Really, I should've known better.
"Legend of Ocarina - Rupee Quest" sounded like a badly written attempt to work around the copyright of certain famous elf-eared Hylians, but I'd always been a sucker for the unusual. I'd been looking for a particularly hideous piece of work to get a friend as a prank for their birthday, and this looked about the right speed. The photos on the site I purchased it from featured two sides of a well-maintained cartridge, the sticker all but worn off.
At the time, all that really stuck with me is how weirdly pastel the blue skies were. I still wonder about that, from time to time.
It took me a few minutes to dig out my credit card and enter the numbers. Numbers for the card, where I lived, how much I wanted to donate to a charity that looked suspiciously as if the money donated wouldn't be entirely used to build homes for luck-lorn orphans.
Somewhere through the process, I decided that I wanted the game. I deserved it, after all - I'd had a pretty terrible couple of days, the usual sob story. My friend could wait - they hadn't been thinking much of asking me or how my days had been, right?.. When I get angry, or sad, or feel powerless - sometimes what I do is buy stuff. Sure, it might be shallow and purposeless, but I don't care now and I didn't care then.
The delivery took a few more days than I wanted - the delivery guy belonged to a private postal firm and obviously wanted a tip - or something. I sent him off and thought about poking the tires on his stupid van out, but was uncomfortable enough just talking to the guy - who was probably a good ten, twenty years older than me, and smelled funny.
He was optimistic and had faded tattoos and smelled of cigarette smoke and piney air freshener. He wanted to talk about video games because he was excited to have someone who "totally shared his interests." I think it was his enthusiasm that made the most nauseous.
When I'd banished the interloper from my domain and retreated to the fortified safety of my inner sanctum, I tore away the fragile wrappings that protected the little sliver of goodness that was this hidden gem of failure. It looked even worse in person - the seller had tried to make it look more appetizing by pressing the sticker back on with scotch tape, but that'd backfired and the cartridge sticker - well, it sagged.
I'd made some noodles a few minutes earlier and they were starting to burn. You recall the weirdest things, in retrospect.
Blowing on the cartridge - shut up, it totally works - and slotting it in, the first thing that gripped me was what the game Legend of Ocarina sold itself as, and the game it was? Two different things, as different as strawberry ice cream and strawberry-flavored cough syrup.
The title font was written in bloody red, and the game itself had a 'cinematic' feel characteristic of 32-bit games that wanted to be edgy without getting in trouble with concerned parents. Your main character - creatively titled SPRITE by default - woke up in the middle of a rainy haze... Outside of a house, without a bedroll.
In the middle of the rain. I guess he was an outdoorsy SPRITE.
Or she. The possibility was there, however unlikely, that SPRITE was a girl elf, and this game was desperately trying to stand out in one way or another. The loving detail that had gone into the background certainly hadn't gone into character design, that's for sure.
There was no story as such - you went around fighting monsters, who exploded into chunks of pixelated gore. The good stuff - each enemy seemed to be made of highly pressurized red corn syrup, from the way their guts roped out when killed. They dropped jewels (rupees? Was the game trying to be consistent? I doubt it) and I collected them, or rather SPRITE collected them.
You eventually tapped out at about 255, though the counter had room for a whole 'nother column - maybe there was a wallet upgrade or something. I'd stopped caring. There weren't any NPC's to interact with and I was very aware of how terribly bland the in-game world felt. As if all the designer had felt intent on portraying was a killing ground of monsters, rendered with as much loving violence as they could manage for the time.
The soundtrack though, was awesome. All very sultry, jazzy stuff that sounded like it could've come from a high-class club, the kind where people drink expensive fruit-flavored booze - liquer, even - and talk about The Issues. Whomever had composed it had poured their heart and soul into the soundtrack - and only a few people would ever hear it.
I only felt sad for a millisecond, and then I forgot about it because I still hadn't turned the stove off. When I returned, I explored the last area I could find in the short and remarkably limited overworld - what appeared to be a grove with a small, wood-and-dirt castle. Motte and bailey; the word came unbidden, a fragmented memory from an unloved history class.
Waiting for me were all these woodland creatures - which ran away as I drew near. Heh, rip-off, I thought smugly. As I was patting myself on the back for noticing, I realized SPRITE was moving without my input... And not quickly, either. Each step was slow and methodical - labored.
Finally, SPRITE reached the gates of the castle, and turned to stare at me with impossibly huge, round, sky-blue eyes.
I AM HAUNTED
I AM A GHOST
I WILL DESTROY
Unbidden, I found myself laughing out loud. Streams of snot and half-eaten noodle collided as I stared at the piss-poor attempt at frightening the player halted, waiting for input from button a. Inappropriately beautiful, tragically beautiful music continued to play. I pressed the button while shaking my head.
"Go on then, do it. I can watch, right? Destroy everything."
The game paused, and I thought I could hear the strain of the system as it 'calculated' a reply.
"I don't care about anything, so you can destroy it all. If you're so all-powerful, you're speaking to someone like me, why aren't you doing it? Why aren't you killing something right now? Why aren't you killing me?"
My lips felt leathery as my tongue slid over them. I couldn't tell for sure, but SPRITE seemed hesitant, even a little unnerved. Then again, I was pressed really close to the screen, so maybe the pixels were just a bit hazy. My breath was fogging things up, that's for sure.
I'LL KILL YOU
WHY WOULD YOU WANT THAT
WHY WOULD YOU WANT THIS
SPRITE toggled back and forth in an approximation of wobbling. Maybe it was supposed to be laughing at me, or maybe it was shaking in some other kind of emotion. How could I explain to a video game character the horrible sense of ennui that every day seemed to sustain? All I wanted was something new, something vibrant and alive.
Yeah, and I guess I should've been concerned that I was communicating with a video game, but for some reason it never crossed my mind.
"That's fine, as long as you do something interesting first."
Several animals started to gather around the edge of the screen, staring with blank ovoid eyes at SPRITE.
An intense disappointment shot through me as my eyes drifted to the floor. As if watching a mirror, I noticed that SPRITE was making the same gesture, and the animals were drawing closer. They weren't drawn very well, but they looked like pretty realistic animals. The teeth on the deer were long and jagged, an obsidian-chrome that seemed to reflect sunlight from the invisible sun.
"Of course you can't..."
It was almost a whisper.
"Some two-bit ghost from a cartridge I find at an online auction site isn't going to kill me, or anyone else. You won't murder my family, or plaster buckets of blood to the walls. The world won't end, and I won't be cursed for the rest of my life."
In other words, you're useless. Even more than me.
SPRITE continued to stare listlessly at badly rendered feet, no longer speaking - or at least no more text appeared on the screen. A low, plaintive howl drifted from the speakers - low enough that I had to strain my ears to hear it, and wondered if it was almost part of the music.
Then the animals dashed towards SPRITE and tore into it with their teeth, their antlers, their claws and their hooves. It was the most well-rendered part of the game, so I guess it was the most interesting part of the game - but it was over as quickly as it started, nothing more than a cartoonily cross-eyed corpse and a blood-red message informing me that I had died.
... As for the game? I sold it a few months back. After all, there isn't too much you can do with a blank cartridge and an imagination alone.
Written by Stormlilly