Frog #13: The Vine Intervention

For most people, 13 is an unlucky number, but not for me. Or at least not for this blog. Today’s frog contains probably my favorite gameplay session so far. It wasn’t the most exciting, nor the most impactful for the plot, but it had a little bit of everything.

For Frog #13, I met an amazing set of new characters, who were in the middle of a party. I continued the search for Claus, hiking through a winding cave trail with only Alec’s faint memories to guide me. I loosened up a bit and enjoyed a few puns. I talked, I fought, and I explored.

Isn’t that the heart of any good RPG experience?

It’s important for in-laws to bathe in hot springs together.

In short, I feel alive again! I’ll be honest: after the nearly back-to-back Frog #8 and Frog #11 (Part 1 and Part 2), I was starting to get a little worried. Did I underestimate the distance between frogs? Am I going to burn myself out on this thing?

But, like I found relief in last week’s post, the Frog by Frog Blog is finally returning to a more relaxed pace. And, again, I know that if I didn’t disallow myself from repeating save frogs, I’d be able to experience the save frog’s proximity for their actual purpose: flexibility in the duration of time-played. But look: I have a game to finish, here! I can’t stop every time I feel a little bit tired.

All I’m getting at is, it’s nice when writing about Mother 3 feels like playing Mother 3: creative, laid back, warm-hearted, care-free.

Or who knows, maybe I’ve drunk some funny tea…

And hey, what can I say: revisiting Chapter 1 like this never ceases to surprise and delight me. I love seeing the world of Mother 3 slowly unfold and become more complex. The introduction of Aeolia and their cohorts, the continued search for Claus, the dynamic between Flint and Alec–I’m on the edge of my seat, yet also immersed in the world-building, and also just having a good time.

Like earlier moments in Chapter 1, I can remember playing this section of the game for the first time. What I remember most, actually, are Alec’s puns during the trip through the cave, but I remember almost all of it: Aeolia’s Party Theme, the inside of Aeolia’s house and the scene of the party, the pitch blackness (hey, would you look at that) of the cave, Alec’s insistence on boosting Flint’s morale… This part of Chapter 1 is different than the rest, which is often somber, bleak, and ominous. Here, the game maintains its strangeness but also becomes light, briefly hopeful, and even relaxing. Maybe it’s the feeling of getting out into the world a little bit, beyond the Sunshine Forest. Maybe it’s the crisp mountain air! Whatever it is, I feel like this is where Mother 3 first starts to hit its stride.

I wish we could have stayed at Aeolia’s party for a while, and that Claus could have been there, and that we all could have had some rosehip tea and put aside our worries for a little while.

Though that’s what this is all for, isn’t it? Where’s Claus? And who are Alec’s friends, who he claims may know where the boy has gone? And those frogs, the ones that Flint and Alec used as a bridge to cross the river, do they wait there all day? Or, being seemingly large frogs, do they await some sort of call or signal from those little blue frogs, messages of “Froggy Intelligence,” then just swim all the way to wherever they’re being called? How exactly do the frogs coordinate this whole “frog bridge” operation in the first place? I bet with those long limbs, they can swim pretty far and pretty fast.

Well, let’s try to answer all of these questions and more.

“Did You Get Invited to Aeolia’s Party?”

So, we left off Flint and Alec as they made their way to Alec’s friend’s house. He has prefaced his friend by describing them as neither male nor female, neither young nor old. They are watching over something in this place, and have lived here for a long time.

Before meeting this friend, though, we meet another of Mother 3’s talkative farm animals: a cow who will give you milk. Actually, the cow asks whether or not you’re “In the mooooood for a milking?” which is not the way I’d like to put it, but hey. What am I going to eat these nut cookies with if not a little milk?

If you turn the cow down, it supposes you’re just not a milk person, but if you say yes to the cow…

I’m going to assume the cow is saying that because Flint’s a farmer.

Words of Wisdom with Alec #1

One of my favorite things you can do at this point is try to skip Aeolia’s house by entering a nearby cave. Alec will tell you, “Go where your heart takes you! … But not that way!!” and if that’s not the Mother 3 motto, I don’t know what it is! Honestly, though, I think it’s a really funny piece of dialogue, and if linearity begets creative dialogue, so be it! It reminds me of something my own dad would say to me.

Though we’re not here to talk about caves and cows. We’re here to talk about Alec’s friend, and this amazing shell house they live in.

