Frog #4: A Leap (Frog) of Faith

A sparrow fluent in game lingo is quite rarrow, wouldn’t you say?

Helpful Sparrow

You may think I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel with this next observation, especially since my previous post was so lengthy, but I promise you, this is genuine: I love the color of Tazmily’s grass.

Okay, maybe not its actual color. During the day, it is just as green as any other grass in the entire world, but, at night, as you can tell, it is colored purple.

Which came first: the Leder, or the Leder-sized bell tower?

I have no particular reason for liking this. Video games and cartoons employ tricks like this all the time to portray night-time lighting. I think it sticks out to me so much because I love the color schemes of the Mother games. Even though EarthBound’s graphics were considered colorful, but simple, at its release (if not lackluster when compared to the sprites and shading in games like Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy 6), and Mother 3 isn’t exactly breaking new ground in its art design, I’ve always thought the Mother series has gotten critically slighted when it comes to its visuals.

Sure, EarthBound and Mother 3 may look simple, but who cares! They’re fun to look at it. At times, they’re as vivid and pallet-splashed as a child’s drawing, yet detailed enough to be legitimately expressive. And I don’t know about you, but I’d take the psychedelic battle backgrounds of EarthBound and Mother 3 over the repeated and rehashed caves and plains of other RPGs. Though we still haven’t seen much combat, so more on that next frog.

Obviously all of this is a bit of digression, but I don’t have much new to report this time around. In fact, I only decided to write about this observation because I spent so long trying to screenshot Thomas’s feet.

Now that’s a running animation.

I know I say this every week, but that really is the nice thing about playing Frog by Frog: you literally get to stop and smell the roses (or, the Tazmily gerberas, I suppose). I’ve never loved Mother 3 more. If you’re looking to find new appreciation for this game, I recommend playing it in short sessions like mine. I don’t even think you necessarily have to go Frog by Frog if it’s not your pace, but if I had been playing Mother 3 at my usual rate of playing games, I probably would have played through the first hour or two in one sitting. It just wouldn’t have been the same. I wouldn’t have noticed as much in a game that thrives in its details.

In fact, I’m falling in love with Mother 3 all over again to such an extent that I’ve even decided to soften up toward ol’ Mapson, especially after running into the Advice-Giving Sparrows.

Rarrow indeed, bird bud.

I still maintain that Mapson pointing us directly toward Lighter and Fuel is a little bit damaging to the story, and a little bit overkill in Chapter 1, but if I’m going to put Mapson in the spotlight, I need to also interrogate 90% of the NPCs I’ve met in these beginning gameplay sessions. Maybe we can view Itoi’s decisions here as being informed not from excess (giving the player too much) but from lack (making sure the player has enough).

Think of it this way: working with EarthBound’s contemporary setting gave Itoi a bunch of options for how to give information to the player. Need a map? Head to the library. Interested in game mechanics? Head to the school house. Hungry? Go to the burger joint. Injured? Go to the hospital, dummy!

An experienced player can skip all of these things and head right to the arcade, where Ness encounters the Shark gang and his first boss fight. A less experienced player may really need to immerse themselves in Onett before feeling confident enough to take on the Sharks. Or, maybe a player of any level just enjoys walking around Onett and pretending to be a part of the town. When my sister and I first read about EarthBound on the internet, I remember us thinking that the coolest thing about the game was that you could call your dad on the phone.

Tazmily, on the other hand, doesn’t have that same luxury, yet Itoi still needed to account for newer players, or players who hadn’t played an RPG in a long time. Because of this, why not have an Advice-Giving Sparrow? Why not have a map-giving man named Mapson? Why not have all the NPCs explicitly nudge you in the right direction, just this once? I’m not saying I love the aggressive style of hand-holding, and I’m not saying you should either, but I think I kind of get where Itoi was coming from in the less inspired moments. Besides, EarthBound gets a lot of credit for what it was doing differently than other RPGs of its time, and, yes, EarthBound is an incredibly, almost relentlessly, creative game. Consider it my blog’s new thesis, however, to prove to you that Mother 3 is more than just a successor to EarthBound, and in fact gets many things right that contemporary RPGs still struggle with.

