This is a retelling of an occurence I had with an experience with playing the game "Shin Megami Tensei: If..." a game that's part of the larger Shin Megami Tensei series. A popular JRPG series by Atlus.
((This is the first pasta I've ever written. Nonetheless, criticism is highly wanted.))
The IncidentEditI honestly never thought I'd be here, writing and accounting this strange incident that happened to me about a month or so ago. I originally was going to decide to forget the whole ordeal never happened and continue on with my life, but lately I've been thinking about it again in my mind and decided to come here and write about it. Be it for your own amusement or to hear an interesting story about something that you might consider unnerving or just plain absurd, I'm writing it down to give other people a forewarning if you decide to do what I did. Not to discourage you from doing it, but to be prepared for the things that might be in store for you. I don't know if you're a major RPG fan like I am, but if you know about Shin Megami Tensei, you most likely are as well. It's a very popular and long-running JRPG series from Atlus that has been around for more than 20 years now or so. It's the third most popular JRPG series, behind Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. Most of the games' mechanics are you're fighting demons as enemies and you're able to talk them into joining you in your struggle against whatever the main malevolent force of the game is, and you use them as your other party members, and you can also fuse multiple demons to make more powerful ones, fuse those for better ones, etc. It's a mature-themed pokemon series, essentially. For the most part, I've been able to play all of them. I'm always looking for a good RPG to hold up my time, so Shin Megami Tensei's always been a series I've been very fond of. The only ones I haven't been able to play are the original MSX/Famicom games, which haven't been translated into english. Not yet at least, since I've read there's fan translation projects that are in progress for those.
One game in the series that's always piqued my interest though is Shin Megami Tensei: If. It's a spinoff of the main series for the Super Famicom and it's considered a side-story (or a Gaiden, in it's original japanese tongue) to the original game where apparently it concerns a "What if?" situation in which the final events of the original game were different. It also uses the same demon-taming mechanics behind creating parties, but uses another unique leveling mechanic that I won't indulge in now. I'm sure that's enough information for you all to know the game I was dealing with in this event I'm about to tell.One of the main reasons it catches my eye is because it's a very hard game to translate. Even fan-translation groups are having trouble just trying to decode the game in their first steps. The main reason why its quite a challenge to translate is the way it stores its font and lettering. Where most games usually leave their fonts out in the open, SMT: If has all its font compressed. This wouldn't normally be an issue, but If doesn't unpack all its letters instantly. It unpacks its letters individually, which makes usual workarounds very ineffective.For the sake of not digressing and not sounding too technical, I'll stop explaining why If is hard to decode. Basically, if you want the short version: The way it stores its text and font files is very weird.
Anyway, after reading about the reasons why If was hard to translate and my own impatience getting the better of me, I decided to download a ROM of the game and also run a japanese word processor on the side and try to decipher some of the font and language myself. I was too stubborn and impatient to wait for the fan-translation to finish up. This is where the story fully starts. I went to a trustworthy ROM site I've been familiar with for years that had a good ROM of the game and downloaded it and ran it on my emulator. Nothing was out of place. A little opening monologue in japanese explaining how it was a normal day then suddenly something horrible happened then creepy music played while the title for "Shin Megami Tensei: If..." appeared. Usually the opening for older SMT games. Anyway, I pressed Start and was taken to a black screen. I wasn't named yet so I was just a blank character name.Suddenly my character was standing in front of a fortune teller machine. I put some of the characters the fortune teller was speaking in the processor to try and decipher it into english. I'll be doing this for the rest of this story so I don't have to keep explaining how I was able to understand what was read, and also to help you understand what was being said yourself. "I am a virtual fortune teller. Welcome to my virtual world. You too want to have me tell your fortune? Well in that case, tell me what gender you are." I get the two obvious choices: Male/Female. I've always been one to follow canon when it comes to storylines, and since canonically the hero of If is a female, I chose a woman."Now, please tell me your name," the fortune teller replied. Again, one to follow continuity, I entered in "Tamaki" as her name.
