All cows, no matter what they’re thinking, go ‘Moo.’ It’d be handy to remember that.”Friendly Cow
(This post is also available as a video).
After playing Mother 3 for thirteen minutes (with much of that time spent stopping to take notes), I already have too much I want to talk about. I have already:
- Named the main characters, their favorite food, and their favorite thing
- Woken up, put on my pajamas, and moseyed into the outdoors
- Talked to an advice-giving cow, two conspiratorial pigs, and a reassuring, unassuming frog
And I want to talk about everything! I want to talk about the music, the sprite design, the tone, the dogs, and the frogs! I think one of my biggest challenges as I begin this blog is going to be conceding that not every post can be some perfectly-crafted, interesting take on Mother 3. I’m going to have to remind myself, as often as possible, that “play” needs to come first. The fun is the priority!
Which is exactly why I’ve selected the above quote to kick off the first official frog post—it doesn’t have anything to do with a frog. It doesn’t have anything to do with anything. It is a line of dialogue spoken by a cow.
I love that.
I also love these two pigs, who sit outside of Alec’s (Lucas’s grandfather’s) house. The one on the left says:
And the one on the right says:
I don’t care what anyone says: I think that’s hilarious.
So far, I’m noticing that the majority of the fun I have while playing Mother 3 comes from the feeling of comfort. It’s easy to get lost in the game, even in the small confines of Alec’s farm. It’s easy to actually laugh out loud. It’s easy to feel like part of a family.
But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. What farm? What family? What frogs?
When you boot up Mother 3, the title screen’s song is reminiscent of something ambient from EarthBound, Mother 3’s predecessor. As soon as you select New Game, however, you’re brought to the character naming screen, where an even-keel, casual jam called “Fun Naming” introduces each of the game’s characters as they walk on screen until a full family is assembled.
Honestly, I doubt I have the vocabulary to describe the music in this game, or at least that’s something I’ll need to work on, but I just love this song! It’s a perfect start to the game that eases you in to a sense of security. The vibes are good. I don’t think it’s an accident that the song is comforting and warm, especially because instead of naming a group of four friends, like in EarthBound (who are each given limited characterization), Mother 3 has you name each member of a family, even providing each character with key descriptive words: shy, energetic, dependable.
I decided to go with the default names for the characters: Lucas, for the blonde-haired, shy, “crybaby” protagonist; Claus, for Lucas’s fiery, energetic twin; Flint, for the cool, calm, cowboy father; and Hinawa, the loving mother. The only character I decided to assign a name to was the dog, Boney, who I named Cole, after my beloved dog who died last year in January.
I can never resist naming Boney after my own dog. They look so similar! At least in my mind, except that Cole had black fur instead of brown. I’ll admit that I actually get a little bit emotional watching Boney (Cole) run around the screen and play with the various family members. The name creates the immediate connection. It feels real, and a part of me feels like I’m with my old pal again.
The effect felt even realer when I decided to look back at one of my previous attempts at starting this blog and saw that, last time I wrote about naming the dog Cole, my poor old pup was still alive.
I think this is why Shigesato Itoi himself encourages players to name the characters after themselves, their friends, their families—people they actually know. For a long time, I thought this was silly, and even pointless, but it really works. I had started (and did not complete) a playthrough of Mother 3 where I named Lucas after myself, Claus after a friend of mine, and Flint and Hinawa after my own mother and father. For anyone familiar with the game’s story, you might not be surprised to know that, after a while, I experienced actual discomfort because of naming the characters in this way.
But more on that in a couple frogs. And more on the fact that, despite encouraging players to name the characters with sentimental value, Itoi himself often names Ness in EarthBound things like “PeePee” and “Panties.”
(I never thought I would be hyperlinking those words!)
The last thing I’ll touch on again before moving on is that, in previous games in the series, naming the characters feels a bit different. Yes, they all have distinct designs, but other than a few character traits, they are nearly blank slates. In Mother 3, if you do name the characters differently than the default names, there’s a stronger sense that you’re filling in the names for characters in a book, and the narrative takes much more of a front seat in Mother 3 than in past games.
I should also probably mention that, for my favorite food, I chose cabbage! I don’t know why! I cook cabbage a lot! Plus, my best friend/team mate/person-I-adore gives me trouble for cooking so much cabbage, so it felt right to put it in the game ❤
Lastly, for my favorite thing—this has always been the strangest of the Mother games’ questions. I usually like the default just fine, with Mother 2’s Rockin’ and Mother 3’s Love. For those who don’t know, whatever you pick here ends up being the name of one of your most powerful, offensive attacks. PK Love just feels so fitting for Mother 3, especially for it to be Lucas’s realized powers. I have no problem using it as my own, but a few times in the past I substituted it for Peace. This time, I’ve decided to pick something a little off the beaten path. But I’ll wait for it to appear in the actual game before revealing what it is.
