I know, I know. You probably think: What the heck is this all about? You surely want to read something about hyper-realistic blood, distorted music tracks and ridiculous traffic gore. I am sorry, my story doesn't contain any of it. You do not even have to believe me that all this happened.
But to assure myself that all this happened I had to write it down. And if not for me then for him...
Vienna, Austria. 10.10.2013
A lots of people love games. I loved games. Emphasis on 'loved'...
The story I am going to tell you is a long one. I am pretty sure you will not believe me, but that doesn't matter. I know its true.
As I said, I loved games. My brother and I both loved them. I recall countless afternoons where Michael, my older brother and I had adventures with the beloved plumber Mario. We fought Dracula in Castlevania and traded Pokemon.
There were games we rushed through in days and there were games we spent almost months with exploring and creating our own stories. When Michael and I were playing games, nothing else mattered. We grew together. Two brothers that could talk about everything while playing. Everything that mattered was us, two brothers spending time together. I loved to watch Michael playing games on our SNES, I did not even have to play them myself.
He always seemed so happy playing. So calm and fascinated. I remember, there were days, when he would come back from high school, looking at me with a warm, cheerful smile and ask: "Hey little brother, how are you doing? Wanna play?"
Of course I said yes.
One of our favorite franchises was the Legend of Zelda series and when we learned that there was an installment coming for the N64 we had to play it. I do not remember how Michael persuaded our parents to buy us the system and the game, but they did. And boy, these days of playing Ocarina of Time are still some of my favorite to think back to.
During our Christmas holidays we did almost nothing else than follow Link on his adventure through Hyrule. To this day I remember the excitement I felt when Michael fought Gohma for the first time. I remember how terrified I was when I saw the Shadow Temple for the first time and recall the shiver that ran down my spine at the sight of the Master Sword put to final rest in the Temple of Time.
Even after beating the game, we could not stop. We had competitions, how long it would take each of us to beat the game or simply roamed Hyrule to live our own adventures. We went fishing. Claimed our place as the rightful King of the Zoras or investigated the secrets of the Haunted Wastelands. Sounds silly, right? But our imagination knew no boundaries.
And then, there was this one thing: This locked door in the Back Alley of Castle Town. We wanted to open it. We wanted to now what secret lay behind it. But there was no way to open it. We tried countless tricks we learned from friends and the Internet, but nothing worked. There was a way that almost seemed to work. But we will see about that later.
As we grew older I lost interest in Video Games - Life happened. Periodically, I said 'yes' when he asked me his question 'Hey little Brother, how are you doing? Wanna play?' But I played less and less. Sometimes I would just sit there on my brothers bed and watch him playing, chatting. Michael never stopped loving games and especially his fascination with Ocarina of Time never came to a halt.
Even as he moved out to the Academy - Michael always wanted to be a Policeman 'To be a real hero, just like in the games,' he took the N64 with him. That nerd...
But things did not play out as planned. Michael's interest in his games was stronger than the interest in his career. He got kicked out off the academy, and my family and I started to worry. He did not even seem to bother. He moved into a little apartment and got a job at a supermarket. Needless to say, that my parents weren't much excited about that.
'I'm okay, I will try next time,' 'Stop worrying, I have a job and pay my bills.' And at first he really seemed fine. I mean he did not seem so bad. He always went to work, earned enough money and even had a girlfriend. But he never tried again.
Then I moved out myself to go to college. I barely had contact with Michael, and beside the family-holiday meetings, we barely spoke. But when we spoke, he almost entirely spoke about games. And that he still did not manage to open that damn door in the Back Alley. It seems that all his life just revolved about Games.
Then in the year 2012 my mother reached out to me. She was worried about Michael. She told me that he lost his job and girlfriend. She was almost in tears when she told me that he was spending all day with these 'stupid video games,' like it's his addiction. She and my father went to check on him, just to send them away from his muffled voice through the door "Get lost, I almost got it!"
Two weeks after that, he stopped answering his phone. And as she asked me to check on him, he did not even answer the door. On opening the door with the help of a locksmith we found an empty apartment. It was creepy. Really creepy: Michael's home was empty. No kitchen supplies, no fridge, no computer. Just a bed and his still turned on TV and N64. Worried about my brother, my family and I filed a missing person report. But his whereabouts remained unknown. Michael just disappeared.
It was not until this year, that I should find out what happened to him. And let me tell you, things are going to get much weirder...
Part One: D
Life happened. I have a job now. I am a Doctor. Just as I always wanted. I have a wonderful fiancée and even if we aren't married yet, there is a baby on the way. We even moved into a bigger apartment recently. Everything began as Mary, my fiancée, decided to spend a month back at her parent's place. You know, to prepare for the pregnancy and all that woman stuff. To make the best of the time while she was away I decided to tidy up the place a little bit. You know, unpack the rest of the stuff, paint the walls and all that. So it came that I stumbled upon the N64 that I kept after Michael disappeared.