"So that's it, right?" the fortune-teller replied. Of course, I answered yes. "Now, please answer my following questions..." These questions are unique in that they determine your signature combat type depending on how you answer. I chose to answer honestly this time and play however the game determined me. "Do you love video games?" This one's a no-brainer, otherwise why would I be playing a japanese game while on a word processor? I picked Yes. "Do you do your homework properly?" Yes. "How many people do you prefer being with?" I chose 2-3 people, I prefer just a small group. This is where I first got thrown off-guard though. The next question the fortune-teller asked was definitely something I wasn't expecting.
"Do you feel like you waste your life away by playing these games and not doing anything worthwhile with yourself?"
I was taken back a bit by this suddenly strange question. I paused the game to look up other translating FAQs about the game, and this question wasn't listed in any of the others that are programmed in the game to be asked. I was a little weirded out, but I chose "No."
"Hmm, interesting..." The fortune-teller said in reply to my answer. "Do you think you can handle what your upcoming journey with us will entail, no matter what horrors await?" I didn't know if this question was serious, or simply just a reassuring question to introduce the game. I simply chose Yes once again. Then the fortune-teller predicted my play-style.
"You possess strength beyond that of ordinary people. It is not merely physical, but also mental capacity. No small thing is too much for you. But while it is good to live a life of strength, to live without worry, to always look forward and move accordingly, beware...if you keep always push your way in, you will also have to face failures. You may think you can handle most of anything, but you must be weary. Your mind might not be able to handle every situation..."
I thought the way he interpreted my play-style was interesting. I've always been a physical attacker when it comes to games, and I do seem to think myself to have a sturdy mind. I wasn't creeped out or nervous by his very good accurate fortune prediction, if anything, I was impressed. The fortune-teller then vanished. The screen cut to black again for a few seconds until another figure approaches me in a white uniform. It was a boy and the main villain, I've already read in other plot synopsis of the game this boy is the main antagonist of the game.
"Welcome to my world. Until yesterday I, superior as I was to all who knew me, was merely human. But now I have gained all-knowing and all-seeing power and became ruler of Makai. And to be granted a privilege of beholding a grand ruler like myself - truly you should count yourselves blessed, even you who observe these events through the eyes of another, should be grateful. From now on, whether you live or whether you die - your whole destiny is in my hands. I shall do my best to keep the both of us entertained. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!"
I was a bit puzzled by that speech, especially the piece of text that read "You who observe these events through the eyes of another." He most likely could've been talking about me, the player. I started to think of the idea of the game communicating with me. Instantly, I thought this idea was above all else, just plain absurd. So I simply just thought this was supposed to be said in the game was just part of the story and continued with the game. The boy leaves as more text appears reading.
"Hey how long are you gonna sleep for?! Tamaki, Tamaki, the school is out already!" Then I appear in what appeared to be an empty classroom as another girl stands before me, having been the person that said that. Then student appears before me.
"Had a good sleep, did you? Makes me jealous. Me, I don't sleep very well recently. I keep having these strange nightmares. Well, I'm off. See you." The student then left the screen. Suddenly and almost instantly, the classroom shook with the force of an earthquake. When it finally stops, the classroom was much more darker. Outside the windows, where it was sunny and looked like a normal day, it was a mass of purple clouds. After this happened, a few more student sprites appeared, panicking and having a stereotypical argument about how we're all gonna die and we need to run away, but wait we need to calm down, etc. I now had control of myself, I was able to move around the areas of the classroom. The design of the game is you move around in a first-person perspective as you moved in place to look around the areas of rooms you're in. I looked to the door and attempted to leave, as I did a girl by the name of Yumi got in my way.
