Friday 14 April 2017

Haunted Pokemon*

I haven’t had a chance to really rave about Pokémon on here, which is strange and sad because I fucking LOVE Pokémon, in the League of Things I Obsess Over it’s only slightly below the joint champions of Sonic the Hedgehog and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’ve been with the franchise since Generation 1, well since Red & Blue came out in the UK anyway, we were – typically – late in getting Pokémania (but dammit we made up for lost time with millions of pounds, outraged teachers and the odd stabbing) and haven’t missed a Generation since. Amongst my various other interests? Ghosts, derelict buildings and the horror genre, these I have no made a secret of on here. Funnily enough, as this is called ‘Haunted Pokémon’ these two interests all intersect in one big excuse for me to talk about Pokémon. Hopefully if you existed and were reading this you’d have a passing knowledge of Pokémon and know that the game is an RPG with battles based around an elemental game of rock-paper-scissors using Types (Fire Type, Electric Type, Steel Type etc.) and would know that Ghost is one of those types, or at least remember the episode of the cartoon with Haunter in it. If not, then I’ve just told you this so it’s all good, let’s move on, because you see Ghost Type animals need a habitat and that leads to the Pokémon world being littered with creepy places – places of rest, haunted houses, supermarkets, the Pokémon world is fucking filled with scary places and I’m going to pick one from each generation of games and/or their remakes and chat about them for two paragraphs apiece. That’s what this post is about so are you sitting comfortably? then I’ll begin:  

The Pokémon Tower
Kanto, Pokémon Red, Green, Blue, Yellow, FireRed & LeafGreen
A seven story monument to the dead, Lavender Town’s Pokémon Tower – easily the most famous haunted location in Pokémon’s history – it acts as a graveyard for literally hundreds of fallen Pokémon as well as a place of remembrance, with death being its sole purpose it’s unnerving by itself, combined with Lavender Town’s notoriously haunting background music1. Then it’s the home to the tragic Cubone who wear and wield their own kind’s dried bones and Kanto’s only Ghost Pokémon who can disguise themselves and unidentifiable ghosts that, without the Silph Scope to unveil them as their kin, frighten every Pokémon from Jigglypuff and Eevee to Charizard and Gyarados.
In the games the Tower features in however, it also acts as a small ghost story that you become the protagonist in, in the middle of a light RPG aimed at kids. The criminal group Team Rocket tried to steal a Cubone only to kill its mother, a Marowak (which Cubone evolves into), now the Marowak’s ghost is an angry spirit at the top of the tower. You have to get the Silph Scope and remove it, forcing you up seven stories of ghosts, graves, haunting music and possessed trainers until you encounter the vengeful ghost of a mother who only wanted to protect its child. Now The Pokémon Tower tends to get a somewhat talked up in the fandom and on the internet because a lot of people were children when they first encountered Lavender Town, because of the various Creepypastas2 surrounding the town, general nostalgia and the overall concept of it all so I’m going to make myself unpopular and admit that, yes, it’s not quite as creepy as we make out, hindered by the simplistic Game Boy graphics, being an adult and just how used to it so many of us are now - mostly thanks to it being talked up on the internet so much, but it is still a little unnerving: the monochrome look does lend to the ambience in its own way, you can easily get lost in a game allowing it to be scarier than, say, a YouTube video would make it out to be, and the song is bloody chilling. On a slightly lighter note how awesome was it that Game Freak uses the ‘Regional Variants’ gimmick from Sun & Moon to finally give us a Ghost Type Marowak? I have wanted a Ghost Type Marowak since my first attempt to catch this Marowak failed and it seems I wasn’t alone.  

Burned Tower
Johto, Pokémon Gold, Silver, Crystal, HeartGold & SoulSilver
Johto doesn’t really have a standard haunted location, you could (and people do) argue for the Ruins of Alph but the Burned Tower of Ecruteak City made such an impression on me as a kid and has been turned into a legitimately creepy looking location in the HeartGold & SoulSilver remakes that I just wanted to bring it up here. Is it haunted? Well in a sense, just not by ghosts, it’s haunted by the Legendary Beasts who died their 150 years ago. Somehow it’s worse when Pokémon are the ones that have died, I don’t think the Pokémon Tower would seem half as bad if it was a human graveyard, even one on the same scale, I think it’s because we’re so used to having that safe feeling that comes with knowing that our Pokémon can only faint that when we’re presented with the fact that they can and do die in-universe it seems so much worse, we’re used to people dying after all. The Legendary Beasts aren’t spirits though, the three Pokémon that died when the Burned Tower burned were resurrected by the Legendary Pokémon Ho-Oh (the golden bird Ash keeps seeing in the anime) and given their present forms3.
In Gold, Silver & Crystal it’s only this legend that serves to make the area ‘creepy’ in any way, though it was enough for me, but in their remakes the first level is turned into a charred derelict space with a huge hole burned into the wooden floor and the basement is turned into a far more foreboding feeling tomb thanks to the miracles of improved graphics. It’s not the most unsettling of places in this post but as a kid it had a presence to me that derelict builds have and it looms large in my memories of playing Gold & Silver (well playing in English, I first played them in Japanese where the Burned Tower meant nothing because I couldn’t read the legend when it was told to me) and this is my blog dammit and I can do what I want *pouts*.  

