Today’s post marks a first on the Frog by Frog blog.
Yes, the rumors are true. I am disappointed to have reached the next frog. And no, I’m not disappointed because the frog was in a boring location, or because I didn’t enjoy the gameplay of the session. On the contrary, the frog had an ingenious way to beat the heat, and the gameplay was a lot of fun! I fought yams that are actually monsters (known, obviously, as Yammonsters) and I opened two gift boxes.
If that’s not a red letter day in the middle of a forest fire, then I don’t know what it is. I also entirely forgot that there’s an Aries bracelet in one of the gift boxes, which is the first in a long-line of astrological gear.
By the way, I forgot to mention way-back-when that I chose “Grape” as my color for the pause menus. I’m thinking of changing it if I can, though, because it doesn’t pop in the way some of the other colors do, you know?
But the grape-colored menu is not the source of my disappointment. The disappointment comes from a good place, really: this was the first time that I would have rather continued playing Mother 3, and I actually found it difficult to stop. Yes, playing Frog by Frog has allowed me to love the little things–that has been the theme of this blog for its entire run so far–but man, playing Frog by Frog also cuts thing off right when they’re about to get good!
And trust me: I wanted to wait as long as I could before getting too meta with the blog and how self-referentially I write about it, but I’ve also known, at a certain point, I’d have to write about this play-style’s effect on me as a player, and also as a writer. Because on one hand, Itoi hit the mark perfectly: the game feels manageable to play in five minutes bursts, which is really nice as an adult who can’t always consistently sink a few hours into an RPG (or at least can’t do so without feeling guilty about it). The placement of the frogs, relative to the amount of gameplay I’ve experienced, is absolutely conducive to a wide range of play styles, especially considering how much there is to experience just within a five minute stretch of gameplay. The music is so great, too, that I wouldn’t be surprised if a “worthwhile” gameplay session in Itoi’s mind could have involved talking to two or three NPCs, listening to the newest song, zoning out for a few minutes, then talking to a frog and calling it quits.
On the other hand, I felt a different side to playing Frog by Frog way back in Post #3, when I wondered whether this play-style actually removed some of the tension from the story. In this post, I’ll amend that thought by saying, now that I’m in an intense situation (right outside a burning shack in the middle of the forest), I feel more like I have to wait until next week to see the stunning conclusion, and less like any of the tension has been lost. Less like getting deprived of more content, and more like catching the new episode of Dragon Ball Z on Toonami on Tuesday, and having to wait for the next one on Thursday.
(Or just assuming the fight between Goku and Frieza is never going to end).
It’s just interesting to me that the blog can work in both ways. Sometimes I have only played just a little, and yet I have so much to write about. Other times, like today, I don’t have as much to write about and I just want to keep playing! So, good job Itoi! In a way, I can’t put the game down (even though I forced myself to), and how could I? In case you haven’t noticed, I’m finally in the heat of the Sunshine Forest, and there are little fires everywhere!
I guess all I’m trying to say, is that if you want to experiment with how your brain really reacts to pacing and tension in a video game, try playing in short sessions, as opposed to binges. It might help you get more invested in a game’s story. Trust me, I hate contemporary Nintendo’s “Take a Break!” messages popping up when I feel like I’ve only been playing a game for twenty minutes, but don’t forget that it was Itoi himself, through EarthBound, who inspired Satoru Iwata to add that sort of notification to Nintendo games later on. Essentially, if you played EarthBound for two hours straight, your Dad would call you and encourage you to take a break.
I’ve also enjoyed noticing how “RPG” is a label I often overlook for what it really means: Role-Playing Game. When I separate Mother 3 into combat encounters and info-gathering sessions, I really do feel like I’m playing a solo Dungeons and Dragons campaign or something. It’s a fun way to think about the game. Maybe everyone has always been doing this with RPGs, but I know I tend to view it as an acronym more than the words behind the letters.
And this is all to really, really say that I’d rather be playing Mother 3 than writing right now!
Haikus and Hot Baths
If you take nothing else from my lengthy, digressive introduction, take this: Mother 3 was truly firing on all cylinders today.
