*Needless to say, spoilers abound. Proceed with caution, fresh cephalopods*
One thing I’ve always found fascinating about Splatoon’s narrative is how deep below the surface it is. To the casual player, it’s a simple online shooter. But dig a little deeper, and there’s some really touching plot that most players may never experience.
The core story, the Splatoon “timeline”, if you will, is that something happened 12,000 years ago, and it wiped humanity off the face of the Earth. Over time, new life began to evolve, and the dominate species to emerge were the Inklings. Well, they were one of them, anyway.
Splatoon boasts a ton of different races, but none of them get a lot of detail, save for the Octarians, a humanoid species similar to the Inklings, who served as the primary antagonists in the first game and much of the second. Scattered throughout the first game is Octarian propaganda that paints a very negative picture of the Inklings.
This all climaxes with the reveal that there was once a great war between these two races, one which drove the Octarians underground and gave the squids control of the surface. Originally created as a sort of parallel enemy type, the prospect of peaceful Octolings was first broached when Marina was revealed as part of the new duo in Splatoon 2.
Fast forward to the Octo Expansion DLC, and we finally hit the climax of this long running story: Not all Octos are evil. Playing as one yourself, you attempt to get to the surface, the “promised land”, as you work to recover your memories. And while the gameplay is top-notch and the level designs are creative, the thing that really waits to grab you is the story, once again buried juuuuust under the surface. And that story covers some pretty important issues.
As you progress through the game, Pearl, Marina and Captain Cuttlefish open up a chat room to discuss the situation at hand. As the game progresses, the characters begin to discuss their opinions on the Octolings (or the Octarian Menace, as Captain Cuttlefish calls them), and this is where things really get interesting.
All throughout Splatoon, we’ve had bits and pieces of the great war teased to us, including the fact that Cuddlefish was a great captain back in the day, who directly fought against DJ Octavio, the leader of the Octarians. This has obviously created a bias in the old squid – he doesn’t trust the octarians. It speaks a lot to the real world’s older population, that grandpa you have who doesn’t trust the Japanese because of World War 2. It’s an interesting thing to see laid out in this game, because it’s so true to life, and speaks to the natural xenophobia that seems to grow stronger in us as we get older and less trusting of the world.
Now, squids are fresh, but they aren’t the sharpest cephalopods in the sea. In fact, Pearl is shocked to find out Marina is actually an Octoling, and a chief engineer for the Octarian army. There’s a moment of shock, sure, but she immediately rushes to her friend’s defense. Even Cuddlefish eventually concedes, despite being a little more skeptical at first, finally declaring “I don’t see species”.
As the game starts to wind down, the twist comes into play – your trip to the promised land is a farce, and you’re actually being led on a suicide mission. The ultimate goal? Eliminate all intelligent life from the planet. See, it turns out your guide through the entire game (a talking telephone) was created by humans – yes, those humans who went extinct 12,000 years ago. As it turns out, this phone isn’t too happy with how life has developed this time around, and it wants to see it removed so the planet can start over again.
Luckily, this is a video game, and in the end, you do secure the life you’ve known, ending the evil threat in a climactic explosion of color and ink. But the idea that your very existence could be so hated that it’d rather see you wiped from the face of the Earth… there’s something dark and eerily understandable about that plot. Something that harkens back not just to the more obvious tones of Nazism and similar movements against a particular group of people, but honestly, even the strong xenophobia that’s effecting America and the world today.
At the end of the day, xenophobia really is the theme of this game. Hatred and fear of things that are different than you, of people that are from a different place than you. It’s an important message, and the Octo Expansion DLC does a great job of highlighting it. There’s a lot to learn from this game’s story, if you’re willing to listen. Be better than a talking 12,000 year old telephone. Learn to accept other people, not to push them away. Be a squid.