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!
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.)
Okay, so if you’ve moved past the “Warning!!!!!!” image, I’m assuming you either don’t care about the games or have already played them. The spoiler gloves have been removed. (That made a lot more sense before I said it.)
In the original Persona (released on the original Playstation as Revelations: Persona, with a really quite awful translation that tried to pretend it was taking place in America despite the school uniforms, shoe lockers, Shinto shrines, etc.) the story at first seems to be an outbreak of monsters in the player character’s town, but soon after the party leaves their high school to look for friends stranded outside, they find that they (alone) have been transported to another world that mirrors their world, only with hordes of monsters everywhere, and many of their schoolmates being very different from themselves, including that their eternally hospitalized friend Maki (Mary in the original translation) is now hale and healthy and absolutely insists on joining the party. It all seems to lead to the research being done by SEBEC, an evil company led by Takahisa Kandori (or Guido Sardenia in the original translation (and let me tell you, calling him “Guido” is a hard habit to break!)) and no, it’s not a coincidence that SEBEC sounds so much like Sobek, the crocodile-headed Egyptian war god. It’s not as simple as the party expects, but Kandori is far from innocent, and of course the party has to fight him.
In the Persona games, each combatant has a personal summon, called a Persona (of course), which they can summon directly to attack the enemy, or use to cast magical spells. (Back in the PS1 days, every character could switch Personae at will (though in the Persona 2 games they all had a signature Persona that was theirs alone, as well as an ultimate), but with the move to the PS2, they made it so only the player character could use more than one Persona, and everyone else simply had a signature Persona that could go through one upgrade.) Anyway, this applied to powerful human opponents like Kandori, too, and his Persona was…you guessed it, Nyarlahotep! Upon Kandori’s defeat, Nyarlahotep basically summons himself into Kandori’s body to upgrade him and give him a second form. (For those familiar with the more mainstream RPG series Final Fantasy, this is basically what happened in the final battle of Final Fantasy VIII, when Ultimecia, upon being defeated, junctioned herself to her GF Griever to power them both up. Except there it was Ultimecia’s idea, not Griever’s.) After the battle is over, you can use an item dropped by Kandori to create your own Nyarlahotep Persona, but only one party member, Reiji Kido (or Chris), can use it effectively, and he’s really hard to acquire as a party member.
As originally written, Nyarlahotep’s role in Persona wasn’t much more than a boss power-up. It was retconned into something bigger than that in the following two games, though, making it so that Nyarlahotep manipulated Kandori into his actions…
In the original three Persona games (the new three are utterly different), characters are awoken to their ability to summon a Persona by a mysterious character named Philemon. In the first game, he doesn’t serve much function apart from that duty of awakening them to their latent powers. (And looking really, really badly computer generated in the original Playstation version. Seriously, check it out. He doesn’t show up until about 6:30 in, though.) Anyway, Philemon’s symbol is either a blue or a golden butterfly, which is all that shows up of him from Persona 3 onwards. (At least, I’m assuming that’s still the case in Persona 5. I still haven’t been able to play it yet, sadly.) He plays a role in the two Persona 2 games as an opposite number to Nyarlahotep…
Persona 2: Innocent Sin introduced a new mechanic to the game, the ability to spread rumors that would then come true. This could be used for gameplay elements (rumors that stores upgraded their selections, rumors that monsters were weaker or stronger), to make new sidequests appear, and it was also a basic element of the plot, as all sorts of strange rumors spread around the town and then came true, including a return of Hitler and Nazis wielding the Spear of Longinus. (Yes, seriously. And yet that probably was not the reason Innocent Sin was not translated into English at the time of its initial release back in 1999. That probably had much more to do with the high school students being murdered at school.) So, as the end game approaches, rumors regarding the end of the world and an ancient spacecraft/Mayan temple called Xibalba start spreading, causing the spacecraft to appear. The party has to board it and fight Hitler, who just happens to be using Nyarlahotep against them.
After the battle, however, it’s revealed that the whole rumor thing was basically just Nyarlahotep messing with humanity, and then he fights the party himself…sort of…
That creepy battle form is made up of the fathers of the party members. But his attempt to use their various complex relationships with their fathers against them doesn’t work, and of course the party wins, because what kind of RPG doesn’t let you win the final battle?
Only you also kind of lose, because the whole thing was Nyarlahotep stalling for time, and one of his (human) pawns sneaks up behind the party and stabs (party member) Maya through the heart, killing her and fulfilling the rumor of how the end of the world will begin.
Yes, they kill a party member after the final battle. I’ve only seen a very small handful of games that do that, and in all the others it absolutely doesn’t work. In this case, it kind of does, because then Philemon shows up to explain how he and Nyarlahotep had a bet going, essentially over whether or not humanity was able to save itself or if it would destroy itself. And Nyarlahotep had interfered with humanity to ensure he’d win the bet. But Philemon can help slightly: he can send the surviving party members to a parallel world where Maya is still alive, and the world is safe. They all agree, but the catch is that they won’t remember anything that’s happened in this world as they join up and become part of their counterparts in the other world. (It is not 100% clear even in the game exactly how it works.) Three of them are okay with that, but Tatsuya starts flipping out even as he’s being sent to the other world. (Even if it wasn’t a cutscene, it wouldn’t tell us much about why, because he’s the player character, and the player character in MegaTen games is always silent. Except in Persona 3: FES. And the fighting game and dancing game spin-offs…) That’s the end of the game, though. To find out what’s up with Tatsuya’s reaction, you have to play Persona 2: Eternal Punishment.
