Man, whoever was on duty for designing the Grass-types in the first generation sure had a twisted sense for aesthetics, because we’re 3/3 on featuring parasitic plant/fungus life. That’s gonna continue as a trend throughout the first 151, seeing as they’re almost exclusively also Poison-types, with a couple of other unsettling choices mixed in. Paras himself is actually a pretty cute scuttlebug, though. Big round eyes, pincers that look too big and awkward for him to use effectively, and two cute lil’ mushrooms sprouting from inside his chitin shell. He’s even got a stubby button nose on his three rows of bony mandibles. Aww!
Those little bumps on his forehead are based on the simpler set of eyes that certain insects – including his inspiration, the cicada – have on them between their larger compound eyes (which Paras shamefully ditches for a marble-like eyes), but turning these eyes into bumpy ridges instead helps him only feel a little creepy – unfortunately there are very few insect Pokémon that lean into the idea of multiple sets of eyes, and we won’t see one for quite a while yet – there’s a bit of a missed opportunity to step confidently into the weird zone. Overall, though, he strikes a nice balance between endearing and a little odd, and the result is a solid first-stage monster.
Parasect goes whole-hog into the ideas that Paras was laying down. The main body has grown up and has properly-functional limbs and all now, but that’s not gonna do him any good – nobody’s home. This guy’s eyes have glazed over, the fungus has overtaken the insect in mass, and there’s no question about who’s really in control here. It’s a cool inversion of how these things usually go where the parasite is a freeloader just along for the ride; the actual dominant creature here is the faceless one with which we cannot possibly empathize. It’s the Pokémon equivalent of a movie monster, and you can kinda just find it hanging around caves that aren’t even that hard to get to. Pokémon world’s a scary place.
Fortunately for Paras and Parasect, they get access to great health-recovery moves and all manner of status-inducing powders, including the only guaranteed-to-induce-sleep move in the game. Unfortunately, they’re absolutely crippled by Fire and Flying, which are very popular and absolutely ubiquitous respectively, and they’re not great at dealing direct damage. Still, if you have the patience and sadistic personality to really mess the other guy up before finally going in for the K.O., Parasect is one of the go-to options, but only if you can keep it alive. Seriously, this thing has some real type-advantage issues.
Unfortunately, Paras and Parasect aren’t exactly the traditional definition of charismatic, so they tend to get passed over in favor of more photogenic Grass- and Bug-types for the promo materials. Not that he’s not around – there are even a pair of somewhat-common gameplay items that refer back to him – he’s just… not super-popular with the PR team, shall we say.
The “main” insect-body is based on the immature form of a cicada, which is kind of a super-common summer bug as far as things go (especially in Japan, where these things were designed), but the much more interesting aspect is clearly the mushroom growth. While the Pokédex specifically calls it out as tochukaso, a real-life caterpillar fungus, that particular breed kind of just paralyzes and mummifies the host alive – terrifying, but not Paras. The function here seems to be borrowing a lot more heavily from Cordyceps – yes, the same one that The Last of Us poached for its zombie virus – including its particular appetite for insects. Interesting to note that Parasect doesn’t represent the adult form of a cicada in any way, which further supports the idea that the fungus has arrested its physical development and is totally wearing the insect as a body suit. Yikes.
The “tochukaso” mushrooms apparently attach themselves to the Paras from as early as the egg stage, and whisper mental suggestions to Paras to feed on trees until the mushrooms can siphon off enough energy to gain complete control during the evolution process. Then they retreat forever into comfortably cool and dark caves, never to be seen again – and indeed, wild Parasect are almost exclusively found in caves in the games (amusingly, it’s said to not grow up quite right in the arid island regions, but this unfortunately didn’t get reflected with an Alolan form).
Its signature move being Spore is also pretty horrifying – the implication is that it’s spreading more its mind-controlling mushroom spores to other Pokémon, which immediately knocks them out. If Pokémon had leveraged one-off status conditions more (or if passive abilities had existed in 1996), you can bet your bottom dollar that this thing would be inflicting something like “Zombie” on its prey.
Apparently the mushrooms can be removed entirely without making Paras into something other than a Paras, since they can be collected and sold to certain merchants (and supposedly turned into medicines), albeit the insect seems to go on without them just fine? The Paras seem to have attachment to their fungus-y friends, though, so presumably they naturally end up subjecting themselves to some fungus or another. Still, that leaves the door open for what happens if a Paras evolves while its mushrooms are removed. Are there spores and tendrils ingrained deeper below its exoskeleton? This thing raises so many delightfully creepifying questions.
Even if it weren’t so hard to say “no” to keeping one of the original 151 on-board, Paras is so darned interesting, and off the top of my head we don’t see many Pokémon that take the idea of a parasitic organism and run quite so far with it. That said, it’s got some serious gameplay weaknesses and unfortunately isn’t much for popularity. Very strong design that unfortunately is more on the Reserve bench than a headliner the series can rely on.
Any and all appreciation for Paras and Parasect is welcome in the comments!