Frog #10: Tragic Reconstruction

Well, I’ve finally made it.

After playing Mother 3 frog by frog for about two months, I have made it to the game’s tenth save frog. I’ll be honest–I’m feeling pretty good. It has been a real skip and a hop to get here, and I know I still have a long way to go, and I know I’m not even through Chapter 1… but I think it’s okay to celebrate a little bit! And I also think it’s okay to take a breath.

Frog #10 is going to be an exciting day on the Frog by Frog Blog, I think. A day of firsts! For example, today I fought the first “boss” of the game, the Reconstructed Caribou. I’ve always been a fan of this boss fight, so I’m excited to talk about it. One of my favorite parts of any RPG has to be the boss battles. Sure, it’s fun to see all the unique enemies in a game, especially in a series like Mother where you can find yourself fighting a cup of coffee, but boss fights are really where it’s at.

Today is also the first day that I’m working on audio and video versions of the Frog by Frog blog! I planned to have them finished by the time I wrote and posted Frog #10, but that didn’t end up happening, mostly because reading these posts as I’ve written them didn’t quite translate as well as I thought to an audio form. I thought that, because I’d written these posts conversationally, they’d transfer pretty easily, but, because I’ve never recorded something like this before, I’ve had some trouble getting comfortable in the recording process. Basically, I can’t get the posts to sound how I want them to sound.

It is still a high priority of mine to make the audio and video versions of the posts, but it might be a little longer now before they’re ready. Actually, I took an amazing walk the other day, which helped me formulate how I’d like the audio version of Frog by Frog to work! My current goal is to release one audio episode a week, starting around the time I get to the end of Chapter 1. I think, over all, Chapter 1 has about 16 save frogs, so we’re getting close!

Also, I hate to be the type of person who’s always talking about their next “project” online when it isn’t even done yet, but because I’ve talked about an audio version of the blog on Twitter a few times and because my plan was to have it finished by Frog #10, I thought I’d bring it up. Hopefully you’ll be listening to audio frogs in no time.

Anyway, sorry about that! I felt compelled to write a little bit about those plans before I jumped in to everything. My main goals are to make Frog by Frog as accessible to as many people as possible, and also as enjoyable for as many people as possible. I’m excited for this post, man! Like a supercharged, Reconstruction Caribou, I’m ready to pounce!

The Reconstructed Caribou and You

(Or: How to Survive a Preemptive Attack from the Nowhere Islands Newest Cyborg!)

Last time, we left our three heroes on top of the cliffside. The music shifted from “Hard Rain” to “Somewhere, Someday,” giving everything an ominous, worrisome feeling. What are we going to find up here?

There’s an obvious feeling of dread in this track, mixed with a weary, but hopeful, sense of discovery. Notice how it’s a slower remix of “To Sunshine Forest,” a playfully inquisitive song that, earlier in the game, pushed the player forward into mystery, of light urgency (there’s never really a hurry in Tazmily). Though, don’t forget, “To Sunshine Forest” was punctuated by a warning bell, so, if anything, we’re finally seeing the dark side of the night. We’re seeing where all this exploration and inquisition has led us, and, given the haunted quality of “Somewhere, Someday,” I don’t think it has led us anywhere good.

Does anyone else get a bad feeling just from the look of everything up here? Why does the face of the cliff looks so ghostly? Maybe it’s all in my head… If you’re like me, you might be in denial about having a fear of heights. You might think that climbing up those Wall Staples didn’t freak you out at all. In theory, I say to myself, “I’m not afraid. What’s so bad about being up high?”

In practice, however, being on top of the cliffside can be scary! You might decide that you don’t want to be up here after all, and that your efforts are better suited toward helping Lighter and Isaac move the tree debris out of the way. So, you turn around, hook your foot into the first Wall Staple, and begin the descent back down.

Only to step on Bateau’s head!

Who is this guy, climbin’ staples?

You remember Bateau, right? The guy who had a good bad vibe and occasionally cracked wise? Blonde hair? Glasses? Kind of looks like Porky Minch’s younger brother?