To start, I decided to speak to another one of the Advice-Giving Sparrows, who encouraged me to not run from combat encounters. I’ve never been an RPG player who runs from battles except as a last ditch effort to not be defeated, so I nodded along with the sparrow’s advice absent-mindedly until he said this:
“Always running off
will only lead to regret
my young disciple.”
The sparrow hit me with a haiku!
I have to admit, every time I reach another frog, I soften more and more toward the more tutorial-esque aspects of the game. I know I’ve already covered my foundations for this at length, so I’ll say again here: I get it if someone doesn’t like the hand-holding, but you can’t say it isn’t creative! Come on! Haikus!
When an interviewer prompted Itoi with, “Some say the game isn’t very Mother-like…” the creator had this to say:
Well, that really can’t be helped. But if you play through the game for a little while, you’ll see it’s okay. Had we done it otherwise, people would’ve complained, “It’s just a dumb carbon-copy rehash of 1 and 2.” I wasn’t trying to be strategic about it or anything, but MOTHER 3’s story is what it is.
Though Itoi’s remark relates more to Mother 3’s story, I think the story and the gameplay design decisions go hand in hand. Like I pointed out a few posts ago, Mother 3 does not have the same luxuries as EarthBound. There is no school for the player to explore to learn game mechanics, nor a library to obtain a map (which, by the way, are both charming as hell in their right). Additionally, in EarthBound and Mother, the cast is easy to project ourselves on to–you can imagine yourself as Ness, or your friend as Paula, so the role-playing aspect allows for the player to create their own narrative as they go. Maybe one player’s Ness and Paula always eat at a burger joint in a new town, or maybe another player’s Jeff exclusively fights with bottle rockets.
In Mother 3, we don’t really project ourselves onto Flint; we play as him in a larger story. Flint, as a character, wouldn’t stop to eat at a burger joint even if he could. I’m not arguing against open-world role-playing, but just exploring how it doesn’t make as much sense with Mother 3. In a way, maybe Mother 3 puts itself at a disadvantaged position because the journey can’t be as personal for the player, but I think the game allowed Itoi to play, which is something he probably needed a creator, writer, and designer.
Don’t forget our other foundations from the introductory post: we need to remember to play! Itoi surely did, and while I won’t speak for everyone, I’ll say that, for me, Mother 3’s story ends up feeling incredibly personal and even intimate by the end, so what we’ve lost in role-playing, we really have gained in narrative.
I promise I won’t defend all aspects of Mother 3 with “Well, it’s supposed to be fun!!!” because I don’t think that makes for good observations or good writing. But with Itoi, I do think it’s fun to consider where his ideas come from, because you often end up finding some silly or unexpected idea, then you realize, “Oh, it’s supposed to make me smile!” The Mother games really do match up almost perfectly with his poetic description of EarthBound. They are imagination in motion.
Don’t believe me? Why else would there be a hot spring here?!
Okay, if you’ve played Mother 3, you know that there are hot springs all over the place, and they act as areas to fully heal your party members (I don’t remember off the top of my head if they restore PSI points or if that is left only to the magic butterflies). So this hot spring in the middle of a forest fire isn’t exactly unique and can even be revisited many times, but hey, I needed a transition to the hot springs, so I took it.
I am going to try to make sure to screencap every hot spring I come across, just because I love them as a feature. Hot springs make two appearances in EarthBound, but in Mother 3 they are much more prominent. They have a relaxing, but kind of wacky, song, and they are perfectly ridiculous in so many circumstances. Just imagine for a moment that, in the middle of a disaster, Flint and Thomas decided, “You know what? Let’s strip down and take a quick hot spring bath. That’ll really help us clear our minds and recover from our wounds. Lighter and Fuel will be fine!”
And I think that’s what I mean when I say that so many design choices in the Mother games just seem to be there for the sake of being fun. It’s funny to go heal yourself in a hot spring. If this were The Legend of Zelda or Dragon Quest or something, we would probably have stumbled upon a magical pool, with fairy enchantments, that heals all wounds entirely. In Mother 3, it’s just like, oh, you got hurt? Go to the Hot Springs! They’re great for your skin!
Like many tropes in RPGs, Mother has a response, and I love it.
