Frog #2: Play-Fights + Real Fire

You’ll never succeed with such a sullen look on your face. That holds true for anything. Just relax!

Alec

If Mother 3 is good at portraying the ease and security of Alec’s farm, it is just as good at portraying how quickly everything peaceful can be taken away.

But, as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Today’s gameplay session saw me completing the Prologue and beginning Chapter 1, which, if any players thought they’d be play-fighting with Mole Crickets for the entirety of Mother 3, the name CHAPTER 1: NIGHT OF THE FUNERAL strips away that potentiality pretty quickly.

Which is why I’d like to bask on Alec’s farm for as long as I can. This time, I decided to go back into Alec’s house so I could catch a screenshot of Hinawa’s response to bumping her chair…

…then I decided to finally go join Claus in playing with the Dragos.

Here, the differences between Lucas and Claus are on full display. As Lucas snoozed the morning away, Claus rammed into Dragos over and over, which I guess we have to assume is his idea of fun. However, it seems the Dragos like to play as well, because every time Claus or Lucas “knock” a Drago down, it stands for a moment, falls over, then peeks at the boys out of the corner of its eye to see if they’re still looking.

This is one of the moments where I adore the sprite design of Mother 3. While I can’t blame Mother for being a sometimes drab-looking game because it was on the original NES, and I’ve always loved EarthBound’s colorful, yet simple, graphics, Mother 3 is truly the realized style of Mother, at least in my opinion. The subtle animation of the Drago peeking out from its “defeat” is so perfect. The player is shown that this world is peaceful. It is a world where a child can go out into the wilderness and play with a creature over ten times his size. It is a world where the creature itself probably also just wanted to have some fun. Scenes like this are also why I’m kind of glad the game never came out on the Nintendo 64—I feel the graphics would not have aged well at all, whereas good sprite design can be timeless.

Anyway, then it’s Lucas’s turn to bat, and while I love the brief fourth-wall breaking segment from Alec…

… I don’t know why everyone is always giving Lucas so much trouble for being weak!

He’s a child! Yet again and again, and especially as the story progresses, his most consistent moniker is “crybaby” and “weakling.” Even still, it’s sweet to see the Drago play-fight with Lucas in the same way it did with Claus. I’ll point out here that the Drago the boys are playing with is the mother Drago, which becomes important later in Chapter 1. Though I’m sure most people reading the blog have already played Mother 3, I’m going to withhold my full commentary about the Dragos for now, as I’d like to do my best to limit my commentary to what I encounter up to each Frog. I’m sure I’ll break this rule a thousand times, but I have to have standards of some kind.

Of course, as the old saying goes, where there is play-fighting, there are Mole Crickets, and after a few Drago knockdowns, one of my favorite characters in the game comes scurrying onto screen…

…triggering the first official, turn-based battle of the game, and one of the sickest, best battle tracks in the game as well. (I wonder how many times I can insist that a song in Mother 3 is one of the best in the game…)

There’s not much to say about this first battle, outside of the music. It has everything a player would expect from the series after playing EarthBound: a psychedelic, groovy background; a turn-based battle system; and the rolling health bars at the bottom. One of my favorite visual additions to Mother 3 is that a character pops up above their name as you are selecting their action, as opposed to EarthBound and Mother where nothing of the sort happened. If they ever remake, or re-release these games officially, this is one small change I’d love to see in EarthBound, though I doubt it would ever happen. I love the character designs so much in these games that I just want to see the characters as much as possible!

But yeah: I really like this first, short tutorial battle. “Bothersome Guys” is such a fast-paced, fun song, which I think matches the energy of the twins well. Or, at least it matches Claus’s energy. I can so easily imagine the feistier twin running circles around the mole crickets, shadow-boxing like a riled up Looney Tune. On the other hand, I can imagine Lucas being more bashful in his approach to the fight, side-stepping the cricket’s attacks and gently pushing him back into the grass.

I’ll also mention that Itoi himself seems to have some sympathy for the Mole Cricket.Itoi specifically likes the Mole Cricket’s career pivot later in the game, but we’ll get to that when we get to it. For now, this poor little fella thinks he’s so tough, but when Hinawa comes outside to tell the boys it’s time for lunch, she steps on the would-be champion fighter and “defeats” him with ease.