I say this a lot, but playing Frog by Frog really does illuminate NPCs who I’ve never properly paid attention to. I barely remember Bateau from previous play-throughs. I remember his name, because it means “boat” in French, but that’s about it! I think it’s so funny, and weirdly sweet, that Bateau tries to follow the rest of the gang up the ladder to see what was going on, or to maybe even help out, yet he finds himself frozen at the halfway point.

Everyone in Tazmily tries their best to help others out.

And yes, as usual, Bateau’s moment of comic relief is also Mother 3 creatively putting up an invisible wall. “You can’t go that way right now!” I get that, and I’m still trying to decide how I feel about Mother 3’s limitations, but, in this particular instance, I feel like we’ve had amazing build-up to either a confrontation or a discovery, so I’m okay with being pushed forward. I mean, if I have to choose between, for example, Duster saying, “We can’t go that way, Flint,” and Bateau frozen on the ladder, but trying to play it cool… well, if I’m going to be forced forward, I’d rather have it be funny! Poor Bateau!

And you know what, we can make fun of Bateau all we want, but I don’t see Jonel or Wess trying to climb the Wall Staples!

Anyway, there’s also a small cave up here, which I think Itoi added in case any players needed to grind a few levels to defeat the Reconstructed Caribou. The enemies in here, Mischievous Moles, are pretty weak, and very easy to combo on. Their fight song, “Mischievous Blues,” fits them so well, just as it fits some of the other goofy little critters who use this theme. I don’t think the moles are meant to pose as much of a challenge, and are likely just here in case a player needs to grind up a level or two to defeat the Caribou. Actually, when the video version of this comes out, I’ll have video proof of me getting a 16 hit combo! Ha!

Is he supposed to be holding a ball? A marble? A scrap of cheese?

Over all, there’s not much to report from this cave, other than the most EarthBound-esque song yet, “Cautiously.” Is this a track from EarthBound? It sounds so similar to “Onett Night,” but I could have sworn I’ve heard it in both games. I guess it’s been a couple years since I last played EarthBound…

I decided to fight the moles a few times (exiting and entering to respawn them), because if I don’t enjoy combat when it’s available to me, I never know the next time I’m going to be able to fight. I didn’t want to spend forty-five minutes messing around in the cave or anything, like I did a few posts back, but I wanted to heal up my party members and enjoy myself for a little bit.

You can also see that I decided to change my menu colors from Grape to Strawberry, through I’m still not sure if I’m satisfied with it.

Also, don’t those moles look like little hamsters? So mischievous!

So, last week I talked about how Boney and Flint don’t spend nearly as much time as co-party members as I thought. Even more tragic, Boney barely gets to wear his new bandana before the story whisks him away! So I’m sharing another unapologetic screen-cap to celebrate Boney, his bandana, and the unique team composition of Flint, Duster, and the dear ol’ dog.

Tazmily’s heroes!

However, we know what we’re really up here for. A scrap of Hinawa’s dress was hanging from the branch of a dying tree. With that, all the pitch black references, and Isaac’s dire report… It’s time to find Hinawa and the kids! No more messing around!

Farther ahead on the cliff, though, Flint doesn’t find Hinawa, but two Pigmask Soliders. The unsightly pair accompanies a slightly obscured animal, likely their next experiment. It’s hard to tell exactly what it is at first…

There’s a lot I love about this scene. First, I love how Duster asks, “What are those? Are they human?” Maybe it’s just me, but when I look at the Pigmasks for too long, they unsettle me a little bit. At least in Chapter 1, their pinkish costumes are too fleshy-looking for my comfort, and every time they squeal, I can never tell if its in fear, rage, or celebration. A sense of uncanniness follows the Pigmask Army around, from their experimental augmentations to their strange get-ups and mannerisms.

And really, how can you beat their arrival theme? Anytime they show up, anywhere, the Pigmask Army has such a distinct presence and tone. I love it!

