Friday, September 5, 2014

Extended Thoughts on the Finale of Pikmin 3 *SPOILERS*

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?
In regards to the guilt I felt about having to slay the pitiable, lonely Plasm Wraith, it turns out the game designers had this in mind as well. I felt a bit of relief after the Plasm Wraith finally toppled over and let Olimar go, not only because I’d finally bested it and finished the game, but because I watched as the Wraith’s golden gooey remains slowly slinked away in the background as Alph, Brittany and Charlie celebrated their victory. Then, as the explorers and Olimar blasted off in the S.S. Drake, the Plasm Wraith, reformed, can be seen at the top of the oak flailing about; is it waving goodbye? Or writhing in anger, shaking its “arms” in fury at the explorers that stole its precious Olimar away? It’s very telling that the final boss is actually still alive at the end of the game (I looked it up and this is true for every ending of the game, including the best one, which is what I achieved after acquiring all of the fruit in the game), which is different than the past two Pikmin titles, where the final creatures in those game fell to their death in a hail of glory. But I felt the Plasm Wraith surviving was appropriate; outright slaughtering the thing would feel wrong given all the character the designers gave it.

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
In another log, Alph mused about how because of him and his friends, the Pikmin were thriving. The three explorers had saved their Onions from predators and harrowing circumstances, guided and led them and increased their numbers dramatically in a short time span. It of course seems as though the Pikmin are pawns being controlled by the captains, but Alph pondered whether it was the Pikmin who were really controlling the captains, before dismissing the thought as ridiculous. That idea is ridiculous…right? In the original Pikmin, Olimar thought about something similar, about how perhaps his arrival had taught the Pikmin how to fend for themselves and survive. At the end of that game, the Pikmin are seen attacking and fighting a Bulborb on their own, having learned how to defend themselves through Olimar’s guidance.

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?
Besides the idea itself being very bizarre, there are holes in this theory of course, such as how in the first Pikmin game, Olimar crashed into an asteroid, which caused him to crash land on PNF-404. And in Pikmin 2, there was no crash landing. Also, the S.S. Drake was going to the planet’s surface anyway, so why the need to make it crash? Also, in the final scene of Pikmin 3 I just talked about, the Pikmin don’t seem to be paying much attention to the sky and only after one of them notices the burning meteorite and starts to run towards it, do all the others follow. They at least don’t appear to be consciously guiding the travelers to the planet’s surface, but perhaps it’s a subconscious thing? In any case, I think it’s a fascinating idea. The Pikmin series has always carried a lot of mystery and intrigue with it and I love that while the Koppaites’ story seemed to be nicely wrapped up in the end, there’s still a whole lot of questions that add to the mystery surrounding this young game series’ universe, and I only hope this mystery is given further layers in future games. Perhaps we’ll get some answers and many more questions to go along with them; perhaps we’ll never really know the full story, which is actually how I prefer it. Also, Louie is apparently still on PNF-404, forgotten once again, or maybe he’s doing this on purpose? I just had a horrifying thought: perhaps the Plasm Wraith snatched Louie up when the others weren’t looking and has now simply replaced one Hocotatian for another? I wish I didn’t think of that…


  1. But technically in Pikmin 2 they did crash; they hit a branch on the way down, causing them to land right next to the Pikmin. Maybe the real enemies are the manipulative, terrorising Pikmin? Maybe that's what the Wraith was protecting Olimar from?

    1. That's right! I forget about that, although that was more a "rough landing" than a "crash" in Pikmin 2, wasn't it? And I can't remember if it was just the result of sloppy flying or something any case, this "Pikmin manipulating the explorers" idea may be something the creators cooked up for Pikmin 3, and hadn't thought about the idea yet in the previous two. After all, the geography of the planet was ret-conned in P3, so I can see other new ideas cropping up as well...

      I wouldn't necessarily call the Pikmin "enemies" (and certainly not "terrorizing") at least not from my point of view; "manipulative", yes; my theory is they perhaps simply manipulate stronger, more intelligent(?) lifeforms (perhaps subconsciously somehow) to help propagate their species. It can also be seen as a mutual process as well, with the Pikmin helping the captains and the captains helping the Pikmin. It's still a bit of a creepy idea though, especially if the Pikmin are somehow calling spaceships down to their world...

    2. But that is another interesting theory, that perhaps the Wraith did see the Pikmin as some kind of threat (I mean, in huge numbers, obviously they are a force to be reckoned with) and was trying to protect Olimar from them.

  2. Oh and after the ending of Pikmin 2 you get to rescue Louie with help from the president.

    1. I know! I 100%-ed Pikmin 2! I love that game! ^^ In the post, I was referring to Louie being left behind at the end of Pikmin 3 yet again.

      Thanks for reading, by the way! :)