I had always prided myself on being two things; rather fearless, and rather good at games. Any game I owned was guaranteed to have been completed on hard mode, no matter what the time span took to reach the end. I would charge headfirst into a fight and had successfully disarmed an attacker who would have otherwise stabbed me.
I prided myself on those two things.
I also prided myself on my Touhou achievements.
To those who haven’t played the Touhou games, they are a series of vertical shooters where you dodge bullets whilst firing your own to progress through seven increasingly difficult stages, with a boss at each stage. There are nearly twenty games in total for the entire saga.
I had beaten all of the Touhou games, including the PC-98 games. You name it, I had cleared it on both Hard and Lunatic modes. Subterranean Animism, Mystic Square, Double Spoiler… all that were in my Touhou folder were cleared.
You can imagine my excitement, when, out of the blue, my friend (let’s call them A) tells me they’ve found the demo for the newest game, Touhou 14, even kindly enough providing a download link from Rapidshare. Legit enough, right? Aside from I hadn’t seen users freaking out on Tumblr, nor an official announcement on the Touhou Wikia. None of that penetrated my thick skull as I downloaded the file, though.
After an hour and a half of total download, unzip and install time, the folder sat innocently on my desktop. “Touhou 14”. This was nothing new; I only named the folders for my games with the English name, and as this was a demo, there was no English name. However, by this point the time had gone 10 PM, and college beckoned in the morning for a 6 AM start. I shut down my laptop and readied myself for bed, barely drifting off into a fitful, dreamless sleep.
When I awoke, there was still murky, residual darkness outside, viewable via the window opposite my bed. Flipping open the mobile phone I keep on my bedside table, the screen illuminated the time blindingly into my dark-habituated eyes; 4:44 AM. With a groan, I rolled over back onto the pillow but to no avail; I flipped and rolled for seemingly hours with no success of sleeping. Giving in, I dragged myself out of bed for a shower and some tea, a ritual I had recently accustomed myself to.
By 5:59 AM, I had eaten, showered and was in the process of blowdrying my hair before dressing, when the flashing blue light of my laptop caught my attention. Strange… I’d switched it off the night before. Giving my newly dried hair a shake and a drag-through with a flat brush, I toggled the touchpad of the laptop, only to find I hadn’t pressed the “Off” option when switching off last night. No big deal, it meant I could fool around for a bit until 6:30 when I had to leave for the bus to college. It meant that, surprise surprise, I could give the new Touhou installment a whirl before Form.
Pulling a dress over my newly brushed hair and panties under the dress, I executed the file inside the folder; strangely enough, named in boxes where it would usually be named something along the lines of “TH14 Demo”. However, I assumed it to be the original Japanese text that my tottering unupdated laptop couldn’t read, and shrugged it off as I settled back down into the seat in front of the screen, black as the executable file booted itself up.
In seconds, the title screen was up, amazingly similar to the title screen for Ten Desires, but with no sound. I sighed, thinking it was an error in patching that deleted the music file; I’d had this problem with Perfect Cherry Blossom. Starting up a new game, I was pleasantly surprised to find new playable characters; Flandre, Nue, Komachi, and Utsuho. I was even happier to see that these playable characters were what most fans would consider fairly strong characters, especially Utsuho and Flandre. Now, Nue had always been a favourite of mine, so my directional pad headed straight for her option. Hitting the Z button, however, yielded no result aside from a loud screech from my laptop.
Stupid thing, I thought, it must have damaged the game file. I got the same result from Flandre and Utsuho, leaving me with little hope that Komachi would work.
Amazingly, her option agreed with my laptop and stage one fired up. But again… there was no music. The normally vibrant background colors were dullened, boringly enough. However, when playing FPS games my laptop tended to sometimes mess with colors, so I paid little heed. There were also no bullets to dodge; no fairies appeared, no midboss, only small cloud-like enemies floating across the screen. The minute I launched an attack on them, though, they fled, leaving a black box behind instead of the usual red power-ups or green point boxes. Upon collecting these… a strange thing happened. After I collected ten of these boxes the screen faded to black, making the loudest static noise ever. Jumping halfway out of my skin at the unexpected noise, I simply held down the power switch to turn my laptop off. Catching sight of my clock on the wall, the time read 6:25; probably time for me to go. College awaited me.