The Fire Flies
Although, the real action of the day has hardly begun! I guess I’ve surprised myself–I thought this post would mostly be a brief recounting of everything I’d seen, but the more I write, the more I realize just how much was packed in to the relatively brief gameplay session. Yes, we’ve had some slower sessions, so I’m not going to say that each and every pocket of Mother 3 is filled to the brim with life, but we still have so much more to talk about today!
After walking just a bit north of Isaac’s cabin, I found Bronson, sprawled on the ground.
Bronson is another one of my favorite Tazmilians, and, at least in Chapter 1, he has a few stand-out moments. For now, Bronson is incapacitated because he has inhaled so much smoke, but he is still certified as one of Tazmily’s most prominent bros. He’s out on the front lines! At least considering the damages of the Sunshine Forest fire, Bronson, Flint, and Lighter sustain most of the major injuries, solidifying them as Tazmily’s bro trio, for sure.
But this is not time to talk about bro hierarchies! Walk just a bit past Bronson, and you can see the raging fire’s glow.
I didn’t actually manage to get the best screencap of this, but the lighting from the next area pulsates and glows across the ground, from a deep to a lighter red. Again, small details, but huge details at the same time! The development team could have stuck some fires on the ground and called it good, but they seem to have had a lot of fun with this Sunshine Forest encounter and made sure the tone was just right.
I think that’s something I’m going to try to do as I go through Mother 3 in these froggy increments: see each enemy-populated area as a different “encounter,” like in D&D, and take notes of how the story sets up the encounter and makes it fun. For example, you see the glow just ahead, then…
What was once purple grass (and will tomorrow be green grass) is red, baby! We’re finally here! We’re really in the fire now! If you even touch one of these little patches of flames, it decreases your health (not by much–only by 1 point, I think, but it’s a nice touch that increases the tension), so you need to walk carefully! It’s somehow both satisfying and terrifying to be at the heart of the fire–we’re here, we know why we’re here, but it’s so disorienting! The fire really moves, grooves, and crackles! It flies!
(I mean, it’s not literally disorienting–Mother 3 is still on-the-rails, but like I said, it’s tense! Now where did Mapson mark that X?)
Notably, we also see a Pigmask Soldier releasing small little flies into the air, which we later learn to be one of the major causes of the fire. The Pigmask runs off to the left, through an area of flames so dense that Flint and Thomas cannot pass through.
It’s cool that we had also previously seen a Pigmask throw a bomb of some kind on the ground, yet we see another solider revealing these little flies as the main offenders of the forest fire. Flint will have to battle them eventually, but we’ll get to that. What I like here is the game introducing to the player how many tools the Pigmasks have at their disposal. It comes as no surprise, really, when later in the chapter we see some of their earliest chimeras. This army has weird technology, and it’s out to kill us all!
But maybe more pressing things are trying to kill us. If you don’t watch your step around these parts, you’re bound to step on more than just patches of flames–Yammonsters lie waiting in the ground, and stepping on them triggers a battle.
In this screencap, I managed to sneak up on the enemy. As most players probably know, EarthBound and Mother 3 battles can start with a blue screen transition (neutral), green transition (advantaged, you get a free turn to attack), and red transition (disadvantaged, the enemy gets a free turn). I like how Mother 3 goes about teaching this to the player by having Yammonsters stuck in the ground. Because they can’t move, a player can experiment with how they approach them to trigger the battle, with a good chance of triggering the advantaged battle. I’m sure some sparrow or NPC will explain this to us eventually, but it’s fun to learn it out in the field.
Yammonsters come with a new battle song, and even though it’s called “Dangerous Guys,” they aren’t hard to fight. I’ve always wondered whether the Yammonsters were native to Tazmily/The Nowhere Islands, and if they were always so aggressive, or if something in the Pigmask technology has turned them into monsters, and they were actually just regular yams. If the latter is true, then I’d start worrying about which country is going to learn how to weaponize vegetables first, because even though Flint can defeat these dangerous guys pretty easily, I don’t know if I could.
Anyway, like I said, these enemies aren’t too tough, but I like them as an introduction to the types of creatures we’ll be fighting in Mother 3. In EarthBound, you fight a couple crows outside your house, then a local gang, then some moles and a giant ant–perfectly fine for an early area of an RPG. Though I’ve gotta say, I think Mother 3 comes out swinging a bit more imaginatively, not that it is always a competition between the two games or anything. I just love using them as points of comparison.
