Frog #8: A Cowboy + His Dog

Seeing as we are now eight frogs in to a who-knows-how-many-frogs journey, I think it’s important for me to be honest with you.

This post is going to meander. This post is going to have little to no organization. This post is going to feel a little bit lost.

As the main writer and curator of the Frog by Frog Blog, I’ll take at least partial blame for this. I could have structured this post better. I could have outlined, or planned out each section, or written with more deliberation. I could have done a lot of things, and I didn’t.

But we also have to acknowledge Mother 3 itself as a culprit. As you know, I’m not allowed to save twice with the same frog, at least within the confines of a single chapter. So, for example, when I came across the little guy outside town square:

Hello, old friend.

I had no choice but to pass him up, even though my grip on my memories was starting to weaken. I’d forgotten: the frogs have been recording my memories all this time. Without them, I just keep on walking, keep on looking, to see what I can see… I find myself thinking things like: Who am I? Where am I?

Without the frogs recording everything for me, I’m already starting to forget… Though, maybe I’m feeling so foggy (froggy?) because my session of gameplay was so long.

I mean, it’s not like nothing notable happened this time around–I’ll get to all that. But the truth is, despite some major plot developments, I did more seeing than doing, more playing than working, more walking than running. The main action of the day, really, was Flint and Boney going for a walk together, as the rest of the townsfolk split up to look for Hinawa and the kids. And I understand this is a little out of character for Flint; he would certainly never explore everywhere but the Sunshine Forest just to take a breather. He’d be out there checking behind every tree, inside every cave, on top of every cliffside, for his family.

But the game did ask me my name–the name of the person playing the game, and today, the person playing the game didn’t do much of anything, because I didn’t have to. The newest frog was so far away, and there were so many NPCs to talk to, that I decided I wanted to take my time. So I walked along the beach, I opened some presents (I think most were just Nut Bread and Beef Jerky), I checked on Flint’s sheep (they were very cold). I even decided to have my heroes stop at a cliff and do nothing for a little while, just look far out, because that seemed like something they’d do. To clear their heads, maybe. To brainstorm in the storm.

All in all, combining both my on-the-rails gameplay (I fought a lot of Snakes and Baked Yammonsters, which we’ll get to) and my off-the-rails meandering, this has been, by far, my longest session of gameplay yet. While a lot of my time-played gets inflated because I stop to take notes so often, I still think I went for about 45 minutes this time around. If two posts ago I was complaining that there wasn’t more Mother 3 to play, then I definitely have nothing to complain about this time. I wouldn’t be surprised if I don’t see a session this long until Chapter 4, when you’re finally given more freedom in how you traverse the world.

And honestly, it was kind of nice. In the same way that playing in short sessions draws out the tension of the plot, playing in longer sessions helps me explore the setting in a way I normally never would. See, I knew there’d be no new frogs nearby, and, trust me, when you become hyper-aware of frogs and their relative positions, it can really hang over your head as you play. What is already a seven minute session of gameplay can feel like a sixty second session of gameplay, because you know that next frog is just around the corner, and all time speeds ahead to meet it. I even went looking for frogs just to see if there were any off the beaten path, but I went as far as Duster and Wess’s house (I even talked to a stray dog, but he wouldn’t save my game), and there were no frogs in sight.

I was hoping he’d join our party!

What I’m getting at is, when your brain has been conditioned (like mine) to only enjoy a game for just a couple minutes, it’s nice to take a walk. Even though it’s raining. Even though the rest of the town is still looking for Hinawa and the kids. Even though, now more than ever, there’s a bit of a hurry in Tazmily. For the moment. I decided to take a dog for a walk. And I had fun.

I’m reminded of playing Pokemon games when I was a kid. Back then, I often didn’t play Pokemon to progress to the next town or the next gym. Sometimes I just hadn’t talked to enough NPCs, or paid enough attention to the dialogue, to make it to a town’s gym leader (thinking here of Pokemon Gold/Silver, where there’s a small fetch quest to complete before accessing Goldenrod’s gym). So, I spent my time doing what any kid would do: I caught pokemon. I probably had a PC full of like twenty Pidgeys, but, when you’re a kid, you don’t worry so much about how much time you’ve spent in a video game. You still know how to play for the sake of playing.

I think I unearthed a little bit of that feeling today by aimlessly walking around Tazmily in the rain. I imagined what Flint might be thinking, or what scents Boney might pick up to find Hinawa and the kids. I’d forgotten that video games, especially RPGs, encourage the player to use their imagination if you give them the space to. Sometimes you just need to take a break, and take a walk.

It also didn’t hurt that the amazing “Hard Rain” was the background song for the majority of the session, which (and I know I say this a lot) is by far one of my favorite tracks in the entire game. I’ll say more about this song later on in the post, and how I think its introduction is amazing, but for now, I’ll just say I could listen to this song all day. I’m listening to it while writing this sentence! What a masterpiece. That bass! It’s the ace of bass!

Leder looks spiffy, as usual. I wonder if he’d join our party…

Wheesh. I can start to feel myself getting further and further away from the point, just as Lucas and Claus are likely straying farther and farther from home. Let’s rein this in. How did Boney join my party? How long did Flint sleep? Did he sleep at all? How were all the Tazmilians rallied together so quickly?

I’ll answer all these questions and more, but I have just one more thing to say, first.

Just like a few posts ago, when I suggested giving my play-style (or something similar) a try, because of what is does for the tension of the story, I’ll make the same plea here. I’m not saying that having Flint and Boney stand on a cliff is the same amount of fun as, say, fighting the Flying Mouse, or running through the Sunshine Forest. And I’m not saying you need to walk around for forty-five minutes taking notes to enjoy Mother 3, or anything like that. If you’re one of those people who plays JRPGs by fast-forwarding through all the battles, I won’t even chide you for that, even though it’s definitely not my thing.