I love this, on one hand, because we get more humorous moments for Hinawa, and also, as Itoi points out, the Mole Cricket’s fate is sort of an inversion of BuzzBuzz’s fate in EarthBound. BuzzBuzz, a time-travelling bug (though he’s not really a bug, it’s just the form he takes) fights alongside Ness in the opening segment of EarthBound, protecting him from the Starmen attackers with some powerful PSI moves. Unfortunately, BuzzBuzz is killed easily when Porky’s mom swats him down. His fate is not so different than the Mole Cricket’s, though the Mole Cricket’s “power” is just an ideation he has in his mind, both are defeated by mothers.

Though, to be fair, Buzz Buzz’s parting words speak of a prophecy, and words of encouragement and desperation, while the Mole Cricket, promising a rematch someday, says, “See you there… Bro.” You know, I can totally see Claus becoming excited about the Mole Cricket’s bro-speak. The red-headed twin probably imagines himself fighting 200 Mole Crickets at once, swatting them aside with ease, as strong as his father.

Alec then breaks the fourth wall once again to teach us how to save, encouraging folks to talk to frogs whenever they can.

Which makes me wonder why exactly Alec gets all the fourth-wall-breaking moments. It was probably just a decision of convenience, with Alec being Lucas’s and Claus’s grandfather, and Hinawa’s father, but I’m also reminded of Itoi’s thoughts last week about hands-off parenting. While you could argue that speaking directly to the player isn’t exactly hands-off, breaking the fourth wall away from the other characters gives Alec a fun little double life: sometimes, he’s the goofy, pun-slinging grandpa; other times, he’s our quiet, helpful guide, whispering us stage directions as the other characters hurry to the next scene.

Anyway, I don’t want to tarry on this too long. I would point out Itoi’s intention to approach the game’s design from an older man’s perspective, rather than a child’s, but more on that later! It’s time to get to lunch!

Fresh Cabbage

What’s your favorite food, Mom? Oh, cabbage? Then your favorite is the same as ours. We make a good match!

Claus, commenting on the wonders of cabbage

There’s not much else to recap about the prologue as it winds down. I love this short scene between the boys and Hinawa, with the above adorable line from Claus.

And I’ve gotta say, I like that a decision as simple as a Favorite Food gets to play out in a scene like this! Nowadays in video games, and especially RPGs, customization is king. You can customize a character’s appearance, their voice, their home, their weapons, the way they walk, the way they run, the way they engage in concupiscible relations, etc., etc. And yet, in Mother 3, there’s something effective and more personal about seeing the characters share a meal that has, really, been decided by me. Yes, it’s something as simple and as silly as cabbage, and it only exists as a change in the game’s text, but it works for me. It’s a family eating their favorite food.

And I like spending some time with Hinawa outside as she sends her letter to Flint. In general, I know Mother 3 lets go of some of the stuff that made EarthBound special, specifically the “openness” of the story. Mother 3 is much more linear, especially for the first three chapters, but this has never bothered me. Having a more “on-rails” experience develops so much character in so little time. And getting to know both Lucas’s family, and the residents of Tazmily, has huge pay-off later in the game.

Which isn’t to say I won’t eventually talk about the main differences in EarthBound’s and Mother 3’s respective designs, because I think they are significant, but I also think Mother 3 sometimes gets shortchanged in how people view its design. I have heard and read people say that off the bat it isn’t as funny as EarthBound, that it’s slow, that it just doesn’t feel like as much of an adventure. Part of me can’t disagree that EarthBound certainly throws you into things and lets you go your own way (within certain parameters, to be fair), but I have never found Mother 3 any less charming than anything EarthBound has to offer. Who knows, maybe after Frog by Frog I’ll do Phone by Phone and put EarthBound in the hot seat.

Anyway, the Prologue ends when Hinawa sends her letter away to Flint, tied on the leg of a pigeon. She tells Flint that the boys love the mountain air, that Claus is as energetic, and Lucas is as mild-mannered, as ever. She promises they’ll all get up to the mountains soon, and that she’ll cook Flint some of his favorite cabbage right away. As the pigeon flies away, the sweet, homely song that had been playing begins to drop in pitch, sounding flat, as the shadow of a UFO passes overhead…

I’ve still wondered, though: what is the point of this Prologue? In the grand scheme of things, you could argue it doesn’t really accomplish much, by which I mean, you learn to dash, you learn to save, and you get through an easy fight, all of which you can rush through if you want. Certainly Chapter 1 could accomplish the same thing, perhaps even more quickly, with Flint’s section of gameplay. We also, in a way, get just as much exposition, if not more, in Chapter 1 for the characters and the world. Even Hinawa’s letter to Flint is revisited, where we read it once again in its entirety, which is a pacing decision I always thought was strange. So, what’s the deal?

