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Pokemon Myths and Mysteries: Lavender Town and Cursed Cartridges

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As a game filled with legendary beings and mythical monsters that has tantalized the imaginations of millions for two decades, its no surprise that the Pokémon franchise has become the source of many mysterious myths and tales. Some fall in to the category of plausible fan theories, such as the Pokémon Gengar being the dark shadow of the lighter Clefable Pokémon, or that Cubone was initially intended to evolve in to Kangaskhan, but was deemed too dark by designers, as the skull Cubone uses as a mask is said to be its mother’s. Far more unsettling than this category of myth are the urban legends that have seeped in to the real world, sinister stories about suicide-inducing sounds and corrupted, cursed cartridges. Listen as I recount some of my favorite terrifying tales surrounding the original Pokémon games, but be warned! These are the eerie legends that provide perfect fodder for nightmares, a delicacy to dream eaters such as Gengar. Even the bravest of us may have to sleep with a Lunar Wing under our pillow after hearing these shiver-inducing stories!

The most infamous of all Pokémon urban legends concerns Lavender Town and its haunting, spine-tingling tune.  It’s a testament to the the lasting impact of this truly remarkable soundtrack that evocative themes such as Lavender Town’s generate such a powerful ambiance, perfectly matching the mood and atmosphere of the scene in game, that they remain with players over a decade later and escaped into stories to chill to the core the children who grew up playing Pokémon. Here is a link, so you can experience this spooky, somber song for yourself.  For a truly harrowing experience, I encourage you to leave the song playing in the background while you read the rest of the article, as it perfectly sets the eerie atmosphere for our tale.  You may want to leave the light on though….

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The story goes that in some copies of Pokémon Red and Green, the original Pokémon games released in Japan in 1996, there was a harmful frequency in the Lavender Town theme that drove several Japanese children insane, ultimately leading them to commit suicide. Specifics on the story vary with different tellings. In some it is a simple, yet sinister syndrome, called Lavender Town Syndrome, that when the frequencies of the song meet certain types of developing minds, the only result could be a violent ending of life. In others narratives, in-game text is said to have somehow developed into a channel for the dead to communicate with the living, and children who had recently experienced a tragic loss, being suddenly reunited with a loved one and eager to be with them forever, sought to kill themselves. Regardless of how the yarn unravels, the constants tend to be children violently killing themselves through hanging, or leaping from great heights, burning themselves alive, and other excruciating methods, and the almost otherworldly quality of Lavender Town’s theme.

Its only (super)natural that Lavender Town would be utilized as the source location for scary stories out-of-game considering the nature of what happens in-game. Lavender Town stories employ the only macabre moment in Pokémon Red and Blue Version (or Red and Green in Japan), where trainers arrive in Lavender Town, which houses the Pokémon Tower, a place where other trainers bury their deceased Pokémon. This more mature moment in the game’s narrative provided players a reminder of the inescapable reality of death, even in such a cheerful world, and informed them that even Pokémon can die. The Pokémon Tower is also the only area in the game where players can encounter Ghost-type Pokémon, and where, within the game’s story, they are called upon to exorcise the angry ghost of a Pokémon, the lingering remnant of a deceased Marowak. It’s no surprise then that Lavender Town would pass on from its digital setting to haunt and plague players in reality as well.

Pokemon Tower

It could also be that the urban legend was informed or inspired by reality. While the Lavender Town story’s foreign setting does veil specifics and make actual information challenging to come by, the reality of localization is full of horror stories of its own that are relatively common knowledge. In one well-known instance, an episode of the Pokémon anime caused many young viewers in Japan to seize and convulse as a result of its bright colors and flashing lights, and consequently never aired outside of Japan. Its entirely possible that an actual instance in which a piece of media harmed its audience was somehow misconstrued as something far more tragic and horrifying. In either case, the scary story itself preys upon the familiar idea of the impact of media on children, the fear of death within the childish hearts of us all, and the fear that harm will befall our children and that we as adults will remain powerless and unaffected, making the myth’s longevity conceivable. Not to mention that it is paired with a truly unnerving song, making for an unsettling and memorable experience.