(Plus, we all know Mother 3 is secretly a rhythm game, so fast-forwarding through the battles would lose half the excitement!)

What I am saying, though, is that the change of pace is fun, and different. A good different, I think. When I started this blog, I was interested in finding out what Shigesato Itoi really means when he says “play a video game,” because I think we can agree he has never really meant just playing a game from start to finish. As we can observe in the Nintendo Dream interview, he definitely doesn’t mean playing optimally, playing quickly, or even playing by the rules.

If you’re smelling any hubris, don’t worry, it’s just hummus, and I have way too much respect for Itoi as a creator to claim that I, the Frog by Frog blogger, have cracked his code, or that I am the best type of player, or anything like that. But I will say that going for that long walk with Flint and Boney… it at least made me feel like I’m on the path to a strong idea of something. The Mother games are toy chests, and I think their heart isn’t always found in going to the next objective, but in making sure you have pushed all the world’s bells and whistles, to have left no stone unturned. I mean, if you’re always gunning to the next goal, you can entirely miss the bicycle in EarthBound. Bicycles are one of the things that make childhood special! For millions of people, there is no “play,” no childhood, in a world without bicycles!

I think Itoi truly wants the player to have as many opportunities as possible to spark their imagination, to connect with the game in a way that feels personal. I was recently watching a video where a YouTuber named Fudj talked about something called “ludonarrative dissonance,” which he describes as, “a disconnect between a game’s narrative and the things you can do in the game” (go to aorund the 8:50 mark in the video). He compares the The Witcher 3 to Breath of the Wild, exploring how, even though the The Witch 3 has a good narrative and is full of great side quests, the best story you will ever get from The Witcher 3 is The Witcher 3’s story. Breath of the Wild, on the other hand, crafts its world in such a way that each player can have a unique progression, their own “narrative,” experiencing a story that is constantly impacted by their own decisions. Every Breath of the Wild player has a “I remember the first time I…” story, usually about some wild, unique way they discovered something in the game. And whether or not the discovery was truly wild or unique, what matters is that it felt that way. Breath of the Wild is so good at this.

Honestly, I plan to talk about this video a lot over the course of my next few posts, and my short paragraph above is definitely an over-simplification. Please watch his video for full context–it’s so good, and I’m sure you’ll see why it especially interests me for this blog when he gets into personal storytelling, and “opening up,” when talking about video games.

I’ll say for now that his comparison between those two games reminded me of EarthBound and Mother 3, with Mother 3 suffering from more ludonarrative dissonance, even though EarthBound is, in its own invisible ways, still at-times an on-the-rails RPG. However, you can’t deny that EarthBound’s looser story structure, more difficult combat encounters, and larger world, at least on paper, allow for players’ to have more unique experiences, more of their own stories, throughout the course of the game. In other words, EarthBound’s story doesn’t always dictate the “story” the player will experience by playing. EarthBound’s villain, Giygas, has an active influence on the events of the game, and the secondary antagonist Porky Minch always finds ways to mess with the heroes, but the story rarely presses itself on the player. I’m not saying EarthBound has a freedom on the level of Breath of the Wild, but I think EarthBound, even if just in semblance, does a lot to put players into positions that feels unique and self-crafted.

But then there’s the problem of Mother 3, isn’t there? Even if you take a long walk with Flint and Boney, every player is going to experience the same Chapter 1. How do you stop and play in a game that seems to always push you forward? It’s already too easy to grow up, to forget how to play. It’s so easy to follow the pipeline of the plot. It’s so easy to fast-forward through enemy encounters if you’re playing on an emulator. It’s so easy to pass all the NPCs by because you know where you’re supposed to go. But if you pass everyone by, you’d miss this mouse, left behind at the ruins of Lighter’s cabin.

See, I think both EarthBound and Mother 3 have a unique brand of narrative dissonance. We can argue that Mother 3 limits a player’s freedom, but I still think, because of Itoi’s direction, the game connects with the player a bit differently. While each player will experience the same narrative, I don’t think each player is encouraged to connect with the narrative in the same way. I think this is why the tone is so dynamic in this game, and I also think the Mother series is able to do this so well because of the strength of Itoi’s writing and the equal amount of dedication found in the English translations. It’s almost as if Itoi is saying, “Here is an event, here is a character, here is a creature. How do you interpret them?” I understand it’s not fair for me to always give Itoi a way out by prioritizing player interpretation… but I’m still working on this thesis! Give me some time.

And look at that, I’ve meandered again. I don’t know what else I want to say about these ideas for now. In a way, I can also argue against myself and the whole “take your time” argument and say that a track like “Hard Rain” (hyperlinking again because it’s amazing) should push me forward because of its natural momentum (all in the bass, baby), instead of encouraging me to explore longer because I like listening to the music. So what’s the right answer? What’s the best way to play?

In my opinion, whether you’re running to the next objective, or taking your dog for a walk, I think you should at least talk to as many mice as possible.

There’s a line in EarthBound where someone says, “It’s important for you to talk to people.” Maybe that’s all it is. In the hands-off parenting of the Mother games, Shigesato Itoi just wants to make sure we’re not going through life too fast. Because it really does go so fast.

Where in the World is Hinawa San Diego?

Say, Flint. Hinawa and the kids… They made it back home, right?”

Isaac

Well, that was a heavier introduction than I intended! Let’s get back to the story!

