Otome,  Review

The Ssum: Forbidden Lab Review

The Ssum is an Otome mobile game developed by Cheritz, supposed to come out in 2018, postponed different times, released as closed Beta for Malaysia and India Countries (closed off at the end of 2019) and remained on hold for over 4 years of development. On August 17th 2022, Cheritz has launched the finished product. The Korean Company has created a few successful titles such as Dandelion – Wishes brought to you, Nameless and Mystic Messenger. Is The Ssum: Forbidden Lab up to fans’ expectations?

Although the Beta was only available for a few selected Countries, many people could retrieve an online copy of the app as the text and subtitles had been translated from Korean to English already. When Cheritz declared the Beta would be terminated, the team also confirmed the full game was going to happen soon and they told their fans to stay tuned for its announcement on Social Media. However, for over 2 years they have gone radio silent, with no official statement about the game as only general Mystic Messenger updates were posted instead. Fans have messaged them time and time again and only received automated replies about The Ssum being still in development, reason why any information about it was classified and could not be revealed to the public. Everyone’s hope was slowly decreasing until Cheritz came back in Februrary this year to finally announce the game has been developed in secret and it was ready to come out in Spring.

Unfortunately, The Ssum got postponed again from April to May, from May to June, then to the ‘second half of 2022’ (the official word was that they wanted to perfect the game first, then they had to deal with vacancy also caused by COVID-19). On August 17th, to everyone’s surprise, The Ssum: Forbidden Lab finally launched.

The Story of The Ssum

After downloading an app online to find your Special Someone, the PiuPiu AI matches you with a guy named Teo, who seems to be oblivious to the whole thing. He talks to himself all the time and mistakens you for another AI, as the app should not be available on any store and he is getting paid to test its features before the final release.

While the mystery behind this app and the team working on it remains unsolved, the two of you start having random conversations about your daily life. Teo eventually loses track of the developers in charge of the app and no longer gets compensated for it, so the two of you are left there alone, chatting on a tool nobody else is going to use.

Teo is an aspiring film Director who wants to follow his father’s footsteps. Although he got stuck into a hospital bed for quite some time due to a bike accident he had while filming a movie scene in the fog, his previously broken leg has fully recovered and your company brightes his remaining days of hospitalization, only to warm his heart even more in the weeks to come.

How did you find this app and what is the meaning behind all this?

From the Beta to the Final Version

As someone who managed to play the Beta a few months before it got removed, I can make a proper comparison between the initial stages and the product we are able to play today. The beta essentially offered 14 days of chat where batteries were already implemented and could also be purchased to unlock the special replies (which also could lead to some additional pictures), Teo’s thoughts were posted in a sort of personal diary you could access for free, it was possible to set and edit your own schedule as much as you wanted and there was his birthdate displayed along with yours (you could even customize that to make him either older or younger according to your preference). In the final version, birthdates have been removed from your profiles, most likely due to the fact Cheritz wanted to keep Teo’s age up to our interpretation and allow us to experience the story in the most realistic way possible.

In the Beta, you could skip the waiting times in the chat with batteries and speed up the progress like in the full game. There was a ‘not yet available’ feature regarding free batteries, indicating that they were implementing a way to gain some without paying. In the current version, this option is nowhere to be found and it’s been replaced by free energies you can gain by watching daily ads.

The plot is pretty much the same, I can recognize the chat dialogues, some exchanges in the calls and the photos that have been remade with the same concept or pose, but with a completely new design. It looks more Anime-like now while it had a realistic feel in the initial stages (while still looking stylized/painted). I personally believe the original version was more unique, it differed a lot from Cheritz’ previous Otome games and it was refreshing to see. Teo’s eyes were dark in the Beta, but they are now purple in the full game. The background tracks also didn’t change and they surely bring back memories from when I played it for the first time in 2019.

The gameplay is now evindently expanded compared to the Beta, since we could only chat with the main character Teo there and we had no additional tools to try. The app got a Social Media corner where you can connect with other players in the Daily Study or forums and gain free resources by liking someone’s post or receiving interactions yourself. The more you get involved and level up Planets, the more assets you can receive (including some batteries from time to time) and level up. You can complete your tasks in the second Home screen, which looks like a Retro monitor. Without a monthly subscription though, you may be a little limited. All in all it is important to be active and receive Trivial Features for special rewards, you can access the forums through the Freedom planet, but in order to open it you have to use the Incubator at times, or there won’t be enough energy for that.

Was the game worth the wait?

Warning: This post may include minor Spoilers. The review is also based on the first 15 days of chats, so it may change in the future should the story take a different turn.

Considering we have waited for more than 4 years for this game to come out, I have to admit it didn’t exactly meet my expectations. If you happen to be a Mystic Messenger fan and never played the Beta for this one, you might be disappointed because The Ssum is not following the same format (and that is okay, but if you were hoping for something similar, you may want to reconsider downloading this app). Talking to Teo can be fun and relaxing, he’s sweet and nice to interact with, but since you only got one character in the app so far, you may find him rather bland the more you proceed with the conversations.

The story has the potential to be interesting as it seems like there might be something mysterious behind the app and the developers who hired Teo for the Beta testing. When he was walking in the hospital park one night, it seemed like there was a figure standing in the shadows, partially hidden in a far bush. That hinted there might be someone stalking him or just keeping his every movement in check for some kind of experiment, but then it all became perfectly normal with no sign of development once he got discharged.

