Okay, so this post is even more off than yesterday’s. Er, no, wait this is a Monday post, isn’t it? So that’d make it Saturday’s post. (The perils of pre-writing…) However, I promise I’m back on track with traditional mythology tomorrow!
Image copyright Atlus, but provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.
This time, I’m going to deviate from my standard practice, and start out by talking about who the original version of Nyarlahotep is (as best as I can), and then talk about him in the MegaTen games, because to give him a really full description will require some pretty massive spoilers, and I don’t want to start the post with the spoilers.
However, I will preface the discussion with the disclaimer that I have never read anything by Nyarlahotep’s creator, H. P. Lovecraft, and that my brief summary is, therefore, entirely based on his Wikipedia article. So it may well be deeply wrong in places, and if so I apologize in advance. (If any Lovecraft fans want to let me know about mistakes, I will, of course, correct them.)
Of course, right in that previous paragraph, you’ll already notice where today’s post differs from all the others in this A-to-Z: Nyarlahotep is a fictional character, rather than a mythical or folkloric one. I figured he was acceptable to use in this for a couple of reasons, though. First of all, obviously, he’s in the games, and my theme this year is to highlight a figure used in MegaTen games and then talk about the original myth that the figure is based on. Second, the complex mythos created by Lovecraft in his works has been embraced and enhanced by a couple of generations of writers by now, and is approached by many in the same manner as they might approach another culture’s mythology. Also, of course, A-to-Z rules are pretty flexible (aside from the following the alphabet bit) and mostly self-imposed, so a little fudging like this seems perfectly acceptable.
So, Nyarlahotep was introduced in the 1920 prose poem Nyarlahotep, in which he wanders the world in the guise of an Egyptian pharoah (for some reason), gathering followers, who…well, I’m not entirely clear on what happens to them from the summaries on Wikipedia. I thought I had an idea when I read the one on the entry for the entity, but then I read the summary on the entry for the prose poem, and it didn’t seem to fully correspond to the other summary. All I can tell is that it seems the end of the world might be involved. (Wow, that was informative…)
*ahem* Moving on.
Nyarlahotep appears in four more works by Lovecraft, though one of them is essentially a re-telling of the original story. He’s also mentioned in several more, and is known as the Crawling Chaos. When he appears, it’s not always looking like a pharaoh. Sometimes he looks like a “tentacled, bat-winged monster,” or other forms; in fact, he’s said to have a thousand of them.
In fact, the Wikipedia article has a whole table of his forms and where they appear…but it’s not very picky about if a form really counts as a form of Nyarlahotep or not: it lists Stephen King’s recurring villain Randall Flagg as being an avatar of Nyarlahotep just because someone in one of King’s books once compared Flagg to Nyarlahotep. I’m not clear on which of those forms are referred to in actual Lovecraft works, which are in works written by others using Lovecraft’s mythos, and which are, like Flagg, merely comparable, so I’m not going to try to go into them, because I would just end up making a mess of it if I did.
I’ll just say one more thing from the Wikipedia entry before I move on to the games. It quotes a letter Lovecraft sent to a friend of his, talking about a terrifying nightmare that had inspired the character of Nyarlahotep. Scholars, according to Wikipedia, have speculated that the nightmare was inspired by the reputation of inventor Nikola Tesla, who was at the time holding public lectures that left people feeling he was a sinister figure. (Edison’s PR machine at work?) Because of that speculation, there’s apparently been a graphic novel adaptation of the prose poem that illustrated a version of Nyarlahotep based on Tesla. Not terribly relevant, but I thought it was interesting.
Okay, so, moving on to the games, at long last. The picture waaaaaay up above is Nyarlahotep’s standard appearance in the games, but he’s looked different in the ones where he’s part of the plot. But first, the ones where he isn’t connected to the plot. His compendium entry in the two Devil Survivor games reads as follows:
A god of the Cthulhu mythos. He came to Earth in ancient times from outer space and is known as the Crawling Chaos.
He acts as a proxy to his masters such as Azathoth, who have no intelligence to make their desires manifest in our world. Because he can assume various forms, he is known as a faceless god. He is particularly known as the Hunter of the Dark, and he seems to have other guises on Earth as well.
“The Haunter of the Dark” was the name of a 1936 story that also featured Nyarlahotep (that’s the one featuring the tentacled, bat-winged appearance that clearly influenced his game appearance, in fact), and I strongly suspect that in one direction or the other, that’s a translation error. (Whether “Haunter” became “Hunter” on the way into Japanese or on the way back into English, I don’t know, but I’m sure it could happen pretty easily in either direction.) The bit about him being a “proxy to his masters” agrees with what’s in the Wikipedia article (which goes on further to identify Azathoth as Nyarlahotep’s father), but as the citation is to one of Lovecraft’s letters, I’m not sure if that detail was in any of the stories, or if he was just telling someone about backstory he’d never had a proper place to insert into a story.
Anyway, in most of the MegaTen games, Nyarlahotep serves the same function as 95% of the other figures in the game: something to fight, summon or both. (Usually both.) There are three exceptions, and one quasi-exception. These are all from the Persona sub-series, the three PS1 games, in fact. So if you haven’t played those and think you ever might want to, stop reading right now. (And yes, they’re worth playing. A little grind-heavy at times, and very much a product of their era, but they’re good games. The PSP remakes of Persona and Persona 2: Innocent Sin should be available for download purchase on the Playstation Store (possibly only on the Vita?) and the original PS1 version of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment should likewise be available (and that one’s not going to be Vita-only) but sadly Atlus declined to translate Eternal Punishment‘s PSP remake.) Read the rest of this entry →