It’s also creepy to me that they were just up here. How long have the Pigmasks been camping out in Tazmily? How do we know tonight is actually the first night they’ve been here? As we’ll see with a cameo later in this chapter, the Pigmask Army and its higher-ups have already started to infiltrate Tazmily, and, again, I don’t know if it’s just me, but there’s something unnerving about an enemy, or just an entity with malicious intent, that is so much closer than you think. It’s like looking up at your ceiling and seeing a huge spider. The scary part isn’t just the spider, but the fact that it’s been lurking above you for who knows how long! Why are the Pigmasks just camping up here like a bunch of creeps? I want every mountain top checked until they’re gone for good!!!

Anyway, whether or not the creepy aspect of the Pigmask Army is all in my head, I still think a collection of various tensions finally pays off here. We haven’t seen the Pigmask Army in a while, so this is our first time up-close and personal with them. We also know, or can assume, that they’ve been messing around with nature, but the Flying Mouse wasn’t the most threatening enemy around. We also know that every second we spend up here is another second when we’re not finding Hinawa and the boys.

You’ve got to remember, in the same way that I actually miss Hinawa because I haven’t seen her in so long, I’ve actually kind of forgotten about the Pigmask Army! The pacing of the story is so different when you play frog by frog. Like I’ve said, it has its positives and its negatives. Chapter 1 of Mother 3, at least this first half or so of it, is probably best experienced all in one sitting, at least your first time through the story. That said, as someone who has played the game (but not always finished) quite a few times, I feel like I reap some of the benefits that might wear off to players over time. I wouldn’t say I preserve the feelings of my first play-through, but I get to revisit and re-experience them in a way that makes them feel new.

For example, typically, the first time you play through a game, you have experienced all the main emotions you’re going to get from a game’s story. In Mother 3’s case, the Pigmask Army appears in Chapter 1’s introductory cutscene, but, if you play most of the chapter in one sitting, you’re not actually left with much time to wonder, “Who are these guys?” Yet, the army is portrayed as somewhat mysterious, which is a feeling, I think, a slower play-through preserves.

This point might be a bit arbitrary, and a rehash of some things I’ve already said, but, if you’ve already played Mother 3, you probably remember Chapter 1 for the high points: the upcoming cutscene by the campfire (that cutscene), the boss fight at the end of the chapter, and the forest fire at the start. If you want to replay the game and experience some of those “first time” emotions again, take your time with it.

This is my weekly encouragement to try Mother 3 frog by frog!!!

Anyway, back to the battle at the cliffside.

The Pigmasks finally realize they’re being watched, so they press a few buttons on the terminal, which electrocutes the animal-cyborg on the ground, and run away (not without dropping a pig-marked notebook!). The machine, or terminal, electrocutes the poor creature, and when it comes back to life (if we can call it that), it angrily emits steam and attacks the Tazmily trio.

I’ve always felt so bad for the Reconstructed Caribou. I think there’s something truly tragic in this battle, which, unfortunately, wears off as the players fights more and more chimeras. The caribou was just another one of the hundreds of animals of the Sunshine Forest–specifically one of the unlucky few who got turned into a chimera. We don’t, or at least I don’t, like fighting this boss; leave it to Shigesato Itoi to make the player ponder ethical questions in the first boss battle of the game.

The battle theme here really says it all. “Tragic Reconstruction” is both a dirge and a march, the death, and the persistence, of a somehow-still-living thing–the perfect theme for the player’s first real fight with a chimera. There is something sad but resilient about this track, and while I’m not sure exactly what the chimera-making process is, I can say that the Reconstructed Caribou certainly looks like an artificially-sustained corpse, a dead or nearly-dead victim that is forced to keep moving. The song keeps going, keeping banging its drums, keeps beating its own heart, barely.

That said, I love the design of this boss. I love almost all the designs of the Mother 3 chimeras, but Chapter 1’s chimeras have a more cybernetic style to them that’s kind of cool. Mother 3 has a small time-skip in it after Chapter 3, so it’s cool to see the Pigmask technology improve a bit after the jump in time. Not that there aren’t some scrappy, scruffy looking chimeras later on, but I like how the Reconstructed Caribou, and Chapter 1’s other boss, both have a rougher edge to them. The Pigmasks shoddily slapped these chimeras together, which makes them all the more tragic, and all the more insulting to the innocent lives of the poor animals.

