There are tons of stories out there about hacked Pokemon games. Some of them really quite neat, such as the one about a version where you get a ghost as a starter.
Some are ridiculous, silly stories about individuals dying after playing a game, or the game talking to them. God, don't these writers know less is more when it comes to these stories? Ah well, I digress.
I grew interested in these hacked games that are apparently in any thrift store, on eBay, or handed out by homeless people to random passersby. I didn't have the pleasure of meeting these creepy people, I merely found this particular cartridge in a trash bin when the garbage truck backed into my neighbour's dumpster.
I noticed the game and asked the trash man if I could take it, and he didn't seem to mind. It was thrown away after all. I, of course, checked with my neighbour confirm if they actually didn't want it, though they seemed perplexed as if they'd never seen it in their life.
Their son made a grab for it, a little boy who saw the Charizard on the cover, crying out "Mommy! I want Pokemon!", but his mother told him no, seeing as I found it. He didn't even have a game boy anyway, he just liked Pokemon.
Thinking nothing more, I simply went home, looking at the cartridge's sticker on the way. Just a plain old Red Version, the sticker torn slightly across the Charizard's neck, but that was expected with such an old game. I had Blue Version as a kid, so I was a bit eager to see the, albeit minimal, differences Red Version had. I was rather disappointed by what I saw when the title screen showed up.
"Pokemon: Strangled Red Version." Well damn it, it was a hack. Hacks were neat and all, but they had zero monetary value, the originals quite valuable by now, and I wanted to play Red anyway, not this crap. Oh well, it was free, might as well try it.
The name was odd however, Strangled Red? That made no sense, not even in a morbid description of someone being asphyxiated, as people turn blue when choking, not red. Who knows, maybe there was a pair of these hacks and I just got the red one.
The more I thought about this though, the more interested I became. My initial disappointment turned into curiosity, I wanted to know what the creator had made, and I was going to note everything I saw. The first oddity I noticed was the start screen had a Charizard next to the trainer instead of a Charmander. Also, the Pokemon never cycled through like the original versions did- it just stayed Charizard, even after five minutes of waiting.
Shrugging, I hit start, noticing there was no Charizard cry as I did, like there was supposed to be. I saw there was a "Continue" option, so I figured I'd do what everyone did with used games and see what the previous owner had done. "… No…" I blinked in surprise. No? What do you mean no? The game wouldn't let me continue no matter what, though on the fourth attempt, I heard the Charizard cry, quiet and barely audible, but there. Shrugging it off, I decided to just hit New Game, like I would have done after checking the old file anyway.
The screen cut to black for a while, no Prof. Oak, no starting theme, just nothing at all. Eventually, the screen came back, showing a bedroom, two beds, two TVs, and a computer in the corner. My trainer sprite was the usual one, consistent with the original Red Version. I was curious as to why it didn't ask my name, though that was answered as I opened the pause menu, noticing my Trainer was named "Steven". No, this isn't my real name or some stupid crap like that, this game isn't self-aware or haunted, at least not that I know of, it just had a name chosen already.
Curious, I saw he had the starter amount of money and no badges. He didn't look exactly like red though, as his hair was longer, almost reaching halfway down his back, Red's usual smile replaced with a confident smirk. Honestly, I found this sprite much cooler than Red. Next I checked out his Pokemon, a single Charmander, level five, named "Miki". Nothing was odd about it… or should I say her, with the name and all. She had beginning Charmander stats, only knew Scratch and Tail Whip, basic stuff. The game seemed relatively normal.
Returning to the game, I walked about the room, noticing Steven's long-hair was present on the back of my trainer sprite when my back was turned to the camera. I didn't recognize the house, but I descended the stairs to see more. Downstairs was another trainer, who spoke to me the instant I came down.
Mike: Ready yet?
I assumed this "Mike" was my rival, pre-decided for me, a replacement of Blue, most likely. I thought back to the bedroom having two beds, realizing they weren't just rivals, they were brothers. They talked back and forth, basic Pokemon dialogue, become a pokemaster, catch em all, stuff like that, before having a little argument over which is better, Charmander or Squirtle, which of course led to the introduction battle, like the one vs. Blue in the lab. Simple enough, Scratch, Tackle, Scratch, Tackle, until I won purely for having the first turn.
I took note of how much better Steven's sprite looked in combat than Red's, a different pose, his hair looking like it was blowing in the wind, a brief, minor upgrade, but still, much nicer.
I left the house after some more banter with my "brother", stepping out to the Pallet Town theme. Going to the east, I found this was indeed Pallet Town- the house was simply on the outskirts to the west. I noted there was no mysterious grassy field like in normal Pallet Town. Wandering about, I decided to check in on Red's home.