It seems even the creatures of the forest are familiar with whoever dwells in this house. A nearby advice-giving sparrow instead becomes a gossip-giving sparrow. “The Magicantians are having their monthly tea party today. Can’t you hear those indescribably deep yet shrill voices coming from Aeolia’s house?”

Though the inside of Aeolia’s house isn’t shrilly in the slightest: step inside, and you’re greeted with the Party Theme, which is, in my opinion, one of the most fun and unique tracks on the soundtrack. You’d think that Gameboy Advance saxophones could never sound so luxurious, but think again. This song sounds like you’re sitting first class on a groovy spaceship; it really knocks off your space socks.

Then, you see the party. Everyone is dressed to the nines, lounging to the max, kicking back and sipping rose hip tea while discussing the strange way of things. I think I’m starting to understand Alec a little better; he may be the same age as old man Wess, but he hangs out with The Nowhere Islands hip folks.

He hangs out at Aeolia’s.

Aeolia’s house, and all the Magicantians’ houses, is such a special location in Mother 3. Tazmily may be simple and idyllic, but it doesn’t go too far above that. When the Pigmasks Arrive, we see steel, industry, and technology, but not necessarily anything good for the soul. With the Magicantians, we get this unexpected, unconventional break from the rest of the Nowhere Islands. The Magicantians have not just a different style, but a different way of life, of thinking, of being.

They live on the Nowhere Islands, but they don’t play by its rules. The Magicantians are thoughtful, quick-witted, open-minded, and insightful, sometimes to a fault. They remind me a bit of Gandalf’s role in Middle Earth: intelligent, but shrewd when necessary; a guide, but inclined toward a “hands off” approach. A Magicantian will nearly always help you when you cross their path, but they will be quick to point out your near-sighted humanness. Compared to a Magicantian’s lifespan, humans live for a very short time. Magicantians have been around for a while, and, if not for the stakes of Mother 3’s plot, they would have remained for a very long time.

Though don’t let the Magicantians fool you, just because they may not be sympathetic to the short life-spans of humans. These people (yes, I know the game considers them something different than humans, but I’m going to be calling them people) will always match pointed wit with humor, fatalism with levity. The Magicantians embody so many of the themes Mother 3 is already playing with and will continue to play with. The Magicantians become tragic, but always maintain an enlightened ease.

Will their wider perspective on the world, and life, harbor any consequences? For starters, might they have simply stopped Claus, instead of sending him along with a powerful PSI technique? Certainly, sending the boy along was much more dangerous than keeping him for a while, but maybe the Magicantians were also able to sense something deeper within him…

Now, one of the first things you’ll notice about the Magicantians is their names: Doria, Phrygia, Mixolidia, Etcetera. Apparently, these names reference various musical modes, but, as I can barely hit a rhythm-combo, I won’t be saying much about this naming decision. Of course, it works in the sense that prior Mother games had the player finding melodies as, later in the Mother 3, we’ll be finding each of the Magicantians and their corresponding… something! We’re not there yet. But for the Mother series’ strong connection to music, I think the Magicantians fit right in.

By speaking with the Magicantians, you’ll find that they can be charming, aloof, and insightful all at the same time. Some of the group will be delighted by visitors, while others will be delighted by humans especially. The Magicantians experience time much different than humans, so a normal human’s lifetime is like a speck for the Magicantians.

Doria wears probably my favorite outfit of all the Magicantians, and has my favorite attitude.

Though, unfortunately, we’re not here to sip tea and muse about the goingson of whatever it is Magicantians talk about. We’re here for answers about Claus, and, unfortunately, there’s good news, and there’s bad news. What else is new?

When you talk to Ionia, you’ll trigger a long dialogue between Alec, Ionia, and Aeolia. Alec, who Ionia affectionately calls “snookums” and “Alecy-poo,” fits in much better with Aeolia and co. than I thought, or at least much better than Flint. We can’t see what the cowboy is thinking or saying, but I think Flint would be having a much better time if he just took a genuine moment of rest. This, really, is the place to do it. There’s room on the bed over there!

Ionia says that Flint and Alec are in luck: today, the Magicantians are having a party, and all of them are here. All of them except Locria, of course, a missing Magicantian. When you live as long as Aeolia and co., and one of your own goes missing, maybe it’s normal for them to slip in and out of relevance over hundreds of years. Who knows. That said, I like the subtle world building detail. Where is the missing Magicantian? Who is the missing Magicantian?