Sea Mauville
Hoenn, Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire
While I’ll admit I’m apathetic to Ruby & Sapphire as a whole I never found their designated creepy location, the Abandoned Ship, to be all that creepy, I like its design and it shows off the then-new HM Dive nicely but it’s filled with jaunty music and nothing overly unnerving happens, Sea Mauville is a little better. New for the Ruby & Sapphire remakes, Sea Mauville was part one of Greater Mauville Holdings’ projects, which also included Mauville City and the failed New Mauville, it employed several named characters from the game including Dock, Captain Stern, gym leader Wattson, Cap’n Salty and the father of Professor Cozmo. Sea Mauville’s job was to extract resources from the ocean and come up with energy solutions for Greater Mauville Holdings and it seemed like they may have found one – Infinity Energy, at least an investigation into the Devon Corporation has discovered it exists… and at one point they needed an Odd Keystone, the item that summons and traps Spiritomb, a Pokémon made up of 108 spirits. Of course no one will tell you any of this, half sunk and derelict Sea Mauville is now a kind of bizarre national park and although you’ll have to use Dive to reach some of the lower levels you’re not the first or only Trainer to do so, the history of the building is instead found in the barely legible tatters of company documents and former private property of former employees.
Sea Mauville’s creep factor comes from two sources: the standard unsettlingness that comes from derelict buildings, the more complex graphics allowing ORAS to give us a much better derelict look, feel and atmosphere than Ruby & Sapphire and your brain naturally filling in the blanks about what was going on when the place was operational. Any half understandable information found in a derelict building is automatically going to sound creepy and lead the reader to imagine that horrible things and only horrible things could have led to the state things are now in – even though it’s far more likely the place just ran out of money or the people moved away. Sea Mauville is one such place, there’s nothing really to confirm that anything untoward happened here at all, and it’s quite possible the place simply shut down as a result of the failure to finish New Mauville and the subsequent losses Greater Mauville Holdings endured as a result but the mention of Infinity Energy, which comes from the bioenergy of Pokémon, as in it uses up their life force and kills them, and the appearance of Spiritomb, who again is made up of 108 spirits (this could just be because Sea Mauville is on Route 108 of course) add that little hint of darkness, of something wrong, “you don’t get a Spiritomb without 108 dead things” you brain goes “and why would there be 108 dead things on a manmade structure?” “Infinity Energy kills” your brain continues and from then on, well everything is fair game “what exactly WERE the failures that stopped the New Mauville project” “Did Cozmo’s dad ever come home?” “Is it all Hypno’s fault somehow?” and so on and so on.  

The Old Chateau
Sinnoh, Pokémon Diamond, Pearl & Platinum
An abandoned mansion on the outskirts of this game’s obligatory forest Eterna, surrounded by overgrowth you’ll have to Cut your way through, a lovely emphasising of how long this place has been abandoned (although given that cut down trees and bushes reappear after you exit a map and then come back, maybe not so much). The point of going into the Old Chateau? To find the new Pokémon Rotom, a Pokémon that inhabits electrical goods and is currently haunting a flickering television in an upstairs bedroom, the only information found within the building is a barely readable message seemingly relating to said ‘mon: "Som...hing so pecu...r shou... make off ...ith the mot..."4 other than this there’s Rotom’s Ghost Type brethren Gastly and Haunter and an exclusive healing item, the wonderfully named Old Gateau. BUT something else lurks in the Chateau besides ‘mons, an awesome BGM that mixes typically creepy music with burst of gloriously out of tune strains and a fun play on words: go into the dining room and an old butler will glide across the top of the screen, yet won’t be in the adjoining kitchenette when you enter it; go into the third bedroom and a little girl will be seen leaving the fourth, only to not be in the hallway: meet the ghosts of the Old Chateau. The ghosts have no backstory, no ties of the overall plot of the game, the player’s character doesn’t even acknowledge them, they’re there, and then they’re gone5.  
Now there are three major ways of doing a haunted level in regards to letting players in on its backstory – one is openly flat out telling them during the course of the level or the game (Lavender Town’s Tower in Pokémon Red & Blue), another is allowing the player to figure out roughly what happened using the level itself and maybe some dialogue and/or notes/logs (Shadlebridge Cradle in Thief III) and the third is just telling you fuck all and having the events have no real backstory to speak of. All are effective for different reasons though I personally like the second the best, The Old Chateau uses the third type which is really the more ‘realistic’ of the three, in that it’s the closest to what a real world experience in a haunted place would be like, most haunted hospitals don’t come with detailed patient reports left out that just so happen to correspond to their resident spectre after all. Even the way the ghosts of the Old Chateau appear and are placed on the screen - they’re there for a second and then they’re gone at the top and the side of the screen, equivalents of ‘out of the corner of your eye’ - add to this sense of realness. Plus there’s something about being completely unexplained that makes things seem very creepy, I dunno, the brain can’t rationalise it at all maybe? I’m sure someone clever than me than could write a better thesis on that but I do know that if you don’t show/tell people all of something the brain will fill in the gaps and usually with something far worse than what actually happened, so I bet that plays into it somehow. So what I’m saying is, despite its lack of backstory, in fact because of it, the Old Chateau creeps me the fuck out.