His mother was inside, and when I talked to her, she commented on how handsome Steven looked, hoping her son would look up to him as a role-model for when he became a trainer himself next year, which of course led me to realize this game took place a year before the original Pokemon. Red was even upstairs, playing on the SNES in his room, commenting "I'm gonna be the best too when its my turn!"
I was starting to like this hack. It was interesting, a completely new adventure, a different character, hell, Steven even seemed to have a history with the people in his town, a reputation, a personality beyond a silent protagonist. The people in town talked to him as a person, making conversation, not just spouting tutorial crap. Even Blue's sister had new dialogue. She and Steven seemed to be in a relationship, too, as the dialogue ended with a kiss and a heart over her head.
Prof. Oak simply wished me well, giving me a Pokedex to aid my adventure. He wasn't giving it to me to be the reason behind the adventure like in every other Pokemon game out there, he gave it to me out of kindness, something to help me on my way, a gift. I was liking this more and more with each second. The game seemed to have an actual story now! I was somebody, not just a cookie-cutter protagonist anyone could be, not some blank sheet that could be replaced without notice.
The story was different, though the actual gameplay remained unchanged. I went north like I was supposed to, went from town to town, collected badges, received the praise of the leaders. Steven's fame even seemed to spread, as some NPCs would talk like they knew him. I used Miki for every battle, and she was growing surprisingly fast. She handled Brock with ease, even pounded Misty with no trouble at all. She wasn't as adversely effected by super-effective attacks as others, did more damage than a regular Charmander, she was a veritable powerhouse! She even became a Charizard at the mere level of twenty-five, not bad at all I must say.
Things started to get weird, though, as soon as I reached Lavender Town. I know, I know, Lavender Town is the focus behind every creepy story, but it was the only place that was noticeably different. There was no Team Rocket invasion, which I found odd, though I did remember this was a year in the past, so the invasion wouldn't occur until Red's time. I tried to enter Pokemon tower, aiming to get a Gastly, but that's when it got odd.
Steven: I have no reason to be here…
Steven wouldn't go into Pokemon Tower no matter what I did. This was weird. I mean, hell, there are a million places in Kanto you really have no need to be, little random houses with nothing but children NPCs, for example.
Why was it here that Steven wouldn't enter?
With a shrug, I figured I wouldn't need a Gastly, seeing as Miki could handle anything, so I simply went on my way, Lavender Town serving no purpose other than a passageway with a poke center. The game progressed normally from there, the remaining gyms fell and eventually I made my way to the Elite Four and defeated them.
As with Blue, my "brother" Mike was there before me, initiating the championship battle, which Miki swept with ease. The aftermath of the battle was quite pleasant, none of the tension that was present between Red and Blue at the end of their match, the brothers congratulated each other on their progress and shook hands, before the screen went white, no Hall of Fame, nor any credits. When the screen came back, it was at the house again, the two brothers sitting at the computer, conversing with each other.
Steven: I don't want too… Mike: Come on, I just gotta borrow her for a second to finish the Pokedex, the entry won't register unless she recognizes me as master for just a second. Steven: But she's my Miki… Mike: I promise I'll give her back, come on, please?
I was a bit perplexed, so I hit No to be cautious.
Mike: Come on, please?
Mike: Come on, please?
I realized this would simply continue to loop until I hit yes, so I did, just to see what would happen.
Mike: Alright, this will just take a sec, then we'll both be pokemasters! Steven: ……..
The screen changed to the animation shown when two people trade Pokemon, which I found a bit weird, seeing as I was solo, but whatever, this was what was apparently supposed to happen. Miki went first, I watched lazily as she began to travel down the trading tube.
That made me jump, the sudden noise resonating in my silent bedroom, loud due to the volume being way up. Looking at the screen, I noticed the game had seemed to freeze, Miki still in mid-trade, but the game wasn't doing anything.
With a sigh, I just turned off the game, wondering when my last save was. When the game turned back on, I stared for a moment at the start screen, there was no Charizard next to the trainer. Upon pressing start, I saw the New Game option was absent, leaving only Continue. This was… strange to say the least, so I selected it, the game staring without even showing my stats as usual. My jaw dropped at what I was greeted with.
ONE YEAR LATER
The Lavender Town theme came first, playing its normal way, the screen slowly fading in from blackness. Steven was in the Pokemon Tower, which made the music even stranger, seeing as the tower had its own theme. He was standing in front of a tombstone, not doing anything. Wondering what was going on, I pressed A.