While I’m sure Alec has attended his share of hangouts and pop-bys at Aeolia’s, he keeps things on track by asking if any of them have seen Claus, who Aeolia remembers right away, saying that Claus has the same eyes as Alec. Or is it the same eyes as Flint? I wasn’t totally sure. It would make sense for Aeolia to be referring to Flint, though, especially as it becomes clearer and clearer to me that Lucas is to Hinawa, as Claus is to Flint.

The bad news is, Claus was in a huge rush, eager to avenge Hinawa’s death. He headed toward Drago Plateau which, for a kid his age and size, is basically a death wish. The good news is, Aeolia sent him along with a powerful PSI technique, which may save the boy, though Aeolia doubts he’ll be able to use the technique very easily. Alec, horrified by this, asks the Magicantians why they didn’t stop Claus before he does something dangerous, to which Mixolydia says, “We couldn’t care less about you humans, here one minute, gone the next,” to which Doria quips back, “Humans care about such short lives! Isn’t that right, Alecy-poo? <3”

To be fair to Mixolydia, I don’t think Magicantians don’t care about human life, but I think they need occasional reminders that human life is so different, so so much shorter, than their own lives. Though they may sound harsh now, Mixolydia will say, “Go, humans! <3” on your way out of the party. What likely happened is that, when faced with a determined little boy on a mission, Aeolia’s instinct was to give him the tools to accomplish whatever he set himself out to do. A Magicantian’s first instinct probably isn’t to stop a human from doing something. They may not consider mortality in the same way at all, so it made more sense to equip him with some PSI than to stop him outright.

That said, Claus’s situation still doesn’t seem great. Aeolia says that Claus ran off for Drago Plateau, without a single concern for his own life. Quite rambunctious, too, Aeolia adds.

And this is, more or less, our introduction to the Magicantians, some of the most important characters in Mother 3. I’ll explore them more in-depth as we continue through the game, but, for now, we learn two important things: the Magicantians can instill, or at least awaken, PSI powers in others, and they are protecting something.

Personally, I wish there were a way to visit the Magicantians more often throughout the game, not just when the plot requires it. I know they don’t gather together very often, but perhaps just Aeolia’s house would be nice to visit more. I could see this being possible if Mother 3 were less linear, but alas. We mostly only see the Magicantians when the plot brings us together.

As for their placement in Chapter 1, I’ve always seen Aeolia’s party as a sign of things to come. Mother 3, thus far, has had the series’ staples of humor, unique enemy design, and great music, but Mother 3 hasn’t full embraced its Mother roots, in my opinion, until Aeolia’s party. There are no other places like the Magicantian’s houses, nor any other characters like the Magicantians. Every Mother game need a sense of camaraderie, whether through the friends you make along your journey in EarthBound, or something like the battle-buddy Flying Men in Mother, who are themselves residents of Magicant. The Magicantians in Mother 3 feel like important, powerful allies. They also are some of the only characters who you can really feel safe around, especially as the game progresses.

And still, the Magicantians make us ask ourselves: if they are so powerful, why don’t they join us to look for Claus? If they are so wise, why don’t they offer us better council? If they throw parties this amazing, why is only Alec invited? Aeolia lives pretty close to Drago Plateau. Could they not have helped Hinawa and the boys?

We’ll have to sit with these questions for a while as we learn more about the Magicantians and what types of people they are. It’s possible that these folks can see much farther into the future, can understand much more about reality, than they’re willing to let on to Alec. I mean, who could really trust the old man who talks to frogs?

Either way, I hope Flint leaves Aeolia’s party with a spring in his step. There was good news, and there was bad news. Claus is a fighter, through and through, just like his dear old Dad. If he’s armed with a powerful technique, it’s sure to help him, right?

I think this is a good time for me to address how I plan to write about Alec’s friends, whom the Fan Translation dubs the “Magypsies.” I have no idea what the original name is in Japanese, so I don’t know much about the translation decision, but, personally, I’m going to avoid using the word in my own commentary. I understand this could occasionally cause confusion, but I plan to refer to Aeolia and their friends, in plural, as just that: Aeolia and their friends, Aeolia and co., or “the Magicantians.” I know the Magicantians is not a perfect name, and Magicant as a location does not even appear in Mother 3, but I thought it was a series-relevant term that I’ve seen some fans use out-and-about on the web. In both Mother and EarthBound, the word “Magicant” denotes a different place, and the inside of Aeolia’s house has always reminded me of Magicant, so there you go.