And anyway, it’s still fun, isn’t it? What’s not to love about a sparrow who says his knowledge is rarrow?

A Million Tazmilians

Okay, maybe there’s not a million of them as my heading suggests, but there are still a lot of new villagers to talk about! If you thought the town square looked a little bit empty, that’s because everybody is out to get their first look at a real life forest fire. It’s not every day your town gets attacked by UFOs and Pig Masks.

The first and most notable (in my opinion) of the new villagers is the enigmatic Leder, who has been ringing the warning bell for the entire chapter so far. I’ve already mentioned how Leder’s ringing punctuates this track perfectly, but I really don’t think it can be overstated. Chapter 1 juggles so many themes–fear and intrigue, loss and discovery, change and tradition–that Leder’s bell, always in the background, is a way to say, “Buckle up, Tazmilians! After tonight, nothing will ever be the same.”

Yes, I picked this screenshot because it comically cuts off Leder’s head.

Maybe I’m reaching, here, but when am I not? I love the warning sign of Leder’s bell so much that I plan to revisit it whenever we finally get to Chapter 8. It’s that cool to me.

But there’s not much to say about Leder yet, other than that he’s about twenty feet tall and never speaks. We’ll keep our eye on him as time goes on.

We also meet Abbot and Abbey, a kind husband and wife who I’ve always liked both the designs and developments of. The attire and styles of Tazmilians tend to vary, but Abbot and Abbey seem like the perfect small town couple. They’re kind, unassuming, and even a little bit bashful, and, as the story progresses, we’ll see their simple dispositions put to the test.

The dialogue we get from them, though, is more hand-holding to get us to the Sunshine Forest, but there’s enough added humor to make it fun. There’s Abbot who, after saying exactly where the Sunshine Forest can be found, adds:

No need to apologize when my Mapson Map is already marked.

And there’s Abbey, who teaches Flint to reads signs, but insists her aims are not educational or tutorial! She’s only helping us out of the kindness of her heart.

See, lines like this are more enjoyable to me than Mapson having a weird omniscience. And yes, I know, it’s getting to the point where I’m spending too much time on Mapson–he just works so well as an avenue for comparison. And, when Abbey says this, I do want to forgive Mapson for the interrogation I put him through last week. Itoi is just having some fun! Even if the direction-giving of the NPCs gets a little silly, Abbey’s line makes me imagine Itoi saying, “Hey, what’s so wrong with making sure everyone knows where to go? There will be more than enough time to be on your own.” We already know Itoi came to understand Mother 3 as if it were a child, and I can’t blame a parent for some extra hand-holding.

And, really, there is time to be on our own. We may as well enjoy the village teamwork while we still can.

I also ran into Nan, who concedes that she feels like she can’t do anything to help. I really liked this interaction, not because she’s not giving us directions (which is nice), but because Nan is still out there trying to help. So many Tazmilians are at least out walking around, even if they’re only an extra pair of eyes. Maybe it will be Nan who spots Hinawa emerging from the forest. Maybe it will be Nan who wraps a blanket around Lucas and Claus.

(You won’t be, but thank you all the same, Nan)

After Nan, Tazmily’s comedic duo, Lou and Bud, can be found facing a tree. Here, Itoi breaks the fourth wall again (it’s mostly just entirely gone at this point) when the player attempts to talk to Bud. He’ll start to wheeze, cough, and beg you to stop “pressing that thing,” which turns out to be the A Button. However, as there is no way to finish a dialogue box without pressing A through to the end, eventually Bud vomits, which made me feel bad. For as linear as Mother 3 is in the beginning, I feel like it finds just as many, if not more, moments for humor as EarthBound in the early game. There’s always someone ready to tell a joke, even if, for all we know, Lighter and Fuel have burnt to crisps.

Sorry, Bud.

