Frog #9: Fetch the Thief!

We must have balance in all things. For every action, a reaction. For yin, yang. In nature, we see decline grow to renewal, and renewal recede to decline, becoming and unbecoming in cycles.

Of course, nowhere can this be observed better than in my Frog by Frog play-through of Mother 3.

Last week, my post was long. Even though I met many frogs, they were frogs with which I had already saved, so per my own rules, I continued without saving. Because I played Mother 3 for nearly 45 minutes, it makes sense that my accompanying post, too, would be long. Playing Frog by Frog exposes the player to scarcity, and to abundance. I had a chance to take a break and spend some quality time with the game, and for that, I feel lucky.

Thomas, deep in thought, sees the circle of life within the swirling dragons.

But, for every long frog post, there must be a follow-up short (or at least shorter) post. Fellow scientists will recognize this concept as Itoi’s 3rd Law of Incremental Video Game Playing (Itoi’s 3rd, for short). Though, in a way, the length of my gameplay session wasn’t shorter–it returned to normal. I should be familiar with singing the five-minute blues by now. Not every session of Mother 3 can be 45 minutes long.

I don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore! I’m stalling!

And (mostly) I’m just kidding around with all this stuff. I mean, sure, there’s definitely some cyclical nature stuff going on in the Mother 3 logo:

I just noticed that the Mother 3 logo is covered in wood ...

At least in a like, nature overtaking technology (or maybe technology taking over nature?) kind of way, but we’ll get to all of that in time. The real reason I decided to start by talking about lofty, floaty, cyclical video game theories is because I didn’t want to reveal that this post is actually going to be next meeting of The Official Boney Fan Club.

That’s right, folks: my boy had a chance to shine today! Boney was the hero!

I just happened to screen-cap when he wasn’t in full stride! Trust me: you’re looking at a hero.

So yes, I’m very excited to write about his cutscene today. I had an amazing session of gameplay over all, actually. I would say I’m in relatively high spirits today. 45 minutes of Mother 3 is all well and good, until you find yourself working on one post for over a week. It’s nice to have a little less to write about, to pick from a limited selection of events.

But at the same time, I’m going to be writing about one of my favorite moments in the entire game today, so I don’t know–we might be headed toward excess once again. And, I know, I love so many moments in Mother 3, and I’m always saying this or that is my favorite, or that I love X or Y. But today’s events really are some of my favorite in the whole game. I can still remember how I felt the first time I ever played this section of the game! It has stuck with me all these years.

And of course, my favorite moment involves the world’s best dog, Boney.

Run, Cole, Run!

But before we get to Boney’s moment of heroism, I have to set the stage.

While Lighter and Isaac deal with the debris, Flint and Boney decide to check out the cliffside, where there’s more than one instance of bad news.

Bateau and Jonel look upon a gruesome sight: claw marks, chunks of mountain missing entirely. Bateau says he’s got a bad feeling about everything, but he quickly eats his words. A Tazmilian acknowledging a situation as bad? Not yet! Or at least not in front of Flint.

I like Bateau’s, and Jonel’s, reactions here, because there’s a mix of disbelief and increasingly willful ignorance. What I mean is, every sign points toward the Dragos no longer being peaceful, for whatever reason, but to Tazmilians, that’s impossible to believe, at least so quickly. Chapter 1 consistently builds tension while giving the player small bits of hope. We ask, “What if they’re right? What if the Dragos aren’t so bad? What if this debris is from the Dragos saving Hinawa and the kids, defending them from the Pigmask Army? We don’t know anything yet!”

Tragedy and levity, folks.

On the other hand, I think some Tazmilians, like Bateau, start to see the situation for what it is: bad, and getting worse. But hey, no one say anything too loud around Flint.

Still, I have to say, I like that Bateau shows up in another small scene/section of the game. I know that might seem like a weird point to emphasize, but Bateau isn’t major to the story and does pretty much nothing notable for the entire game. Jonel, a character we have already met who is a decently established minor character, could have been the only person over here, but Itoi decided to let another NPC have a small piece of the spotlight.

Bateau adds some much needed comic relief when he’s paired with the serious, uptight Jonel. I like that. To me, it shows that Itoi found small ways to use every character in the story. It’s also nice to balance out Jonel with the lighter Bateau, even if it is a good/bad vibe. It’s like all the Tazmilians are actors in the Mother 3 stage play, and Itoi wants to make sure everyone has a least a couple lines.