Another urban legend that surrounds Pokémon that seems to have spawned from Creepypasta is a myth concerning a mysterious copy of the game Pokémon Red, a copy now commonly known as Pokémon Black, or Creepy Black, that was first rumored well before the actual and unrelated game Pokémon Black became a reality. I reencountered the legend of Pokémon Black the day Pokémon Black and White were first announced, and I was dying for some more information on the fifth generation of Pokémon. I stumbled upon a webpage which recounted the Pokémon Creepy Black story and shared some of its lasting impact. The page played the Lavender Town theme as you read, just as it’s playing now (right?), providing the proper primer for a scary story. That story goes something like this…

Pokemon Creepy Black

Presumably, a collector of hacked versions of Pokémon found what he assumed was a hacked version of Pokémon Red. Instead of the typical red cartridge, it had a black cartridge with no picture, just a black label. “Black” started up exactly the same as Red did, until the start screen appeared, at which point the trainer Red was featured alone with no Pokémon cycling through, and it read “Black Version” below the title. Everything was as expected once more until just after the player selected a starter Pokémon, at which point a new Pokémon named “GHOST” could also be found in the party. When inspected, it was level one and shared the same sprite as the ghosts encountered in the Pokémon Tower before the player has the Sliph Scope. It also had an attack that didn’t exist until after the first generation, Curse, only this move operated a little different in the most horrifying way. Defending Pokémon couldn’t attack GHOST- the screen read that they were too scared to move. When GHOST used curse on them, the screen would go dark, and the Pokémon’s cry was heard only in a lower pitch. When the screen brightened once more, the defending Pokémon would be gone. If used in battle against a trainer, the Pokéball icon representing the opponent’s Pokémon would disappear. One can’t help but insinuate that the Pokémon had died.

The player could go through the entire game virtually untouchable. After the Elite Four, however, the player’s sprite would become that of an old man in an empty overworld. There are said to be no Pokémon in the player’s party, and no NPCs; just a lone figure walking among tombstones where NPCs once stood, and the Lavender Town tune drifting through the air. That is, until “GHOST” reappears, this time to challenge the player. Suddenly the player would be assaulted with image after image, sprite after sprite, of all of the Pokémon they had used Curse on and all of the trainers who’d lost Pokémon. Finally, the sprite of GHOST would reappear and use Curse on the player, ending the game and resetting the save data.

Poke Ghost

While I enjoy the eerie nature of this alleged hack, what I enjoy even more are the countless other stories it has inspired and variations on the tale itself. Later stories such as “Lost Silver” provide a similarly surreal situation to the second generation Pokémon games, and another I’ve encountered concerns a conscious, self-aware Red trapped forever in his game. For all comparable tales, Creepy Black seems to have been the first creepy cartridge story, the open-ended nature of which lends itself well to sequels, as the original teller claims to have lost the cartridge. The original source through which I heard the story insinuated further that the cartridge wasn’t hacked, but was actually cursed, and that players who held on to the cursed, black cartridge too long would go mysteriously missing, or start to see strange shadows looming ever closer until they finally passed the cartridge on. Perhaps these are all just fun tales to add an unhealthy dose of dark and disturbing to a child-friendly game. On the other hand, some twisted, talented soul may have made this horrifying hack to startle unwitting players. Or maybe, just maybe, the teller of the second tale narrowly missed a curse of their own from an all-too-familiar sinister source. After two decades, who knows?  And what untold stories might still lurk in the shadows about cursed cartridges, murderous melodies, and digital ghosts waiting to capture the thoughts of the reader or listener? Let me know if you’ve heard any Pokemyths or horror stories perhaps I haven’t. Keep checking Goomba Stomp for all things Pokémon, creepy otherwise. Oh, and pleasant dreams!

Gengar

Tim is not the droids you are looking for. He resides quietly in the Emerald City where he can often be found writing, reading, watching movies, or playing video games. He is the Xbox editor for Goomba Stomp and the site's official Pokémon Master.

