What happened to Ark Polaris?
The Ruins of Ark Polaris
Probably, it got nuked. Or, humans tried to escape their imminent demise by going to space, and they crashed, and probably died.

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To be honest, though, I have no idea. Let's just get that out of the way so you don't read through this and come away disappointed. I have a theory, supported indirectly by things that are shown in various things within the game's canon, but I can find nothing in the game or its related media that points to exactly what happened. As far as I can tell, it's never explicitly stated, but we can make quite the educated guess.

If you've finished Splatoon 2's Single Player campaign, and its excellent challenge DLC, the Octo Expansion, then you're up to speed with what I'm about to talk about. This article will contain heavy amounts of spoilers that may affect your enjoyment of both Splatoon 1, 2, and 2's DLC, if you read this without having finished them all. But, if you don't care, I'll also be explaining as I go, for those who are unacquainted with the series.

The Ruins of Ark Polaris is a stage that recently premiered in Splatoon 2's cooperative 'Horde' mode, called Salmon Run. Specifically, the Ruins of Ark Polaris map was released on November 6th, 2018. While Splatoon has always had a kind of dark backstory, Ark Polaris... is pretty dark, even for this series.

Ordinarily, Salmon Run is pretty fun. It might be frustrating at times, and you might lose unfairly, but, in general, there aren't too many bad feelings when you play it. But when you get on the map for Ark Polaris, you instantly feel that... something is wrong. Something is different. Even if you're already playing a game mode where you're basically stealing babies (eggs) from Salmonids (giant, basically-bipedal salmon monsters), this is different. This is uncomfortable.

It's no secret that Splatoon, as a series, takes place after the extinction of humanity. But, I had thought that was just some flavor text: just a throw-away line; an explanation for a setting that really did not need one. You're a kid and a squid; you can pretty much turn into a liquid at will. I wasn't going to be thinking too deeply about the series as a whole.

But then, well, it snuck up on me.

Sunken Scroll 26, from Splatoon 1.
In the first game, one of the classes of hidden items you can find are "Sunken Scrolls". Think of them as being a combination of concept art, backstory, and text story log. This is Sunken Scroll 26 from the first game, Splatoon 1.

Sunken Scroll 26 reads:

"A 12,000-year-old fossil of a creature with an odd internal skeleton. Its small skull indicates the creature was likely primitive with little intelligence. This specimen appears to have been fossilized in the middle of some kind of ritual."
Well, that places Splatoon 12,000 years or so in the future. But, well, you can see a Wii U there, alongside one of the most ill-adapted controller figurations known to man. So I didn't take it too seriously.

Sunken Scroll 10, from Splatoon 1.
But then Sunken Scroll 10 reads:
"With creatures of the surface driven to extinction by rising sea levels, the ancestors of Inklings were free to haul their 10-legged bodies up onto the abandoned land. This is how the Mollusc Era began."
The artwork is a parody of "March of Progress" by Rudolph Franz Zallinger. It is such a parodied image, especially in cartoony media, that I didn't think to take it too seriously.

But then... Well, things began to get... creepy, around the Octo Expansion. It was pretty creepy when, in the base game, one of the characters from the first game is mind-controlled, and you have to save her— not to mention the fact that one of the races in the Splatoon world, the Octolings / Octarians, seem to be mind-controlled as a species— but the DLC really ramped up the disturbing over- and undertones.

In the DLC, the Octo Expansion, you play as an Octoling— a bipedal, humanoid octopus— who has been freed from their mind control by a song sung by the opposing race, the Inklings (who are bipedal squids, with two more limbs than the Octolings' 8).

Throughout the DLC, you travel through a place that seems to be between worlds: you're on a train, going from dangerous place to dangerous place. It feels a bit like the train station that Neo got stuck in, during the later parts of the Matrix series. In any case, you slowly gather components for a machine that you are told is capable of freeing you from this limbo-like realm. You are told this by a person you do not see, and only hear speak.

You gather the components, put them together, get inside, and it turns out the machine is a blender.

The thing you make in Splatoon 2's Octo Expansion when you get all the thangs to make it. (It's a blender.)
Said machine is said, in-game, to have the sole purpose of taking you to 'the promised land'.

That's pretty dark for a kid's game, isn't it? Not that I'm exactly complaining, but— well. It is what it is.

In any case, after you don't get murdered by that thing, you slowly make your way through the sort-of kind-of Dr. Wily Castle-esque final 'dungeon' of the game. You slowly begin to realize that you're not actually in another dimension: you're underneath the sea, in something that resembles the Lunatic Pandora from Final Fantasy 8.

The entire place begins to resemble the Metal Glen from Ruby Quest.

The map you see when you're escaping from the 'final dungeon' in the Octo Expansion.
And then, just before you get out, you meet Agent 3, the protagonist of the first game, and they're mind-controlled.

But what, or who, is mind-controlling them?

Well.

You free Agent 3 from their mind control by shooting them in the face a whole bunch, and you proceed to the surface. And, immediately, you meet the very person who tried to kill you with the blender, and who mind-controlled Agent 3. They are an artificial intelligence construct that, they themselves claim, was created 12,000 years ago with the intention of passing on humanity's knowledge to the next self-aware species. Said A.I. then states that it's disgusted by the Inklings and the Octolings, and has decided to wipe out all life on Earth.

The A.I. is piloting a machine capable of turning every living thing on Earth into a fine paste.

Who made this thing? Well, humans, obviously, but why would human beings be in possession of such a terribly dangerous machine if they also wanted to pass their knowledge down to the next capable species? On page 315 of the Splatoon 1 artbook, the 'Professor' who made the statue is shown. He seems to be a kind person, because he saved a cat, Judd, and made sure that Judd would not be lonely, by creating a machine that could create a clone of Judd, to keep Judd company. Given that this person cared enough to make sure that a cat wasn't lonely, it's hard for me to believe that they would be callous and cruel enough to make a world-ending device. Being kind to animals and creating Doomsday devices just don't mix.