The waiting times in the chats can be a bit irritating. More often than not Teo takes 20 minutes to do something minor, sometimes it is a minute or less, but you obviously cannot waste all your batteries to skip that. The typing can also be pretty slow, as realistic as that might be. The Expert typing to speed it up costs money and that won’t even get rid of the waiting times for when Teo is busy or gone.

The main female character (aka you) doesn’t seem to have a specific role, we are just the random girl who matched up with him in this app he had to test for a team who went MIA. At the end of Day 14, Teo confesses his feelings for you and you can become an official couple right on the spot. I was honestly expecting the story to take a different turn starting from Day 15, but it seems like it will just continue this way for a while, only with chat after chat and some lovey-dovey interaction in between. During a call little after the confession, you can let Teo know that you really want to meet him irl and go on a proper date, but he tells you that you live too far apart and maybe one day you will be able to meet.

This honestly set me off completely and made me stop playing at once. Not only the chats were starting to feel like a chore, but I am generally against online-only relationships and thus I don’t feel like having that simulated in a game. Mystic Messanger was great because it had different Visual Novel segments and there was a lot of suspance with the overall narration. Here we are supposed to have at least 200 days of story content and I honestly wonder if we’ll be stuck into the chatroom until the end, or if the MC will be able to see Teo at all. It might become extremely difficult and boring to follow all day every day at this rate, I couldn’t even go past Day 15 because of my daily job and overall commitments.

The schedule sometimes is not respected and you may lose a bunch of progress once you get back to the app. In order to change it you have to pay actual money again, which is honestly ridiculous considering it is supposed to be a big improvement from Mystic Messenger, where you could get pings from the chats at 3 AM.

More importantly, being a mobile game, the monthly pass is more expensive than any online RPG game on PC. You basically have 2 packages to choose from and the price range goes from $19,99/€22,99 to $24.99/€30 (it might be even higher for different currencies). If you subscribe, you get access to free Aurora batteries, calls and many other features that you can hardly unlock as a free player (or it will take you longer to do so). Still, the VIP batteries cannot be used to replay the old chats and none of what is offered justifies a similar cost.

If you want to use the batteries as a f2p user, you may risk wasting them completely too. Sometimes you spend them to choose the Premium answer in a conversation, only to find out the photo Teo sends you is still locked behind the paywall. Using batteries should automatically grant you access to these minor things, otherwise they don’t make any sense and are there for nothing. This looks like another shady way to force players into buying the monthly subscription and I can’t say I am fond of these tactics in games.

The private account is locked for free players and you won’t be able to see his thoughts anymore unless you subscribe. They added an invasive ad you need to watch for 5 seconds when getting out of features and that tries to lure you into purchasing even more additional content.

Even the Time Travel ticket to go back is a paid option and literally everything they made in The Ssum seems to be crafted with the sole purpose of getting cash.

Online speculations say that Cheritz might add another character in the future, mostly due to a male silhouette that doesn’t look like Teo at all. Considering the game’s theme is related to the Infinite Universe concept it would make a lot of sense, but if this is how the gameplay with the main love interest is set, I genuinely think it might be difficult to keep the audience interested for so long.

The game also presented a lot of issues since day one and the most recent patch didn’t fully get rid of them. While new games are rarely bug-free, from something that has been developed for over 4 years you would expect way better and more. The recent delays were supposed to allow the developers to perfect the game, in order to offer the best experience to their players. I suspect they hmay ave completely scrapped the original idea at some point and remade it entirely, transforming the 90% of it in a paid app (presented like a free-to-play Otome).

I believe it would be better to purchase the full game once and only have minor microtransactions for the ones who feel like spending more. Offering The Ssum for free only to serve a $20+ monthly fee with many other paid assets is just not right and it looks like a potential scam (in my opinion, the fact they already had paid features in the Beta was already questionable, if we consider those accounts are most likely gone forever and the game didn’t come out for a very long time after that).

Still, if you don’t need to change your schedule and you mainly play the chats by avoiding Premium selections, the outcome should not be particularly different. However, the English translation is incredibly disappointing too, especially from Day 1 to 11. It seems to improve a bit after that, but it is clear they didn’t have any Native speaker (nor an English expert) to work on the spelling.

Last, but not least, the overall explanations in game are either missing or confusing. It’s not easy for new players to figure out how everything works and you essentially have to spend most of your time on the app to grind. For the ones who do not like to engage or dislike Social Media in general, there is very little to do as only the chats would remain.

As someone who discovered Otome games through Mystic Messenger and also owns Cheritz’ previous titles on Steam, I was truly excited to get to play the full version of The Ssum. Unfortunately, I had to put it aside and completely remove the app from my device because I can’t find the energy nor will to continue playing this format for 200 days. Unless the story takes a different turn and we can see more of Teo in addition to the regular chats, I won’t be able to invest enough time into this. I am a hopeless romantic and avid reader, for this reason I find Otomes very fun and nice to interact with. But without a proper story dynamic it is like reading a novel of 200 pages where the only thing the characters do is talking to each other, sitting down on a couch and drinking tea, discussing the weather, their meals and their jobs the entire time. The nice Easter Eggs the game is presenting on different days are not enough to convince me to resume my playthrough.

Please feel free to add your own opinion in the comments, also suggestions and tips if you feel like it might be helpful.

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