Whether you take a nap as Flint, or attempt to hit the town, Isaac returns from the mountains to ask if anyone has seen Hinawa and the kids. Isaac, a villager we have heard about but haven’t yet seen, is decked out like a lumberjack and seems like a pretty capable guy. I liked how, during the Sunshine Forest fire, Matt was knocking on Isaac’s door either to alert him to the fire or to ask him for help, so there’s a cool pay-off in finally meeting Isaac here. We’ll also learn later that Isaac’s cabin is full of antidotes, which are imperative to pick up if you want to survive the upcoming encounter in the Sunshine Forest.

I should have experimented to see what Isaac would say if you choose “Yes,” but I picked “No” 😦

Once again, I’m still not playing around enough in the world of Mother 3! Does Mother 3’s ludonarrative dissonance discourage me from exploring even with a binary dialogue option? What is it about me that feels inclined to say “No,” even though I know which direction the story is headed? It’s not like saying “Yes” is going to drastically change the game or anything. Maybe I struggle to even consider pressing “No” because Mother 3 doesn’t actively encourage me to explore as much, or maybe sometimes we aren’t able to play/explore enough because we can’t sacrifice our mental roadmap for what reality really is! And maybe reality is a playground!

I promise, from here on out: I will play as much as possible! I will press all the buttons that the world of Mother 3 has to offer, or I will die trying!

Anyway, Isaac says that he caught a glimpse of Hinawa and the kids while he was out picking mushrooms, but they disappeared from view. Not long after, he heard the roars of a Drago, and, not long after that, he heard something even worse.

Mother 3 isn’t exactly sly with its foreshadowing, but I really like this scene because it works so well on a character level. The characters, and the player thus far, knows Dragos to be peaceful. The intro of the game shows us that Dragos can safely play with children, and even though it’s not super surprising for us as the player to learn that the Dragos might be dangerous, it’s definitely out the question for Tazmilians. Their happy little world just keeps getting taken apart, one piece at a time.

While it isn’t hard to guess that Hinawa and the boys aren’t having the best time up in the mountains, I still love how the build-up is done. It gets the player asking “What’s going to happen next?” instead of just “What’s happening?” I think this is so important for establishing stakes, even when the player already knows something bad is going to happen, and even when the player kind of already knows what that thing is going to be.

Stakes, baby!!! Tension!

What’s even better is that as soon as Flint finishes talking to Isaac, there’s no music, only the sound of the falling rain. I love this decision so much, especially in a series (and a game) that is known for its music. Mother 3 uses its robust soundtrack to amazing ends, again and again and again, but because this game is a masterpiece, it knows exactly when to pull back, when to use silence.

Silence, and rain.

The walk back to the house is long. Boney stands outside his dog house, while the sheep shiver underneath their canopy. There is something here, but it’s not Hinawa or the boys–Hinawa’s pigeon, with her letter, stands outside the front door. Flint picks up the letter and reads it. The game displays the letter again in its entirety, playing “Letter From You, My Sweet,” which sounds similar to “A Letter to You Honey.” I love these two songs and their subtle (or not so subtle) work with tone. Both sound so hopeful, yet also so hollow. When Hinawa originally writes and sends the letter, there’s a hint of something bad to come. When Flint reads the letter, we slowly start to realize that the bad has come, and we’re living it.

I used to think it was redundant for the game to scroll through the letter twice within such a short time period, but playing Frog by Frog, I feel like I haven’t seen Hinawa in years! I can really feel the separation between Flint and his family, and Flint’s letter track is so much sadder, creepier. Honestly, this is the first time that this scene has been effective for me. I can feel an anxiety building in the plot, and there’s a cruel sense of irony watching Flint read this and knowing Hinawa and the kids should have been home by now. Whether or not it was because of my own tone deafness, in the past I’ve always overlooked the scene of the second letter reading. It came too soon! It scrolled through the text too slowly!

It’s also possible I associate impatience with this this scene because, when the Mother 3 fan translation first came out in 2008, I, at age 13, began to frantically record a walk-through so that I could post it on YouTube. I thought I was doing my part in getting the word out about Mother 3 (my videos rarely got more than 50 views), especially in the times of PK Siege and similar fan efforts, when my greatest wish in life was to have Nintendo of America localize Mother 3 (yes, I spent the summer of 2007 calling Nintendo of America each morning and asking about the game).

Because of problems with my recording, I often had to re-record sections of the game, and, in Chapter 1, when I had no method of back-up saving in place, I had to start the game over many times to properly record a scene. This meant that I watched Hinawa’s letter readings, and a lengthy cut-scene from later in the chapter, way more than I wanted to. Who’d have thought that, 12 years later, I’m still making content about Mother 3. Some things never change.

I’ll tell more tales of the misadventures of my Mother 3 YouTube channel as we move forward.

Anyway, I really like the scene this time around, that’s all! Typically a player can make it to this scene in their very first play session, so encountering it here, and actually feeling some emotion, is kind of cool. What can I say? I miss Hinawa! She’s been out of the story for forever!

After reading the letter, there is a brief scene where Isaac and Fuel visit Flint, where they discover that Hinawa and the kids have indeed not returned. Isaac decides to rally the rest of the village to make a search party, while Fuel decides he’s going to go find them on his own. Even though Fuel ends up going back to Lighter’s bedside (for now), I love this small character moment. I think Fuel is a refreshing character for me because, in so many RPGs, if you’re not, like, the “chosen kid,” or any of the chosen kid’s cohort, there’s not much you get to do in the story. Flint says “Screw that” and does just about whatever he can to get involved in the plot.

I’ve also never really thought about how Flint saved Lighter’s son, and now Lighter’s son wants to help Flint find his wife and kids. If not for Flint, Fuel would probably be dead. Will it also turn out that, if not for Fuel, Lucas or Claus will be dead? Flint was able to do what no one else in the village could when he saved Fuel and Lighter’s lives–now it’s Tazmily’s turn to step up and help Flint.

