About a month ago, I bought a second Pokémon Red cartridge off eBay so I could start a new game and screw around without messing up my save file. As soon as I compared it to my old one, I knew it was either a bootleg or produced somewhere else. You can see in the picture how the sticker doesn't fit the front of the cartridge, and the red plastic is cheap and almost see-through (if you look close, you can see the internal battery on the second, while the first can't be seen through at all). When I started it up, it only had one option - New Game, and unlike the well-loved cartridge I'd been using, it didn't have any wear marks from being inserted into the GBC or anything indicating it'd been used.
Well, what the hell, I figured. I'd poured plenty of money into the franchise and one bootlegged game wasn't going to kill me. I popped it into my GBC and started playing.
A couple of weeks ago, I lost my GBC for a while, so I had to play it on my SP. No huge deal, I thought.
When I started the game up, oddly enough, the backlit screen of my SP went out, like I was playing on an old Game Boy Advance or a Color. I thought that was pretty weird, considering the lower setting of my SP's screen was brighter than the "high" setting on all my friends' SPs, as I took good care of it, and it was unlikely that the backlight would be going anytime soon. But as soon as I switched to playing Sapphire, the screen lit back up. I'd played my other Red on this SP plenty, and it'd never dimmed for an old Game Boy game, so I just attributed it to the game itself being poorly made (which makes no fucking sense, I know).
About now, you're probably wondering when I'm going to start telling you about how there were Unown in my party and the Buried Alive guy in Lavendar Town started eating my player character, because any preowned bootleg game story is bound to be some creepy hacked ****. Well, it wasn't that simple. I played through Lavender Town, the Pokémon Tower, all of that, and nothing unusual happened. I didn't go mad from the music and feel suicidal, my Pokémon never turned white and started crying tears of blood, or anything like that.
However, as I continued playing, it became apparent to me that this game had some glitches. Just like the cheap plastic casing and sticker that barely stuck, the game itself was flaky. I've never played Pokémon on an emulator before, but if I had to guess, I would say that when it was copied, a lot of the data was corrupted, and I had to be careful when playing or it would freeze.
For example, sometimes the graphics around the player (I'm going to call him "Red", as that's what I named him. I'm a bit of a Red fanboy) would turn into big colored bars and the game would stop, and the background music would stop on whatever note it had hit and play this high-pitched, staticky whine until I restart. This happened whenever I tried to get on my bike inside a cave or building.
I was almost sure this was just a normal bootlegged game until I examined the SNES in the Celadon department store. Don't judge me, but, being a Red fanboy, I've always liked when the game said things from Red's point of view, like how he says "Dad would like this!" when you examine the SNES, or "I should get going..." when you examine the TV, since you never get to see the player say anything, to the point where, as a joke, the developers made Red say nothing more than ellipses when you encountered him in G/S/C.
Anyways, when I examined the SNES where Red would normally say, "Dad would like this!", instead, I saw the text, "Where is DAD?"
I examined it again, and, same thing. I kind of laughed it off, thinking, for some reason, it was poor translation (don't ask how I thought that made any sense). In the back of my mind, I was kind of hoping for a hack game, because hey, if I got some screencaps and posted them on 4chan, I'd be able to at least kill an afternoon laughing about it.
I went to the next floor, then went back down and checked the NES again. To my surprise, the message had changed. Now, Red said, "Who created me?"
At this point, I was pretty sure this had been added in by some hacker, and I thought that was kind of AWESOME. Hell, Red finding out he was really just a video game character. That's pretty funny.
After that, and after failing to find any other added-in dialogue, I continued on in the game's story. At that point, I was about near the part where you surf to Cinnabar and the Seafoam Islands.
But the glitching was getting worse. Sometimes, the map would get distorted, like Glitch City, and Red would be surfing on a tree or a house or some **** and I couldn't move. I had to Fly out and try again. As a kid, I'd always liked doing MissingNo. and Glitch City, and I had a Gameshark back in the day, so the glitches were kind of cool. Eventually, I made it to Cinnabar.
Now, being an avid glitcher way back when, of course the first thing I did was fly back to Viridian and do the Old Man trick. But no matter how many times I tried, I could never get MissingNo to appear. I thought maybe the ROM had been edited to prevent glitching, but that clearly wasn't the case, as the thing had more bugs than the fucking Viridian Forest.
Instead, when I entered the Pokémon Mansion, I was greeted by the following text window:
RED: Nice try, Red.
It was obvious that where "Red" was would be the name of whatever you named your player. What freaked me was "RED", in all caps, as the speaker.
At this point, I know I had to have an edited game. The ****ing player character was telling me "nice try" after I'd failed to do a MissingNo.