Sure, we fought a bat before a Yammonster, but Yammonsters are quite the follow-up to an everyday animal. Going off my theory, I wonder if the bat attacks us in the undamaged part of the Sunshine Forest because it’s just a normal bat, but the Yammonsters attack us in the fiery part of the forest to communicate to the player, “Hey, weird stuff happens around these Pigmask guys! Yams turn into monsters!”
I don’t need an answer either way. I’m perfectly happy to just accept the Yammonsters as they are and continue hitting them with a stick.
Exploring the forest fire also has its benefits. Not far off the beaten path, you can find a gift box surrounded by flames. I don’t remember what’s in it, maybe only a piece of nut bread, but it’s an interesting sight, to say the least. You know what they say: there’s no such thing as a free gift box.
Before I move on to the highlight of the day, I’ll take one final moment to appreciate this catastrophic event. Maybe I just like something about the color red, but finally getting to traverse the forest while it’s in this crazy state feels so rewarding as a player. Honestly, this is probably because I’m playing the game so slowly, but I’ll say that, when I compare this to other RPG openers, I can’t think of many that are better. Final Fantasy VII might beat it with its amazing, iconic intro sequence, but I think Mother 3’s is really something special.
In the same way, it feels rewarding to find Lighter, even though he’s collapsed on the ground with his trademark piece of lumber tossed aside. Maybe this is the best time to appreciate how the characters named “Lighter” and “Fuel” are the ones to experience the worst of the fire. It’s partly cruel and partly funny at the same time, and, though I might not get into it this week, Itoi was incredibly conscious of his approach to tone in this game. For every step he makes into a darker narrative place, he counterbalances it with sometimes unexpected levity. The balance of humor and tragedy continues throughout the entire game.
For now, though, there are no laughs to be ha-ha’d. Talking to Lighter reveals that the firefly creatures are responsible for most of the fire, and that no matter how many of them he swatted away, they just kept coming. Even worse, Lighter’s son, Fuel, is still in their cabin, which is surely burnt to nothing by now.
Thomas decides to stay with Lighter, relinquishing him from our party, while Flint decides to push on ahead. Say goodbye to Thomas, everyone! He appears in the story, obviously, beyond this point, but this is the last time we’ll ever have him as a party member. I can’t say I’ll miss his contributions in combat, because he never really did anything, but I will miss his running animation! I’ll also miss him fretting around restlessly during battle, as well as his amazing impersonation of a siren. Honestly, Thomas can be kind of a twerp later on in Mother 3, but I’ll always appreciate him in Chapter 1. In a way, we saw him at his best.
And look, we still have to hand it to Thomas. The only Tazmilian who makes it deeper into the forest than Thomas is Flint. That’s a pretty good accomplishment when guys like Lighter and Bronson are nearly out cold. Thomas might be bumbling, and I still have no idea what he’s wearing, but we can’t say that, is his own way, he isn’t brave, or that he wasn’t also a hero. You don’t make it this far in a situation this dangerous and not have something redeeming about you.
So, thank you, Thomas. I look forward to your next ridiculous line of dialogue. Take care of yourself.
All right, all right, enough goodbye-ing! Let’s see, where was I…
I really like how when you examine the fallen firefly, it says:
Such a small dialogue box adds a perfect amount of mystery to an already mysterious situation. It’s not like we didn’t already know the Pigmasks were up to some weird stuff, but something about this short line really hits it home for me. This is a bug we’ve never seen before–this is an an entire situation we’ve never dealt with before.
Anyway, something I feel like I forget to do all the time in Mother 3 is actually pick up Lighter’s piece of lumber, which you can equip as a weapon (it decreases your speed by 3, but it’s pretty strong). Flint has already been fighting with a stick anyway, so I guess it’s the logical progression as a weapon.