At the very least, Fuel’s a good kid. In a different version of Mother 3, maybe he sticks around even longer and becomes a permanent party member. He’s definitely brave enough.

But not as brave as a very, very special character. A character so special, and so loyal, that I’m going to give him his own section on this post. That character is none other than…

The Best Character in the Game

This is going to sound a little silly, but I honestly get chills every time Flint steps outside, “Hard Rain” kicks in, and Boney starts barking, alerting Flint that he wants to help. Something about the way the track starts, and something about the way the bark is timed with the scene… it’s a masterpiece! Like I said last time, I’ve always thought Mother 3 would work really well as an animated feature, and this is one of those scenes, one of those moments, where the music, the sound effects, the characters, the story–everything just comes together so well. If you haven’t replayed the game in a while, or if you’ve never played the game, you’re seriously in for a treat so many times during Chapter 1. So many moments really feel inspired.

But we’re here to talk about the best character in the game, who has just graced us with a bark.

Boney doesn’t need words to show his brilliance, and still, he is able to say so much through just a simple bark! To the untrained ear, Boney said “Woof! Woof!” But, as a master in the language of dogs, I can tell you that Boney is really saying:

If you’re a dog, and you never speak up, you’re called a mutterer.

If you haven’t read Post #1, then I’ll catch you up to speed. I named Boney after one of my dearest dogs, Cole, who passed away last January. While I don’t always name my characters in Mother games after people I know, like Itoi suggests, I nearly always name Boney after Cole. I think Boney is such a fun, special character, and, honestly, I do feel a connection with my old dog when I play Mother 3.

Like my above fawning over this scene, I understand if this comes off as a little silly, or a little self-important, but every time the game asks me:

I’m thinking, YES! Of course! Every time! When you lose a dear dog friend, you’d always say yes to one more walk. And no, I’m not sorry that I didn’t explore the world of Mother 3 by selecting “No,” because I would never select “No” when it comes to this amazing little dog! My heart wouldn’t be able to take it!

(But really–from here on out, I promise! Every bell! Every whistle!)

Look at him! There’s even the amazing joke where Boney says “Woo-woof!” again, which, of course, means:

What did you think he said?

Yes, Boney is my favorite party member, so prepare yourself for this blog to also become the Official Boney Fan Club. Maybe Boney is the reason I decided to walk around for a while instead of just getting back to the plot. He doesn’t stick with you for the remainder of Chapter 1, so I wanted to get the most out of the time I have with him!

Again! Look at him!!

As for practical reasons to like Boney as a party member… Well, he doesn’t exactly pack the strongest punch of the bunch, but he almost always attacks first, which is nice if you need to use an item or quickly heal someone. He can also Sniff enemies, which reveals their weaknesses (if they have any). Something I haven’t talked about yet is that each character has an instrument that plays when they attack an enemy. Stringing together combo hits allows each instrument to complete a short tune. As you’ll know by now through playing Chapter 1, Flint’s instrument is a saxophone, but Boney’s is just his bark! And it’s so cute when he barks out little melodies!

Clearly I need to get back on track, so I’ll share one more, very important thing here. I was able to capture an important image, which I think ties together so many importants themes and ideas in Chapter 1. It took me a couple tries to get the screen-cap just right, but it was worth it in the end.

And the image is…

Boney in the hot springs! What an amazing dog!

Okay, has this been enough appreciation for now? I guess so. Let’s move on. I met a new Tazmilian this time around, Isaac, but I think it’s about time we checked in with the Tazmilians we’ve already met! There are so many of them, after all.

Two Million Tazmilians (Or: A Million Tazmilians II)

I’d love to narrate more of my walk with Boney, but there’s not too much to say. We walked around and saw the sights. I found a gift box on the beach full of mushrooms, which definitely was not suspicious at all.

More importantly than all of this, the Tazmilians are out tonight! Just because the rain extinguished the fire doesn’t mean Tazmily’s problems have vanished! The night is young, folks, and Hinawa and the boys are still out there somewhere.

Last post, I talked a bit about how, in Chapter 1, we play as Flint and Tazmily in a way, because so many villagers involve themselves in the conflict. I really can’t think of many other times I’ve played a JRPG where I’ve felt this connected to the NPCs, or where I’ve felt that their engagement in the story wasn’t arbitrary. Some games accomplish feelings similar to this by having a large cast of characters (like Final Fantasy VI or the Fire Emblem series), but not many have brought the minor characters to such an active role. Tazmilians even stand close to the enemies out in the forest! We can assume that a villager or two has had to fight off a Mighty Bitey Snake, just like Flint has.

Gettin’ pretty close there, Linda.

It’s nice to know that Tazmily can rally itself to a good cause, even in the middle of the night, even in the middle of a storm. Everyone is, in a way, also repaying Flint for the amazing deed he just performed. Tazmily’s death toll is at zero, and everyone would like to keep it that way.

Richie and Nichol, two children in town, are once again out in town square, while Thomas runs circles around the well, broadcasting Tazmily’s state of affairs.

I missed that running animation.

This line from Thomas always cracks me up for some reason. It feels like the Mother 3 show has just come back from a commercial break, so Thomas is tuning the viewer in on the main conflict. I also love this because I can’t tell if Thomas is trying to rally any remaining villagers by making a ruckus in town square, or if he’s just so panicked that all he can do is run in circles. Which is exactly what I mean when I say that Mother 3 develops and portrays its characters in such a fun way! Sure, we don’t know anything like, deep or complex about Thomas, but we know he is both bumbling and helpful, and here he is, doing a bumbling, helpful thing. Thomas, as usual, is stepping up in his own way, and I like that.

