There is even debate as to whether Popoie is a he or a she. It seems that in the original Japanese script, it was not stated, but due to the way the game was translated into English, he was clearly referenced as a, "he." Since that's what I grew up with, and I always had the sense that the Sprite was male, I'm sticking with it for the purposes of this blog.
Popoie is mentioned for the first time before we reach Gaia's Navel:
I saw the floodwaters sweep some kid into it!!
In a recent flood, I saw a child flushed into the cave. He just kept going…the poor thing...
Once there, we find him in a racket with the Elder of the Dwarves Village. After washing up there in
a flood, the Elder wanted to help him get back, so they put on a show in which they claimed he was 50000GP in debt. Note that even though he hadn't officially acquired magic yet, he can still do, "magic tricks."
DWARF: Step right on in! It's the Dwarf Village's world famous exhibit hut! It'll be 50 GP! The show's just starting! First, cast your eyes on this Rabiteman! The only one in the world! Take one Rabite, and one man, and its...Rabiteman! Hey, you! Pipe down! And now, presenting an actual and very rare, Sprite Child!
SPRITE: Boo, hoo, hoo...Ah! Won't you please help me?
DWARF: Yes, folks, it's pure tragedy! Weep as you hear his story. This poor child has a 50,000 GP debt to pay off! It's here, working off the debt bit by bit. Oh please, gentle people. Please help it! Even 100 GP will help.
SPRITE: Oh, joy! Thank you! I'll take that, thank you so much...
Geez! A lot of nothing. These poor people just aren't going to cut it!
Dwarf: Yes, welcome…to the Dwarf Village's famous hut of spectacles! Our show can be seen for only 50 GP! (We'll see it We're done here) It's the start of the show! First…an exceptionally mysterious Rabiteman! Take a Rabite, then take a man, and you have the Rabiteman! Huh? You don't think he's convincing? As expected from such an audience! Your eyes are too good! Then I guess it's time to show this rare, ineffable Sprite child!
Sprite: *sob* Oh…gentle, kind audience! Please help me!
Dwarf: Come on! Please sympathize with him! There will be many tears as you hear him speak! This poor child is in debt! He owes over 50000 GP! We're getting the money back little by little. We hope someday he can repay all of it! Come on, friends! I know you have big hearts. Just 100GP will go a long way!
Sprite: Wow! Thank you! I'll take that right now.
Seriously? That's asking too much? What a bunch of fuddy duddies!
After confronting him backstage, they come clean about the whole deal:
SPRITE: Aiee! Did you overhear what we just said?
ELDER: P...please forgive us! This child really IS a sprite child. It used to live in the Sprite Forest, but a flood brought it here. I thought I'd help it earn the money to return home...
SPRITE: Good idea, huh?
ELDER: Hey! You have to apologize, too!
SPRITE: Harumph! Okay. I was wrong!
ELDER: I'm ashamed of myself. I'll return your money...
SPRITE: Didn't mean any harm!
Sprite: D'oh! Were you listening to us now?
Elder: Oh no…please forgive us! This child really is a sprite child. Up until recently, he was living in the Sprite Forest, but was swallowed by a flood and carried here. I thought I'd earn travel expenses for him to return to the forest. I only had his best interests in mind. It was his idea, too.
Sprite: Pfff! What a gifted genius I am! Hehehe…
Elder: What…won't you apologize too!?
Sprite: Pssh! Okay, I was wrong!
Elder: My reputation is very important to me. I will return your money.
Elder: My behavior was inexcusable. Please forgive me!
Sprite: Shit, I really messed up.
I always thought this was a bit of a weak excuse for a racket. Why not just come clean about why he needs the money in the first place? If they're going to fork over cash for a huge debt, they'd most likely do so to get someone back home. If the Elder wanted money, he could take a commission off that plus the proceeds from the show.
In a game with mostly one dimensional characters, he's a rare example of personality. Take his exchange with the Mana Spirit, Gnome, for example:
[GNOME :] You can't barge in here! We gnomes won't allow it!
SPRITE: What a wind bag!
GNOME:This is an outrage!
[GNOME :]Oh, no! You can't just selfishly barge in here and mess the place up! This is gnome territory! Now hurry up, get the fuck out!
Popoie: What an old sod! I'm here now! Why don't YOU go out!?
Gnome: Who died and made you king!? You're an impudent brat mocking me like that!
Popoie: Son of a bitch! How's this!?
Once at the Upper Land, the heroes realize that they're too late, and the Sprite's village has been ransacked by the Empire. The Wind Palace to the north contains the only survivor, Popoie's grandfather. Grandpa's speech is a bit more graphic in the Japanese:
GRANDPA: Uhh..sounds like...'Zat you, little tyke?!
SPRITE: Grandpa, can't you see me?
GRANDPA: Empire's men came and undid the Wind seal...A bright flash stunned me! The others...they're...
GIRL: This is awful!
SPRITE: NO! They must have escaped!
GRANDPA: I...suppose so...Uwa, ha, ha!
Grandpa: Oh…that voice…is that you, little one!?
Popoie: What happened!? Can't you see me?
Grandpa: Some of the Empire's men came to break the wind seal. I was in the Wind Palace at the time...I was lucky to only lose an eye. The others didn't seem to fare as well…
Purim: This is terrible!
Popoie: I won't believe it! I'm sure everyone must've escaped to somewhere else!
Grandpa: …surely, so…Ugh…cough cough…
SPRITE:…...Whaddaya mean? I'm NOT gonna kick the bucket! My world is separate from this one. It just means I won't...see you again.
Popoie: What are you saying!? I won't die! This world has been divided into two---where the sprites live, and where you live, and they will be unable to meet [without Mana].
Thus, the sprites are connected to the world through Mana. When it disappears, they can no longer be part of Randi's world, and can only live in their world. But what precisely does this mean? Let's circle back to something Grandpa said earlier:
GRANDPA:Gwa, ha! Okay, okay! Tyke! We sprites are a part of Mana. That beast couldn't have beat us! But humans are breaking seals, and releasing monsters......which are consuming our source of life...Mana!
Grandpa: Hehe…please listen carefully. We sprites are a part of Mana. When humans break the seals on Mana seeds, they are trying to resurrect the demons of old times. When Mana disappears, Sprites will disappear from the world too. It's quite a sad thing...
While this does provide some explanation, it does not really tell us who the sprites are, or what their world is like. It's a shame we did not get to learn more about them, as I think it would have made the ending, and Grandpa's ordeal all the more powerful. Also, despite Popoie's promise, there is no reason for the player to return to Grandpa, although doing so restores the party's HP and MP for free. I do see some similarities between the sprites and the other games in Square's great trilogy of the 90s. In Final Fantasy VI, we have the Espers from a separate world who are exploited for their abilities, and in Chrono Trigger, the Kingdom of Zeal is a far off place where those who can use magic live. I'm very disappointed that I haven't been able to find anything else significant about Popoie, even on Japanese sites.
This story would also be the perfect segue into a sequel---Randi and Purim need Popoie back for some reason...but how to do so?
Next: I will finish the article I was supposed to months ago, and complete the trilogy on the background of SoM.
Credits: Square owns SoM.