Confused, I tried walking, realizing I was indeed in control at the moment. I brought up the pause menu and checked my party. Miki was gone. Not just Miki, all Pokemon. He had nothing, The Pokedex was absent from the menu, his bag was empty. Honestly concerned now, I checked his trainer card.
He had no money. He had no badges. His play time was 8,795 hours, which was impossible as I had only 30 logged in before. But that wasn't the strangest part. His picture, the picture of the handsome, confident young trainer was…different. His eyes were blank, his face turned slightly down, that smirk of his was gone, replaced by a lack of any expression at all, that long hair of his, before in a perfect perm, was now messy and unkempt. I couldn't look at him any more. Closing the menu, I went to move out of the tower, but with every step I took away from the tombstone, the screen flickered, like it did when a Pokemon was poisoned.
Gulping, I brought up the trainer card again, his picture was getting worse. Every step I took, he hung his head more and more, his shoulder slumped, he bent over. By the time I had exited the tower, he was on his knees, hands to his face, hair draped across him. I had guessed already what was going on, but this clinched it. I began to put some things together in my mind. I had always wondered why there was no champion in the original games besides your rival. Why is it you, the protagonist, had to beat your rival, when he just waltzed in, no previous champion to challenge.
Then, it struck me. The answer was right here. The previous champion gave up. His precious Miki was apparently dead, and with her, so died part of him. His Pokedex, the other Pokemon, his badges, his fame, all of it, he threw it away. In that year, the year that I missed, the year where all those hours came from, I even did the math, there is 8765 hours in a year, add that to my 30 from before and it matched up.
Even so, the game kept going, this should have been an ending I thought, I mean, what else was there to do? I had no Pokedex, no Pokemon, not anything. What was I supposed to be doing? I talked to everyone in the town, but they all said similar things.
"Are you OK?"
"Still mourning I see…"
"Everything will be alright…"
"Please… Is there anything we can do?"
Steven never replied to them, and they all simply said the same things over and over. I couldn't put the game down now, this was all so strange. Curious, I headed off into the tall grass, and eventually got into a battle with a Rattatta. No Pokemon was sent out, just Steven's sprite. I was wondering how I'd battle.
Wild RATTATTA left you be.
The battle ended without anything happening. This was certainly interesting, and it happened with every Pokemon I encountered.
Wild PIDGEY ignored you.
Wild PONYTA wandered off.
The music never changed either. No matter where I went, Lavender Town came from the speakers, following me, sometimes slowed down slightly, sometimes not. I searched everywhere, every town, talked to everybody, wondering just what the hell I needed to do.
My frustration was mixing with the depressing atmosphere of all this, making the experience altogether unnerving and uncomfortable, but I couldn't tear myself away. I was starting to get a bit angry though, nobody telling me anything besides giving me their condolences and trying to give me items like LEMONADE or COFFEE, each met with:
Steven: … No…
I slapped myself for idiocy, suddenly realizing how the likely answer was right in front of me, Pallet Town of course! When I went there though, which took a long time, having to walk, no Pokemon to fly with, no bicycle to ride, and Steven only seemed to move half the regular movement speed, it wasn't much different. I first tried talking to Prof. Oak.
"These things happen… you were just unlucky."
Next I tried Blue's sister.
"Please… Don't leave home again…"
Red's mom wouldn't even talk to me at all. With nowhere else in mind to go, I walked to the west, finding the house from the beginning, which I had never entered since leaving Pallet Town. Inside was Mike, but talking to him was just as useless.
Mike: I'm so sorry…
I pondered for a moment if this really was the ending, Steven doomed to do nothing but roam Kanto in misery, haunted by the memories, forced to listen to everyone's concerns about him. As a last ditch effort to do anything, I went to the bedroom and walked over to the bed.
Steven: I'm going to sleep…
The screen faded to black for a moment, but then slowly faded back in, the world having a black tint to it, the Mike's sprite laying in the other bed, I assumed this meant it was night.
Steven: I'm going to do it…
Do what? Again, I had no idea, tried inspecting everything in the room, nothing happened. As soon as I left the house, another dialogue.
Steven: IT can bring her back… IT can do anything…
What in the hell was IT? Something that could do anything, I couldn't for the life of me figure it out. Wandering about, I tried to leave Pallet Town the usual way.
Steven: Not that way.
He wouldn't go any further, I tried the homes.
Steven: Screw them…
I quirked my eyebrow at that, forgetting for a moment this was not a real Pokemon game, the vulgarity just took me off guard. I continued to look around, but there was nowhere I could go, until I accidentally stepped on the ocean, and Steven walked right in, only the upper half of his sprite visible, like the swimmers you encounter in the Cerulean gym. I didn't know he could swim…
Steven: The missing one…
Missing one? I paused for a moment, no, he couldn't possibly mean… that, I hadn't tried the MissingNo trick on this hack yet, but it just fit too well, that had to be what he meant. I "surfed" all the way towards Cinnibar. I began to feel something was off, more so than this already was. Silence. The Lavender Town theme had stopped, there was no noise at all, nor were there any Pokemon. I just kept going, finding Cinnibar and surfing up and down the east coast, lo and behold.