The game froze then, and I restarted. I hadn't saved since before I tried the MissingNo glitch, but when I turned the game on again, I was back in the Mansion, exactly where the window had popped up. I could move again, so I went ahead and played through the Mansion. Call me a pussy, but despite my excitement, I was scared, so I played slowly and with all the lights on. I was still playing on my SP, and the internal light still didn't work, so I used that as justification for my being a massive pussy.
Things only got weirder. After I left the mansion, I got a message:
PA: DING-DONG! Time's up! Your safari game is over!
Having done Glitch City in the past, I knew this happened whenever you flew out of the safari zone. As expected, I was outside the Safari Zone gate the next time I hit "A", with the attendants asking me if I got a good haul.
I had an immense feeling of forboding when I went to leave the gate, scared I'd be in Glitch City or even worse. I had a flier, but you have to understand, this is all a little unnerving.
Instead, I was in Pallet Town, but there was no music, nothing. Another text window appeared:
RED: This isn't where I'm from. I've been lied to.
I couldn't move my player after that, so I went to reset, but something stopped me. Instead, I opened the Start menu and went to Fly the **** out of there, but to my horror, the Pidgeot I used for Fly wasn't there. Just my Blastoise, Exeggutor, Kadabra, Mew (from the Nugget Bridge glitch), and Kangaskhan. In Pidgeot's place was a level 16 Raticate with 1 HP. It was poisoned. I checked its stats, and it had the OT "BLUE" and knew Hyper Beam, Quick Attack, Glare, and Skull Bash. I don't even know if Raticate can learn all of these moves. I've since heard that Gary's Raticate died (seriously) in the game, but I had named Gary "DOUCHE" in this game for a few laughs. I guess the OT name "BLUE" came from the fact that Blue is the opposite to Red version, like maybe it was supposed to have come from a Blue cartridge. I know Rattata doesn't evolve until level 20, so this was a pretty obvious hack.
I had some Antidotes and Potions in my bag, so I figured, what the hell, I'd heal it. But when I left the POKéMON menu, the entire Start menu closed, and I couldn't open it again. I tried walking, and this time I was able to move. I took a few steps, forgetting about the poison until a box popped up again:
RED: We killed it.
At this point, I was getting a little freaked out (no ****ing ****). I went to my party and Raticate wasn't there at all. Neither was my Pidgeot. The slot was empty. I closed the menu and tried to move again, but nothing. I didn't want to turn the game off in case it had somehow saved again, so I just kept trying to move before remembering that my Kadabra still knew Teleport. When I hit Start, nothing happened. I kept trying to move, but I couldn't move. No... Red wasn't letting me move.
RED: This happened to me. Why?
At that point I just shut the game off. I took the hacked Red version out and put in FireRed. Like with my old game, I'd named the player "Red", and for some reason it still kind of scared me. I started it up, and, to my horror, the screen was still dimmed. I hit "CONTINUE" on the main menu, but when I tried to open my game, I got the message saying that my save data had been lost or corrupted, and when I started, the game froze, with the music just being a staticky whine.
At this point, I was really desperate to play some ****ing Pokémon where no weird **** was going on, and I was pissed that my FireRed version was broken, so I threw in Sapphire and started it up. The screen lit up normally. I thought for a moment that maybe something was wrong with my SP that broke my FireRed, and ****, I didn't want that happening to my Sapphire with the Jirachi from Colloseum and the Feebas it'd taken me an hour to find, so I shut it off and pulled it out.
I started playing what I call "Glitchy Red" version again about a week ago. When I started it back up, I was still in Pallet Town, and there was music and things seemed normal, except for the empty slot in my party and my SP screen no longer lighting up. I biked to Viridian and found Pidgeot safely in my PC, so I figured, what the hell, and took it out and flew to Cinnabar to fight Blaine.
When I went to unlock the gym, surprise, another text box.
No matter how many times I tried, the game refused to believe I had the ****ing Secret Key despite it being right there in my bag. Red wasn't letting me in.
RED: Everything that happened to me, happened because the world let it happen to me. I didn't become a hero on my own! I was manipulated. I never unlocked that door. The door was unlocked because the game let me in. Everything you do, you do because the GAME lets you.
Because of how the text boxes were, it took a really long time to scroll through, and the whole time I was writing down what he was saying so I had it on reference. Things were getting a little too Silent Hill for me, and, once again, I tried to move, but Red wouldn't let me.
RED: I'm going to show you how it feels to be unable to chose your own fate.
I gave up and opened the Start menu again, glad that I could, and used Pidgeot to fly out of there. I knew now that this was only because Red was letting me fly out. He was toying with me.
I flew to Lavender, because, shockingly enough, nothing weird had ever happened there. From Lavender, I walked down to try and go to Fucshia, but as soon as I left Lavender, Red was at it again.
