Gamers around the world are torn over Palworld’s likeness to one of the world’s largest media franchises, but what does Japan think?

Over the weekend, the gaming world was rocked by the early access release of Palworld. Created by Japanese developers Pocketpair, it is a survival-based role-playing game featuring creatures called “Pals,” who strongly resemble some of our most beloved Pokemon characters.

Palworld, Pokemon with guns

What is Palworld?

Originally described by fans as “Pokemon with guns,” Palworld is a survival game set in a harsh and dangerous environment where food is scarce and vicious enemies roam at every corner. Pals can then be used to help one survive and even do your bidding, whether that’s for exploration, building structures, farming or even “automation” (read: in-game slave driving). It’s clear from Pocketpair’s tongue-in-cheek description that this isn’t a wholesome journey to be the very best. Exploiting your creature friends and, yes, even killing your Pal are viable options to advance in the game. 

This mishmash of adorable creatures, open world exploration and meme-worthy gameplay has created a buzz in global gaming communities. In just three days, Palworld has sold 5 million copies. At the time of writing, it reached a maximum peak of 1,262,087 concurrent players. This puts it at fifth place for the highest peak in Steam history.

palworld AI problem

The Problem with Palworld

Pokemon-like games and franchises have existed as far back as 1997 with the likes of Digimon, Monster Rancher and other monster tamer type games. However, many are speculating that the likeness with Palworld seems to go much deeper than these established Pokemon competitors. X (formerly Twitter) users are accusing Pocketpair of Pokemon plagiarism, due to strikingly familiar features in Pals that look like they’ve been taken from various Pokemon and mashed together. Supporting this allegation are X statements by Pocketpair’s CEO Takuro Mizobe that appear to be in support of AI-generated art. One of Pocketpair’s previous games, AI: Art Imposter, was also an AI art-based game that even incorporated an AI art generator as part of its core mechanic.

On the other hand, there has been no concrete evidence of AI having been involved in Palworld’s development. Earlier this month, Steam released its new AI policy which requires developers to disclose if they are using AI technology in their games. On Palworld’s Steam page there was also no mention of anything being AI-related.

How are Japan’s Netizens Reacting?

While not completely without controversy, Japan’s netizens seem to be taking a more lighthearted approach. Earlier this week, Nintendo’s legal department was a trending term on X, with many joking about the threat of a potential lawsuit. Other posts we’ve seen feature humorous videos of gameplay in Palworld, such as setting your sleeping Pals on fire with no consequences. Well-known Japanese VTubers are also setting up dedicated servers to better engage with their communities. This is a sign that some streamers are still moving forward with playing the game despite the potential backlash.

One Japanese individual who is taking these allegations seriously is Mizobe himself. The CEO has since posted on X, acknowledging that he has seen slanderous comments and death threats against Pocketpair’s artists and is requesting for them to stop. 

Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, there’s no denying that Palworld has started 2024 games off strong with its astronomically higher number of players accrued over a very short period. It’s also worth mentioning that the game is still in early access, meaning more improvements and iterations are to come before it’s officially launched. Whether this proves to be an indie game success story or yet one more battle lost in the war against AI, remains to be seen.

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