Wild MISSINGNO appeared!
Wild MISSINGNO was caught!
What the hell? Steven didn't do anything, he just commanded that atrocity of broken data to join him, no, become his possession, and it did. I was getting more and more disturbed by this all, checking the start menu, I saw MissingNo was not in my party, but instead an item, making things even stranger. I checked the trainer card as well. Steven has his back to me, his long hair draped behind him, his hands in his pockets, nothing else.
Remembering what he said at the start of this night, I realized what I had to do… I surfed to land and made my way northeast to, where else, Lavender Town. Along the way, I noticed all the trainers, oddly still out at this hour, wouldn't look at Steven, all of them turning when he passed, even those that were normally static. I tried talking to one of the officers in the guard-house type buildings.
They all said the same thing, though one sent chills down my spine.
"Sometimes dead is best."
My hands were sweating by this point, Steven was about to try the impossible, something some would see as a crime against nature, which many of these people shared that opinion. I steeled myself, it's just a game, and I was going to complete it.
It took an eternity to reach Pokemon Tower, but I got there eventually, taking a deep breath and heading toward the tombstone, I remembered which one, the image of Steven standing before it was burned into my mind after all. First, I tried inspecting it.
Nothing happened. With a gulp, I opened the menu and selected MissingNo from the bag.
OAK: Steven, don't use it!
I was reminded of when Prof. Oak would magically tell you that you couldn't use a Key Item somewhere, like when using the bicycle in a building, though the message this time was different, even worse, Steven responded to it.
Steven: In a world that cheated me, why should I play fair…
Steven used IT!
……………………… ……………………… ……………………… ………………………
Steven obtained M@#$!
What in God's name did I obtain? I couldn't tell you, because the game took away my control. Without my input, Steven began to leave the tower on his own, walking single step by single step. The Lavender Town theme started again as he left the tower and began his excruciatingly slow journey against my will.
Every time he crossed one of the borders where the music would change, it got progressively slower, more and more disturbing, by the time he reached Cerulean City, it was a demonic rumbling. I just stared, watching him, trying to guess where he was going, but it was getting more and more obvious. He was heading to Pallet Town. The music had all but stopped when he got there, playing single note by single note. He went exactly where I had guessed, right to his own house, inside, and up the stairs.
At this point, there was no music, Steven moved step by step, stopping at his brother's bed, turning to face him. At first, I though the game froze, he didn't do anything, simply stood there, and I couldn't move him. I did however, find out I could open the pause menu. I was terrified to look, but I couldn't stop myself. I selected his trainer card. There was a low growl noise, like a distorted Pokemon cry. Steven was looking at me again, directly at the screen. He was hunched over, his bangs obscuring his face, his hair was wild and feathered out.
Between his bangs, there wasn't even a face at all, just black, two red eyes looking straight forward, a white grin contrasting with the darkness. That wasn't all. His name was now S!3v3n. I couldn't look away, my eyes glued to his, not breaking contact for some time. My vision was getting blurry until I couldn't see very well, my face grew wet. I was crying, like a baby.
There was nothing I could do to hold back the tears. I was with this boy from the start, I built him up to greatness, and was then forced to watch his decline after a tragic accident, and now…he was this. This thing, this abomination. I watched him go insane. Halting my tears, wiping my eyes, I closed out of the trainer card and tried to save the game, wanting to just quit. The game informed me this was impossible.
"Nothing can be saved now."
The pause menu wouldn't close no matter what I did, so with no other option, I checked the bag, nothing happened. I checked Pokemon, and there was one. A single sprite met me, it had zero HP, it's status: DED, its name M@#$. I selected it, and I was greeted with four options.
->STATUS "Its her…"
My fingers shaking, I selected STRANGLE, and the menu closed, showing Steven in the room again.
The game shut itself off. I was more dumbfounded than frightened. In a bit of shock, I turned it back on, the title screen showing the manic S!3v3n and a horribly glitched Charizard. I pressed start, then Continue. All I saw was a zoomed out view of Pallet Town, showing Steven's home to the west, tall grass surrounding it, those unmovable stones blocking it from the rest of the town.
The image was completely static, no music, no movement, before fading to white, going back to the title screen. It was as it had been when I first popped it in. A trainer and a Charizard. I attempted to hit continue.