Note: I don’t mean for this to be some kind of action toward Tomato and his translation. Tomato is one of my heroes, and I still can’t believe what he and his team accomplished with this translation. That said, I do think the translation decision, or the name origin from Itoi himself, is an unfortunate oversight that can perhaps be rectified in a future update.

What about Itoi himself? Well, of Aeolia and company, Itoi says this:

Yes, they’re like mixed-up Chimeras. (laughs) A fusion of man and woman… [They are fantastic because] the world in the game is so macho. The good guys in the game are strong and they fight. The same goes for the bad guys. So in other words, it’s set up so that might equals right. “Power is Beautiful.” And amid all of that, there are these non-men yet non-women people who have already gone so far as to accept their fate of death. If these characters really existed… I would want people who play MOTHER 3 not to act hostile towards them. I would want them to have fun together in a world they both share.

It’s to the point where I’ve been told how well I understand the Magyspy heart. (laughs) And how some players were especially moved to tears in the way the Magypsies’ sense of beauty differs from the sense of beauty most people adhere to.

As we can see from Itoi, he considers the Magicantians to be a unique and important part of Mother 3–he considers them beautiful, too. They are chimeric in a few different ways. Yes, there is their representation as “fusions” of men and women, but there’s more. Whereas the Pigmasks chimeras are these scientific experiments, the Magicantians are of the world, and even protectors of it. The Magicantian’s existences in themselves are contradictory, if not chimeric: they understand the futility of life and the inevitability of death, they practically wear it on their sleeves, yet they see more beauty than any of the other characters, and they also literally live longer.

Honestly, another reason I think Alec is, at times, a stand-in character for Itoi is because the Magicantians are Alec’s friends, just as Itoi says he has friends like the Magicantians in real life. Itoi’s conception of representing these characters isn’t perfect, however, which is why I also wanted to include this tweet, from Mother-community member Bones, who asked folks what they thought of Mother 3’s nonbinary representation. I think the comments are worth checking out and reading if you’ve never thought about the Magicantians in great detail.

Still, I think Aeolia and the others represent an important part of true goodness in Mother 3’s world; remember, Itoi himself considers the world to be “macho,” which I think is represented well through Flint in Chapter 1, and the fact that we play as a father in the first place, something which was previously unseen in previous Mother games. At the same time, the Pigmasks, later, are revealed to not just be strange scientists with chimeric whims, but a wicked, whimsical, military-industrial force, hopping through space and time and tweaking living things to make them “cooler.” It’s not uncommon to interpret Mother 3 as having anti-establishment values, especially as the story eventually comments on capital, labor, and exploitation. However, I’ve always thought Mother 3 takes these comments and interpretations a step further because of the motivations of the main villain…

…which I guess means we’ll have to get to that later. For now, the Magicantians, because they do not fit in with the restrictions of the macho world, can achieve much more outside of its coding. They are both impartial to time, but accepting of death. They both contain magical powers, and can awaken them in others. They don’t seem interested in maintaining any kind of idyllic stability, yet, in understanding life as fleeting, they find a higher level of contentment. They are a literal linch-pin keeping the world together, but we’ll get to that later in the story. The Magicantians’ “power” exceeds the raw force of the macho world and makes us rethink “might is right.” Power can be measured in many ways. There is such a thing as a quiet, gentle, or even mysterious strength.

Anyway, similarly to when I wrote about Duster and representations of ability, I do not portend to be a definitive voice on Aeolia and the Magicantians. I am much more interested in deepening my understanding of representation and hearing the opinions of others.

All I can really say for myself personally, is that I think the Magicantians are one of the best parts of Mother 3. They feel so at home in the Mother series, to me. When I first played this game, I was 13 years old, and I never questioned Aeolia and their friends. The Magicantian Party fit in with what I’d seen in EarthBound and even Mother. While I was never a very active poster, I think I was a member on Starmen.net starting around 2007 or 2008, and I’ve always felt like the Mother series, though smaller in scope to other video game, has garnered a much more diverse fanbase. I think Mother is a series that fills many people with a sense of belonging and understanding.