On the Mother 3 logo, wood and metal clash, of which my immediate interpretation has always been, “Nature always wins in the end.” But I guess I’ve never thought a step further: the Reconstructed Caribou is also an example of the natural meeting the artificial. Now that I think about, I can’t think of any metal/metallic structures in Tazmily, so even the body of the Caribou is made of materials that Flint and co. have never seen. I mean, I guess Bronson is a blacksmith, but I doubt he’s ever seen anything like this.

Similarly, chimeras are both a joy and a horror of Mother 3. Yes, they are against the laws of nature. They are nonconsensual, ruinations of innocent animals, turning them into weapons and monsters. Yet at the same time, their designs, their names, and their various roles in the story… it’s all incredibly fascinating. It’s obvious that Itoi’s creation of the chimeras, and Tomato’s translation of their names, was a rewarding, creative process. The chimeras come from an obvious place of inspiration. At times, I love Mother 3’s chimeras more than EarthBound’s aliens. They add so much flair and creativity to the game.

Honestly, the Mother series really does have one of the greatest rogues galleries in RPG history, when you think about it. Where else can you fight coffee cups and Krakens in the same series?

Anyway, we’ll learn more about the who and the why of chimera creation as we go. For now, let’s put this poor caribou out of its misery.

For as intimidating as this fight looks, it’s not so hard. The best strategy is to use Duster’s Wall Staples, which temporarily paralyze the beast. I’m not sure what the Wall Staples’ hit rate is, but I have fought this battle before and been extremely unlucky with the Wall Staples actually working. This time around, however, as you’ll see, the Wall Staples connected successfully, and I defeated the Reconstructed Caribou relatively quickly.

I’m going to try a different menu color next time. This one isn’t it!

Not that I felt good about it. Like I said above, Mother 3’s chimeras are both a blessing and a curse. A blessing for the player, to witness their designs, but a curse in the narrative, and a sign of the dangers to come. Maybe Flint, the farmer, understands the necessity in fighting, and killing, the caribou, to give it some sense of peace. I can’t imagine that the mild-mannered Duster got much enjoyment out of it, though.

But, it had to be done. Tonight’s the night of the funeral, and now, at least in a way, the animal can rest.

Washed Up By the Riverside

After the fight with the Reconstructed Caribou, Flint and his cohorts discover something even more interesting on the ground: a Pigmask Notebook.

Though we don’t know the author, the words inside are troubling. “All the creatures around here suck. We need to make ’em cooler. We’ll mix and match this and that to create whole new things no one’s ever seen before! I dub it the ‘Fascinating Chimera Project.'”

Hey! Who wrote this!!!

The notebook presents a disturbingly carefree take on ethics. Whoever wrote this seems perfectly fine with turning normal animals into chimeras, and at least with what we’ve seen from the Flying Mouse and the Reconstructed Caribou, the chimera-creations often become aggressive. In the case of the Reconstructed Caribou specifically, the poor thing is pretty much a reanimated corpse.

Like I said, we don’t know the author of this book yet, unless we’re meant to believe that the Pigmask Soldiers themselves have come up with this entire idea. Because of the mystery, and because of the snarky voice of the author, I’ve always gotten another creepy feeling from this. Whatever Tazmily is dealing with isn’t just an evil invasion. It’s an invasion driven by twisted, nihilistic ideals. Whoever is in charge gets way too much enjoyment out of their own cruel whims.

I really like this set-up for the villains! We learn little bits at a time, shrouded in mystery. It’s easy to identify the bad guys, but it’s not easy to know what they’re after. Is their only goal to destroy and recreate, according to their own vision?

Well, before we can answer any of these questions, the Pigmasks fly off in their spaceship.

The PigPen 2000. It can cross a galaxy faster than you can say “Fascinating Chimera Project!”

