Not a Review, but Consider it a Halloween Bonus

So I don’t usually spend a lot of time on creepy pasta websites; as a teacher, I understand that it’s good exercise for aspiring writers, but I personally don’t find them very scary.  However, after the conversation I recently had with a guy who had been haunted, I feel I need to spread his warning to as many people as possible.

Recently, as you may have noticed, I’ve been playing through games in the Shadow Hearts series, a hidden gem of an RPG based on Lovecraftian horrors and demon possession.  The game features some amazing design, but has a very aloof sense of humor, so like most horror fiction, I didn’t find it very scary.  However, I recently received an email about a comment on one of my posts about Shadow Hearts. It simply said,

“Stop talking about this game. It’s evil, and every disc should be snapped in half and melted down!”

As any avid gamer can sympathize with, I’ve endured plenty of people accuse me of being anti-social, or a serial killer, or a school shooter for playing video games, and I also know about the religious fanatics who think things like Harry Potter are gateway drugs into a lifetime of worshipping Satan.  I dismissed this comment as belonging to either one or the other.  I denied approval for the comment and forgot about it for nearly a week.

This person didn’t give up, though. He pieced together some of the personal information I talked about in my blog posts, figured out where I teach, and looked me up on the school’s directory.  One day I logged on to check my email, and found an unknown address in my inbox. The subject line read, “Shadow Hearts Blog Post.”

I clicked on it and read the email. “Please don’t encourage your readers to play Shadow Hearts. The game is dangerous.”  As a blog comment, I simply wouldn’t respond, but since the guy had my email address, I figured I’d politely tell him to stop bothering me, and that I didn’t want my blog to be hijacked by religious fundamentalists.  I figured I’d leave it at that and ignore any further emails, but the response I got intrigued me.

“I’m sorry if I gave the wrong impression. I’m not a religious fanatic. I just need to warn you that people have died because of that game.  It’s very important.  Please give me just a little bit of your time.”

I told him I’d listen, although I only thought it would give me something interesting to put on my blog. I wrote back and told him I was willing to hear him out.  I’ll post his response verbatim below:

“My trouble with Shadow Hearts began about six months ago. A student in my dorm was taken to the hospital just after midterms. Rumor had it that after two weeks straight of studying, he had spent three days straight playing video games, then just keeled over. I had heard that every so often, kids in Korea or Japan will do that. The guy was some sort of Asian, so I thought that might have been the case. Word got out that he died a week later, but no one believed it until his parents showed up to clean out his room.

“The next day was my laundry day. People are always getting rid of stuff in our dorm; they’ll just leave it on the table by the washers for anyone to take.  I like to get there early so the machines don’t fill up, so I throw in my wash and look around at the new pile on the table. Underneath a stack of notebooks and bad kung-fu DVDs, I found a copy of Shadow Hearts in near perfect condition.

“Being somewhat of an RPG nut, I snatched this game right away. I probably even looked around the room to make sure there was no one I’d have to fight for it.  I had played Covenant, but I’d never even seen a copy of the original.

“The first thing I did was open it up. I saw the disc inside, reflecting the fluorescent lights above me. I later learned that this wasn’t the standard label design, but I didn’t know it at the time.  I held it up and to stare at my reflection, but I saw something dark move behind me. This freaked me out a little, so I stopped and turned. I didn’t see anyone in the room. It was dark outside, so I stared at the window for a few minutes before I convinced myself I was just being crazy. So I turned around to examine the disc, which I found designed with part of a demon’s face. A glowing red eye, like one of the monsters from the game, stared back at me. It even seemed to move as I tilted the disc, like one of those holographic images. I saw it blink once, but couldn’t seem to make it happen again.

“Having no plans for the day, I immediately ran up to my dorm room to play it.  I remember the title screen, a solid, dark crimson that gave the title of the game, Yuri’s amulet, and the phrase, “Limited Edition: 1/3.” At that point, I thought I had hit the jackpot, finding a rare game being tossed out in a dorm laundry room. I played most of the day, clearing a good quarter of the game in one sitting before I remembered the Asian kid and decided to call it quits.

“That night I dreamed I was in a graveyard—the graveyard from the game.”

[author’s note: For those who have not played the game, the main character, Yuri, has a graveyard in his soul.  He can go there to fight monsters and demons, and if he wins, he can transform into those monsters during the game’s combat. Several other major story events occur here as well.]