Well, to me, the prologue accomplishes something that wouldn’t have been as effective in simple exposition: this tranquil life in the mountains is also life in most civilized areas of The Nowhere Islands. Alec says to Hinawa that the forest is so safe that the boys could walk home without any kind of adult supervision. This isn’t just a weekend getaway to Alec’s that is peaceful. Life all over the place is this chill.

Yes, certain Tazmily civilians, as we will learn next chapter, have certain roles, like learning here that Flint and his family are sheep farmers, but this is a peaceful place, and we get to spend a morning in it. You can walk around the farm as much as you’d like with Lucas before you trigger the scene with the Dragos. There is nowhere to go. No objective at all. You can take it easy, here.

I also think it’s important for Lucas as our protagonist. While the first three chapters of the game jump around to various protagonists, Lucas is the character we ultimately spend the most time with. Like I’ve said, the cast in Mother 3 receives much more characterization than any of the Mother games before it, but Itoi himself has not spoken much about them. He mentions Duster, who I’ll talk more about in Chapter 2, and there are some minor characters he has commented on, like the Magypsies and the Mole Cricket, but Itoi himself has never offered much in the way of interpretation for his main, main cast. Maybe this goes back to his idea that he wants the game to be a mirror, confirming any read the player might have on a character.

Still, I think we need this to understand Lucas. It’s nice to see our future hero when times were simple, and he was literally just a child. I’m reminded of KingK’s videos about Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess respectively, where he argues that the often derided extended introductions of both these games are actually an opportunity to see what Link’s life was like before the main conflict–a chance to see the peaceful life that is later at stake when the evil forces get moving. And while I don’t totally agree that the long introductions to either of those games are particularly fun, I can appreciate some extra time with my protagonist before things get going. It’s nice to see Lucas as the coddled late-riser, who though considered weak, still plays with and runs around with his brother. It’s equally enjoyable to see Claus as the loud, active, stronger brother, who happily remarks on his favorite foods and loves a good challenge from something as enormous as a Drago.

In other words, I think we need the image of Lucas’s happy family, however brief it is, so that we understand him just a little bit better when it all gets taken away.

Fire!

Who would lock a door in a village as peaceful as ours?

Thomas

Fire! Bombs! Animals running for their lives! Every sense of serenity we’ve just previously known is thrown away as this track rips through scenes of the Sunshine Forest erupting into flames.

There’s so much I love about the opening to Chapter 1 I don’t even know where to start! I feel like I never know where to start! Ah!

For one, if some of Mother 3’s songs use the Theme of Love as their motif, another set of songs use the Pigmask Army theme (read: the bad guys’ theme!) as their central motif, and I think my favorite example of it is in this track. It’s perfect—fast-paced, frantic, and different in style from anything we heard in the prologue. It’s riproaring speed recalls the pace and surprise of the Pigmasks’ attack–they truly came out of nowhere, to attack The Nowhere Islands. If I could sum up this song, and this scene, in a word, it would be: chaos.

The Nowhere Islands are under attack, and everything from the music, to the visuals, to the pacing of the scenes gets your heart racing. In fact, I feel like I’ve answered my own question in terms of the Prologue’s necessity. The tranquility of the prologue makes this scene all the more exciting and shocking; this is the the last thing you expect to see when Chapter 1 begins, and because of the Prologue, we have an immediate sense of stakes.

(I love this opening so much that I’m going to share it here, for anyone who hasn’t seen it in some time. One small detail I love is seeing Lighter and Fuel in their forest cottage, as we will have to save them both later.)

The player sees all different sorts of animals running about, which will soon appear as strange chimeras, as well as men in Pig Masks throwing bombs that make the entire forest catch fire. Notably, we can see the game’s first boss, or, at least, mini boss: The Reconstructed Caribou. And, in typical Mother 3 fashion, the game spares no expense in making an emotional connection to the player: when we see this boss in-game, it will be angry, emitting steam, trying to kill us. But here, it is scared and frantic, worrying, accompanied by cartoonish sweat droplets. Sadly, the first major “enemy” in the game is, like the Tazmilian residents, just a victim of something far out of its control.