With that in mind, I can understand if some of the Magicantians’ implementation in Mother 3 registers as off-putting to non-binary people, when some of the only queer-coded characters in the game are not humans, and suggested to be not of this world.

That said, I feel relief whenever one of the Magicantians is around. Mother 3, while consistently charming, dwells in fairly bleak places at certain points. Whenever Aeolia or any of the others is around, I feel safe and protected. The Magicantians have, what seems to be, an unspoken, unacknowledged power, or at least a much more intimate connection with existence and being. Later in the game, Ionia will awaken PSI powers in Lucas as well, with a method that has become a somewhat infamous scene in Mother 3.

To me, the Magicantians solidify Mother 3’s position as the most fairytale-esque entry in the series. Mother 3 has just as much science fiction, if not more, than the previous games, but something about Mother 3 feels like it’s part video game, part fantasy story. Maybe it’s the strong theming and narrative arc: a loss of innocence arc in the beginning, showing us the collapse of a happy family and a happy village. EarthBound and Mother are both full of magical, spiritual, and even psychedelic moments, but Mother 3, for my money, has the most magic. As Mother 3’s story continues, the Magicantians become so central to the plot that you can’t help but identify with their plight, as unique as it is. Without them, I don’t think Mother 3 would have the same heart it finds later in the game, as the good guys’ numbers dwindle more and more against increasingly dangerous odds. Sadly, as most players probably already know, the tale of the Magpies is more of a “And Then There Were None” scenario.

Of course, the Magicantians would make fun of me, a silly human, for lamenting their deaths. So, for now, I only want to focus on the good times we get to spend with them, the snacks we eat together, and the rose hip tea we share, in even the oddest circumstances.

Spelunking With Your Father-in-Law: The Dos and Don’ts of Dad’s Day Out

Go wherever your heart takes you!… But not that way!

Alec

And before too long, Alec and Flint leave Aeolia’s Party and head into the mountains. Personally, I would have liked to stay at the party, but I’d imagine if I drank too much of that rose hip tea, I might not have much motivation for the rest of the day. It’s hazy in Aeolia’s place from more than just steam, I think. Why else do you think Alec doesn’t complain about his joint pain anymore?

Anyway, going into the caves with Alec is another one of those parts of Mother 3 that has always stuck out to me. Mother 3 is a shorter game than EarthBound, but each of its parts is distinct. During this part of the game, Alec tries over and over to help Flint cheer up, even laugh a little bit, despite their circumstances. For a long time, I considered Alec’s reaction to be strange; Hinawa hasn’t even been in the ground for a day, yet her father is literally cracking wise and letting out farts while searching for his lost and potentially also dead grandson.

I knew that wasn’t just the sulphur.

However, I think I might not understand Alec, or Itoi’s writing of Alec, for a long time. I mean, yes, I get it. Alec is trying to cheer Flint up. There’s no use throwing in the towel completely, over anything. Like Wess’s advice: Flint’s life isn’t his own. He has his children to take care of, and one loyal little pup. Hinawa’s death is tragic, but they’re going to need all the energy, all the strength, and all the luck they can muster to catch up to Claus and save him before anything bad happens. If there was ever a time to to turn to humor, why not now? At least from what I’ve learned so far from Mother 3, I think it’s okay to laugh against insurmountable odds. What time is better for laughter?

I also think Alec, in both his old age and his association with Aeolia and co., carries around a strange air to him. Alec has broken the fourth wall more deliberately than any other character, I think, because Itoi himself might most easily relate through him. EarthBound is full of gag humor, burps and farts, silly jokes, puns and relentless word play. Alec is like EarthBound, distilled into an old man. He suggests da vines grow upward because they are divine.

Alec is as self-aware as EarthBound, too. Alec knows he sounds ridiculous to Flint. He admits to his memory being bad, as he tells Flint which turns to take in the winding caverns of the cave. At one point, he even says, “What? Do you want me to make a pun or something?”

You could argue that Alec directing Flint through the cave takes away from the exploration or whatever, but I think this is one of those times where Mother 3 hits it just right. Don’t get me wrong: I would’ve loved for this cave section to be a larger dungeon, something akin to EarthBound’s first sanctuary location, which sees the player traversing a multi-floored cave and fighting a formidable boss at the end of it. However, Mother 3 just isn’t that kind of game, at least not yet. Instead, Alec tells Flint which turn to take, but sometimes he’s wrong. Sometimes, if you go against Alec’s word, you’ll find gift boxes with items inside, including a valuable Running Bomb that you can and should use on the boss of Chapter 1. Sometimes going against Alec’s words result in a longer, more dangerous path, but all of it still takes just about the same amount of time.