When I came home that night, I started up Touhou 14 again, hoping that cool-off time would improve the game. This time there was music for the title screen; however, it wasn’t a ZUN-type sound. It was more several title themes all played over each other… I took it as another quirk of the damage my laptop could inflict on games. This time, however, there was no character select after the title screen. There were no controls at all; they were taken over by the computer, as though in demo mode. It controlled itself as it moved Komachi across the screen, attacking all that came in her path in a rather uncharacteristic way for Komachi. In another strange move, all enemies fled her. The background looked rather like the inside of Yukari’s gap as shown in the fighter games like Scarlet Weather Rhapsody, extending so far that the bomb, life and power counters were hidden.
The next shock came when the boss of the level showed up. A very stressed-looking Shiki appears, warning Komachi to turn back. Not too surprising since there was no aforementioned incident and Komachi has a job to do, right? Before any back-and-forth could occur between the characters, as is the norm, the game launched Komachi forward, causing her scythe to cleave her boss in half.
I sat staring, dumbfounded, at the screen as blood seeped from the halved pixels, spreading over the screen until the gap-like background was obscured by red.
The game handed control back to me. I shook as I carried onto level two, confronted by some fleeing fairies. Again, they dropped black boxes… however, this time, there was no static sound. I was transported directly to stage two, a setting that resembled the flowing lava of Subterranean Animism stage six. This time, a visibly irritated and fearful Rin appears, warning Komachi that to go deeper is a danger even she wouldn’t approach. Komachi’s control was taken from me at this point; again she was launched into the kasha, slicing the girl’s head from her shoulders. My trembling increased as a split frame appeared on my screen long enough to print-screen it; upon minimising of the game, and pasting of the screenshot into MS Paint, the frame appeared to be that of what looked like a young cosplayer, about fourteen years old, dressed as Flandre. Her cosplay was cut open shoddily down the front, exposing her… with the shards she used to decorate her wings with impaling her chest and abdomen, and what seemed to be broken bone sticking out of her right arm. Blood took up most of the shot.
Bile started to rise in my throat as I realised just what kind of game this was. I deleted the image and tried to exit the game… but there was no exit command. Alt+F4 would not work. The laptop would not turn off. The game didn’t show as being run on Task Manager; on the contrary, it showed only critical processes as running. I was faced with no choice but to finish the game.
The format carried on as aforementioned for five more horrible levels, a myriad of different characters being slaughtered by what should have been a fairly easygoing ferrywoman; all three of the Mischievous Fairy Trio at once, Alice Margatroid, Aya and Momiji in the same level, Futo, Tojiko and Miko all at once, and the last level… Nue and Mamizou. My two favourites out of the whole game were dismembered before my eyes, even though they were only pixels.
As the game carried on, the split frames appeared for longer amounts of time… making sure I could see the atrocities… all Touhou cosplayers… after the Flandre then a Byakuren, her throat slit; an Utsuho, broken bones poking out from every limb and the neck at a sick angle… A Remilia with her intestines removed and wrapped tightly around her neck, acting as a noose. A Yuyuko with hands, feet, eyes and head cleaved from the body. A Yuuka impaled through the chest with several knives; a Hina whose face, legs and arms were badly charred, as well as a portion of the dress and some of the wig.The one similarity, aside from the complete lifelessness and youth of the girls, whose ages ranged from around nine through sixteen… was that the clothes were all shoddily cut open down the front, exposing far more of the deceased girls than should have been.
At the end of the “game”, the agonisingly slow blacking out of the image of the Hina cosplayer, came the credits… without any credits. No words rolled on the screen, only blackness, until where the usual end of the game would be.
“And special thanks… to YOU.”
I’m still not sure how fully the experience has affected me, but I certainly no longer pride myself on fearlessness. Anything red makes me vomit. Anything Touhou makes me faint. I can’t hear the original soundtracks of any of the games without descending into a debilitating panic attack. I dream about the murdered girls, suffer flashbacks to their dead eyes. The police took away my laptop to search the file… but it must have done something to itself. The entire motherboard was completely useless, melted and corrupted beyond saving. The download link had disappeared from Rapidshare. I see my therapist twice a week. She says I have post-traumatic stress disorder.
All I know is that I can see those dead faces, and will until I die.