If that doesn’t make you sad, I’m sure Chapter 1 will get you before long. This is just the start.

Next, we see Thomas and his amazingly-animated feet scurrying through town, sounding his siren, which is also such an amazing sound effect to accompany the music. And I know I keep drooling over the introduction to Chapter 1, but I’m floored almost every time I play this game. To me, this intro is that masterpiece level type shit. The build-up is amazing. This is the inciting incident, the “we need a hero” moment. And Thomas runs (past a hopping frog) straight up to the hero’s door.

Flint

Bad times like this call for reckless nice guys like you.

Thomas

Though, the hero doesn’t answer right away. Thomas knocks, knocks, and knocks, and even pulls off Flint’s doorknob, before the cowboy appears: calm, cool, collected, dependable—Flint answers the door, adjusts his hat, and rises to the occasion.

If you were hoping that in Mother 3 you’d finally get to play as a mother, you’ll be sadly disappointed; the first character we get to control for an extended amount of time is the father of this story.

I’ll write more in-depth about Flint as Chapter 1 unfolds, because it’s already been a long time since I’ve found a save frog, but I like Thomas’s comment about Flint as a strong guy who does what he’s told. I won’t leap too far on this one, but I’ve wondered if that’s Itoi poking fun at video games in general, and how, even in narrative-driven games like Mother 3, the players controls the characters, making them do whatever they want. Again, I know it’s an interpretive stretch, and I’m not trying to reach for anything too crazy, but it’s a funny thing for Thomas to say. And, to be fair, Thomas specifically comments on how, in the Mother series, additional party members don’t disappear when they join you (e.g., Final Fantasy), but actually follow right behind you and begin to form a line. I have always loved this joke.

Also, Mother 3 and Itoi still find some levity, even in the face of crisis. Look in the mirror with Flint, and it’ll tell you…

…go talk to Boney, and he’ll tell you people are being too noisy! He’s just being a good boy and staying in his dog house!

He also gives you your first weapon: a Stick!

(Also, I think I’ll just refer to Boney as Boney throughout the blog, even though I’ve named him after my own dog. He’ll obviously still appear as “Cole” in the screenshots).

It’s sort of funny that Boney, not Flint, ends up being a mainstay to your party later in the game, yet here we see his humble beginnings—hiding out in the doghouse. I think Boney is a bit underrated in Mother 3, but I’ll talk about him more as the game progresses. He does have a moment in Chapter 1 that I think is one of the best parts of the game, and one of the best sequences of any RPG I’ve ever played.

Ugh! I love Mother 3.

Well, if every great adventure starts by taking that first step out of your own front door, then every great save frog should be just around the corner.

The “green frog on purple grass” aesthetic is really working for me.

And while it might seem that a bunch of stuff happened in Mother 3, I’ve probably just overwritten. This was only another eleven minutes or so of gameplay, and now things are really heating up! Literally! And I still haven’t even answered the question of why save frogs yet!

As for this specific frog, he is one we will be revisiting many times, which is why I’ll take this moment to establish a bit of a soft rule for my blog: I am going to try to never re-use a save frog in a chapter. By which I mean, this specific frog is outside of Lucas’s house for the entire game, but if I want to play “Frog by Frog,” I’ll try to always and only save at a new frog. That said, Chapter 1 has quite a few cut scenes and generally sticks to its own pacing, so I may have to re-use this frog if I’ve been playing for a pretty long time. I don’t think I’ll always have this much to write about after 11 minutes of gameplay, but if a gameplay session is edging up to 20 or 25 minutes, I’d like for most of that time to spent in combat. If a gameplay session gets that long, and it’s all story content, then my rate of posting will probably slow down.

Which is okay! I just want to establish, like I said, a soft rule for my gameplay.

Anyway, the adventure has truly begun! Flint is heading in to the Sunshine Forest! Boney is staying behind in his doghouse! Thomas is following, because that’s what he likes to do! The save frog insists that we give his regards to the next frog we meet, which I promise him I’ll do.

2 thoughts on “Frog #2: Play-Fights + Real Fire

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