Back when I first got a laptop, I was introduced to video game emulators which made it possible to play console games on a PC. I started off with two emulators, one for DS (which didn't work that well) and one for GameBoyAdvance. The GBA emulator worked great, and I used it for all sorts of games, mostly Pokemon. Emulators also offer the advantage of being able to access and alter the ROM, allowing for cheats and hacks. It, like most emulators, included hacking tools (GameShark, GameGenie, Action Replay, etc), and I took full advantage of it. But I wanted more.
I did a Google search for hacking tools and found one called EGGFINDER. The description read: “Discover ALL the game has to offer! Warning: Use at your own risk. Not responsible for damages.” I've always been a fan of easter eggs in games, so I downloaded it. I didn't think much of the warning, any amateur hacking may lead to ROM corruption, I knew that.
The program itself was easy to use, just load it up, select the ROM, and choose Open.
That was when it all began.
Once the ROM was open, the available options were “Explore” and “Auto”. I figured “Explore” would leave me to search through myself, and “Auto” would scan through automatically. The first ROM I chose was Pokemon Sapphire. I anxiously clicked “Auto” and waited for the results. The view screen began streaming binary for a few seconds and a name appeared under the name of the ROM, “Gym Nine”.
A third option had been added under the other two: “Activate”. I clicked it and the program shut down, instead opening up the emulator. Everything in the game seemed exactly how it was before. So now that the easter egg was unlocked, how as I supposed to find it? I searched the web and found nothing. With no other ideas, I decided to start a new save file and go through the entire game looking for the easter egg.
From the very beginning of the game things were slightly off. My mother seemed sadder and talked about my father in the past tense. Did that mean my dad, Gym Leader Norman, had died? Well... that was a depressing start. When I saved Professor Birch from the wild Poochyena, he said “Thank you, Sapphire. You saved my life. If only your father had been so lucky...”
So Norman was killed by a wild Pokemon. I wondered which one, but of course Birch said nothing more on the subject and proceeded to give me my starter Pokemon, Torchic. I named him Norm Jr as a tribute to my apparently deceased dad.
I walked north and found my rival on route 103, as usual. But when I tried talking to him, he just said “...” and ran away. This easter egg was turning out to be very odd, more of a hack than an easter egg.
When I got to Petalburg City, it began storming heavily, almost as if it was outraged by its Gym Leader's death. Upon entering the Gym, I saw a brief flash of Norman's sprite, which was gone so quickly I doubted my own eyes. I left and reentered; nothing happened. Probably just a glitch. I exited the Gym and continued to the next town.
The game played out mostly the same, except that the sickly Wally was missing and my rival refused to battle me, instead running off whenever he saw me. Norm Jr seemed much stronger than a typical Torchic, soloing every battle easily.
When it came time to challenge the Petalburg Gym, I was extremely curious as to what would happen next. Had they found a substitute Gym Leader? I entered the Gym and was shocked by the sight. The room flashed bright red and Norman's sprite flickered on the screen like before. I was teleported out of the Gym to the entrance... but the Gym was gone! All that was left was a large patch of dirt with a signpost in the middle. The sign read “PLEASE...”
By now I was confused and a bit disturbed. This was not at all what I had expected from a Pokemon easter egg. I thought back to the name, Gym Nine. A ninth Gym? What did that even mean?
I had to know. I had to continue playing.
Everything was normal for a while. I beat the next two Gym Leaders with Norm Jr, now a Blaziken. It was time for the final confrontation with Team Aqua, deep in the undersea cavern. I battled Archie to prevent him from waking Kyogre, the game's signature legendary. I was expecting an easy fight, since Norm Jr was insanely powerful. What I didn't expect was for Norm Jr to start fighting without my my command. His attack animations were different, more brutal. It was almost as if Norm Jr himself was enraged at Archie. After he had knocked out all of Archie's Pokemon, Archie himself appeared, begging for mercy. Norm Jr screeched and attacked Archie, after which the screen cut to black.
The game froze for about ten seconds before returning to the field. Archie was gone, and in his place was a black smudge. All I could assume was that Norm Jr had burned Archie to ashes! The game so far had been dark, but this was just horrible.
From here the Red Orb began to glow, waking Kyogre. I really hoped this meant the story would go back to normal. No such luck. I was teleported outside and greeted by the usual raging storm. But this time, every town I tried to fly to was flooded (with the exception of the mountain town of Lavaridge), forcing me onto my surfing Pokemon as soon as I landed. Some rooftops were poking out of the water, but there were no people. Curious, I flew to Littleroot town to look for my mom and Professor Birch. As I expected, there was absolutely nothing left. I flew to Petalburg and found a ghostly Gym building hovering above the flooded city. I heard Blaziken's cry and Norm Jr burst out of his pokeball, zooming inside the building. I followed.
Inside was pitch black. I couldn't even see my character's sprite. I walked north as far as I could before hitting a wall. From there, I fell through the floor. Suddenly I was back outside in non-flooded Petalburg... but now it was black and white, the only colors on screen from my sprite, and there was no sound. The game then entered a cutscene, with grayscale sprites of Norman, Wally, and my rival walking out onto Route 102. Norman turned to the children and began instructing them how to catch a Pokemon, a tutorial like the games always have at the beginning.
Then, out of nowhere, Archie appeared, questioning Norman on the location of the legendary Kyogre. Whether or not Norman actually knew, he flatly refused to tell Archie a single thing. Archie grew furious, threatening Norman and the children. When Norman still said nothing, Archie challenged him to a battle. Yet again, Norman refused. Archie sent out his Mightyena and commanded it to attack. Norman turned and told the children to run, before being brutally mauled by Mightyena. The kids stood transfixed, wanting to help Norman but not knowing what to do. The screen cut to black and I heard barking, growling, and the sound of cloth being ripped apart. When the scene returned, the black and white grass had a bright red stain; Archie and Mightyena were nowhere to be found. Wally was panting, mumbling that he couldn't breathe... and it cut to black again.
So that was how Norman died. He had been mauled to death by Archie's Mightyena, and poor sickly Wally was so traumatized he died of panic-induced asphyxiation. My rival had seen the whole thing, but told no one... except...
The next scene was another black and white flashback, this time it was my rival in his father's Pokemon lab. He was sitting talking to the three starter Pokemon, telling them the secret he would carry to his grave.
I paused the game, needing a minute to collect myself. I was close to tears at this point. It was nearly fifteen minutes before I was able to return to the game.
Everything seemed normal. No more flooded towns. No more flashbacks. I simply continued, capturing Kyogre, earning my final Gym badge, and navigating Victory Road (no Wally, of course). I challenged and defeated the Elite Four. But after I fought the champion, Steven, I was suddenly teleported back to the silent, pitch-black Gym. This time, however, when I took a step forward the room was suddenly lit by an eerie red glow. It was very similar to the Petalburg Gym, but the two doors leading onwards were locked. After a brief examination I turned to leave the building... but found that door locked as well.
Norman's sprite appeared in the middle of the room. He looked transparent.
“You have become the champion of Hoenn. And you know the truth.”
Norm Jr appeared beside him.
“What will you do with the knowledge?”
The room faded out. I was in Petalburg, Gym intact. My character walked, on her own, down towards the lake. She stood looking into the water for about a minute. I heard Blaziken's mournful cry, and the screen cut to black. Two splashes were heard. And the credits rolled.
What was Gym Nine?
The final act.