"I was looking for you, Tamaki. We need to talk. Listen, we're all trapped in the school. Something is wrong outside. It's almost as if the school was thrown into a different world. I have a bad feeling. This whole thing, it's not going to be settled easily. No, it's not even that, it's more like that we must do something or all the students here are lost. Please, help me to save the school and everybody else! Tamaki, come with me!" This is a slightly crucial part of the story. You can only have one other human character to join your party, and which you choose of the three human characters will change how the storyline will play out. I chose No, as her storyline path isn't the one I'm most interested in playing. "Oh, I see. I guess that was a bit sudden of me, but I have to investigate what's happening and there isn't much time left."
She leaves and I'm finally able to exit the room and explore the school. The first course of action is to acquire weapons and armor. After looking at another translation FAQ for the next area to lead to, I had my character head for the storeroom for a 'Pickel' as a weapon. I can't translate it accurately but I do know it's your starting weapon to equip. Then I exited and headed for the school clubrooms on the same floor and got a full set of starting armor.The next event I'm supposed to initiate is at the Gym, but I can't until I've paired myself up with whichever other character I wanna partner up with. The character I'm most interested in partnering with is a girl named Reiko. She's the most difficult to get and her storyline path is the most interesting. After exploring all of the school, which is a requirement to make her appear, I looked a game map and headed for the music room on the first floor. She was there waiting for me.
"You're Tamaki from Class 2-D, aren't you? What are you doing here? Did somebody tell you to come or did you of your own accord? You're pretty calm considering the circumstances...that's rather unlike you. It's almost as if you're not yourself right now. But, right now is not the time to merely sit back and watch how things go. We're in another world. Unfortunately, I can't explain properly, I'm in a hurry. Farewell." With that, she heads off and she leaves. Again, I have to explore all of the school, and return to the music room once again if I want her to join me, which is exactly what I did. I finally agree to her request.
"Thank you for listening to my request. The truth is what happened to the school is the work of Hazama. He tried to summon demons into the school. But then it all escalated, and eventually the whole of the school was thrown into Makai instead. Yes, we are now in Makai. We must stop Hazama. I wonder, will we be able to stop him or will the three of us be lost to this forsaken place for all time? Only our actions might tell. In any case, we should leave. Let's go" The three of us? Was the game possibly referencing me again? There were only 2 characters in the in-game party, so it had to be including me. At this point, I just wrote it off as another little nod to the game acknowledging the player. When I left the music room, this was when the game started to become a rather unsettlling experience.
Yumi was standing before me saying nothing beyond "..." I wondered if I did something wrong, but suddenly with a blight flash of light from her sprite, she vanished. In her place was a Jack Frost, but I could tell something was very wrong. Jack Frost is the most recognized demon in the series, to the point he's the series' mascot. His colors and the design of his sprite were very different. He'd usually have white body, blue hat, and a happy-go-lucky smile on his face. Here, he had a dark red hat and his body colors were inverted. His body was pitch-black and the color for his eyes were white. What stood out stood out most though is he didn't have his signature smile, in fact, he had nothing on his face aside from his eyes. It was almost as if his smile was completely erased.
"She's gone now. She's now with us, and soon you both shall be with us too." This line obviously spooked me a bit. I'd never seen a Jack Frost like this one and this was definitely something I've never heard Jack Frost, or any demon for that matter, say with such a foreboding tone. The Jack Frost then disappeared, having either vanished or ran off somewhere. What made that specific piece of dialogue more unsettling though, was every part of it was in japanese writing except for the word "us" which was completely in english. I was a little spooked out, but also a bit fascinated. I've never read anything like this in any of the translated plot synopsis' I've read about the game. So I don't know if I encountered a rare event or there was truly something wrong with the game.
Despite being a little un-nerved my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to learn more of just what exactly was happening here. After that unsettling event, the area seemed normal. I decided to just play the game normally and pretend nothing strange had happened. I walked down the hall and entered the Gym. The game was playing along normally as there were remains of an occult ritual laying about the gym, insinuating something was performed there recently. Once I left a student in the hallway was screaming for help. He was being attacked by a demon. I engaged in battle with it and easily won the fight.
