Nintendo Mythology: Mystic Creatures

Kyle explores the creatures from Japanese mythology that have cropped up in Nintendo games over the years.

By Kyle England. Posted 07/06/2012 14:00 2 Comments     ShareThis


The kappa is a mythological water sprite that is said to inhabit lakes and rivers all over Japan. The classical kappa resembles a mixture between a humanoid frog and a turtle, although in some interpretations, kappa look more like a duck/turtle hybrid. A kappa has a small dome on top of its head that is said to hold water, which allows it to walk on land. It’s also said that if one can cause the water to spill off a kappa’s head, it will be rendered immobile until the water is replaced. Throughout the centuries, kappa have been portrayed as malevolent murderers, mischievous pranksters, and little harmless green guys. Some kappa are said to drown people in order to eat their livers and steal their “shirikodama” (a magical ball inside a person’s butt). Yeah. Also, Nintendo loves these things.

The Pokémon world is also home to several kappa-like creatures. Golduck is clearly inspired by the kappa, and one of its Pokédex entries says as much:

“Often seen swimming elegantly by lakeshores. It is often mistaken for the Japanese monster Kappa”.

The evolutionary line of Lotad, Lombre, and Ludicolo also have features of the kappa. They all have a large leaf on their heads that acts as a way to catch water. Sound familiar? Lombre is also known to play pranks on those who come close to the water. It’s actually a bit surprising how many Pocket Monsters are based on mythological creatures rather than real ones.

The kappa also pops up in other Nintendo franchises. Kapp’n from the Animal Crossing games is a kappa, but this fact was lost to Western audiences, who were told that he is just a strange-looking turtle. True to his namesake, Kapp’n loves water and cucumbers. Cucumbers are said to be a kappa’s favorite food, and one can even befriend a kappa if they offer him one of these tasty green veggies. The old sea dog even serenades travelers about his favorite food if they voyage to the island in Animal Crossing for GameCube:

Ye can’t go wrong
With me cucumber song
Cucumbers, Cucumbers
They make me strong

They’re the best ripe an’ cold
Long before they gets old
They’re so good, no one good
Let them grow mold

The famous Koopa Troopas in the Super Mario games also appear to be partially based on the kappa. Koopas take after the mischievous, turtle-like incarnation of the water spirit. Some kappa are said to be skilled in various things such as farming and wrestling, and this may explain the many variations of the Koopa, from the Paratroopa to the Hammer Bros. to the Chargin’ Chuck. Furthermore, when a Koopa Troopa is knocked on its back, it can’t move! While this is due to the difficulty of balancing on a shell, this may also be a reference to how a kappa becomes immobilized when it falls over and the water in its head spills. Also, in the Yoshi’s Island area of Super Mario World, the mountain where you can find the Yellow Switch Palace is called Kappa Mountain! At its base is a patch of grass containing a small pond that resembles the head of our favorite aqua-demon.

Observant gamers should be able to catch glimpses of the kappa in dozens of different games. Indeed, any type of media that comes from Japan is likely to have the water critters in there somewhere. Here are just a few other games where kappa or kappa-esque beings lurk about: Kirby’s Dream Land 3, Final Fantasy VI, Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, and (of course) Ōkami. Do you know of any other kappa appearances?

(If you’d like to learn more about the kappa, here’s some further reading.)

Disclaimer: The awesome banner above was created by the amazing Jed Henry.

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2 Responses to “Nintendo Mythology: Mystic Creatures”

  • 697 points
    Adam Sorice says...

    Oh I get it, the masthead artwork is Samus Aran! I didn’t piece it all together until I saw the Metroid and shoulder pads! Gorgeous artwork.

    And an excellent article, Kyle! I loved myths of Kitsune as a child, fascinating stuff.

  • 0 points

    An excellent article indeed.

    The worlds Nintendo crafts are so full-embodied and three-dimensional, it is often very easy to overlook that much of that magic is influenced by sources that have proven themselves in terms of longevity.

    Being somewhat uninitiated in Japanese culture and folk-lore, it is impressive to see under the magician’s sleeve, so to say. I always thought it absolutely tremendous of all the mythological references Squaresoft used (not Square Enix – more back in the SNES days – even though I’m sure Square Enix does it too) in regards to such titles as Secret of Mana and (especially) Final Fantasy. All the magic-givers were traditional mythology types, with examples such as Undine and Gnome. Then in Final Fantasy, everything from Bahamut to Odin owed it’s allegiance to more European-esque myths and folk-tales.

    Having already known the European counterparts, it made those classic RPG experiences that much richer. Using both worlds I had never seen before -and- worlds I was familiar with created a tremendous experience. I imagine it must have been very similar to all the above mentions in this article that Kyle pointed out if one were a Japanese boy or girl, diving into the worlds of Mario, Animal Crossing, or Pokemon for the first time.

    Tremendous article Kyle. A real refreshing and eye-opening read. Thank you.

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