And anyway, there’s not too much time to ponder for now. Our main objective needs to be Hinawa and the boys. We can at least take a second to appreciate our geography, however. I love how the Drago’s clawmarks can be seen throughout this area, leading our sight to a jagged cliffside. Is this damage from a battle between the Dragos and the Pigmasks? Maybe the Dragos were protecting Hinawa and the boys…

One last detail up here on the mountain: I love how, when you inspect the Pigmask technology, the dialogue box says, “An incredibly suspicious object. It’s anyone’s guess as to what it is.”

I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but even though my understanding of Tazmily is it’s a simple village with no major advancements in technology, I still forget that detail in the early game, probably because I’m so used to EarthBound’s modern setting. There’s no such thing as electricity in Tazmily, much less computerized, metallic panels! I know I brought this up earlier when talking about the chimera inventions, but it is nice to have the small reminders.

Well, there’s nothing much left up here, and when the gang climbs back down the Wall Staples (it looks like Bateau made it down safely, too) there’s not much new to see. At first, when I forgot that good news is just around the corner, I found myself thinking, “Now what? Do we just wait until Lighter and Isaac move those trees? Does Duster have an oversized Dustpan and Broom to help us sweep up the wreckage? What do we do?!”

Wess, always the critic, reacts smugly to Duster’s performance. We’ll learn more about Wess and Duster’s relationship as we go, but Wess is just being a realist, I guess. Like I was thinking, none of our problems have technically been solved. It was nice to fight and defeat the Reconstructed Caribou, but what now?

All of our questions will be answered soon enough, but there are a few Tazmilians to check in with. Not a million, but a couple.

First, there’s Butch, who says that while everyone else is cold in the rain, he’s burning up. Biff, too, is in bad shape, as he can’t even get a word out without sneezing.

The Tazmilians never fail to make me smile. Time and time again, each villager steps up to try to be the hero. Bateau climbing the Wall Staples, Butch and Biff catching colds, everyone who joined the search and rescue efforts… No wonder nobody locks their doors in this town!

Of course, the most significant event of the day, even more significant than the fight with the caribou, is that none other than Jonel, the man of faith, tells Flint that they’ve found Lucas and Claus. The boys are safe.

Lucas and Claus, the poor kids, must have fallen from the cliff and into a river below, where they washed up nearby. As a father, I’m sure Flint has a million questions about why his sons have washed up in a river, but this is no time for questions. This is time for reunion!

Though I do have bad news to report. Jonel, surely in a moment of insanity, suggests that he take care of Boney for the time being. My dog! And yet, just like that, Boney leaves the party. My beloved, perfect pup, walks out of Chapter 1 (as a party member) before my very eyes.

Goodbye, Boney. I know we’ll meet again some day, but these few frogs have been pretty great. I’ll miss your rhythmic barking, and your orange bandana, and your bravery in the face of thousands of things that would scare any other dog around.

Until we meet again, my friend.

I guess this is no time for tears, and I did find some levity. In my promise to press all of Mother 3’s buttons, I decided to walk down a different path than where Jonel beckoned me, which brought up a fun dialogue option where the feather-capped Tazmilian says, “Flint! Where are you going?! Pull yourself together, man!”

Hey, maybe I want to role-play Flint as an aloof father! Maybe he’s just heading to the corner store and he’ll be right back! Maybe he cares more about his shivering sheep than his shivering sons! Did you ever think of that, Itoi?!

Oh well. It’s probably more important to see how Lucas and Claus are doing right now. Besides, I think I can hear a frog hopping somewhere in the distance! But before speaking with any frogs, I want to talk to a few more Tazmilians…

First, there’s Jackie, who has decided to challenge Jonel over the position of the most faithful man in town. Jackie says Hinawa is a wonderful person, so he’s sure God is looking out for her. I wonder what kind of gods the Tazmilians believe in. Maybe, in their hodge-podge of fashion choices, there is also a hodge-podge of gods! It at least seems like the prayer sanctuary is non-denominational, unless everyone prays to those dragons.

Jonel is still around, with my dog next to him, but it’s worth talking to him again because you can see two fun animations from Boney. The first one involves Flint kneeling down next to Boney, which is cute, but nothing special.