What I’m getting at is, Alec is the perfect companion for this part of the game. Yes, he technically tells you where to go, but it’s not imperative that you listen to him. There’s not even that much exploration to be done in this cave, just a few extra items here and there, but it’s there if the player wants it, and I like that. Sometimes if you disobey Alec, you end up at a dead-end, and that’s okay, too. Exploration should have dead-ends. It’s all the more reason to keep looking around and keep disobeying. Next time, it might not be a dead-end.

Anyway, back at the beginning of Chapter 1, I thought the handholding and signposting was a little bit too much, especially considering Mother 3’s already-linear path. It’s pretty hard to not just follow the pipeline of action in this Chapter 1. There aren’t all that many places to go.

However, as time has gone on, I think Mother 3 has hit its stride as a purposely different game than its predecessors. As I think we’ve all seen by looking at the game Frog by Frog, Mother 3 doesn’t always initially appear to be packing as much as EarthBound, yet other times, when you really think about it, Mother 3 accomplishes in inches what some games accomplish in miles. There’s a lot to take in, almost all the time. A lot of laughs to laugh, and a lot of feeling to feel. Yes, this could have been a larger dungeon, filled with more rooms and enemies, but why? We’ve all seen that before in basically every RPG we’ve ever played. Why not take a different approach? Why not turn it into an opportunity to have fun with characters and dialogue?

All I’m really trying to say is, I love how Alec transforms what could have been a pretty basic cave-crawl in an RPG, into a fun, playful section of gameplay that also allows the player, if they want, to ask themselves questions about grief, humor, and how people carry on after traumatic events. I know that might sound like I’m overanalyzing a cartoon-looking RPG, but I can’t think of many other games that follow up a funeral with a fart joke. As soon as Hinawa dies, the tone of Mother 3, like I pointed out two posts ago, commits to a wide and sometimes contradictory range. I think that’s really special, and I think it feels natural to ask questions within this world. How are the characters feeling? How would I feel in that situation? And if any of that questioning starts to feel too heavy or serious, there’s always a joke around the corner.

So, thanks, Alec. I still think you’re pretty weird, but I think I get what you’re going for. Maybe there is a way to be both a grieving person, and a smiling person. Im not sure if I know how, yet, but I’d like to learn someday.

Anyway, I think there are a few things going on with this cave.

On one hand, I think it’s funny to put Flint and Alec in a dark cave, where they have to rely on Alec’s memory to get them through. It forces the characters into a humorous and engaging position. Simple as that, and likely the reason for the cave.

However, I also think it’s perfectly possible that Itoi and his team made this cave, realized it wasn’t too engaging, didn’t want to expand the section due to story pacing issues, and so decided to make the whole thing pitch black to give the illusion of something more challenging or dangerous. Less likely, but you never know.

On the other hand, I’m willing to get a little literary with this one, but I promise it won’t be too much of a stretch.

In a way, the cave’s pitch blackness looks more winding, more dangerous, than it really is. At most, you might have to fight a few extra crag lizards if you don’t follow Alec’s path, but there are no real repercussions. Maybe it is a lazy dungeon, maybe it’s a way for Alec to have some funny lines, and maybe it’s also meant to show us something.

What phrase has been repeated more than any other? Other than “*hop* Save your game?”

Well, for my money, it’s the phrase “pitch black.” Don’t forget: it hasn’t been so long since Flint found himself covered head to toe in soot. It hasn’t been so long since Bud took a hard look at Flint and said, “You’re pitch black too, Flint.”

And here we are, in a pitch black cave. Honestly, I think the pitch black cave gives us a good idea of where Flint is at as a character. I don’t think that’s much of a stretch because Flint is our focal character and, therefore, he has to be silent. Flint’s wife is dead. One of Flint’s sons is missing. Take anyone who has been through something similar to Flint, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t take long to reach metaphors involving darkness, light at the end of the tunnel, etc. Flint is enveloped in pitch blackness right now. He’s enveloped in darkness, and grief. Because he can’t say anything, the cave represents it for us.