Sometimes I worry that I’m arbitrarily pointing out details in Mother 3, but then I remember my intentions from Frog Zero, and I don’t worry about it so much. I’m here to enjoy as much as I can! To play! But it is challenging to write this blog sometimes, even though it is consistently fun.

I’ll always worry a little bit that I’m barking up the wrong tree, just to give you some background perspective. I was recently reading the essay “The I in Internet” by Jia Tolentino, which, among many internet-relevant topics, covers opinion and commentary cultures. Seeing as a theme of Tolentino’s collection, Trick Mirror, is self-delusion, this essay both encouraged my efforts and exposed my insecurities–why am I writing all this? Am I really going to discover something for myself? For a reader?

But I’ve decided to hold strong for now. Like I’ve said before, another reason I embarked (a lot of barking going on….) on the Frog by Frog journey was to see how it would impact me as a writer, not just as a player. As in, I know my primary goal of the blog will be to relate my experiences as a player, as I reflect on those experiences, but the relating, the writing itself, doesn’t exist in a vacuum! I like the challenge of the process, and I like having something to do. I haven’t written this consistently, or this deliberately, in years. In a way, I think I like writing Frog by Frog because of its periods of difficulty and self-doubt. Mother 3 is such a disarming game that, by the next time I’m playing it and taking notes, I’ve already dispelled all my worries.

Oh man, now I’m getting way to meta. Is Frog by Frogging going to affect my sanity more than I anticipated? There’s only one way to find out!

(All I can hear is Mapson saying “Imagine something R-Button-ish.”)

Boney springs into Hero Mode.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Boney catches a whiff of something. With the best bark sound effect that Gameboy Advance money could buy, Boney woof, woof, woofs everyone’s attention up to a small, leafless tree at the top of the cliffside. A small piece of cloth blows in the wind: the same color as Hinawa’s dress.

We wanted a sign, but not like this.

This one punches you in the gut. The goal immediately changes from “maybe we’ll find Hinawa and the kids,” to “hopefully we still have time to save Hinawa and the kids.” Bateau’s bad vibe turns out to be true.

I love the absence of music in this scene, too. Once again, all we hear is pouring rain. The last time there was no music, Isaac had just told Flint about spotting Hinawa and the kids up in the mountains… right before hearing the roars of a Drago. In these moments of silence, both Flint and the player have to let their imaginations fill in the blanks, and the blanks grow exceedingly worse. Tension builds, becomes almost tangible, in these long seconds.

But, as usual, Mother 3 offers levity. Wess appears from off-screen, and even though Jonel tells him that he’s too old to be able to help, Wess ignores him–the old man has a plan.

Wess suggests they call upon his son, who has been trained in the Thief Arts. Perhaps his son has some kind of skill that could help out Flint and the rest of the town. Maybe he could scale the wall, or something…

But who is this guy? Well, just like the player names Lucas’s family members, a naming screen comes up for this new character as well, showing us that he’s going to be important to the story.

This sleeping thief is Duster, one of the main characters, and main party members, of the whole game. There’s a lot to say about Duster, but I think I’m going to wait until next week, when we get to see him combat, or even until Chapter 2, where he is the focal character.

I do love, though, how our real introduction to Duster is through his sock, which Wess uses to give Boney Duster’s scent, and boy, does it smell ripe!

Duster and Wes are so awesome. They’re both a little off, just in different ways. With Wes, there’s always the slight chance he’s going to surprise you with an outburst or a weird old thief technique. With Duster, there’s always the slight stench of his bad breath.

I like the idea of giving characters qualities that might not initially seem attractive. I feel like so many RPGs are either built around custom characters, where the players whims are fully realized, or around obviously attractive/traditionally capable protagonists. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s nice to have a hero like Duster in the mix. He smells kind of weird. He walks with a limp. He’s a hero. A thief!!

What use does Tazmily have for thieves, anyway? Something to think about…

Actually, along this same line of thinking, I guess we haven’t talked much yet about how Flint is both a traditional, stereotypical silent hero, as well as a traditional, western image of a cowboy (and really, Hollywood’s image of a cowboy, at that). He’s a double hero! I always thought his name was Flint to recall Clint Eastwood, but Tomato says his name comes from the term flintlock, referring to firearms that use a flint striking mechanism to fire.