So it's possible the A.I. is lying, but, more than anything, this all points towards a particularly disturbing thought that I enjoy mulling:

What happened before humans went extinct?

Pearl from Splatoon 2 says that she found human bones in her backyard.
It should be noted that a lot of Pearl and Marina dialogue is, essentially, flavor text that has no real bearing on the story. Marina and Pearl, called Iida and Hime in the original Japanese version, have dialogue that is oftentimes not even translated between locales: it seems that there are people who have been hired to write funny things for the characters to say in each language locale, so this screenshot and its associated dialogue may not even have any bearing on the overall story.

Marina from Splatoon 2 saying 'It's funny because we're all living in a simulation and free will is a lie.'
But— bundling together all these things I've just told you— let's look at Ark Polaris.

A space shuttle, half sunken in the Ruins of Ark Polaris.
That's a space shuttle. One of the two shown in the stage.

A satellite, half sunken in the Ruins of Ark Polaris.
And that's a satellite, one of the two I found in the stage. I say that, because there may actually be more that I have not found.

I like this stage because, it feels like everything that Nintendo has been hinting at in the Splatoon universe is coming to a sudden head. The first time I played the stage, my very first reaction was my heart jumping in my chest, excited by the following thought:

What shoots a space shuttle down?

What on Earth happened before human beings went extinct? Well, that we know: the sea levels rose, killing basically every land mammal. But... when caused this? What makes a space shuttle crash?

More than likely, Ark Polaris got nuked.

Page 313 from the Splatoon 1 artbook, showing the extinction of humanity.

It's said in the artbook for the first game, in the above comic found on page 313, that humanity nuked the Antarctic ice caps, which pretty much led to their doom as most land on Earth was flooded. After this, humans tried to live in domes, as said on page 314, but, that didn't work. Humanity went extinct, and the Octarians eventually took up residence in the ruined, polluted world that humans left them.

Page 314 from the Splatoon 1 artbook, showing the extinction of humanity.

Canonically, by the time humanity went extinct, they had caused five world wars (page 313). Even Judd, the Turf War judging cat, has a lore reason as to why he's so good at figuring out who's winning a war: he was used by humans for his uncanny ability to judge who was winning the latest World War, based on his reaction just at looking at map of who had what territory. With a World War going on, and a lot of human technology explained in the artbook as being used by Octarians to make makeshift UFOs, I can come to only one conclusion: Ark Polaris isn't just a graveyard for space shuttles. It's probably a military base that got nuked, and the space shuttles were probably not for exploration, but were actually weapons. Or, at the very least, they had some sort of military usage.

I've heard that Salmon Run waters are canonically 'irradiated', but, sadly, I can find no such evidence in any media. If the waters are irradiated, then, yeah— either it was from the South Pole getting nuked, or Ark Polaris got nuked.

All of this makes me wonder: Why is Splatoon so dark? I don't know. While ostensibly a kid's game, the universe's lore boasts a lot of adult subjects that, while hard for children to find, don't really seem to fit too well in the happy-go-lucky atmosphere that the game seems to thrive in. Heck, even sex is discussed in the deep lore: the artbook for the first game mentions offhand that the protagonist from the first game wears, or was supposed to wear a fishing lure 'charm' on her hip, as a way to attract a mate. The protagonist from the first game is underage, about 14 or 15 at the time it takes place, which just makes it creepier.

This, along with a lot of other random lore, seems to suggest that Inklings are a lot more primal than they're ever really depicted in-game. In-game, it was mentioned that Marina's ink was also her blood. No one really knew what to think about this; given that it's not known if Marina and Pearl's back-and-forths are strictly canon, most people put it out of their minds.

Well, Splatoon seems to be one of those series where there is always, always, always a planned lore explanation for everything. The artbook confirms that Inkling ink is their blood, and that it makes vegetables taste good when they're watered with it.

A scan from the Splatoon 1 artbook, explaining that Kelp Dome has vegetables that are watered with Inkling blood.
Also, given that the South Pole was nuked, the reason Inklings 'dissolve' in water probably isn't because they're 'allergic' to water. It's probably because the water is irradiated: the artbook's manga says that the water is very, very polluted, and even mentions that at least one in-game location, Camp Triggerfish, has unpolluted water. Yes, I know that the water is an in-game mechanic. But, given that everything seems to have an actual reason as to why it is in the Splatoon series and universe, you never know.

Splatoon is very, very strange, and very disturbing the deeper you get into it. I think I love it all the more because of this.

This has been so fun to think about. It's kind of sad for it to be over: I don't like when I figure things out. It takes some of the mystery away; all of the fun of thinking about it, for me.

Oh well. There's always something better.

And maybe in Splatoon 3, we'll learn that all the Inklings are just children of the Old Ones.

Marina saying that she wishes humans were real.
Stunning, super colossal update, filled with conjecture!

I was searching for more info on Ark Polaris, and I ran across this Reddit post. I completely forgot to assume that it was just a failed escape attempt by humans! It makes sense in-lore, too, because other humans had gone underwater to try to escape their inevitable extinction. So, it would fit tonally that humans tried to escape to the one place that hadn't been corrupted: SPACE!

However, what doesn't make sense, if indeed the waters are canonically irradiated, is... why are they irradiated? Perhaps the ships got knocked down by a nuke?

Who's to say. It's fun to think about though :3

💗 This article was created November 25th, 2018. It was written by Margaret Gel. It was updated December 6th, 2018.