My parents did not want it and I do not even know why I kept it - maybe because it was the only thing he left behind - maybe because I really liked to play it back in the day. With still three weeks left without Mary, I decided to set the system up and play a little bit. Michael left behind a bunch of games: Banjo Kazooie, Super Mario 64, Star Fox and our all time favorite: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Shivers ran down my spine after I heard that familiar tone when hitting the start button on the title screen.
There were two save games: my brother Michael's (of course he completed it 100 %) and a save state with my name: Alex. At first I wanted to play Michael's save, but something held me back. It felt wrong.
Like I did not want to 'spoil' his work. So I selected the save named after me and started playing.
Immediately I felt this excitement of the oncoming adventure, like I felt it when I watched Michael play it for the first time. And after a hour of playing I managed to hack and slay my way through the Great Deku Tree. I could not help myself but smile when Gohma's big red eye stared back at me. I looked over my shoulder, just as I did when I was playing with Michael to get his approval. But of course he was not there. Old habits ....
Nasty habits. Of course I've thought of Michael over the past year, but just now it seemed that I really realized that he was gone. He just left, without a message. Where could he be? Did he start a new life? Did he die? Did he end his life? I forced myself to think of something else. Michael would never do something like that. Maybe he realized, that he had to change his life. Maybe he would turn up again one day.
After I defeated Gohma there was the Deku Tree's dying speech. I always hated that part. Yes, of course I knew that this was just a game and not real, but the Deku Tree's death always hit me hard. It was so unexpected. After everything you did to save him it was not enough. This time something felt odd. Something felt different. I have not played the game for at least 14 years, but I could swear that the speech was different. "Yes, I passed away long ago... But do not grieve for me."
These weren't the right words, weren't they? I could not recall for sure so I shrugged it off. I had enough for right now. The memories of Michael put a halt to my enthusiasm. I saved and stopped playing. But I could not stop thinking about him.
Maybe he was out there...he must be.
Part Two: A
The next two days I did not even look at the N64. I felt alone. Left behind in this big apartment without my family. Talking to Mary over the phone did not even help much.
But there was this urge. The urge to continue playing - even thoughI know that it would bring back more memories. As soon as I heard the Song of the Lost Woods my mood lit up.
I was able to smile again. And at one point I started to talk to him. Yeah, I know it sounds crazy, but I started to talk to Michael. Just like in the old days.
I told him about my job, that he would be proud of me. I assured him, that he would love Mary and he was going to be an uncle. Just like that the sadness was gone. I was happy again.
Getting the three sacred stones was easy-cake. And just like that I felt like a little boy again. Hyrule was ready to be explored. I fed giant fish, climbed Doom Mountain and met the Princess of Destiny herself.
Familiar faces welcomed me like old friends. And even Ganondorf's phantom Doppelganger and the blazing keeper of the fire temple could not stop me.
And as I progressed through the game I felt closer to Michael. Like he was really here. Sitting behind me, watching me with his big smile.
You surely can understand my frustration as I reached the Water Temple. The infamous, I-want-to-murder-someone hard Water Temple. Even as a kid I never beat this Temple.
And even now I could not beat this Son of a Bitch. It was Michael who always helped me. I watched him numerous times prancing trough the Dungeon like it was nothing.
I started to get angry. Angry about the game. Angry about not being able to solve this simple task. Getting the Longshot? Nope, not happening. I cursed at the TV and even started to curse Michael.
It was all his fault. If he had not left I would not have to play this stupid game to feel close to him. If he had not helped me all the previous times I could be able to beat the temple this time.
Why wasn't he here right now to help me? Enraged I stopped playing. "FUCK IT! Fuck this stupid game and fuck you, Michael!"
I needed something to calm my nerves. I've been so angry, that I swore to myself never to touch that console again.
I decided to meet some friends, maybe a drink or two would bring me down.
You know that feeling when you wake up after a long night of drinking? That taste of an ashtray in your mouth and that Itch in your throat like you chugged down a glass of nails?
Add a headache that feels like someone practiced his pumpkin-carving-skills on you and you can imagine how I felt as I woke up the next day. I could not remember much from last night.
I went out drinking with some pals and ended taking a cab back home...I guess. After that: Nothing. Nada. I woke up in our bed - there was music coming out of the living room. Could it be that Mary returned early?
I called her name .... no answer. Although every muscle in my body demonstrated against it, I climbed out of the bed and waddled into the living room. The television and the N64 were turned on. The Pause Screen was showing.