Though, last time I wrote about Thomas’s clothes, I guess I had missed the point that he’s supposed to be the town fireman, and that’s he’s wearing an oldschool-ish firefighter get-up? Which is also a little bit hilarious given his personality and general disposition… I guess I always interpreted his role in Tazmily as a sometimes-helpful guy who liked to rally people together, but maybe didn’t always bring the most to the table when it actually came to helping out. I didn’t know he was the resident firefighter of the town, but then again, in a place like Tazmily where nothing goes wrong, Thomas was probably an amazing firefighter until he actually had to deal with one. And hey, Thomas did drag Lighter out of the forest while it was still on fire. That counts for something!

Either way, I want to be nicer to Thomas for a while! He’s just so easy to poke fun at!

Speaking of Tazmily’s Greatest, I also like how, this time around, Jackie decided to join the efforts. When I checked in at the Yado, Betsy informed me that Jackie and Tessie had gone out to look for Hinawa and the boys. She even apologized for not going as well, but someone had to stay behind to look after everything.

Can we call Tazmily a utopia? It’s at least something close. Everyone in town can put their efforts together toward a common good, and even the people who can’t have a decently good reason why not. Compare this to EarthBound’s intro, where just after finishing the game’s first dungeon, Ness battles local law enforcement to remove a road blockade. Alone!

Anyway, I was under the impression that the Yado Inn didn’t overdo it with customer service, so maybe Betsy has a secret…

Speaking of Tazmily slogans, I love the one for the bazaar:

Though I’ve got to say, the best marketing of the day goes to the Advice-Giving Sparrow, who drew me in with a classic sales tactic. See, the sparrow sets it up with an everyday sort of scenario.

And you’re thinking to yourself, “Great, another one of these chatty sparrows who explains basic concepts that most players already know. I’m just going to hit ‘A’ as fast as I can to see if there’s a haiku somewhere in here.”

But then the sparrow hits you with:

And you think, “You know what? That has happened to me,” and next thing you know, you’re learning all about how to check items and their various effects during battle, which is something I’ve never bothered to do before. Usually I just go off of memory, and if I’m wrong, I tell myself I’ll remember next time, but do I? Do I remember?

Anyway, weird digression there… Yado Inn! If you thought maybe Betsy was lying to you and just didn’t want to get rained on, don’t forget that Lighter still rests in one of the rooms, recovering from his wounds. He doesn’t even really know what’s going on yet.

Which is probably for the best. Lou, along with Bud, tells Flint that Lighter would get out of bed and join the search efforts right away if he caught wind of what was going on, so they’ve decided to watch over him. Meanwhile, Bud says that everything is pitch black, and that even Flint was pitch black. Again, with the repetition of pitch black.

Have I been mixing up these two’s names while writing about them? I apologize, if so. And, similar to discovering that Thomas is supposed to be a fireman, I also recently realized/discovered that Lou and Bud are named after Bud Abbot and Lou Costello, a decision the translation team made to mirror the duo’s Japanese names, which are themselves a reference to a comedic duo from Japan. Greg Lescoe’s post details many of the naming decisions for the Mother 3 translation patch. I also plan to dive into Tomato’s notes on the project, which I read some years back.

I love discovering and sharing details like this, because it’s basically a double-down on Mother magic. Mother 3 is already a labor of imagination and love, and so, too, is the fan translation! Of course, I am only capable of experiencing Mother games in English, because I cannot read Japanese, but I’ve always at least had the feeling that Mother 3‘s fan translation, and Nintendo of America’s EarthBound localization, goes to truly amazing extents to preserve Itoi’s writing style, especially his wit and sense of humor. I plan to reference Tomato’s notes, and probably also Tomato’s amazing book on EarthBound’s localization, much more moving forward. I recently ordered Legends of Localization 2: EarthBound, and The Mother 3 Handbook, both of which I have wanted for years, so I’m pretty excited to read them ❤

Anyway, if we want to get super literary with the repetition of pitch black, and how everyone keeps pointing out that Flint himself was pitch black… I’d say things don’t bode well for Flint. A pitch black repetition for a simple, nearly-Utopian town is already bad enough news, but for Flint to have been, in a way, branded by it… Well that isn’t good either!

Run, Flint! Get far away from here before it’s too late!

Quick! Into the water!

Okay–back to the Tazmilians! There are still a million to talk about! Including a new Tazmilian, Wess, who Jonel tells to stay behind because he is too old to help. Even Tazmily occasionally doubts its elders, but Wess insists that he is more powerful than anyone knows.

I have a lot to say about Wess, but he’ll have his time to shine, so, for now, we’ll leave him here in the rain.

Jonel, Tazmily’s man of faith, also decided to aid in the search efforts. He tells Flint that he has been blessed with true friends–an entire village willing to help him–and in a way, that is true happiness. I don’t disagree, and it’s a sweet, insightful thing to say, but I wonder how Jonel would feel if the script were flipped, and it were his wife and kids who were still missing. I’m not trying to nitpick Jonel’s words or anything, but I also think it’s hard to make statements like that when, again, Tazmily has never really known trouble before tonight. It’s almost like Jonel has already sensed the worst, and so decides to prep Flint for what’s to come. “Hey Flint, even if everything goes wrong, you still have us.”

I’d say I’m being too cynical, but I still believe there are little, beautiful things all over the place, so I’ll give myself a pass. For example, even though I didn’t get the best screen-cap of it, the windows of the prayer sanctuary actually portray the rain falling outside! It’s a small detail, but it’s there! How cool is that!