The next animation, however, is amazing. I’ve never seen it before, or at least I don’t remember having seen it, but if you continue to press ‘A’ next to Boney, he’ll shake back and forth, spraying water everywhere.

And, if you need an even closer look:

The next NPCs to talk to are Bud and Lou, who are standing around and running bits as usual. Honestly, I didn’t think this one was the funniest thing in the world, but it basicaly boils down to Bud and Lou supporting the search and rescue efforts, and vowing to protect Hinawa if anyone tries to hurt her.

But hey, Bud and Lou have new material literally every time I talk to them, so I’m not here to criticize. I wish I could churn out new material as fast as Bud and Lou, in the form of videos for Frog by Frog!

But that’s neither here nor there. Not much farther ahead, hops today’s dear old frog.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m beat! This really is the night will never end…

At least Lucas and Claus are back, so that allows us a moment to take a break. And I’ve got to say, encountering the day’s frog really is a comfort. Something about talking to these little green guys always calms me down. You’d think calling my dad, like in Mother or EarthBound, would be more comforting, but, to me, there was always something business-like when calling the fathers of the Mother series.

I love the phone calls to dad as a design choice–don’t get me wrong. It’s one of the millions of things that makes the first two Mother games so special. However, over the years, I’ve come to understand Itoi more and more when he encourages players to embrace the frogs. Here it is in his own words:

Yes. Even before the game was on the shelves, I was anticipating many questions about why saving wouldn’t involve calling Dad. Actually, I was already being questioned about it even before then. (laughs) Changing the system of a game is, in the end, going to absolutely guarantee complaints. What I’d really like is for people to think that the frogs were even better than phone calls to Dad.

And I agree! For better or for worse, Mother 3 is the black sheep of a black sheep series, but I like that. While the version of Mother 3 we got on the Gameboy Advance is likely nowhere near the level of cinematics and storytelling that Itoi wanted for the Nintendo 64, I still view Mother 3 as a fully realized project. So many design decisions seem deliberate, even if they are different, and they work for me. I have no complaints, anyway.

However, I still see how some players would miss, or at least note, that the phone calls to Dad are missing. Something I’ve realized recently, and I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this, is that I’m sure many people wanted Mother 3 to fall more in-line with its predecessors’ settings. Instead of taking place in the 90s, like EarthBound, maybe people wanted it to just take place in like 2005 or something. If you think it about it this way, it makes sense for people to worry when they realized saving would not involve calling Dad. What would it involve, then? And why?

And then so the question: why frogs?

I suppose I’ve been holding this over your head long enough, haven’t I? Plenty of readers probably already know the origins, and if you’ve read the entire Nintendo Dream interview, the information is right there. Let’s hear it from the man himself:

But really, the question I fear most is, “Why frogs?” But they are tiny, they seem like they could be anywhere, and they won’t get in your way, yet they do stand out. A dog wouldn’t really seem like a save point. I’ve written a song called Furimukeba Kaeru13. When someone fails, a frog comes along and says, “Oh, it’s nothing to worry about.” The lyrics show, hey, you’re being told this by a frog. It’s obviously not worth being that upset about. It’s a frog telling you this, what more do you want? (laughs) That’s where it comes from.

And there you have it. The save frogs were chosen to keep us from getting too worried, from taking life too seriously. And I guess it’s true–there are certainly many things I’ve been through in life, or many moments where I’ve felt confused or upset, where if a frog had *hopped* along and told me to not worry so much, I probably would have felt better. Sure, frogs don’t make the same sense as a diegetic decision as phone calls to dad do, but they’re still a great addition to Mother 3’s world. The save frogs become a consistent source of levity in Mother 3, and I personally always feel relieved when I see one.

Maybe Flint should see these save frogs as a chance to relax. If the cold cowboy stopped, took a deep breath, and listened to the wisdom of a frog, maybe he’d have an instant insight about where Hinawa and the boys are. Yes, the night is getting longer, and the circumstances more dire, but there’s really nothing to worry about when the save frogs are around. Because when save frogs are around, everything is going to be okay.

Right?

4 thoughts on “Frog #10: Tragic Reconstruction

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s