Well, fuck, I thought. I opened the menu and flew to Fucshia. When the I got there, I nearly shat my pants and dropped my SP.
It was the Glitch City you get when you surf along Cinnabar's coast. Immediately, the menu popped up, the way it does when you do the Mew glitch, and it was asking me to save the game. There was no option for "No", and pressing B did nothing. I shut my game off.
When I started it back up, I was still in Glitch City. I checked my party, the way Red wanted me to - Pidgeot and Kadabra were there, but instead of "TELEPORT" and "FLY" appearing when I selected them, there was only "CURSED". Not "CURSE", like in that ****ing retarded Creepy Black Pasta, but "CURSED". I was smart enough not to select it. I hit B until I was out of the menu, and Red was telling me shit again.
RED: You're staying here with me, Red. They replaced me because I was GLITCHED and not good enough (sic). I thought this was my story, but I'm just a character in a video game. They took everything from me. My VOICE. My FREEDOM. My LEGACY. They replaced me with the brown-eyed kid.
I understood now that he meant FireRed version, and the Gold, Silver, and Crystal versions where he'd been demoted to final boss.
He let me move, and, to my surprise, the game never froze, even as I was walking on water and stepping onto houses.
Eventually, I suppose I went too far, because the screen turned black around my player.
RED: Am I a joke to you?
A YES/NO option popped up. I can't tell you how fast I hit "NO".
RED: Then why do you do these things to me? Why do you corrupt my world and show me GLITCHES that aren't meant to be? Why do you want to hurt me with MISSNGNO.?
I never wanted to hurt Red. It was just for fun. The game had bugs, and we've all just exploited them for fun, right?
RED: Why did I have to die? Just because I'm a hero?
I shut my game off. That night, I had a dream where I was a Pokémon Trainer - the player from FireRed, who I will never again think of as "Red". I was being chased by a white-pale body. While I can't feel pain in my dreams (I know some people can), the pale figure eventually caught me and ripped at my chest and sides with his nails. The last thing I saw before I woke up was the face of my attacker - a little boy with bright red eyes, black hair, and a red and white hat.
For the next few days, when I played, it was because I had to. I was trapped in the blackness because Red refused to let me go. Because he was forsaken and forgotten, left to just be abused by players who come back out of nostalgia and to exploit the bugs. Because I played so much, I almost always had a headache from the high-pitched noises the game makes. I had to call out of work sick. I could never move, but I found comfort in staring at the screen with the black background and my player. Red didn't say anything to me.
I couldn't play FireRed again, even though it worked on my DS. Yesterday, I finally got to Mt. Silver on HeartGold, and I couldn't bring myself to battle Red. I don't know what he'd do to me if I beat his replacement. Would he be angry? Happy? Would his defeat put his spirit at peace? I don't know. No matter how many times I play through the games, Red will suffer the same fate, because he is a hero, and because the games let him only go so far. Red will never again be able to experience the glory of being the hero, and neither will we. No matter how many times you start a new game, it will never be the same as the first time you played. You know what's going to happen, and you play for nostalgia, because it's just a game to you now.
I killed Red, and so did you. Unlike Ash Ketchum, he's never going to be the hero of another new game in a brand new region. In HeartGold, Gold's successor, Ethan, had even taken his accomplishments from him. Being the one to catch the Pokemon Red had fought so hard for - Mewtwo, Zapdos, Articuno, and Moltres. His life is over for him. He became such a legend that there was nothing left of him to even be proud of himself.
I finished "Glitchy Red" yesterday, when I finally checked my Trainer card. There was a sprite of Red as he appeared in G/S/C, but in the game's same monochrome color scheme, just red and green. When I looked closer, the red pixels making up his shirt looked darker and arranged oddly, almost like he was bleeding from the chest. None of my Badges or time played or Trainer ID, just that sprite. When I returned to the menu, instead of my name appearing as "Red", there was the word "GONE" for my Trainer card. I selected it, and this time, the card was blank.
RED: Go ahead and forget me now. Goodbye.
The game reset, the way it does after you beat the Champion, and this time, there was only one option - NEW GAME.
I found my GBC earlier today and started playing it on there. When I played on my SP, the screen lit up and everything was normal. I had to start a new game on my FireRed, but it's working again. Even the bootlegged Red version plays normally, no glitches. But I can never see Red's silence the same ever again, or even the hilarious MissingNo. and Glitch City bugs. I have a much deeper respect for the "silent protagonists" in the game, for all we put them through. Lavender Town used to creep me out, but now I find it very peaceful, as even Red, who wanted revenge on a world that had treated him horribly, could never mess with the resting place of fallen Pokémon.
Someday, I hope I stop waking up with scratches on my torso.