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"Oh wow, Pokemon HeartGold!"
I plucked the shining game package from the torn wrapping paper. A grin stretched across my face.
Though I had already played SoulSilver a few months earlier, I was eager to start fresh and play as a different character with new Pokémon to control.
Being used to a dark, underwater atmosphere, I smiled a bit when I saw the pixelated Ho-oh flying across the HeartGold title screen, its wings sparkling in the sunlight.
I began my game with the name "Gold". Original I know, but as a reader of the Pokémon Adventures manga, I wanted to name the game characters after their comic counterparts. My rival was named Silver.
After wishing my in-game mom goodbye, I began my virtual adventure with Cyndaquil as my starter. Though I've been playing these games since Red and Blue days, I've always experienced a thrill when each game starts.
For this game, I had already planned about half of my party. I knew I really wanted a Dragonite. So, I caught a Dratini in the Dragon's Den on my SoulSilver version, and traded it in. I named him Ryu, after the Japanese word for dragon.
Though I never admitted it, Ryu was becoming my favorite. He was so strong, and always rescued my other Pokémon in battle if they needed help. I raised all my Pokémon equally, but being a Dragon-type had its advantages.
Every time I would turn around to talk to him, he would smile and greet me happily. I knew it was just a default greeting, but I felt attached to Ryu. He was my friend, my partner.
After a while, I finally had a full party. Ryu, Quilava, Chinchou, Larvitar, Murkrow, and Leafeon. No doubt most of these were traded in and hatched from eggs, but all of them were strong additions to my team.
However, after months of training, I decided to put the game down. For what reason, I do not know. It's not like I abandoned it completely; I just lost interest temporarily. I tend to get into swings with video games, and once I received Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep for Christmas, I was ecstatic with my new PSP.
For the most part, HeartGold sat in my video game chest in my dorm room. But when the promotions for the newest GameStop giveaways started surfacing, I dug out Pokémon HeartGold, SoulSilver, and Diamond and was ready to go to the nearest store.
Breathing out the frosty January air, I started up my car. I patted the game cartridges in my coat pocket, just to make sure they were all with me. I was so excited – shiny legendaries! I wondered what they'd look like following my character around.
I drove off to GameStop daydreaming about the legendary dogs. I received the Shiny Raikou, the promotion of the week, and happily took my prizes home.
Even though I was excited, after I saw the Pokémon following me I didn't play them again for a while. In fact, I didn't even notice that one of them was missing.
One afternoon, when I was eating lunch, my dad had walked into the room after being outside, shaking snow off his boots.
"Is this yours?" he asked.
I looked up from my lunch, eying the little rectangle he held in his gloved hand. Instantly, I shot out of my seat.
"Where did you find this?!" I demanded, taking my game from him.
"I was out moving the car back and forth to clear a path" he explained, pointing to our backyard parking pit, "When I got out, I saw something lodged in the snow."
My blood ran cold. It must have fell out of my coat pocket when I got back from GameStop!
"Did...did you run it over?" I inquired, afraid of the answer.
"I must've," he sighed. "I mean, it was right in the car tracks."
With my heart beating wildly, I ran up to my room and jammed the game into my DSi. I was expecting some glitchy mess.
Surprisingly, everything seemed normal. The title screen came on without any problems, and Ho-oh greeted me with its usual cry. I pressed CONTINUE and looked at the screen.
I was in the PokeCenter, but it didn't seem quite like I remembered. I knew HeartGold and SoulSilver had improved graphics, but this place looked a little too low-tech. Everything was darker than usual, and the color palette looked... drained.
Everything was either white, light blue, or gray. There were no NPCs in the PokeCenter; all that was there was my character, Ryu's sprite behind me, and Nurse Joy.
My first priority was Ryu. Though he looked a little smaller than I remembered, I shoved the thought off as my memory being fuzzy. I turned around and tried to talk to him. But his sprite just shook – and not at all like when a Pokémon is angry. He was full-on trembling. And he didn't stop when the text came up.
What it said made my heart skip a beat.
"Ryu is crushed."
Crushed? I talked to my Pokémon regularly in the game, and have never seen such a message.
I tried again.
"Ryu is crushed."
This time, his cry came out, somehow lower than usual, and it cut off at the end.
A little frightened, I decided to check my party next. I was shocked to find all my Pokémon fainted, except for Ryu. He was on his last health point. I quickly rushed over to Nurse Joy and tried talking to her. Surely she could heal all my Pokémon, to make sure they're "fighting fit"?
"He doesn't want to."
I stared at the screen for a second. Who doesn't want to?
"He waited for you to come looking."
"He was crushed. They all were."
After she finished talking, I opened up the party menu again. This time, I looked closer at the Pokémon.