Drunkenly I must have tried to play the game. No matter how hard I tried, I could not remember if I really did. As I unpaused the game I found Link standing in front of the giant lock that seals away the boss of the Water Temple.
Somehow I managed to beat the Water Temple to this point. Slowly I came to my senses. Strangely I was pretty sure that I collapsed wasted into the bed last night. Would not be the first time that drunken-me did something I could not remember.
At least now I could give Morpha a try. The monster went down quickly - the pattern's easy. Pull the 'eye' out with the longshot and let it taste your blade.
The easiness of the boss let me forget the anger its temple caused me. Even if I could not remember how I did it, I was more than proud of myself. And I remembered how proudly Michael had smiled after I beat the dungeon for the first time.
The Cutscene between Princess Ruto and Adult Link followed. And again something felt weird. "If you see him, please give him my thanks... OK?" that wasn't what the character was supposed to say - I was dead sure about that. It was supposed to say "If you see Sheik, please give him my thanks... OK?"
My eyes must have tricked me. Also I was still a little drunk. Again I did not give much thought to it and continued playing.
Part Three: B
One thing we always enjoyed were the side quests in Ocarina of Time. And our favorite quest was the Happy Masks Salesman quest. So I decided to tackle this challenge next before I would head to the Shadow Temple.
There is really not much to say about this quest line. You get masks from the Happy Masks Salesman in Hyrule Town, find the right people and sell them the masks. It does not get any simpler.
At this point of the story, it gets really strange... trust me. During the last portion of the quest line, where you are supposed to sell the Bunny Hood to the Postman, he offered me some kind of deal. Normally he would fill up your wallet completely but in this play through he gave me two options.
A) Fill up my wallet or B) Give me the chance to 'carry on'. Curious about that I chose option B. Was that a secret quest line? Even if I do not like online guides very much I looked it up and found nothing. No clue about what this "carrying on" was supposed to mean.
Michael would have loved to try that out, to find something to drag out the gaming experience a little longer and reveal one more secret. It was a good bargain - I mean what do I need so many rupees for?
And what I would have given to speak to him one more time. Well, beside the times I sat in front of my TV and talked to myself like a doofus. Maybe that was my bargain: a little bit of my sanity to have the one last adventure with Michael.
Yeah ... that sounded good. Even that I knew that I would never speak to him again. I would never see him again. That was enough sentimentality for one day. After completing the side quest, I saved the game, turned the console off and eventually forgot about the 'deal'.
Part Four: D
It was the day. An anniversary. A sad anniversary. Exactly one year ago my brother had disappeared. I cannot remember the last time I've have been down like that.
Work was slow, I could not think straight. At least Mary would return in a few weeks. I played with the thought of visiting her at her parents. Have a little chat and maybe something more.
Despite how good that sounded I knew that I would not be in the right mood. After work I got some groceries - mainly beer - and simply sat in front of the TV. There it sat right in front of me.
The only memento of Michael. His N64. I had not played it for the past few days - I was already thinking of him all the time, why not honor him with a little bit of gaming?
The Shadow Temple had been my most favorite dungeon in the game. The scary setting, the creepy music and last but not least the boss fight. As I adventured deeper into the temple I felt bad.
The skulls which built the walls of the temple stared back at me with their hollow eye-sockets, like they wanted to mock me. 'Death's everywhere, everybody is going to die. Everybody is going to leave you.'
That thought stuck with me the whole time. I wasn't sure if I could keep playing. It felt like I dropped in a deep dark hole. Depression - that is what I would call it if someone asked me. It wasn't just sadness but real depression.
It kept pushing me to the end of the dungeon and I feared what would await me there. But I was not able to do it. My Avatar just stood there at the edge of hole that would drop Link onto Bongo Bongos giant drum.
No way I would jump down there. It's just a game, I muttered to myself over and over again. How could this game make me feel that way? I did not have to deal with that bullshit. I hit pause and walked around a little bit. 'Keep it together, god damn,' I told myself.
Everybody has to deal with crap in his life. Some people have it much worse than I. My parents for example. I may have lost my brother, but they lost a son.
I decided to pay them a visit, they and I should not be alone on this day. Do not worry, I will not bother you with the emotional crap of my visit. We talked about Michael - the first time since what felt like forever.
Of course did I beat the crap out of Bongo Bongo after I returned home.
Part Four: A
Only two days left until Mary would come back I decided to marathon the rest of the game. And there wasn't much left to do. Not much to mention until the end of the game, beside another weird change in a conversation. At the very beginning of the dungeon, on entering it as a kid and meeting Nabooru, the Gerudo said something I could not quite put into context at that time.
"If you can successfully get the White Key... He'll do something great for you!" This was the second time the game referenced someone. But who? At this point I did some research. Yes, there was the possibility to alter a game and mod it.