Though the list of new Tazmilians doesn’t stop at the stalwart Wess; also new to the table are Paul and Linda, a couple who have joined the search party efforts. I’ve always assumed their names are meant as a reference to Paul and Linda McCartney, though I’m not sure if the Mother 3 Fan Translation team made the decision, or if their names translated that way. Shigesato Itoi is often cited as a Beatles fan, and he himself said that John Lennon’s song “Mother” is one of his inspirations for the name of the Mother series, though it should be noted that this song is not the definitive reason for the name, and Itoi considers, and encourages, the series’ title to be open for interpretation (citations here, here, and here). Basically, Itoi and Lennon both grew up in homes without fathers, and Lennon’s style of singing on the track (especially his delivery of the word “mother”) inspired such strong emotion in Itoi that he wanted to communicate something similar to others.

I think this is one of the reasons I admire Itoi so much. He seems to pull from such varied, disparate ideas when making his games, yet they all spiral out from the same emotional center, and they’re all pretty much just things and ideas he finds interesting. I’ve also always been fascinated at how some of Itoi’s darker, more complex emotions, like his fatherless childhood or his tramautic experience at a movie theater, influence his decision-making as a creator. For example, and most obviously, the protagonists of the first two Mother games only interact with their fathers over the phone, which, though inspired by his own father’s absence and his experience raising his own daughter, Itoi manages to spin positively when he relates parental absence to the success of fictional characters like Pippi Longstocking. As for the experience in the movie theater, I’ll talk about that at a later time.

It’s almost like Itoi takes a negative memory or emotion, works with it in the Mother series, then processes it in a more positive, or at least cathartic, way. As I’ve said before, I’m not trying to overanalyze Itoi, or pretend that I’m the ideal player or thinker when it comes to his work. But I have fun thinking about stuff like this! And it really is just all my interpretation–I’m not trying to impose these ideas or comment definitively on Itoi and his intentions for the Mother games. Remember what we talked about back in Frog #1: Itoi, in a way, wants players to connect to the Mother games in whatever way they want.

Wheesh! Now that might be the digression of the day.

Anyway, here’s Paul:

And here’s Linda, who says Hinawa promised to teacher her how to make cabbage! I love how Hinawa’s cabbage is famous all over town ❤

Even Butch wants some! Hinawa’s amazing Cabbage seems to be the only thing on everyone’ss minds during a catastrophe! It must really be that good!

I know I’ve said this before, but sometimes in the ultra-customization age of RPGs, I appreciate something as simple as the player’s favorite food getting repeated on occasion. It’s not much, but it’s still kind of sweet. Don’t get me wrong, I love the amount of customization available to players nowadays, but because its becoming more and more common, it can be refreshing, in a way, to play a simpler RPG, where player decisions act a little bit like decorations.

However, I can also see how this might not matter as much to other players. I was recently watching a video where someone criticized Fire Emblem: Three Houses for being full of arbitrary decision-making (for narrative events, not character customization), and I understood where they were coming from. If you’re going to give the player choice, make it impactful, make it matter.

But I think the Mother games are going for something a little bit different. Not so much customized experiences, but opportunities for players to make their mark on the game, and so participate in it that much more. I think Itoi’s aim to make cinematic experiences is definitely something we see more and more of in contemporary video games, and something that, in some ways for Itoi, was ultimately not realized due to EarthBound 64’s cancellation. However, I think Itoi more-so wanted to recreate the feeling of a great movie through the medium of video games–his aims were, maybe, not so much to be cinematic at all times. Or, decide for yourself; here’s what he said:

For me, I’m trying to create an experience that, while being a game, is like a movie… the feeling you get from renting a good movie from a rental store. If a normal workaday OL (office lady) plays Mother and finishes it she should have that wistful feeling of “Aw, it’s over.”

I can totally see why, especially in the first two Mother games, Itoi would encourage players to name the main cast after themselves and their own family or friends. The player gets to insert themself into a cinematic experience that is unique to video games. Mother 3 is by far the most cinematic of the trilogy, so I’d be interested to know more about Itoi’s feelings toward Mother 3 nowadays. Maybe like how it has aged, in his opinion. As for how Itoi specifically feels about players naming themselves after Mother 3 characters… more on that in a few frogs.

I told you this post was going to meander! Wheesh! I need to focus, here. I think it’s because I haven’t saved in so long! Where is a frog?! I need to tell it my memories!

(And they say Mother 3 is linear! I can’t even stay on track in Chapter 1!)

Well, here, this is what Boney looks like in battle.

What a good dog!

I did forget to bring up Matt, who reveals himself more and more as the town’s resident drunk. He’s well-meaning, but a little bit sloppy. I know it’s been a long night for everybody, but I think it’s time to turn in, Matt ol’ buddy.

But hey, I’d still recruit Matt to my party if I could! I bet he’s good in a brawl. He put up a great fight against Isaac’s door earlier tonight, which is now unlocked, so I’m sure Matt had something to do with that.

It’s also a good idea to stop by Isaac’s place, because he has a box full of antidotes on his kitchen table. In the next area of the Sunshine Forest, Mighty Bitey Snakes slither through the wreckage, and it’s bad news if they manage to poison you.

It could be random, but I feel like the snakes go for Boney a lot, which can become tricky because his health is much lower than Flint’s. By the end of the session, I think I was out of antidotes, but I did go out of my way to fight a good amount of enemies.

I was taking my time! I was having fun!

Issac: lumberjack and rescue mastermind.