Lou, Bud’s bud, tells Flint that his companion is simply out of shape, but if Alec and Mapson can be aware of the R and B buttons, maybe it’s not out of the question for Bud to have an A Button allergy. Lou also is the first Tazmilian (other than Mapson) to tell us that Lighter and Fuel are out in the forest somewhere. Lou saying this actually makes sense, considering he and Bud are right at the forest’s entrance. Bud and Lou also, I think, work as labor hands in the village, so I could see them being at the forefront of, or at least helping out with, the search party efforts. Lou and Bud’s most notable quality, however, will be seen later, when every time they run a bit, a goofy sound effect plays and they bow to the player.

The last Tazmilian we meet, which also brings us to this post’s frog, is Jonel, who resides inside a small prayer sanctuary just outside the Sunshine Forest. Jonel can actually be met in two different ways: if you pass the sanctuary entirely, he will appear in the doorway and urge Flint to go inside to say a prayer, as is custom. He tells Flint that people should not forget their customs, and asks whether it is so wrong of him to feel this way.

This time, however, I just walked right in, where you can see Jonel saying a prayer at the altar. Above hangs a picture of a white dragon and a black dragon, swirling around each other in a shape reminiscent of yin and yang. In the background, this song plays, with the totally-not-cheesy Gameboy Advance organs.

I’ve always thought the feather-capped Jonel is an interesting character, and he’s another one of my favorite villagers. The loss of tradition, and the loss of innocence, are two of the major themes in Chapters 1 through 3, and, as the game develops, Tazmily has less and less room for men of faith and conservatism like Jonel. He seems like a good guy, if not a bit uptight and simple-minded, but the arrival of the Pigmask Army is something that no Tazmilian will be prepared for. That said, Jonel is married to Brenda, one of town square’s gossiping women, so maybe he has tougher skin than I think.

I’ve always enjoyed his design as well. Like I talked about in my previous post, I think every Tazmilian has something to love about them, whether it’s a unique design aspect or a personality trait.

(Yes, even Pusher)

Well, whether or not you believe in Dragons, Jonel’s request to say a prayer in the sanctuary is probably a good idea. Actually, whether or not you’re a person of faith at all, kneeling at the altar triggers an interesting event in the early-game of Mother 3…

What is Your Name?

After I count down from three, you will forget you were ever asked this question.

???

When you walk up the altar, a voice from nowhere will ask you what your name is. Yes, the name of the person playing the game. Just like naming the other characters, you are given a chance to type in whatever you want, and its significance will come up later in the game. After this, the voice asks you to forget you were ever asked this question after it counts down from three, where then you have a “Yes” or “No” option if you actually forgot. I told the voice I hadn’t forgotten, and it asked me to please do so, then it told me to continue enjoying the game.

Contrary to popular belief, my name is not Frog By Frog.

Players can interpret this event however they want, honestly. I’ve always liked to see it as Itoi interacting directly with the player. For anyone who named Lucas, or any of other characters, after themselves, it could be a little awkward to put your real name in, but I think Itoi would certainly like it if you did type in your real name.

Or maybe not. As I mentioned before, Itoi has a history of naming his own characters silly names, and whatever you type in here doesn’t really matter all that much. I’ve always seen it as Itoi extending his hand to the player and asking, “Do you want to be a part of the story, too?”

This whole event is also another example of Mother 3 front-loading a lot of its fourth wall breaking. I wonder if Itoi put in so many moments like this because he worried that people wouldn’t like the game’s introduction as much as EarthBound’s. Itoi did admit that, “Everyone is using Mother 2 as a scale of measurement,” which makes sense for the Japanese audience who don’t seem to view Mother 3 with the same allure as westerners (Don’t click that link if you want to avoid spoilers! The consensus is that Japanese fans weren’t as impressed with the story, and felt that Mother 3 was a bit rough around the edges). I’m not saying Tomato’s (Clyde Mandelin’s) collection of comments here is indicative of the entirety of Japanese fans or anything (nor does he posit this), but it seems, at least at a glance, that EarthBound is much more liked, and I’m sure, in a way, Itoi expected that to be the case, even as he stayed true to his vision for Mother 3. Hell, look no further than the featured art of Pollyanna as proof that Mother 3 simply does not have the same resonance among Mother fans as the first two games. Having looked through that comic a few times now, I’ve noticed that the participating artists simply seem more inspired by the first two games.

