The strange finale of Pikmin 3 stuck with me so much that I feel the need to address it in a separate post. Pikmin 3 is not a game that ends in an epic, explosive conclusion, but a more personal and disturbing one. The game’s final stage, known as the “Formidable Oak”, is downright spooky. The area revolves around a giant gnarled tree(?) in the middle of a lonely desert wasteland. From the first steps I took in the place, I felt a sense of great apprehension. The quiet, unsettling music put me on edge and even though it seemed at first that I could choose to go in one of two directions, one of these paths was a dead end and so the only way I could go was a straightforward path that winded up the tree to some inevitable final conclusion with what was sure to be a terrifying beast. What awaited at the end of that path, however, is baffling and bizarre in all the right ways.
The final enemy the explorers face in the game is a whole new level of odd and many questions are raised about what is going on with this surreal creature. We first see it as a tiny, oddly-shaped thing that at first glance is hard to get any impression of at all, except that it is standing over Captain Olimar’s sleeping body, just staring at him; it even looks like it’s petting him. This golden entity is eerie, to say the least, but it soon becomes terrifying as its bizarre-looking head swells to enormous size and engulfs Olimar with its face-hole. Freeing Olimar is deceptively easy at first, but soon after the “mysterious lifeform” as it’s called in-game takes on a new shape as a gigantic, transparent blob with a yellow cube at its center that relentlessly chases Olimar (and your Pikmin carrying him) through a winding labyrinth with no end in sight. It’s a tense and frightful experience, especially at first when I wasn’t expecting it or prepared for it. I was running around in circles, not sure what to do or where to go. For a game that I thought I had all figured out, here at end, it completely turned everything upside down. I had hundreds and hundreds of Pikmin, I thought I’d have no problem with whatever giant monster awaited me at the end of the game, but here I was helpless and running around aimlessly as the thing slurked along, moving at a deceptive speed that contradicted its mucus-y appearance.
I soon gathered my bearings and figured out a strategy for alluding the monster by having Brittany run in a literal circle around the environment with five Pikmin and Olimar in tow, keeping the beast occupied while Alph and Charlie forged a path ahead, clearing out all obstacles ahead and looking for a way out of the cavern. As I explored, I found notes left behind by Olimar, notes detailing the chilling cycle the Hocotatian had found himself in: out of Pikmin and resources, without a ship, and all alone, he was trapped with a creature that ceaselessly chased him. Every day, no matter how hard he tried to evade it, the thing would catch him, triggering his space suit’s auto-sleep function, and drag him all the way back to the top of the oak. Olimar would then soon wake up, confused for a moment before remembering his horrific situation; he would try to escape again only to be caught, over and over again. Truly, he was doomed unless I saved him. After spending so much time and going through so many trials with Olimar in Pikmin and Pikmin 2, I felt a great empathy for my former protagonist and wanted to get him out of his predicament as quickly as I could.
But is the Plasm Wraith, which turned out to be the “mysterious lifeform’s” official title, really a monster? It wasn’t hurting Olimar, in fact it seemed to be protecting him. It even placed him on a little leaf bed at the top of its oak. Perhaps Alph, Brittany, and Charlie were seen as threats to Olimar and the creature was misguidedly trying to help him. Was it acting as a protective parent? Or perhaps it was just lonely and wanted a friend? Just what is this sad, mysterious entity? I found myself pitying it and felt guilty that, after finally finding a way out of the labyrinth and the creature, now infuriated, engulfed Olimar once more and swelled to enormous size, the game would now ask me to wear the thing down piece by piece and kill it. This wraith felt different than the other beasts on the planet. It felt intelligent.
There is a lot of subtext here, a lot more than I expected from the end of this game, and a lot it is left up to the player to decide what is going on. Is the situation here really creepy? Or really sad? Or cute in an odd way? Or all of these things? The final creature in Pikmin 3 is not so much the gigantic horrifying kind of beast that lay at end of the previous two games, but more of a puzzling, bizarre, and questionable thing. I also can’t help but be reminded of the Water Wraith from Pikmin 2, another bizarre entity that relentlessly chased Olimar and Louie throughout the entirely of one of the game’s dungeons, an experience that still chills me to think about (just listen to the music that plays in the dungeon before the Water Wraith appears; that is legitimate horror game material). Could the two wraiths be related? The same species or something more? At the very least, I’m sure the Water Wraith, which is one of the most memorable aspects of Pikmin 2 for me, served as inspiration for the Plasm Wraith.
|Above: The Water Wraith. Below: The Plasm Wraith's liquid form. Any relation?|
Beyond the final boss, Pikmin 3’s conclusion leaves of lot of unanswered questions, some of which might be setting up a sequel, but it also leaves the game with a sense of mystery. Throughout the story, Alph would ponder in his end of day logs about how he had a feeling that there was something more to the S.S. Drake’s crash landing, almost as if he had the feeling that something from the planet’s surface had reached out and pulled the Drake down. Weird, right? I thought I’d get the answer to this question at the game’s conclusion, but instead the narrator ponders what the cause of the Drake’s accident was before musing that “perhaps it wasn’t an accident after all…” Was the Drake’s rough landing the Plasm Wraith’s doing, afraid that these aliens would try to take Olimar? Or did the Wraith call Olimar and Louie’s ship down before, which lead to its wrecked state in the Garden of Hope and this is just something that it does? Is it reaching out to try to find friends, to try to cure its loneliness? Or perhaps there’s something else going on here, something even more surreal…
|The Plasm Wraith says goodbye|
And that brings us to Pikmin 3’s final scene: after the narrator cryptically states that perhaps the Drake’s accident at the start of the game “wasn’t an accident after all”, we are treated to a beautiful and moving credits sequence showing the Pikmin going about their lives on their own before we are treated to a final shot of a group of Pikmin idling around a tree stump in a field of tall grass before a fiery meteorite comes crashing down to the planet’s surface in the distance. The Pikmin then all run towards the object, whatever it is. Is it not a coincidence then that in every Pikmin title, the captains always seem to land near Pikmin and Onions? Is it the Pikmin themselves who are responsible for the S.S. Drake’s “accident”, that they somehow call down these travelers so they can propagate their species? And that meteorite at the end: perhaps some new captains we’ll meet in Pikmin 4, when the whole ordeal repeats itself?
|The cycle begins anew?|