The short version is that Tatsuya is unwilling to forget the Maya they knew and lost, because he is now in love with her. (She is one of the three love interests he can choose from in Innocent Sin, but in Eternal Punishment he’s in love with her even if you chose one of the other two in Innocent Sin. Even if you chose the one that was a guy. And I might point out that Tatsuya is a high school student and Maya is in her twenties.) Of course, we know that in Eternal Punishment because Tatsuya is no longer the silent protagonist, but is instead the typical sulky, emo high school kid that everyone in JRPGs seems to love even though he’s so obnoxious that you want to punch his lights out. Maya is now the silent protagonist, and although she’s the only one of the party members from the first game who isn’t the same one from the other world, she starts having flashbacks of memories from the other world, especially whenever she happens to meet someone she knew in the other world.
This is turning pretty long, so I’ll try to condense further. The presence of someone who remembers the other world is causing the other world to try to subsume the new world (and destroy it, too), and that lets Nyarlahotep try again. And he’s very determined to succeed fully this time, trying to wake the memories of the now-NPC other party members to weaken the boundary between the worlds. Whether or not their memories wake up depends on your dialog choices before certain key battles, btw.
In the end, of course you have to fight him again. And of course you have to win, again. Only this time, it sticks, and Nyarlahotep has to leave. (He’s not destroyed, though, just banished.) But Tatsuya has to either give up his memories or leave this world and go back to his original one. (Which has apparently been reduced to a wasteland, but not physically destroyed.) Any Innocent Sin party members whose memories were reawakened can go with him, but no one from the new world can, so Maya can’t go with him even if she wants to. (Seriously, you have a dialog choice where you can ask to go with him. Because for some reason she’s in love with the irritating high school boy instead of his super-hot, sweet, caring, talented older brother, who’s actually an appropriate age for her. This pissed me off all the more because when I first played it I was Maya’s age, and I was sitting here going “No way in hell would I pick a snotty brat over his hot older brother!” I guess the men who wrote the game didn’t get that women do not have the same fascination with teenage boys that men have with teenage girls.)
Um…I seem to have gotten off topic a bit there. I grabbed a bunch of screenshots (a user at GameFaqs uploaded screenshots of pretty much the entirety of both games) so let’s see if I can do one of those slideshow things…hmm, no, I guess that’s only for people on paid plans…
Um…okay, I have no idea what I just did. I’m seeing a grid of tiny pictures. Well…uh…*cough*
So that was the three games, right? There’s also the quasi-game I mentioned. And that’s one of the Persona 4 fighting game spin-offs. It’s a two-part spin-off, the first of which is called Persona 4 the Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena, or just Persona 4 Arena if you’re gonna go by what’s written on the box instead of what the voice says at the menu. (Unlike the main games, the fighting games have Japanese language track option, thank goodness! I just wish the main games did. There are a lot of really good seiyuu in the Persona games, and the dub actors are, um, well, they’re dub actors in video games. Whether or not they’re capable of doing good voice work, they’re not given the option.) I’ve only played the first one (though I did pick up the second one on a “buy two used games, get a third free” sale), because I’m not a big fan of fighting games and, more importantly, in playing the first one, I came up with the perfect explanation for everything that was going on, and I just knew that it wasn’t going to be what they were going to do, and I dreaded seeing my premonitions of disappointment coming true.
Basically, the fighting game has a lot of deception and trickery, and the being behind it (whose identity is not revealed in the first game) can manipulate people at will, including taking on the appearance of their shadow self. All things that Nyarlahotep does in the two Persona 2 games. So, of course, I wanted the villain to turn out to be Nyarlahotep. And in researching this article, I accidentally scrolled down too far on his MegaTen wiki page, and learned that despite that his signature black butterfly (to be opposite of Philemon’s blue or gold one) appears at one point in the second of the fighting game spin-offs, Nyarlahotep is not actually involved.
So much disappointment.
Also some rage.
According to the wiki, I wasn’t the only fan to conclude that Nyarlahotep was/should be the one behind it, which makes the black butterfly feel like purposefully taunting us, waving the prize in front of our faces and then taking it away again.
I hate how they’ve just thrown away the past of the series like that!
And I could rant on that for ages (despite that I actually really love Persona 4, and I’m looking forward to getting a chance to play Persona 5), but no one wants to hear my inarticulate (read my under-vocabularized?) ranting, so I’ll just stop there.
Sorry this post was so long and disjointed. I’ll try to be more on point tomorrow.
And now for something completely different…
Have any of my fellow A-to-Z bloggers gotten a serious spam-bomb in the last few days? When I logged in last night (which is to say, Sunday night, when I’m writing this post-script) to write the post for…um…I think it’ll be Friday…I saw that I had 91 messages in my spam filter. They were all from a spambot I’m not familiar with (yeah, I read the spam before I delete it, and thus have gotten familiar with spambot behavior) which left things that pretended to be real comments (for a forum, not a blog), and occasionally replaced a word with an anagram of itself. And those 91 spam comments? They came in a 24 hour period, as I pre-wrote another post on Saturday night.
Since that was such a weird thing, I was wondering if the spambot linked to me from A-to-Z. Has anyone else had this happen, or was this just phenomenal bad luck?