"Thanks, you really saved me! I'm Sato, president of the computer club. Since we got trapped, I've been trying to gather some information through the computer networks. I managed to connect to this really dodgy network and download a strange program from there. When I tried to use it, that demon came out. I am quite scared of this program, so I am just gonna give the disk with it to you. You managed to beat that demon, so maybe it will be safe for you to have this program. But you can not use it without a computer, and we don't have a portable one in here." This is when I gained the Demon Summoning option. I was now able to negotiate and summon demons into my party. Although since I had none at the moment that option wasn't useful for the time being.
I read further in another FAQ and I was told to talk to a specific person to one of the people on the third floor. As I lead my character across the school and up the floors of the building, I noticed something rather...off with the graphics. Not glitchy graphics or technical problems, but something that just looked like it didn't belong. As I was walking through the halls I noticed this black smeared liquid almost leaking out of the walls. I would've simply just said to myself it was part of the game to write off this strange occurrence, but there was just something in the back of my mind that was telling me it wasn't supposed to be there. As I arrived at a classroom named 2-H on the third floor.
A man appeared telling me he had a portable computer for me to use to utilize the demon program. He did so and I gained the auto-map and analyze features. I left the room after gaining the new options and returned to the first floor to the main hallway. As I saw a familiar face appear before me. It was the main villain. Something was direly wrong though. Instead of his pearl white uniform, his clothes were completely black. In fact, his whole body was completely black except for his eyes. His eyes were completely white and devoid of life.
"I am the one, who was once Hazama. I now am no longer a mere high-schooler. I am one with them. They are the only answer. We will all be one with them soon and there is nothing you can do. Even you, who hide behind that woman's eyes. A.L.L I.S. F.O.R. N.A.U.G.H.T....." I was getting nervous. He clearly was refering to me with the final line of knowing that Tamaki is not in control of her own actions. The main part though is the final sentence was once again in complete english like the "us" line. "All is for naught"? What did he mean by that? This question would linger in my mind even far after this whole situation had finished. He then vanished as quickly as he appeared. The black moldy substance oozing out of the walls were now decorating the walls in bigger mass. Almost as if it was taking over everything. As I walked down the main hallway there was no main door at the end. As I turned around I entered a random fight. The same inverted and emotionless Jack Frost appeared. I decided to engage in a fight and attack. As I did it didn't have any effect.
"You cannot fight us. You cannot resist us. We are all that's left at the end." He spoke another chilling line, with "us" in english again. The fact that pieces of the dialogue weren't even in the native language now wasn't even bothering me now, I was finding larger things to worry about. After he spoke he instantly attacked and killed Reiko in one strike. The Jack Frost then ran away. One second later after the battle had ended, Reiko was gone. By that, I mean it was almost like she'd vanished as soon as she was killed. Her name and her space in my party were empty. It literally was like she was erased away. "She is with us now. Soon, you shall be too."
The only conclusion I could draw was when Jack killed her, he also whisked her away somewhere. Since I had nowhere to go, and at this point I knew even a walkthrough couldn't help me I decided to just do what I could do and try and find a way out of the school myself. Or at least try and somehow find out what exactly is happening. Not just in game, but what's occuring period. I had it set in my mind at this point there was no way this was all in-game scripted. There was definitely something happening beyond my comprehension and my curiosity kept me going. Don't get me wrong, I was a little creeped out, but I felt like I wanted to know what was happening.I decided to return to the starting point of the game, the first floor classroom that my character woke up in. As I did I encountered another one of the human characters you could recruit, Charlie. He appeared before me as I entered the room.
