game to merely experience this unique gameplay.

As a throwback to their first title, Dandelion is an important otome for being one of the rare visual novels to have another form of gameplay to experiment with in the staple visual novel format. Its state balancing mechanic (raising-simulator) is an underutilized mechanic that proves to be even more of a niche genre for even visual novel fans. The raising simulator genre has been featured in mostly indie titles, from RE: Alistair, to Magical Diary and Star Project. And just like in all of these, Dandelion included this mechanic to flesh out its gameplay by having the levels obtained at a certain point of the game effect what character route and ending is met.

So not only are dialogue choices of course an aspect of the visual novel, but by managing the stat balancing players choose to prioritize what they think is right to obtain the character route of their wishes or the ending they most desire. Overall, Cheritz with only three titles under their belt have showcased a flare for experimenting with their gameplay. This is always changed with each title from them, so you can start to understand why longer time fans are so excited for the (hopeful) next release from the company.

Those 10/10 opening songs

If you’ve already played any of Cheritz’s games, how could you not expect this to get its own category? While Mysterious Messenger is an absolute banger and showcases just what you can expect from the title, filled with visual mystery, and intriguing lyrics, its popularity outshines my personal preference in the lesser cared for opening of Nameless.

From the creepy carnival ride to the piercing white scenes to show a suspicious, nameless (haha) figure alone with Eri, there is so much to hint at darker truths and hidden mysteries not initially obvious. What Cheritz does is not only make emotional romantic routes as we all want from an otome game, they serves us with so much more, with stories filled with meaning and depth that adds a sense of maturity, respect and everlasting lessons to their audience. And what better way do they quickly portray this than their always amazing OP’s?

Conclusion

Cheritz is also a company not without its faults however. Cheritz have been silent in providing updates for what was considered to be their next release of The Ssum for mobiles devices, and we have not had any news since 2018. And with the success of Mystic Messenger, the underlying fear many of us have is with Cheritz’s moving of focus from PC to mobile only; Nameless was released in 2013 and was the last title Cheritz has released on Steam. Cheritz, with only three games against their name, has received massive recognition for their efforts in creating polished, uniquely individual otome games

Despite what set backs they may be experiencing, the wait will be worthwhile. As for those who are new to the genre of otome or who have no interest in dating our favourite 2D husbandos, Cheritz have made wonderfully deep stories filled with outstanding characterization, unique gameplay elements, and overarching themes and messages many players would still enjoy experiencing.

Thanks for reading! Keep the conversation going by joining us on our Twitter, Facebook and Discord, and as always, leave a comment below and tell me what your favourite Cheritz title is and why!

Lilia Hellal
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