“In this dream, I heard voices coming from the tombstones. They hissed and whispered.  I couldn’t see anyone or make out any words, but I felt like something was watching me.  It was dark, but I remember running to two of the three gates, and neither one would open.  I ran towards the third, but I somehow knew—even though I had never played the game—that the God of Death was waiting behind it.  The whispers grew louder, and I woke up suddenly, sweating and breathing heavily.

“What frightened me more than the dream, though, was that I could still hear the whispers for a few seconds after I woke up.  The noise died down very quickly, but in those seconds, I heard the first clear words come out of the darkness: ‘Black God.’ The nightmare bothered me, and while I can usually shake off bad dreams and go back to sleep, this time I felt like I should sleep with my reading lamp on.

“The next day I felt much better, but the dream still hung in my mind.  I wondered about the phrase ‘black god,’ so I googled it.  I didn’t find much at first; just some manga and anime references, a facebook page, and a bunch of images.  I was about to attribute the whole thing to a pizza nightmare, when I got the impulse to delve further. I typed ‘black god shadow hearts’ into the search field, and came up with something important.  One of Yuri’s high-level monsters is called ‘Czernobog.’ Apparently Czernobog is a real mythological thing, although I couldn’t find much information about it, other than his name translates into ‘black god.’”

“I wasn’t scared at the time. I thought it was interesting. I had seen Czernobog in the game, even if I hadn’t gotten far enough to use him myself.  But there was no way even my subconscious mind could have known that it meant ‘black god.’ Still, all this thought about Shadow Hearts made me eager to play the game again.  I turned it on, not expecting anything to happen, but when I selected ‘continue’ on the title screen, a demon’s face flashed on the screen for a second, the same face from the holographic image on the disc label.

“During my playthrough, some weird things happened. Somehow, I lost all the fusion monsters I got the day before, but I could use one new one; Czernobog. I noticed some other glitches as well. During a normal playthrough, each character’s sanity points drop slowly, little by little on each of their turns, and when it reaches zero they turn berserk.  Every half hour or so, however, Yuri’s sanity points would instantly drop to zero, even when it wasn’t his turn. He’d immediately transform into a demon—the one from the disc label and the title screen—kill my other players in one hit, then turn and stare at the screen. At that point, the game would freeze and I’d have to restart.

“After this had happened three or four times, I lost my patience and shut off the game. As an afterthought, though, I opened the Playstation and checked the disc label. As much as I tilted it, all I could see was my own face staring back, and parts of the room behind me.

“That night, I dreamed I was in the graveyard again.  I heard the whispers just like before, tried the two gates, and stood frightened before the third. This time, though, just beyond the bars of the God of Death’s gate, I saw two red pinpoints of light glaring back at me. It was then that I woke up like the night before, sweating and gasping. Once more I heard the whispers for a few seconds, making out the word ‘angel.’ Except this time, when the words died down, I saw the lights. Outside my window, they formed from slits, as if something were opening its eyes. I waited for them to vanish, like the voices, but they didn’t. Frozen with terror, it took me probably five minutes to gather the nerve to reach for my reading lamp. When I clicked the light on, the red lights vanished, but my window filled with my reflection, and I could no longer tell if anything lurked outside.

“I did some research on what ‘angel’ might mean in relation to the game.  I learned that two monsters, Sandalphone [sic] and the Seraphic Radiance are both types of Angels in Jewish lore.  I remember Covenant talking about King Solomon, so I thought this was more than a coincidence. I didn’t want to play the game, but I wanted to know if what I suspected was true, so I popped the disc in, loaded my save file, which did not summon a demon to stare me down, and checked my fusion monsters.  I only had one, the Seraphic Radiance.

“The idea of an angel made me feel better, so I decided not to push my luck and shut off the game. That night, though, I had the same dream: the graveyard, the whispers, and the red eyes, staring at me. This time, though, I woke up with a pain in my chest, which made me think of the way Yuri grabs his heart every time he transforms into a monster. The eyes stared at me until I turned on my reading lamp, but this time, I had the distinct feeling that I wasn’t alone.

“I went a week without even touching the Playstation. I investigated possible sources for the lights outside my window and found nothing.  I asked everyone in the dorms if they had been talking late at night, giving off the impression of voices I may have heard in my dream, but no one had.  All week long, wherever I went, I felt like I was being followed, like something was constantly watching me. I continued ignoring the game, hoping it would go away. Still, each night I had the same dream, but each night the red eyes seemed to get closer and closer.  One night I woke up and screamed when I saw the eyes inside the room with me. I tackled the light, struggling to turn it on in my panic. When I did, the eyes disappeared, but afterwards, every so often, I’d hear the whispering in my head, even during the day. Also, and I could have been imagining this, I had phantom chest pains at odd intervals, usually when I was alone.