I think my favorite NPC interaction of the day goes to Lisa, one of the gossiping women, who tells Flint that Hinawa is responsible, but Flint is careless, so he probably forgot to bring antidotes with him into the forest. I love this because it’s a perfect blend of an NPC giving guidance to the player, and the NPC staying true to their character. Lisa would low-key talk smack on Flint if she ran into him in the forest–that’s what makes the gossiping women so great! It’s almost like the blatant advice of the NPCs early on could be a way to incentivize players to talk to everyone, only for the purpose to change from receiving advice, to learning about a character’s personality.

I really am softening more to Mapson all the time. But you see what I mean, right?

The new enemy of the day is the aforementioned Mighty Bitey Snake, which I enjoy fighting a lot solely because their battle theme is “Bothersome Guys.” I just love that song! Also, as a translation trivia fact, the localization of this enemy was challenging. Greg Liscoe says this:

One enemy that I’m not really satisfied with the name of, in either my own stuff or the final translation patch, was the Bitey Snake (“Kamu toki wa kamu hebi”/かむときはかむヘビ), which I’d translated as “Snake that Might Bite.” Both of these have issues in terms of accuracy of the translation, though given the actual picture of the Bitey Snake, that seems almost fine. The issue is that the name translates most accurately to something like “a snake that will bite when it’s time to bite” or “that bites when the situation calls for it” or something equally unwieldy to express in English. That one was frankly a mess and I can’t really think of anything that would have actually worked better than Tomato’s “Bitey Snake.”

I find that kind of stuff really interesting! I guess it’s possible that Nintendo of America may someday localize this game, but I decided to quit hoping for it. And anyway, I think that Tomato’s translation is going to be forever tied to the history of Mother 3 and to the history of fan projects in general. It was just such a huge undertaking, and I know I speak for a lot of fans when I say that the translation is dear to my heart. I mean, obviously I can’t experience the game any other way (I can’t read Japanese), but the fact that I can play it in Engish at all is still so cool to me. I can still remember the day the fan translation went live and became available for download.

I’d also be interested to know Tomato’s opinion on the Mighty Bitey Snake. I can only imagine that naming all of the enemies was a challenging, inspiring, and, hopefully, fun process!

Also, I always crack up when accompanying enemies are referred to as part of a cohort.

I don’t know why! I get a lot of enjoyment out of that.

This is probably going to be the longest edition of A Million Tazmilians ever, at this rate! I still haven’t even introduced all the new folks.

There’s also Reggie, a Tazmilian who never falters, even when the tides of change overtake the town. Reggie is in touch with the spiritual side of human nature and follows his intuition. He’s a significant villager because, like I said, he’s one of the only ones who doesn’t totally change as time goes on, but I’ll get to that more as it comes around.

That said, if I’m going to spend so much time talking things that Mother 3 does right, I should spend some time here talking about things that Mother 3 does wrong, or at least some character decisions that were tone deaf in 2006 and have obviously aged poorly.

I wasn’t sure initially how to approach writing about Reggie. I wanted to point out his harmfully stereotypical design, which is itself part of a game where nearly all of the major and minor characters are white. Also, I’ve noted before that Tazmily has a varied collection of styles, in both clothing and appearance, yet it is the town’s singular black character who is stereotyped. Yes, Itoi is a thoughtful writer, and Mother 3 is a thoughtful game, but neither are perfect, and I can’t write a blog about appreciating Mother 3 without acknowledging these flaws.

More importantly, however, this tweet both inspired me to write more about Reggie, and educated me about something I didn’t know about Japanese culture, namely, the persistent use of black face. With this in mind, Reggie’s design fails doubly: both in the context of its own game, and in its complicity with Japan’s own issues with racism and stereotypes. Which stings even more, considering Mother 3’s consistent thematic urge for people to come together. To what extent can we fully trust a game’s ethical signaling if it fails in this regard?

Well, I’m not here to make up your mind for you, but I believe that the Mother community is good, and always getting better, about having these conversations in the first place. If you have thoughts about Reggie, or about representation in Mother 3, please write to me. Tell me what you think, tell me how I can further expand my worldview, or tell me what I have failed to address as a writer. It’s not my goal to give you a conclusive way to think about Mother 3, but, rather, to make as much room as possible for people to critique and assess the game for themselves.

And like I said, there is more to come, with Reggie. I really enjoy what he offers as a character in Chapter 4 specifically, and when we learn some Mother 3 insider information in Chapter 7 (or was it 8? I don’t remember) I’ll also revisit Reggie.

On to the next Tazmilian, a close second for my favorite NPC interaction of the days comes from Abbot and Abbey, who, as usual, are doing their best, but not without a few hiccups.

First, there’s Abbot, who warns Flint not to lose his footing because the ground is slick.

Whose hat would win in a fight?

But then there’s Abbey, not far from Abbot, who says:

I appreciate the efforts of all Tazmilians equally, but these two and their misadventures are so endearing. I love how, probably minutes after being attacked by the Flying Mouse, Abbey is all like, “Yes, great description, honey!” as Abbot fumbles out a brief sketch of the creature. It helps to relieve some of the tension.

It’s also nice to have been listening to “Hard Rain” this entire time.

I don’t want to screen-cap and share literally every line of dialogue in the game, because that would get way too tedious, but if you ever ask yourself, “Why does he go through so many of the NPCs?” the answer is that I seriously have so much fun doing it. Don’t forget the wise words from EarthBound: “It’s important for you to talk to people!”

I really do enjoy seeing what each villager is up to, and what their take on everything is. But if you ever don’t see me mention your favorite NPC, just know that I probably have a screenshot of them, but couldn’t really find much to say about it. Sort of like Nan and Biff, who mostly just remark on the circumstances in a way that isn’t totally original. But then there’s Jill, who represents the gossiping women perfectly by throwing some shade at Lucas, a currently missing and possibly dead child, for no reason.