Lighter’s Lumber comes in handy right away, because after taking just a few steps past Lighter and Thomas, three fireflies attack Flint, triggering a battle with a new song, called “Troublesome Guys.” I like how this song accompanies this encounter–it’s not as scrappy as “Mr. Batty Twist,” nor as energetic as “Bothersome Guys,” but the slow-burning stakes of Chapter 1, “Troublesome Guys” is a nice audio queue to the player that says, “Hey, things are getting even more dangerous.”
At least narratively more dangerous! The combat encounter itself is pretty easy, but it can get out of hand if you aren’t prepared. The easiest way to get through is to use Flint’s Brute Force attack, “Swing,” to hit all three fireflies at once. However, if you miss with Swing, it’s possible for the fireflies to gang up on you and make things complicated. I guess you could also use “Power Up” and attack the fireflies one at a time, which might be more accurate, but your main concern should be not ensuring that there aren’t three of them for very long. Like I said, they can gang up on you, so I decided to eat some Nut Bread to heal myself on the first turn, just so I wouldn’t have to worry about it later.
But I’m not trying to write a walkthrough, and I’m sure someone out there has an optimal strategy that I know nothing about, so I’ll stick to the commentary. Here’s what I’ll say: I like how Chapter 1 escalates its conflicts without resorting to boss fights every time. Here, we have a forced battle with three enemies that could overwhelm a player who isn’t ready for them. Next time, we’ll fight an enemy in Lighter’s cabin that isn’t quite a boss either, but is still a formidable opponent. So many times in RPGs, you make your way through a section of enemies knowing there’s going to be a boss at the end of the tunnel. Usually, that’s fine. It’s fun to anticipate what a bigger, stronger enemy is going to look like, and how it will fight.
But I appreciate how Mother 3, in Chapter 1, focuses more on escalating the situations it puts you in. I think it’s a simple, cool touch that Lighter was felled by fireflies, so we have to fend off three of them right next to where he is currently lying on the ground in defeat. And, again, I won’t say much here, but I like how next time we’ll have to rescue Fuel and fight an enemy in the cramped confines of a burning cabin. Sometimes fighting a couple bugs in the middle of a fire (a fire with real consequences where characters’ lives are at stake) is just as good as fighting, I don’t know, a huge dragon on the 47th basement floor of a cave.
Obviously I’m exaggerating–if you go 47 floors deep in any RPG, you’re going to be fighting something worse than Satan, but my point is there are ways to escalate stakes without resorting to boss fights right off the bat. And Chapter 1, to its credit, still has two amazing boss fights coming up, just not yet.
What can I say? I like a forest fire with a slow burn.
(I promise I’m going to stop the forest fire jokes soon, but I’ve been holding on to that for like five frogs now).
Speaking of frogs, you’d think there would be one around here somewhere. I’ve accomplished so much this time, but there aren’t any frogs in sight. Just this barrel of water.
Well, the barrel isn’t much, but this fire isn’t going to put itself out, so I pick up the barrel with Flint and start to douse the flames around me. One bucket’s worth of water can take out about three patches of flames, and you can go back to refill the bucket at Isaac’s cabin.
I’m just kidding. There’s a frog in there!
How fun is that! I guess any normal frog would probably die if it were exposed to temperatures this hot, so this little guy is hanging out in a bucket of water. I love it! I also love how not every frog in Mother 3 has a goofy or memorable location, but there are enough sprinkled in to keep you on your toes. This frog also has the added line where he really recommends that I save right now, because if you already thought things were going to get nuts, they’re about to get even nuttier.
I found Lighter, but what about Fuel? Well, I guess I always knew it would come to this. The burning cabin in the middle of the woods. One man, one piece of lumber, one Aries bracelet, a couple pieces of nut bread…
Actually, the last thing I’ll say is that, instead of giving Defense +3, I think the Aries bracelet should give Strength +3. Wait a second: Aries is a fire sign! Is it a coincidence that we get the Aries bracelet right on the precipice of a fire? Now this is the type of astrological conjecturing I’ve wanted to get into for a while now!
Though there’s more to talk about than bracelets and cusps. I think it’s time to put the spotlight on Flint, the dad who, thus far, has done more than any dad in the entire Mother series (unless you count astute money management, which is still pretty nice). But I’ll save that for next time. Or the time after that.
And we still haven’t even talked about the frogs yet! Did you listen to that song from post #5?