To be fair, though, this post on Starmen.net also sheds light on the issue, which boils down to: haters are gonna hate. The most vocal are not necessarily an indication of the fanbase at large. And, at least in the Super Smash Bros. Series, Lucas seems just as loved by Japanese fans as any other character, seeing as he ranked #1 in the most wanted characters for the time he was cut from the cast. The outspoken support for Lucas could have to do with the fact that, once a character is in Smash, fans typically become very loyal to them, but I like to think that Lucas has a bit of a dedicated following in his own right. Personally, I hope the Smash Bros. series always keeps Ness and Lucas. Ness has been the poster boy of video games’ most obscure franchises since Smash 64, and these two boys, despite not having a new game in 14 years, have been just as loved as characters like Link or Super Mario. Like their own series, they have survived. They deserve it. And honestly, I know my sister and I, who first played Smash 64 in 1999, probably would have never known who Ness was without the series. EarthBound owes a lot to Smash in the west.

I’ll need to do more research on Japan’s reception of EarthBound to better understand the Japanese fanbase’s reactions to Mother 3, but I admit that the vocal negativity has always kind of surprised and saddened me, even though it shouldn’t. As Mandelin points out in this article, the Mother series is just as much of a cult classic in Japan as it is in other regions, even, possibly, moreso in the sense that the series is forgotten or overlooked. Mother 3 didn’t even sell incredibly well in Japan. Honestly, I’ve always thought that if Nintendo of America ever decides to localize the game, it might ironically sell better in the United States just because of its now iconic reputation. Mother 3 signs have even appeared in the background of WWE!

Well, gamers make it known when they don’t like a game, and they don’t mind being harsh, just like any other critics, so I’m probably just being a bit sensitive, here. Mother 3 is easily one of my favorites games of all time, if not my favorite RPG ever, right alongside EarthBound. I see both games as two sides of the same coin. I even still enjoy playing the original Mother, despite it having some dated design issues.

I will!!! Thank you! ❤

I can tell I’ve really gone off on a tangent here, but what’s a frog post without a digression?

In summary, I think Itoi’s front-loaded fourth-wall breaking probably happens because Mother 3’s story is about to take off, leaving little room for tutorial, but I also think it’s possible that some of these fourth-wall moments were added into Mother 3’s more narrative-heavy approach as a way to say, “Hey, it’s still Mother. Enjoy it.”

And of course, it’s also possible that I’m overthinking the whole thing. But I wouldn’t have a blog dedicated to incrementally examining Mother 3 if I was afraid of a little excessive thought!

Well, with that digression out of the way, it’s time to talk to this week’s frog and save the game.

I like the idea of a save frog hanging out in the prayer sanctuary, especially seeing as it ends up being a fairly inconsequential location. I like the idea of this frog having seen many Tazmilians offer their prayers here, maybe express their hopes and dreams. Like I mentioned earlier, I also just enjoy the colors going on in here.

They’re simple, but the frog sticks out so well! You can’t miss him! I don’t know why, but I really like that. In EarthBound, the payphone save-points blend in with the game’s setting, which works really well, because you often find payphones in drug stores or hotels. In Mother 3, I like how the frogs assert themselves from the backgrounds. It’s like they’re calling you over and saying, “Hey, don’t forget to tell me your memories. Don’t forget to take a break. Take care of yourself out there.”

And that’s it for this post. Next time, we’ll finally get our first taste of combat! And battle music! And heroics! Is it finally time to dissect Flint himself, who has thus far been calm, cool, and collected like a little pixellated Clint Eastwood?

Oh wait, Flint… Clint…

That’s really a digression I’ll need to save for next time, so don’t miss it!

It’s gonna be a hot one.

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