Data files are collectibles scattered around the surface of PNF-404 in Pikmin 3. They appear as glowing yellow SD cards that float in place. Data files may contain text and/or images, and there are 120 of them in all. There are 88 that must be physically picked up and 11 more received by doing certain optional tasks (such as collecting a spacesuit upgrade). The remaining 21 are automatically obtained during progress through the main story.
Once one has been collected, it disappears from its spot, and is added to the Exploration Notes app on the KopPad. This app is unlocked after one data file is collected in the original Pikmin 3, or upon finding the KopPad in Pikmin 3 Deluxe. The app keeps a collection of all obtained data files. When the active leader touches a data file, a brief cutscene takes place, where the gameplay pauses, the leader is seen celebrating, and the data file is opened automatically. If, however, an inactive leader touches a data file, the object will still be collected, but the gameplay will not pause, nor will the file be opened – instead, the leader in question will announce they have found a data file. In the Hard and Ultra-Spicy difficulties in Pikmin 3 Deluxe, the cutscene does not take place for most data files, though a few still have it.
Data files are organized in six categories, which can be found in the Exploration Notes menu. These categories are:
This group (known as Pikminology in the European version) gives brief details about the various Pikmin types and their abilities. It also gives tips on what to do to rescue Pikmin in peril, and tips on using the Onion.
This group consists of brief info on controls, such as using the KopPad, as well as upgrade information. Most of these files are obtained once a certain requirement is met.
This group gives brief details about an enemy, such as its attacks and weak points. For example, one file in this group states that the Bulborb's eyes are its weak points.
This group holds nothing but pictures of Pikmin holding various numbers. There are two per area, and entering the code they form on a Wii U exclusive website allows the player to view video logs of Captain Olimar's journey during the story of Pikmin 3. These are exclusive to the original Wii U release of the game.
Olimar's Log Vol. 2
It is through data files that Alph, Brittany, and Charlie (and by extension, the player) gain understanding of the Pikmin and the world they come from. Data files, when collected, provide various hints and bits of information of various topics. Most of them are left behind by Captain Olimar, and besides leaving tips, they are used to keep an exploration log, and to try to contact anyone else who may be on the planet.
According to an entry in Olimar's Log, these scattered files were caused by "a bug in the data-management system". However, some data files are not made by Captain Olimar; at least not apparently. Some data files are obtained automatically by reaching certain points in the game, and merely explain some gameplay elements important exclusively to the player. In addition, a category of secret memos exists that is only useful outside of the game itself.
Data files do not alter gameplay when collected, with one exception in the original Pikmin 3: the data file found behind the crystal wall next to the landing side in the Garden of Hope unlocks the Go Here! mechanic.
Names in other languages