One of my favorite things about Chapter 1 is how Flint, the more traditional heroic image, becomes surrounded by all of these traditionally non-heroic characters. There’s Thomas, the overeager town watchman; Fuel, a child; Duster, the smelly thief; and another party member we haven’t met yet. To me, it’s another way to mix seriousness and humor. The stern cowboy, out to find his wife and kids… who has teamed up with his adorable dog and a strange man with bad breath.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about Flint later. I’m still kind of saving my full analysis of him for later in the chapter.

To get back to the action, though, I also love Boney’s reaction to Duster’s sock: *Whimper*

Which, in dog, obviously means: “Gahh… That’s ripe, all right…”

Then, Wess ties a ribbon to Boney, telling him to hunt down Duster and bring him back here–the thief will know what the ribbon means. More important than the ribbon itself is how cute Boney looks with it on! Look at him!

What are you looking at, Bateau?

And so that’s the set-up: with one path blocked by trees, with nowhere else to go but up, and with Hinawa’s scrap of cloth hanging high above… someone needs to scale the cliffside, and hopefully Duster is the guy to do it. Just hours ago, Flint came to the rescue when everyone else fell to the fire and its evil associates. Now, it’s the town’s turn to take care of Flint.

And with a “Woof woof!” Boney is off!!

I plan to record and re-upload the cutscene to YouTube eventually, but for now, please enjoy “Mother 3 Epic Boney Cutscene” in all its greatness.

How much do I love this scene? Let us count the ways!

I love the accompanying track, “Run, My Dog, Run!” The track itself is set perfectly to the cutscene, feeling sweeping, heroic, and triumphant, yet never too serious! There’s a lighthearted heroism to the track that characterizes Boney so well. He’s the loyal dog! He’s a good boy ❤ There’s something simple, effective, yet incredibly moving for me as a player every time I watch this scene. To me, Boney’s run through the storm is a great portrayal of Tazmily pulling out all the stops. The town hasn’t given up yet, and Boney’s fetch mission is the harbinger of hope.

Like I’ve said a couple times, I love how, in Chapter 1, multiple characters get to be the hero. To me, Boney’s fetching scene shows that everyone still has a little fight left in them. Maybe the night is young enough to save Hinawa and the boys, who, don’t forget, are Boney’s family members, too.

I also love the sprite animation, too! Boney running! The lightning cracking in the distance! The snoozing Duster! (Why are all our protagonists so sleepy!)

As for why this scene is stands out so much to me… Well, there are only so many ways you can characterize a dog, and Boney, like Duster, becomes one of the main party members of the entire game, so it’s important for the player to connect to him. To me, this scene gives us everything we need to know about Boney. He’s brave while he runs through the Sunshine Forest. He consults the children of town square for direction! He drags Duster back through the forest when he won’t wake up!

If that doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will!

Boney, though his barks are translated for us, will obviously never get to speak, but he still gets his stand-out moment, and I think that’s important.

This scene, paired with the fact that Duster, Boney, and Flint become the next temporary party configuration, is a perfect example of two ideas I looked at last week. To spare you the scrolling, Itoi wanted the original Mother game to feel like a cinematic experience. He also wanted party members to come and go in the story, to aid the drama; in a time when many developers were starting to focus on how many party members or characters they could add, Itoi wanted to see what he could do with the party members he had from a story perspective. I think Mother 3 shows us Itoi’s fully realized ideas–and, if not fully realized (rest in peace, EarthBound 64), then at least a version of them.

Notice how, at an incredibly tense point of the chapter, two additional party members join you, both of which have significant, cinematic moments (Duster’s is coming up). Itoi knows that the best way for a player to bond with a game’s characters is for the player to see the characters overcoming obstacles together. For some reason, I always think of that scene from Star Wars where Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca fend off Stormtroopers together before escaping into the trash compactor. They’re talking to each other while actively trying to solve a problem. They’re bonding, and we’re bonding with them. We like to see our heroes overcoming things together.

Again, I think it’s so cool how some of Itoi’s original aims in the series came to fruition in his third and final game of the series. It feels so special to see how an artist originally conceptualized something, and for that idea to have stuck with them over time. In this next quote, we can see how, with the original Mother, Itoi’s ideas of how to make a game feel cinematic was different than the approaches we see in Mother 3:

But it was because games had so many restrictions that I could reclaim the essence of storytelling that was already lost in novels. Like, okay, in games, you get surrounded by enemies and have to solve puzzles and such. You don’t need any kind of explanation because you first-handedly get excited, or angry, or whatever. We’re so glad we can do that—it’s an aspect unique to games. It allows us to intimately experience the emotions of the main character. When I say MOTHER is an RPG that draws you in even more than a book or a movie, that’s what I mean.

taken from Famicom Hisshou Han, on Chewy’s website.