Strange House
Unova, Pokémon Black 2 & White 2
At the end of an overgrown path at the base of Reversal Mountain stands the Strange House, a Mexican-looking structure where an unseen force moves furniture at will, guiding you around the house, to its basement library filled with quotes about dreams and nightmares (specifically the Legendary Duo of Cresselia and Darkrai, the movie Dream Eater and the hypnosis themed Pokémon Drowzee and Hypno, who are also childnappers) and to the Lunar Wing, an item used to awaken those caught in endless nightmares, an item dropped by Cresselia to combat a punishment inflicted by Darkrai. And as you wander this house, a girl flickers into being calling out for her mother, father and Abra and talking about an endless dark dream, her father’s voice telling her to forget about the Lunar Wing and stay with him, and waiting on a bridge to return the Lunar Wing to the Pokémon it came from.
I’ll make myself unpopular again, I’ve never found Strange House to be as creepy as many others seem to, I certainly don’t find it as creepy as the Old Chateau or an upcoming supermarket. Part of that is just the aesthetics of the place, there’s a lot of warm colours and the architecture and decoration puts me more in the mind of Westerns than Horror Films, all of this is of course totally based on my culture and country (and county) or origin, if you lived in Mexico, Spain or several states in the U.S. (where Unnova is based on) I’m sure that wouldn’t be an issue. The creepiest thing I found is piecing everything together like a sand-blasted chibi Columbo and coming up with the answer: a Pokémon killed this child. Think about that, I know everyone does those stupid bloody ‘creepy Pokédex entries’ clickbait bullshit but few of the fandom take the Pokédex that seriously, this is something from outside that handheld bullshit machine seemingly telling us that a Legendary Pokémon killed a kid. 

Kalos, Pokémon X & Y
So you’re having a wander through the beautiful fully polygonal Lumiose City, hopelessly lost and scared to save because you’re certain the patch won’t work for you because nothing ever does and you pop into tone of the many buildings to find items, this one seems nice enough, children are playing in the lobby, one of them has a Clauncher, that’s cool - it’ll evolve into Clawitzer and that child will be officially badass, you take the elevator up to the second floor, hoping someone has left a TM in their cubicle, you step out of the elevator and the lights go out, they flicker back on, they flick off, a strange girl is now standing behind you, you can’t move, the lights flicker one last time, the strange girl – a Hex Maniac, she slides around, mid-step but not walking, staring off in front of you she mumbles ‘no, you’re not the one…’ and then slips off screen, you search the whole floor, there’s no-one there.
This encounter has become infamous in the fandom but I bought X & Y on release and I had no idea this was going to happen, I was in fact in bed at Euro Disney Disneyland Paris when I encountered this, pretty much as I told above (though with the saving joke updated to include the patch, obviously) I was both impressed and exceedingly creeped out that Game Freak had decided to take influence from The Ring for a few seconds. I will now admit that I completely lost my train of thought here because Never Mind the Buzzcocks came on and Kirsty MacColl was on it. I’ve seen various comments – mostly on YouTube and you know how open and accepting of other people’s ideas YouTube commentators are – wondering why this encounter is considered so creepy: context is the answer, in a survival horror game this would only be mildly unsettling, in Pokémon it’s a creeptastic surprise, I like to think I got that across in the first paragraph but just in case. Further, another Hex Maniac can be found in Richissime Hotel staring at the wall, if you talk to her she’ll tell you to be quiet, because otherwise she won’t hear the elevator and at Lumiose City a note on the back of the railway’s main sign says “I'm going to go for help. Wait in the usual place” and then there’s Route 14….Jesus Game Freak did you all decide you hated the idea of children sleeping this dev cycle?