"Nobody can resist. We shall all join them someday. No matter what we do with ourselves, they will make us join them...now I shall, too." As the case with Yumi earlier, Charlie vanished into thin air as is sprite flashed a white light. There wasn't any background music with the game anymore. Just pure silence. It was almost as if the feeling of loneliness and isolation was setting in. I felt the feeling of total solitude as I started thinking that my character might be the only person left inside the school as I looked around the classroom and noticed there was nothing outside. There was total blackness. No skies, no ground, no scenery. Just profound darkness. I instantly left the classroom. I had a chilling feeling go down my spine when I saw the nothingness beyond the window. I know it sounds silly to get creeped out by blackness, but something about the nothing outside the school now seemed unnatural. As soon as I left and took a few steps down the corridor, I noticed another thing that was missing: the other rooms. All the doors were gone. When I checked the map it said there was nothing there, even though I know for a fact that earlier there were indeed other rooms on this floor. In fact, the only rooms that were on the map anymore where the starting classroom and the gym. The rest were just the hallways.
I felt a bead of sweat go down my forehead at this realization. The game clearly knew what it was doing to me and wanted me to know it was specifically wanting something from me. What it was, I did not know. Most nervous people at this point would simply turn the game off and delete it without a second thought, but I wanted to see this to the end. I'd already come this far, so why not finish it? Even though a faint sense of fear was building up in me, my fascination and overwhelming curiosity kept me wanting to witness more. As I walked down the hallway, the random encounters kicked in. The first random encounter I ran into was a mere pixie. The weakest demon in the series, but as I selected my attacks it spoke.
"Do you think hurting others makes life fulfilling?" The game clearly wanted to know more about me personally if it was asking these kinds of questions from me. As it asked it gave me a Yes/No option. Personally, I don't believe in personally harming others for gain so I chose No. "That's a wise choice. Not that it matters whether or not. We will all join them eventually." I was just getting more and more curious as to who "they" were? Were they a cult, an organization? A group that's responsible for...whatever is going on here? I had no clue. The pixie was then defeated as I answered it and I continued down the hallway. I had a feeling it would give me another strange question to answer, and sure enough I was right. I encountered another pixie, but this time her dress was purple.
"Do you feel your life is meaningless and worthless?" It gave another option to choose. I chose No. Of course not. I mean, I do spend most of my days online but that doesn't mean I feel worthless. I do feel like my life is content the way it is. "That's surprising. I'd think you'd choose otherwise. Not that it matters. They will come soon..." It almost felt like it didn't matter how I chose my answers at this point. It clearly was hinting that the outcome will always be the same no matter what I chose. I was starting to get a hint about what "they" were but I continued on to see if my assumptions could be confirmed. I finally came upon the doorway to the Gym. I summed up my courage to enter to see what was in store for me. I entered through. Instead of coming upon the Gym I was in a long, deep purple colored hallway. All along the walls of the wallway were the black ooze seeping from the ceiling of the hallway with messy paper notes taped and stapled all over the hallway, each containing a lone character. As I walked down the hallway, I kept reading the notes as I passed them by, piecing the letters together.
It was the phrase "All is for naught." being repeated over and over again. I was at a loss for words as to what was going on. I just pressed onward hoping that things would eventually straighten themselves out and start making sense. After about 2 minutes of walking down the linear hallway, I encountered a jumpy moment. For a split second, the hallway was replaced with pure blackness. The screen was completely black except...for Jack Frost's lifeless white eyes in the center of the screen, staring back at me with a gaze so piercing it was like he stared into my spirit for a second. Then another piece of text appeared. "You may not join today, nor tomorrow. But someday, you will join us." This was when my fear started to set in. The foreboding wording of that textbox sent chills down my spine. I turned behind to see if I could go back to the original school hallway, but to my surprise there wasn't even a hallway behind me anymore, just a wall. It was like the game was leading me to my desired destination. Even as I moved the automap starting erasing the hallway behind me.
It was inevitable I would walk to the end, but I was starting to get nervous to see what I would witness at the end of this. I finally came upon a red door. I had a feeling, or at least somehow knew for a fact, that the end of all these strange happenings would end beyond that door. My fear for what was beyond was getting me nervous, but my curiosity for what was behind the door was much more dominant. I was so puzzled and curious about what was beyond the door my anticipation was almost making me excited. I took a deep breath, calmed down and finally opened and entered through. Total emptiness. Nothing but blackness. Even though it was black, when I pressed on the button, it made sounds that meant I was walking somewhere. So I continued to walk through the boundless darkness as text appeared as somebody was talking to me from somewhere in the dark.