Now, look, with this blog, I try not to be one of those people who takes minute details in video games and stretches them out into vague literary theses, and I’m not saying that Itoi sat down and said, “I want this cave to be dark, so as to symbolize Flint’s grief!” As any writer knows, you don’t really go in to a story with your symbols all neat in a row; symbols come from the work itself, and the writing of it. Symbols, retrospectively, help us interact with stories and understand their characters. Symbols, even when unintentional, can feel “obvious” to a reader, watcher, or player. Humans are meaning-making machines, no matter which way you slice it.

With that in mind, I think the cave is a wonderful symbol for understanding Flint and Alec’s dynamic right now, whether or not the cave was intended to be, or whatever. Alec, literally, attempts to navigate the pitch blackness on Flint’s behalf, helping the two men find their way out of the cave. Alec has both more experience with this cave, and more experience with grief. Alec tells dumb jokes and urges Flint to relax–Alec has been through this territory before, but Flint has not. Alec, against admittedly dire odds, turns almost entirely to humor during his journey through the cave with Flint.

While I still don’t think Flint should be expected to re-open his heart on the day of his wife’s funeral, I see the point of Alec’s intention. Flint is in dangerous position, where the pitch blackness of his situation could consume him entirely. Don’t forget: just because we control Flint as the player and project our own characterization to him, Flint still expresses himself through his actions, and, as recently as last night, has attacked two people out of anger. Maybe Alec caught wind of that story, and so has decided to save his son-in-law from going off the deep end–from losing himself in pitch blackness.

Or, Itoi wanted to put some funny jokes in a dark cave.

In my opinion, it’s both. Or at least, when I think about the relationship between Flint and Alec, the jaunt through the cave seems like a metaphor served to me on a platter. I’m sure Alec knows that humor alone won’t pull Flint out of the darkness, but a little laughter here and there is as good a start as any.

Like I’ve talked about throughout Chapter 1, I’ll always love how Flint, both our silent focal character and our cowboy hero, experiences so many emotional highs and lows in Chapter 1, yet never speaks. It’s normal for the main character in a video game to not speak, for the interpretation to be left up to the player as to what they say, but not many silent characters in video games go through as much as Flint. I mean, sure, Link from The Legend of Zelda has gone through some shit, but I don’t think he’s ever lost a wife and a son in the same day. It’s normal for a western hero, ala Clint Eastwood, to be a man of few words, and a man of a few emotions, at that. A man who shoots first and asks questions later.

I just can’t think of a better way to subvert those two expectations at the same time. What happens when a silent hero’s family is taken from him? How does the player interpret the actions of, and project their own intentions on, a character like Flint? Maybe some players think Flint’s breakdown is just a slight on his record–a moment of angry passion on an otherwise clean slate. Maybe other players interpret Flint as harboring dark emotion in his strength, always apt to express himself through physical action, always in danger of exploding. Is Flint a loose cannon, or is he a man who has been pushed too far, too fast?

Imagine if, in the first hour of EarthBound, the happy-go-lucky Ness, wearing his baseball cap and his backpack, lost his family. How would the player to be left to interpret that? I’m not even sure.

Yet, with Flint, we have just enough details about him to make some personal inferences, and just enough concrete evidence of his actions to ascertain what type of guy he is. Yes, Flint is seen as reckless, bruteish, and aloof, but I think Alec (who I also think Itoi channels himself through) sees the light in him. (Writers always see the light in their own characters, even the most lost and misguided). And in my opinion, Flint’s actions at the end of the chapter find this light, giving an amazing end to his arc, and an amazing introduction to Mother 3’s larger themes.

In short, I know I’ve said this a thousand times, but I can’t think of a more perfect way to introduce a game and a character. Chapter 1 brands Mother 3 as forever different than its predecessors all due, surprisingly, to a father.

The Other Side of the Mountain

After climbing up all the vines, all the divine vines, and all da vines, Alec and Flint finally make it out of the cave to the top of a mountain. I can’t tell if this is supposed to be the other side of the same clifftop where Fint, Duster, and Boney fought the Reconstructed Caribou, or if it just looks similar. There’s a broken piece of land that may have once connected the two clifftops, though, like I said, I can’t really tell if it’s supposed to be the same setting.

Either way, we’re getting close to the Dragos. Clawmarks surround Flint and Alec, as do strong enemies. Chapter 1 is nearly finished now, finding its finale in the mountains above Tazmily.