Thrifty Megamart
Alola, Pokémon Sun & Moon
The first Thrifty Megamart was built in Tapu Village on land believed to be sacred to Ula’ula Island’s guardian deity Tapu Bulu and it’s said that the (possibly) Legendary Pokémon wrecked it in a fit of rage. It now sits crumbling on the edge of Tapu Village, accessible only by via the beach, a modern ruin.  Now overrun by Ghost Type Pokémon it’s the site used by Trail Captain Acerola for her Trail, where you’ll have to face the Totem Pokémon, a Mimikyu. There is a lot of capitalization going on there. The whole trial is a wonderful piece of ghost fiction set in a particularly evocative - and easily relatable location - with a great BGM. Each time you defeat one of the three Ghost Pokémon needed to complete the trial, an eerie Pikachu appears ‘out of the corner of your eye’ drawing you further and further into the old shop and there’s just something off about it, ghostly you might say (as I roll my eyes at myself), and as child ghosts prove over and over the cuter and more innocent something is in life the scarier it is in undeath. The Pikachu leads you to a small back room plastered with happy pictures and drawings of children and Pikachu, forced to observe your new surroundings only through the camera-like Pokéviewer you turn around and look down, expecting to see an adorable series mascot, but instead BAM the ragged disguise of Mimikyu. Once the trial is complete, Acerola will think you’re teasing her, there’s no back room in the store she’ll chuckle, stop pulling my leg.
This is my favourite haunted location in Pokémon and my favourite Trial; it’s just a perfect storm of ghost tropes from an abandoned urban setting to a room that isn’t there to the always chilling mix of cute and innocent things in a horror/horrible setting, framed, designed, scored, laid out and paced just right to evoke the perfect ghost film feeling. I really like it, are you getting that? That I like it? A lot? Yes? Good. Now I do actually have a bit of a thing for derelict shops so that’s worth noting: I used to have a reoccurring nightmare about being trapped in a supermarket where all the food was secretly dead bodies and the staff was all zombie/ghost things, I think it comes from there.

And there you are, what was the point of this? No point I just wanted to talk about Pokémon and picked this as the vehicle, you can find videos – especially of fan theories – all over the internet about these locations – and others like the Ruins of Alph or Route 14 – but now you can get my 2 cents as well, you lucky bastards.

1 Easily the best ‘creepy music’ in the series, and certainly a case of ‘less is more’, it’s even worse/better played backwards, Google both ‘Lavender Town Theme’ and ‘Lavender Town Theme Backwards’ and see what I mean.
2 I’ll just mention it in a footnote because even though I get very few comments someone it bound to mention it if I don’t: you also encounter your Rival (Blue, the basis for Gary in the anime) at the Pokémon Tower, having last seen him on the cruise ship the S.S. Anne. When you battled him on that ship he had a Raticate when you battle him after seeing him at the Pokémon Tower he does not. As it’s a graveyard and place of remembrance fans have latched into the theory that the Raticate died (and you were responsible) and that is why Blue was in Lavender Town. Now the rival could just have put it in a PC Box (Pokémon can be stored in PCs indefinitely, thank Bill for that) but it’s a good theory and personally really like it, but then I’m a bit of a macabre bastard. I’m actually not really ‘judging’ the levels by taking into account fan theories and Creepypastas connected to them in this article though.     
3 there’s a persistent fan theory that the three Pokémon who died that day were a Jolteon, Flareon and Vaporeon, the first three evolved forms of Eevee  players encountered (who are in the Johto Pokedex and obtainable there) and were reborn into Raikou, Entei and Suicune (rye-cow, en-tie, swee-cyoon – I think) respectively.
4 believed to be "Something so peculiar should make off with the motor" with the ‘something so peculiar’ being Rotom
5 HOWEVER Mr Backlot, who’s garden is effectively a small Safari Zone, lives in a mansion that from the outside is identical and seems to have one of a pair of statues the other being in the Haunted Chateau. We also know that Team Galactic Admin Cheren knows about Rotom and his writing about is found in the game. But neither of these things really give us any information of what happened at the Chateau or to the two ghosts specifically, at most it simply proves that Cheren has been there (not hard, as anyone with a Pokémon who knows Cut can gain access) and Mr Backlot may have been there (and possibly nicked a statue). I’m personally leaning more to sprite reuse as to why the two mansions look the same than the dev team trying to signify a direct connection between the Chateau and Mr Backlot, which in-universe I guess means they were just were designed by the same bloke?   

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