"It's so cold...so dark...this is where you stay when you join us...isn't it horrible? It torments us." I won't lie, I was getting rather scared at this point as it was speaking in a cryptic tone, whoever was speaking anyway. It was indeed awful. I wouldn't never imagine that merely fumbling around in an endless abyss in a video game would provoke such an awful feeling of dread in me.
"It's so dark. I hate it. Ihateit IhateitIhateitIhateitIhateitIhateit." There was no denying I was genuinely frightened by what was happening. There was nothing I could do besides move onward though, which is exactly what I did. I moved forward determined to face the blackness.As I moved onward for a minute or so, the inverted Jack Frost appeared once more. Since he was black himself, he blended into the background. He looked like a mere white eyes staring back at me, like earlier in the purple hallway.
"You've reached the end. I'd say congratulations, but there's nothing to be cheery about. This is what it's like at the end. It doesn't matter how you struggle or what you do with yourself. You'll join us here. Forever."Just then, four other pairs of eyes appeared. All I could tell was they were most likely the sprites of the other characters from the game. Hazama, Yumi, Charlie, and Reiko were most likely the ones standing beside Jack Frost. I knew Reiko was one of them since I could see the sprite for her glasses. Nothing but her glasses showed in the darkness. "Now is not yet time for you to join us. You will someday. Now you know what awaits at the end. Nothing. Always remember this. ALL IS FOR NAUGHT." Again, all the dialogue was in japanese except for "us" and "ALL IS FOR NAUGHT."
Suddenly, just as he finished saying that, the game cut to black. I reset the game, pressed buttons, and tried playing around with the graphical options. I even observed the file itself and it said the file had become corrupted. It quite literally was like the game served its purpose and refused to further function. I sat back in my chair, both out of relief and disbelief. I was happy the whole ordeal was over, but I was more dumbfounded by what I was just subjected to. My assumption was correct in what I thought "they" truly were. Death.
It should've been obvious from the start, but I was just too overwhelmed from the what was happening to pay clear attention to that. Death is inevitable. It will all come for us someday, no matter how much we fight. It doesn't even matter if you make it big or make your life worthwhile, we join the dead eventually. If...death is really just that, pure nothingness, it truly is quite a terrifying concept. I don't know if the game did that just to show me the concept of death or if it truly was a hack of the game that somebody did as a sick joke, but nonetheless that whole situation left an impact on me. After sitting there for a couple minutes, processing through my mind all kinds of thoughts that brought on, I deleted the rom and the word processor program and never thought of it again.
So, as I sit here before you a month later writing all this down and chronicling to you all of what happened to me, you might be asking yourself this: What was the point? Come to think of it, I don't know myself. I merely just started re-thinking about all of this a couple days ago and thought writing all of it here for the world to see could give me some closure to know other people know about this. Be it for your own entertainment or you somehow did feel like you learned something out of reading about this, I hope it was at least worth it for you all. It was for me since one good thing did come out of it though. It made me realize how precious and wonderful life is and how you should never take it for granted. You never know when it might get cut short for you.
I am pleased to say nothing out of the ordinary or what you consider supernatural has happened to me since all of what happened with me occurred. Life's been normal and nothing's happened, which all things considering I struck out lucky. I'm still an avid fan of Shin Megami Tensei even after all of that was done. I'm still planning on playing the unofficial english translation of If when that translation group finishes it. Mostly because I downloaded another rom of If a couple days ago and re-played through the beginning, and the game played normally. None of what I listed ever happened. So I don't know if it was truly just a hacker's joke, or if there was something that was beyond my comprehension communicating with me that night. Nonetheless, that was an experience I won't soon forget...