Anyway, once you finish naming the characters, the game begins with an overview of the setting (The Nowhere Islands) accompanied by an energetic jam that, while showing a somewhat picturesque, RPG, fairytale landscape, suggests something bigger and more exciting ahead. Really, I don’t think any game has started with such a strangely energetic song. It gets you pumped up!
Only for the view to finally pan into a small, countryside house and show us our protagonist, Lucas, sleeping. And, like Mother 2 before it, the game begins because it’s time to wake up.
Same Bed-Head as Always
If you ever wanted a song that says, “Hakuna Matata” without needing any words, this might be it. Lucas, Claus, and Hinawa are visiting Hinawa’s father, Alec, and taking it easy on a farm, somewhere in the mountains.
Life is good.
Whereas Mother starts with the unassuming protagonist, Ninten, being attacked by a possessed lamp, and EarthBound starts with Ness heading out in the middle of the night to investigate a recently crashed meteor, Mother 3 begins when the day begins. The morning. Breakfast time. You’re not even allowed to go outside without changing out of your pajamas.
Speaking of, I’ve always loved this characterization of Hinawa. Throughout Chapter 1, Hinawa is regarded by nearly every Tazmily resident with such reverence—she is loved everywhere. And that’s perfect for the character, and perfect for the story, but I think I like this type of moment more. Hinawa has a sense of humor. Hinawa, in her small spotlight in this short section on Alec’s farm, decides to play around a little bit. I even found out from a YouTube comment that if you run into the back of Hinawa’s chair, she will playfully “surrender” and give you a piece of nut bread.
Though in this sweet little prologue (is it too sweet?), it seems like everything is playing around. Before you’ve dressed for the day, the mirror says, as if waking up with you:
But before long:
While I don’t know if it was his entire writing process for Mother 3, Itoi has referenced that, when writing lines for the game, he would simply speak different ideas out loud as someone typed everything for him. I can’t help but imagine him thinking of the design for Lucas’s bedroom, then deciding the mirror needed something fun to say as well. Even though Mother 3 is fresher, faster, and sharper than its predecessors, its humor is just as dry as ever.
What else can I say? The song that plays outside is possibly the best song yet (I’m always so impressed by how consistently excellent Mother 3’s soundtrack is), and this track also contains the leit motifs that will be found in other songs in the game, which I’ll point out as we get to them. The opening is just charming as hell. The animals speak classic Mother writing—each line, each character, and each interaction feels clever, unexpected, and light. You can chase around the chickens, you can talk to the pigs, you can try to head south and leave the farm, but:
That’s right, the game also quickly establishes another one of its many tools, which the Mother series has been known for since combining an RPG with a contemporary setting: a humorous deconstruction of both RPG and video game tropes. Instead of imposing a barrier like an invisible wall, or a mission-locked area, both of which are arbitrary, if you run too far south in Mother 3’s opening area, you are encouraged to head back so as to not step on ants.
I understand that at the end of the day it’s still just an invisible wall with a fresh coat of dialogue, but it still does a lot! It’s funny! It compliments the lightheartedness of this prologue! You’re just a kid playing outside!
Speaking of which, Lucas was on the way to meet his brother, Claus, so they can play with some dragos. What is a drago? I would tell you, but before you get to Claus, you meet the first frog of Mother 3:
He imparts this wisdom: “A story is a series of memories. Memories are remembered with other memories, and in turn become memories themselves. If you don’t take care to preserve your memories, you’ll forget them. So, please tell us frogs your memories of everything so far. This is what people refer to as “saving.”
And there ends the day.
What is there to say about this first frog? In previous Mother games, you saved by calling your Dad at a payphone. It made sense as a subversion of what other RPGs were doing; for example, Final Fantasy games saw the player encountering spots of shining light on the ground, which played a chime when being stepped on—these were save points. In a contemporary world, who keeps track of a kid’s progress? Not random lights on the floors of dungeons, but their parents (I suppose). Though I have heard that Itoi was only able to communicate with his daughter over the telephone while working on the game, and it became their only means of communication, this is another small bit of information I haven’t been able to confirm again through citation.
Itoi has said, though, that part of the series’ purpose, tied to its naming of Mother, comes from the idea of a parent watching over a child:
Someone who doesn’t say or do anything to interfere–just watches from afar. In one sense, I think that might be the ideal image of a parent. I absolutely love the Pippi Longstocking stories. In them, her father is gone… Despite that, Pippi is really strong and full of life. Her father’s absence isn’t used as a way to give the reader sadness to indulge in; instead, it’s simply given as a fact of life as the story continues forward… That’s why, looking back at the MOTHER series, I feel like I had a reason for making MOTHER 1 through 3. But now my kid is all grown up.
Why the change? Can there be no phones in Mother 3? Why the strange, and strangely calm, speech about memory? It reads as authoritative but not commanding. It reads more adult than any dialogue so far, almost parental. On one hand, you can probably assume that anything starting with a frog giving a speech about memory is probably going to be pretty good.
On the other hand, why frogs?
Maybe we’ll find out next time one *hops* our way.