So are you able to change the game data to, for example, play as Ganondorf, or use a different soundtrack? Is that what Michael did with this game? Was this all a big joke?
I wasn't sure. My brother knew his ways with games and cheats, but he could not even operate a calculator on his computer without asking for help. Maybe he had help. I dunno.
So I continued playing and faced the big evil: Ganondorf. All the sadness I had felt during playing had since gone. But here it was again: The hand-sweat inducing excitement - the thrill of the upcoming fight. The awe that struck me after his final transformation into Ganon. It took me just a couple of minutes before I delivered the final blow. It was over. I beat the game.
One last time I had the opportunity to feel close to Michael. I could not stop smiling as the credits rolled - I watched the big party on the Lon Lon Ranch. Revisited the locations I learned to know and love.
And just as the big letters wrote "The End" and I was going to turn of the console, one last cutscene appeared. The screen showed the Back Alley in Hyrule Town. I immediately recognized it - hundreds of times, my brother and I tried to open this damned door. And there it was - opened for a couple of seconds before it closed.
What the hell was that? I should find out soon enough.
Part Five: The White Key
That was new. The game did not end after the credits. Link awaited me in his tree house. A textbox appeared on the screen, someone called my characters name. "Alex!" It was the Postman, waving and waiting for me on the outside. It dawned on me. This must be some kind of secret ending - the option to 'carry on.' I talked to the postman and obtained a new item. "His Letter." It only contained two words. "Lake Hylia." I was excited. This was something I never saw before. Maybe this was a hacked version of the game. I did not care. I had to complete it.
And kudos to whomever programmed it. As I reached the Lake nothing seemed out of place -except the NPC that was sitting at the shore. It was the owner of the Fishing Pond. Talking to him started a dialog. He told me that he was glad to hear that I was okay - why the hell would he care - and that I should keep this fishing rod as some sort of wedding gift. "You both will need it. Give it a try"
Was that a reference to Princess Ruto. I decided not to pay much attention to it and used my new item instead. My first and only catch was a bottle - just like the one you get if you dive into the lake to obtain Princess Rutos Message. "Doomed Fairy - lonely." I raised my eyebrow. Only Michael and I called the Great Fairy at the top of Mount Doom 'The Doomed Fairy'. So he created that hack?
The Fairy welcomed me with her iconic high pitched laugh. "So lonely. Please do not go." It clearly wanted something from me. But what? All she said was "So lonely, please do not go." It took me almost the rest of the day to figure out what I had to do. Playing the Scarecrows Song let Bonooru appear at the Fountain. Who came up with that and how the hell was I supposed to find that out?
I was rewarded with another dialog between the scarecrow and the fairy in which they told one another that they would never leave each other. "Cure the lonely soul in the Desert and cure yourself." The fairy had pointed me to my next destination.
That was easy. Back when I played the game with my brother, we often roamed the Haunted Wastelands and created stories. One time, the desert was the secret hideout of a master thief, another time, the ghost that inhabits the Wasteland was Link's father that guides him through rough times, but was damned to spend the rest of eternity in the wastelands for abandoning his son. I always loved our stories.
Finding the ghost was harder than I thought, not just because he moved damn fast, but I also ran out of magic for my Lens of Truth before I caught up to him. "I'm sorry." were the only words it muttered before fleeing again. I had no idea what to do. Cure him, but how? I tried almost everything. A fairy in bottle - Nope, Red Potion - Nope. Out of desperation I tried everything my inventory had to offer. Every song, every weapon and every charm. Finally Nayru's Love did the trick.
Instead of Link, the spell enveloped the ghost. "This is for the both of us. I'm sorry I'm not there. I would love to be an uncle." I dropped the controller immediately. What the Fuck?!
I told Michael that he would be an uncle but that happened while I had been playing this game. How could this possibly be in the game? It was like the game listened to me. The ghost vanished and left behind a small chest. Still in awe I opened the chest and obtained 'The White Key'. My heart skipped a few beats. Have I gone crazy?
There was only one door where this key would fit. And no matter what awaited me there - I had to find out. I did not care that it was already past midnight, I didn't care that I had to pick up Mary from the Train Station this morning. This final quest was all that mattered. My heart raced as my character stepped in front of the door in the Back Alley.
Slowly Link opened the door and entered the room. Unbelievable - it worked!
I didn't believe my eyes. He was sitting there on the bed. A polygon model like what he looked like before he disappeared. He just sat there, like he used to sit behind me, when I was playing our games. He turned his head, looking directly at the screen. Even now I could see the happy, comforting smile on his face.
A textbox appeared: "Hey little brother, how are you doing? Wanna play?"