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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….

LT 2

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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‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

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It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…

I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.

Coffee Talk
Some of the subject matter can be pretty serious in nature…

Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.

Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.

The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.

Coffee Talk
Appearances can often be deceiving in this game.

Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.


Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.

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Games

The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child

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Magic of Nintendo

Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.

The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.

The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.

 Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.

Super Mario Odyssey Wooden Kingdom

Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.

When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.

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Games

‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.

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Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.

It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.

In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.

Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.

Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.

Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.

I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.

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