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1 Comment

  1. Theo

    February 10, 2016 at 2:33 am

    This is an amazing article. Great job. I have bookmarked your site.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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Game Reviews

‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

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Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

Yaga

Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

Yaga

At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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Games

‘Resident Evil 3: Nemesis’ — A New Height to Survival-Horror

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Resident Evil 3 Nemesis

If we can forget that Nemesis was a poorly designed rubber goof in the Resident Evil: Apocalypse movie, we can easily state that he is the apex predator of the series. The follow-up to Resident Evil 2 had quite a few expectations to fill and, for the most part, Resident Evil 3 delivered. While not so much a fan-favorite as RE2, there was a lot to like about RE3. The return of RE‘s Jill Valentine, some new intuitive controls, and, of course, theNemesis.

RE3 marks the first time in the series where you are limited to one character – Jill. Through this, the story is slightly more focused and straightforward – despite the plot being all about Jill trying to leave Raccoon City. RE3 director Kazuhiro Aoyama cleverly sets in pieces of RE2 to make this work as both a prequel and a sequel. If you’ve never played RE2 – shame on you – you would not be able to scout notable tie-ins such as the police station. With a large majority of the building still locked up, Marvin Branagh, the wounded police officer who helps you in the second game, is still unconscious and has yet to give anyone the keycard which unlocks the emergency security system.

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Where RE3 really shines is in its latest entry of Umbrella Corps. bio-engineered tyrants called Nemesis. The hulking tank brought a new dimension to the series, invoking more cringe-inducing terror and stress than ever. As if zombies and critters jumping through windows weren’t bad enough, now you have to worry about an RPG-wielding maniac busting through a wall and chasing you around the entirety of the immediate environment – and chase is certainly brought to a whole new level indeed. It became a running joke when you would encounter a handful of zombies, but could escape unscathed by simply running into another room. Nemesis, on the other hand, will continue his pursuit no matter what room you run into. At the time, this brought a whole new level of detail in the genre. Knowing that at any given moment he will just appear and will certainly derail whatever key or plot item you’re quested to look for made Nemesis a very intense experience.

Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror.

The gameplay also takes a few different approaches in this game. There will be moments when you encounter Nemesis, or certain plot occasions where you will be prompted to make a decision. It was a great alteration to the series, as it added new layers and weight for the player. Another addition to the gameplay came in the form of control although as minute as it sounds, is having the ability to turn a full 180 degrees – yes you read that correctly. Resident Evil quintessentially coined the term survival-horror, and survival certainly predicates the genre. There will be times – if not numerous times, you will run out of ammo. When those moments used to occur, you would have to make your character turn in the slowest fashion imaginable to make a run for the door and to safety. It was those moments back then that would pull the player away from the action. With the addition of the quick-turn ability- which was actually first introduced in Capcom’ Dino Crisis game – it gave the player the chance to just cap a few zombies and dash creating more seamless and dynamic gameplay.

resident-evil-Nemesis-768x402

The level design of Resident Evil 3 is grand, if not grander than RE2. A lot of the setting and scenery take place in the open air of the city and a few other places around the vicinity. RE and RE2 mostly took place indoors, and those settings helped create unique moods especially when it is all about tight corridors adding a more claustrophobic feel. Aoyama definitely went with a bigger setting and atmosphere in the follow-up. The game takes you through a police station, a hospital, a local newspaper office, a clock tower and a factory. More often than not, though, people tend to forget the scope and grandeur of RE3. Not to mention you can only… spoiler… kill Nemesis with a Rail-Gun at the end.

Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror. It took everything that it did so well in the previous titles and made it bigger and better. Nemesis encapsulated fear and dread in ways rarely experienced at the time. The scene where he popped through a window and chased players through the police station has always remained a nostalgic moment, much like anything that comes through a window in the RE series. In fact, a bit of advice for anyone playing the first-gen of RE titles: beware of windows.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 16, 2016.

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