“Finally, I thought the only way to end the nightmares would be to finish the game, so I once more picked up the controller to plow my way through the end. Unfortunately, the glitches got weirder and weirder.  Characters would randomly die, the music stuttered, droned and crackled, and eventually cut out completely, leaving no sound in the game except for a static hiss, which reminded me too much of the whispering of the demons. The accumulation of malice [author’s note: malice is the vengeful souls of enemies Yuri has killed, come back to haunt him, and he has to fight it to prevent it from getting too powerful.] occurred very fast, maxing out after every battle.  Eventually, I couldn’t fight against it at all; I go to the graveyard, and instead of asking “Do you wish to quiet the malice,” the masks would ask “Do you wish to quiet your dreams?” All the while, as Yuri progressed through the story, losing more and more of his mind and soul to the monsters that possessed him, my chest pains became more frequent and more fierce.

“Eventually, I reached the point in the game where Alice meets the God of Death. Normally, this is where the game decides how the story will end; Alice fights in exchange for Yuri’s soul, and if she wins, Yuri doesn’t die, while if she loses, she dies in his place. Except, neither of those happened.  She crossed the gate (the one I was too scared to cross in my dream), and the game went black.  Moments later, I heard a deep rumbling voice say something in a language I didn’t understand, and then the game continued, starting after Alice’s fight. I finished the game an hour and a half later. Both Yuri and Alice survived, but after the ending credits where the game should have described the start of World War I, I found myself face to face with the red-eyed demon.  The pain in my chest grew, and I blacked out.

“When I came to, the game had been turned off, but I could hear the whispering demons loud and clear, running through my head constantly. I felt like something unnatural was living in my body, making it difficult to move, although I found I could still control how I moved.

“That night, however, something inside me took over. Rather than trying to escape the graveyard dream through the two gates, I found myself unwillingly stepping closer and closer to the God of Death’s gate. The masks that taunt Yuri in the game now taunted me, and the monsters’ whispers now rose to a disquieting laughter.

“The world went black, and all of existence felt like it simply turned off, except for the red-eyed demon, feasting on some grotesque lump, smacking loudly. It sucked down the morsel in its mouth and turned so I could see its face. ‘I have enough souls for now,’ it said. ‘I’ll come for you when I get hungry.’

“And then I woke up. I listed the game on eBay within ten minutes. I wanted no more part of this. It needed to be as far away from me as possible. I wasn’t thinking at the time. I didn’t consider that someone else might play it and see the same visions that I did. But someone in Oregon bought it, and I dropped the game off at the post office even before his payment came through.

“It didn’t stop the howling demons in my head. Sometimes they scream so loud I can’t hear anything in the world around me. They call to me. Taunt me. Screaming curses and damnations, mocking my imminent death. I can’t think straight.  I had to drop out of school, and I couldn’t spend normal time with friends ever since.  I black out once every day or two, and I come to miles away from wherever I was before. What little sleep I get is spent entirely in the graveyard in my soul, and throughout my waking nights I simply stare at the red eyes constantly watching me at the foot of my bed. I can’t see them when I turn on the light, but I know they don’t go away. The fear and torment only left me once; leaving me completely lucid just long enough to read about a mysterious death that happened to a teenager in Oregon.

“And instead of guilt over this kid’s death, all I can feel is the spark of hope that the God of Death has passed me over, but I don’t know for how long.”

Here, his email ended, except for a few pleas for help, and a repeated request to take down my posts about Shadow Hearts and to denounce the game to anyone who would listen. I haven’t done that, and I don’t intend to, but something bothers me about his story. The game, if he is to be believed, said it was one out of three in a limited edition. I’ve scoured the internet, but found no mention of any special releases, nor have I found testimonies or newspaper records of any similar incidents. It makes me curious if there are two more of these games, packaged and sealed, waiting to burst forth to take the lives and souls of anyone unlucky enough to buy them. Whether the story is true or not, it can’t hurt to urge you to be careful when buying a Shadow Hearts disc.

I kept daily contact with the guy who told me this story. One way or another, I knew he needed some human contact, someone to connect with, to ground him either to life or sanity. I heard from him every day for nearly a month, but decided to relay on his story when his emails stopped abruptly over a week ago.

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