Obviously the Mother series, with Mother 3, eventually became cinematic in its storytelling as well as its gameplay scenarios, but quotes like this are why I try to pay as much attention as I can to what Itoi might be trying to say about characters through gameplay. Yes, Itoi had cinematic aims for EarthBound 64, and yes Itoi achieves cinematic moments in Mother 3, but these aren’t the only places where emotion can be expressed, or wherefrom emotion can be felt. Honestly, the best example of this idea is seen in Chapter 3, but we’ll talk about that when it comes around.

And still, Flint is an especially interesting character to look at. Story-wise, he’s likely starting to lose hope, and as each sign gets worse, we are confronted with gameplay scenarios that appear increasingly grim. A forest fire, then a thunderstorm and the fire’s desolate wake, then the top of a ghostly cliffside. This could just be me, but it’s like the life and color is getting sucked out of everything. And I know even the “ghostly” word choice might be a stretch, but when the “Somewhere, Someday” track kicks in later, you’ll know what I mean.

I want to open those presents!

It’s like every enemy we fight is another second we’re wasting, which is also why I love that there’s a boss fight waiting for us on top of the cliff. And I don’t know, maybe I’m reaching again, but I really do appreciate Flint as the focal character of an anxiety-ridden, all-around hopeless chapter. His brute strength is a perfect storytelling asset for Chapter 1, showing us that whatever we’re up against is going to require more than pure force to defeat, maybe even more than something in the corporeal world. Something wicked is afoot, and it’s bigger than tiny little Tazmily. You can’t smack destiny with a two-by-four.

Oh, Flint. It probably is time for me to talk more about him. Maybe next week. For now, I want to bring things back around to my favorite pup. I don’t want to talk get too far away from the Boney Fan Club proceedings.

So, if you’ve been following my blog for a bit, you know that I named Boney after my own dog, Cole, who passed away about a year ago. I know I said I would still strive to refer to Boney as Boney whenever mentioning the character, so you might wonder why I’ve used Cole’s name in the heading.

All I can say is, it feels right to me! This post, and this cutscene, honors Boney, the loyal pup, a character I already enjoy without the association to my own dog. But, because I’ve projected Cole on to the character, if this post honors Boney, then it also honors Cole, so I decided to elevate my own loyal pup as well.

Plus, the song title during the cutscene is called “Run, My Dog, Run!” and Cole was my dog after all.

I’ll always remember that Cole was not the best dog for fetching, unlike Boney. He’d chase a ball and track it down, but never bring it back and instead take it as his own new toy. One game Cole loved, though, even in his older age, was getting chased around. He loved to run. We could chase him around a room, around the backyard, anywhere, and he’d light up like a firecracker. I remember him scampering room to room in a race we ran in circles.

So, yes, Boney fetches Duster, and actually brings him back, and I love Boney for that. But Itoi has encouraged me to name Boney after Cole, and Cole would’ve never brought Duster back. He would have wanted to play a little longer, I think. Boney might be the little dog who saves the day, but Cole was the little dog who loved to run.

Honestly, I bet I would have eventually started naming Boney after Cole at some point in my life. It seems like something I’d do without prompting, and I’m sure many players feels the same. But I don’t know–it’s also a cool feeling to know that this sort of experience is what Itoi strove to create. I’m having one of those moments where the Mother series really does feel strangely parental.

Let’s stay on track, here! Mother 3 never lets up in Chapter 1! It’s such a roller coaster!

The last thing I’ll say about this cutscene is: it feels like one of the last times Mother 3 has any sense of hope, at least for a while. The uplifting track, with Boney’s sprint there and back again–the dog staves off more than bolts of lightning.

For a second, he outruns the pitch-blackness of it all.

The Wall Stapler

Well, all that heroism doesn’t mean anything if Boney doesn’t bring back something good, but there’s nothing to worry about: Boney has brought with him one of more unique party members in the entire Mother series, even if he may not look like it at first.

When Duster wakes up, he runs behind Boney, following him to the gathering at the cliffside. Duster, notably, runs and walks with a limp, and, like we will see in combat, he attacks by kicking. One thing I really appreciate about Itoi’s vision for Duster is that the nature of Duster’s leg, and the nature of his attacks, is left up to the imagination of the player. So often, portrayals of a character’s physical ability are related to limitations, instead of being seen as unique and valuable differences to what society views as a “normal” body. In Itoi’s own words, from the robust Nintendo Dream interview:

You can speculate whatever you like about it. For example, some people might think that there is a metal rod inside [Duster’s leg]. Others might guess that it’s stretched out because it’s normally not very useful. I leave it entirely up to your imagination.

