Let's be honest, if Pokémon were real today, we'd have Pikachu power stations, Poliwraths flushing fatbergs from our sewers, Piplups cleaning crime scenes, and a rentable Chansey subscription service from healthcare providers. Maybe I'm just being cynical, but even the premise the games present—that we'd primarily just make them fight each other for sport—seems optimistic, a beautiful lie that we accept because we can't resist collecting things. Palworld is a take on Pokémon that truly accepts our brokenness, and its smash success has perhaps proved quite how steeped in sin we all really are.
Palworld has exploded across the internet like a self-destructing Electrode, and the shockwaves of its arrival are sparking a lot of debate. From shaky accusations about the use of generative AI and model copying, to heated arguments about its similarities to Pokémon overall, it's certainly getting people talking. One of the things the two series definitely have in common is that they both have, at their core, pretty disturbing premises—but at least Palworld doesn't pretend it doesn't.
I've been into Pokémon since I was tall enough to reach the booster packs at the till. But even back then, as I watched Ash fighting to keep Charmander's tail lit in the cartoon and felt proper emotions for the first time in my young life, I sensed the irony. Saving a little monster just to enslave it and then force it to battle for your entertainment and clout… it's fairly twisted. The series has always had to bend over backwards to convince you that you're not a terrible person, that it's totally fine that you don't just leave these weird and incredibly powerful creatures to live their lives.
Palworld on the other hand, leans into the darkness. There's something about its almost nihilistic perspective that I can't help but like. There's a twisted frankness to it. You can give adorable creatures guns, force them to mine stone and chop lumber, and utilise their individual powers for purely selfish reasons. At least I know where I stand. There's no convincing anyone that the bleak destiny you have set out for these Pals is for their own good. From the moment you've opened the game and punched a Chikipi to death… you've seen yourself become the villain.
Depresso—a dark type who has a perpetually sad face and disinterested approach to tasks—is a great example of a Pal that riffs on how bizarre this whole pocket monster concept is. Locking me in a ball and making me fight and work would alter my mood a bit too. Its low effort approach to existence is justified.
Taking a beast's strengths and using it for our benefit or entertainment is a very human thing to do. We make horses carry us around, we intensively farm livestock in cramped conditions to fill our plates, and keep domesticated animals to help cheer us up when the wrong package gets delivered, so forcing a Flambelle with its fire powers to fuel your furnace day and night in Palworld seems accurate to what would end up happening. You know that if there were actually little fiery Foxparks in this world, we'd be using them in warzones as living flamethrowers. It's a sad truth, but it's a truth nonetheless. Don't get me wrong, I'm no supporter of the exploitation of animals—but at least Palworld is honest about what it's encouraging me to do.
Best Pals: What to catch early
Palworld incubator: How to hatch eggs
Pal fluids: Umm, eww?
Palworld leather: where to farm it
Palworld mounts: How to unlock them
Ancient Civilization parts: Improve your crafting
Paldium Fragments: Get farming fast
Maybe I'm too pessimistic; maybe the relationship between humans and small powerful monsters would be a symbiotic one, if we lived in such a world. But the smash success of Palworld does make me think I might be right—it clearly, on some level, taps into the way humans think.
But hey, it could just be the contrast that has people hooked. The irony of these cute little beasts being caught up in such morbid circumstances. It's always funny to flip expectations on their head. If you saw a small adorable monkey end a lonely sheep with a desert eagle in real life, would you laugh or cry? I think I'd be confused, but also pretty curious, and that's kind of how I feel while playing Palworld.
Maybe in a few weeks' time Swee, Leezpunk, and Melpaca will become just the names of my sleep paralysis demons rather than Pals I'm forcing labour upon. But with Palworld developer Pocketpair's ambitious roadmap announcement, maybe I'll be enslaving... I mean collecting, trading, and battling Pals for a while yet to come. Either way, the harsh reality of keeping pocket monsters in magical balls can't be denied. Whether it be Pokémon or Pals, it's time to come to terms with the fact that in both instances, we're the bad guys.