It’s hard to believe we’re nearly finished with Chapter 1. On one hand, I feel like I’ve said too much, taken things to an overkill-level of commentary. On the other hand, I feel like I haven’t said enough. I want to give every character, every enemy, every song, every thing in this game a worthwhile amount of attention. I’m only covering the gameplay Frog by Frog, so why shouldn’t I?

Have I eaten my words a couple times, with long posts like Frog #11? Yes. But have I also found a new, or not even new, but increased appreciation for one of my favorite games ever? Yes, absolutely. it feels like just yesterday we were running into the forest with Thomas, Leder’s bell clanging a warning somewhere in the distance. It feels like just yesterday I was cheering on Boney during his heroic run through the forest. We have experienced so much!

If you’ve been reading the blog from the start, or, if this is your first Frog post, I hope you stick around for the rest of the journey. The best is yet to come, really.

You know, something I’ve thought about during Chapter 1, as times has gone on, is the original version of Mother 3, which would have come out for the Nintendo 64. Sometimes, as I review as much as I can in Chapter 1, I wonder if the game became something that Itoi was proud of. He doesn’t talk as much about Mother 3, nor is there as much material with him discussing the game as there is with EarthBound. At times, it seems like so much content was cut from Mother 3 that may have made the game much bigger. There’s always an air of “what could have been” when considering Mother 3. Even looking through the Pollyanna comic, you can tell that more people seem to connect with Mother and EarthBound than Mother 3. Maybe if Mother 3 had been that bigger game, that bigger release, things would’ve been different.

Though, bigger does not always mean better. Looking back, something I love about Chapter 1 of Mother 3 is its embodiment of a great principle for writing any story: start as close to the end as possible. Many writers and readers interpret this quote in a variety of ways, but I’ve taken it to mean that you should at least have a gripping introduction, with only the essential and the intriguing as far as exposition goes. However, I also believe that different formulas work for different stories. If we started Mother 3 ten minutes before it ended, the game wouldn’t be any fun.

Even though I wish I could experience EarthBound 64’s original plot, I love how Itoi opted for a forest fire in the final game to start things with a bang. I think Chapter 1’s pacing over all is one of the shining spots of Mother 3. Even though there’s a time jump in a few chapters, and even though Mother 3 certainly takes its time at certain points, its fast-paced introduction really is something special, even if it lacks the world building and character development that may have been possible in EarthBound 64. We still get a lot here, and a lot of the a lot is a lot of great stuff. Would Hinawa have been as memorable if we had more time with her? Would Tazmily have been as mysterious and sympathetic if we didn’t meet it in middle of a tragedy? Would the moments have felt as surprising, as heroic, if we’d already been acquainted with the characters for quite some time? Think of off-the-cuff moments of heroism from Duster, Wess, Boney, and others. We’ll never know what would-have-been with EarthBound 64, but I do think some better decisions were made on the writing side of things in the version we have.

What I’m getting at is, I haven’t really spent that much time with Flint. I’ve spent even less with Alec. Yet, when I have these two characters in my party, I have such an amazing sense for who they are as people, and what their dynamic is. Alec has had, before joining my party, like five minutes of screen-time, but I feel like I’ve known him for a while. How does one game manage to communicate so much? Who would’ve thought these little pixels would contain multitudes, just like real people?

(Okay, maybe not multitudes, but some dynamism, at least! Let me have some fun, here!)

I feel like this has been one of the most digression-heavy frogs I’ve written in a long time, but I’m okay with that. I intended for this post to be short, and it ended up being long. I think that’s okay! I like where I’ve ended up.

As for Flint and Alec, they have ended up in a cave, high up in the Tazmily mountains. Ahead of them is the dreaded Drago Plateau. Not dreaded, of course, because of the peaceful Dragos, but because of the countless strong foes that dwell up here. Will the two men be strong enough to make it through? Who lives? Who dies? I’ll admit–Alec is braver than I thought. Let’s hope his bravery protects him, too.

The only other thing I have to say is, I’m excited for the next frog. If my memory serves me right, it’s the final frog of Chapter 1. If my memory serves me wrong, this week’s frog might be the last of Chapter 1. Who knows! I don’t.

Take care of yourself out there!

3 thoughts on “Frog #13: The Vine Intervention

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