Each sprite seemed to be condensed and, well, squished. Like someone took the top of the image and skewed it towards the bottom. Their animations were gone, and they had a gray appearance... almost as if they came right out of the grayscale Red and Blue games.
As I went down the list of Pokémon, each sprite became more and more twisted. Quilava's flames were gone. Murkrow's wings were twisted at awkward angles. Chinchou's lights were cracked and broken. The top of Larvitar's head was gone. Leafeon's leaves seemed to be dripping with a blackish liquid, and its eyes were empty sockets.
But the last member of the party – the only one still standing – was by far the worst.
Ryu's sprite looked like the material of nightmares. His sleek, blue body was completely gray, and his once white belly seemed to be cut open, revealing a blackish liquid. This liquid leaked out and pooled around him. I almost missed the fins on his head – they were so pressed against his skewed head so hard, they almost disappeared.
His head was lifted ever-so-slightly, and I noticed one eye was missing, just an empty socket, much like Leafeon's. His remaining eye looked weary, sad, frightened, and...so angry. I couldn't even believe I could see such raw emotion in a bunch of pixels, but it was as clear as day in the gray pupil.
Ryu's sprite was still moving, but it did not bob like the usual animation. Instead, he weakly pushed his head onto the ground, and closed his eyes, revealing whitish tears streaming down his face.
Horrified beyond belief, I closed the menu. But, I did not see the empty PokeCenter from before. The NPCs were back, and the colors even seemed normal... except for the black bars that covered the top and bottom of the screen, almost like a movie set in widescreen.
I had never experienced this before, in all of my years with Pokémon. Shaking, I put the game down for a second, and tried to concentrate on the outside world. However, Ryu's shrill cry came from the game once more, and repeated itself over and over again.
"I didn't even press anything!" I pleaded with the game, tears blurring my vision. "What's wrong with my game?"
I tried talking to Ryu again, to see if he had something to say.
"Ryu is cold."
"Well, it is January..." I chuckled, despite myself.
The next text started without me pressing any buttons.
"Ryu says that you couldn't possibly understand."
What? Was the game...talking to me?
I shook my head in disbelief. There was no way. Maybe I stayed up too late and needed a nap. I laid down on my bed, trying to ignore that damn DSi. Ryu was still squawking his cry, and I finally just grabbed the game.
"WHAT?!" I screamed loudly, and saw new text on the screen.
"You left us in the cold."
My thoughts instantly went to my dad moving the car. Was that what he was talking about...? But there was no way. It was a game...right?
"YOU LEFT US!"
This text made me jump a little, for it was bigger than usual and in all caps.
"I...I didn't mean to..." I tried to reason, tears threatening to spill down my cheeks again. "Honestly, I didn't mean to leave you guys!"
Ryu's sprite kept shivering, and he kept emitting that horrible cry.
"YOU LEFT ME TO DIE."
"I'M SO COLD."
"WE WERE ALL CRUSHED, OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER..."
The text exploded, scrolling faster than I ever thought possible. "OVER AND OVER" repeated countless times. My eyes couldn't follow them, and I soon grew dizzy. But before I could even blink, the words appeared on the screen in the same big letters as before. Exclamation points claimed the end of the sentence, and the next batch of text scrolled quickly.
"IT WAS COLD. SO COLD."
"WHY DID YOU LET HIM CRUSH ME?"
"I LOVED YOU."
I shook my head, crying freely now. "I loved you, too. I still do. I never meant to leave you guys there in the snow..."
But as soon as the last text faded, the widescreen-like bars on the screen stretched slowly towards the center of the screen. It was as if the game was closing in on itself. It was as if...it was being...crushed.
One by one, the PokeCenter was crumbling. Nurse Joy, the NPCs, the PC...they all disappeared into the darkness one by one, until Ryu and I were the only ones left.
Before the blackness swallowed us, the closing stopped. My sprite turned to Ryu by itself, and a text screen popped up.
"How do you like being"
That was it. I expected more, but nothing appeared, and then the darkness swallowed us.
I didn't know what to do. For minutes, I stared at the screen, half-expecting Ryu to jump out of the screen at me. But nothing happened. I set the game down and went downstairs.
That night, when I crawled into bed, I couldn't sleep. As I tossed and turned, I felt as if the blankets were swallowing me. Sweating and panting, I threw them off my bed, and tried to sleep again. But a pounding headache struck me suddenly; the pain was unlike anything I've felt before. It was as if someone was pushing on my head with a sledgehammer.
I got out of bed and gulped down a few Tylenol. While I was outside my room, the pain temporarily subsided. But as soon as I crossed my doorway, my head exploded with pain again. Frustrated, I tried to sleep again, and closed my eyes. My head didn't stop throbbing, and my breathing came in short bursts. Ryu's cries were echoing cruelly in my head.
Finally, I had to open my eyes again. My heart pounded with terror as I saw a message written on my ceiling in bold black lettering.