I know she doesn’t mean it maliciously, or at least I don’t think so–she’s just calling Lucas a crybaby like everyone else. I think she means it in a caring way, as if to say, “That poor kid is probably a wreck.” But man. I wish people would lay off Lucas sometimes!

And if you thought we were done meeting new faces, you were wrong! Just up ahead, Bateau, a spectacled blond man, has made it pretty far into the forest. He’s even hanging around Bronson, so he’s all right with me. Bateau’s first line of dialogue, though isn’t exactly hopeful.

After making it through the newly accessible area of the Sunshine Forest, densely populated with poisonous snakes, Flint and Boney catch some bad news. A tree has been snapped in two, but it doesn’t look like lightning did it. There are claw marks in the ground, and just past this tree is Alec’s house, where Hinawa and the kids should have departed from.

Anyone else think Bateau looks like Picky for EarthBound?

If Flint, or even the player, was still holding onto hope that the Dragos have remained peaceful, that hope starts to slip away right here, at least a little bit. Hinawa and the boys are in serious trouble. This roadblock is the last thing Tazmly needs right now.

Before I transition to the end of the post (I hear a frog hopping somewhere around here…) I want to share two more tidbits.

First, Bud and Lou, who depart from the Yado Inn and show up in the forest, have two bits to run. Like I’ve mentioned before, every time these two tell a joke, the game plays a little chime, and Lou hits Bud in the chest.

Of the two jokes they can tell at this part of the game, I love how one of them involves Bud’s metaphysical connection with the Game Boy Advance’s ‘A’ button. If you examine something with ‘A’ and there is nothing notable about it, the game displays the text: “No problem here.” Bud, after saying that Hinawa and the kid haven’t been found, will say, “There’s no problem here,” the next time the player hits ‘A.’

To which Lou responds:

These two guys… what are we going to with them?!

Though, if they’re out in the woods, that must mean Lighter caught wind of the goings-on…

Second, Mike, Tazmily’s resident old coot, finds himself remarkably far into the forest. I don’t know if the snakes only attack cowboys and their dogs, but I have to assume at least some Tazmilians are out here fighting along side me!

Anyway, I just love that Mike thinks Lucas and Claus are going to want some of his “slightly unclean” cookies. It’s already funny that he acknowledges his cookies as (for some reason?) unclean, and it’s even a little more endearing how he’s holding on to hope that the kids are going to want them.

But hey, Mike can hold onto the whatever hope he wants. We’re gonna need all the hope we can get.

Just Beyond the Trees

Like I said, the scene at the trees is bad news. Bronson, Bateau, Jackie, and Tessie look at the trees with a mix of awe and fear. Bateau tries to lighten the tension a bit, but I’ll go to Bud and Lou when I need that.

Who is this guy, runnin’ bits?

But Tazmily has a habit of drumming up heroes, and though likely walking on a horribly injured leg, Lighter appears, ready to help out.

Like I’ve mentioned a few times now, these are those moments where Chapter 1 feels like playing as a community. You could argue that Lighter and Bronson moving the debris is an arbitrary obstacle so that Flint encounters the Reconstructed Caribou, especially because the player doesn’t do anything to aid the removal of the trees, but in my opinion it’s just another episode in the wonderful saga of Tazmilians helping each other out.

Helping others out. Being helped out by others. Helping others out.

Bud, the voice of Tazmily

I also like the designs of the villager so much, that, as always, I simply enjoy all the different little animations, like when Lighter and Isaac begin to work on the debris.

If there were a positive version of nitpicking, you could accuse me of doing that exact thing on this blog. Instead of finding every little thing to hate, I’m finding every little thing to love.

And I’m okay with that! Like I said, it’s been so long since I’ve gotten to take my time with Mother 3. I started to feel catapulted from one frog to the next. So, because I was able to take my time with the gameplay session, I also wanted to take my time with this post.

Anyway, after the Tazmilians split up, we finally encounter the game’s next frog. He’s hanging out near Jackie and Tessie, not far from the broken trees.

You know, this frog reminds me of something… but I’m going to save it for next time. This has been a long post. If you’re still here, thanks for sticking around. If you’re not here, come back sometime. We can go see what Jackie’s talking about.

The last thing I’ll say today is that I really love the Flint and Boney combo. I know I’ve been raving on Boney for this entire frog, but I especially enjoy the time we spend with just these two in Chapter 1. It doesn’t go on for much longer, though in my memory, I played as Flint and Boney for forever. I think I felt that way because of how often I had re-record Chapter 1 in my old Mother 3 walkthrough, but, like I said above, that’s a story for another time.

Flint and Boney are looking for their family members. Flint and Boney look cool together. What else is there to say?

I’m just a sucker for protagonist + a dog stories. I love seeing Flint and Boney team up and take down snakes and Yammonsters. I love seeing Flint and Boney team up in general! I mean, I love the main party that you use in the second half of the game, but I’ll always enjoy Chapters 1 through 3 and their mixes and matches of party members. Boney has an amazing way of making me feel less alone while playing as just Flint. I guess it’s just interesting that, in my mind, I associate Flint as Boney as an extremely significant party composition in the game, but their pairing is so brief!

That must mean these two are truly an excellent team ❤

The last thing I’ll say about Flint and Boney is that my interpretation of them as some kind of dynamic duo probably comes more from the EarthBound 64 trailer, where Boney (who’s looking a bit more haggard, back in the 90s) howls into the night as Flint stands by his side.

Well, I think that’s it for now, folks. Like the house mouse, it’s time for me to hit the road.

8 thoughts on “Frog #8: A Cowboy + His Dog

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