I could see a counter-argument to this, though. Itoi could have given Duster a more easily recognizable, or more specifically explained, condition, as a way to show that a non-imaginative injury can still be a part of a character who is capable of many things. I think that is totally valid way to view Itoi’s portrayal of Duster.

However, like I said, I appreciate Itoi’s idea because it allows a wide range of players to both connect with Duster in a unique way, and to imagine what kind of character he is in their own way. I would never intend, or try to say, that I have a definitive view on portrayals of ability, so I would be interested to hear everyone’s thoughts on this as well.

And also, to give Itoi’s thoughts proper representation, here is the rest of his quote on Duster as a character:

 I figure that because there are handicapped people in our world, it would also be part of the world of MOTHER 3. After all, there’s no way that any two people have the same physique or even the same personality… I included Duster so we could have someone with bad breath, a disabled leg, and living as a thief. The MOTHER 3 world is all about having friends like them. Perhaps you could call them symbols of not rejecting such people.

Like I said, I think I’ll wait to talk about Duster at length until Chapter 2, where he is the focal character, but I love how Itoi’s intentions for the character show up in the game. You wouldn’t expect it at first, but Duster has been trained in the Thief Arts!

Specifically, Wess calls upon Duster to use the Wall Staple technique, which allows him to scale walls with relative ease. Duster doesn’t initially seem too confident in his ability to use the technique, which introduces the relationship between Wess and Duster. Wess is direct, aggressive, and determined, if not a bit inveterate and emotionally tone-deaf. Duster is brave, but passive. He’s a little bit reserved, but still level-headed. Like Itoi said, he’s a thief with bad breath, who lives with his dad. He’s a bit of an oddball.

Sometimes I think I overlook Duster’s arc in Mother 3. His quiet uncertainty before performing the technique says a lot about him. He is a man with extraordinary abilities who has never really had the chance to come into his own.

Moments like this are also precisely the reason I’m going to start recording my gameplay sessions and narrating these posts over the footage, because there are some things I can’t capture in an image! For example, I love Duster’s animation for using the Wall Staples. He spins in a quick circle, then brandishes two huge staples, which he uses to climb the wall, leaving a ladder of staples behind him.

The Wall Staples can also be used in battle as part of Duster’s Special Ability, Thief Arts, and they are the only of Duster’s tools we ever get to see used outside of battle. Again, I’m trying not to talk about Duster too much yet, so I might drop this point for now. Someone remind me to come back to it!

This is still the Flint and Boney show, at least for a little while.

Ah, there’s nothing like the satisfying sound of Wall Staples.

What is there not to love about Wall Staples? As soon as you see them, you think, “Of course! Why not!” They are like EarthBound’s Octopus/Pencil Eraser, which, of course, erases Octopus/Pencils. Another invention by the Apple Kid, Zombie Tape, traps zombies so they can’t terrorize the city of Threed anymore. Honestly, I think we need Itoi to lead a technological think tank to create some more practical technology around here.

Anyway, watching Duster use the Wall Staples is a pleasure, but the view at the top of the cliff isn’t great. Don’t get me wrong–I’m happy to have Duster around, and it’s nice to see a frog big-chillin’ up here. But like I said earlier: doesn’t it look ghastly up here?

But we all know what’s coming: the scrap of the cloth on the tree.

One inch at a time, Flint’s greatest fear comes true. We don’t know what happened to Hinawa and the kids, but we know it wasn’t good.

When you do approach Hinawa’s cloth and pick it up, the game plays the most depressing chime I’ve ever heard. It’s like trying to be excited, in the way it usually sounds when you pick up a new item, but it just doesn’t have the heart because it knows what’s been found is bad.

And that’s about where this frog leaves us.

Even though Boney and Duster brought moments of hope and triumph, the outlook isn’t great. Every second spent looking could mean the difference between life and death. Tazmily is coming together in really great ways, but time is running out. It’s a good thing we stopped in the sanctuary and prayed.

But there’s still hope! We have an amazing party of Flint, Duster, and Boney. When I look at these three, I see the unlikely heroes of the night. I think there’s still a chance that everything is going to be okay.

Tazmily’s A-Team (Not pictured: Stray Dog from post #8).

One thought on “Frog #9: Fetch the Thief!

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