Frog #14: Cautiously…

You know, I’ve wondered when a frog like this might come along.

So far on the blog, we’ve had long frogs, short frogs, and somewhere-in-the-middle frogs. We have even had blue frogs, green frogs, right frogs, and wrong frogs. Typically, I try to write as much as I can about a frog. Even more typically, after I’ve posted a frog, I feel like I didn’t write enough. Every time I feel like I should have written more, or should have taken an idea a little further, I tell myself, “There’s a lot of game still to come–Mother 3 ain’t over yet!”

Today on Frog by Frog, however, I maybe have the least to say that I ever have. In short, I fought some more enemies and made it to another save frog. There were some gift boxes, but I only opened one of them because my inventory was full (Note: because of my laziness, I actually missed a weapon that I ended up backtracking for). Not that I didn’t want extra beef jerky, but I almost always have enough beef jerky to feed Survivorman for a month, so I’m sure I have enough for one afternoon with Flint and Alec.

I know that sometimes I can stretch things out, and that I tend to reach for weird ideas, but I’m not even sure what I can do with today’s gameplay. There’s really not much to say.

Over the bridge and through the plateau–to the Drago’s house we go!

Then again, that’s just how I feel going in to the post. As for how much fun I had, this was one of my favorite sections of gameplay so far. Like I’ve said before, I totally understand how turn-based combat just doesn’t do it for some people, but for me, especially with the Mother series, turn-based combat is consistently effective. Maybe it’s the good battle music, or maybe it’s the enemy sprite designs, but when a session of Mother 3 is mostly combat, I have no complaints.

Anyway, that’s that: today on Frog by Frog, Flint and Alec continue looking for Claus. There’s very little dialogue, but still, I think, some interesting things to discuss.

Who’s ready to talk about setting?

The Drago Plateau

Remember back in Frog #10 when I talked about how the Pigmasks’ mountain campsites creeped me out? There’s something unnerving to me that something, someone, could be just out of sight, just too high, just too far back, for you to notice; yet still there, watching, waiting… (turning reindeer into robots…)

Well, once again, the Pigmasks are the masters of camping out of sight, and, like last time, their relative position is up and away. Not far from last week’s save frog, you’ll find some steps carved in to the cave. Follow them up, and you’ll find none other than two Pigmask Soldiers, sitting around and catching their breath.

Doesn’t this creep anyone else out? Maybe that’s why “Cautiously” plays in these caves…

Look, I’m not saying the Pigmasks themselves are scary–in fact, they’re pretty non-threatening, especially when seen like this. But it’s the idea of it! Think of how far Flint and Alec have traveled so far; we’re a good distance from Tazmily and the Sunshine Forest at this point. Yet these soldiers are all the way out here, inside a cave, and up a sketchy set of cave stairs. This Pigmask camp makes the “attack” on Tazmily feel realer to me: who knows where else the Pigmasks are hiding? They’re like little ticks–there’s always another one to find. There could be a few Pigmasks hiding out in Pusher’s huge mansion, for all I know.

We also know that where there are Pigmasks, there are chimeras, so when the soliders run off and escape like their comrades (or are they the same guys?), you can bet there’s some wicked happenings afoot. What’s it going to be this time? A reconstructed moose? A Mech-O Gecko?

Except there is one positive to the Pigmask Camp: the Instant Revitalization Machine. Take one step into one of these bad boys, and your party will be fully healed. These strange machines are strewn throughout the world of Mother 3, as an instant alternative to the hot springs. Personally, I think these are typical hunks of junk. Notice: when you heal yourself in a hot spring, you have to sit and wait a second, maybe chat with your father-in-law while you wade in the water. Sitting in the hot spring is a fun little break every time you do it. With the instant revitalization machine, you press a pig-shaped button (I assume) and boom! You’re healed.

Is this what people mean when they say technology alienates us from one another?

Or is this what people mean when they say their in-laws drive them crazy? Stepping in to the Instant Revitalization Device is probably Flint’s first break from Alec’s puns.

Take all the time you need in there, Flint.

As usual, you can inspect the Pigmask Equipment, only to be told you’ve never seen anything like it before. I know it’s a small detail, but I always like coming across it. I mean, really. Let’s just say you have a big backyard, or something. And let’s say you walk out to the end of your backyard, then there’s some woods. And let’s say in the woods, there’s a cave. And let’s say in the woods, in the cave, you found some mysterious, possibly military-grade, equipment.

That would be so weird, so cool, and so creepy! I think Chapter 1 attempts to keep up the mystery of the Pigmasks as long as it can. Personally, I think it’s a good call, because the Pigmasks themselves, after you’ve gotten a look at things like the Reconstructed Caribou, aren’t too threatening. Maintaining an air of mystery around them is important and, for the most part, works.

I still can’t say I like their outfits though. The basic infantry Pigmask uniform looks too fleshy to me. I don’t like it. I bet it smells like beans!

Anyway, after you revitalize Flint and Alec in the pigpen, it’s time to scout about on the Drago Plateau. This particular area of the game doesn’t have as much presence and immediacy as earlier set pieces in Chapter 1, like when a literal forest fire compelled us to rescue both Lighter and Fuel. Similarly, the night-long, rainy search for Hinawa and the kids is probably what most people remember when they think about this chapter. Compared to those, Drago Plateau looks like a normal RPG environment. It actually reminds me the first fifth or so of EarthBound, when you’re running around the caves and mountains of Onett and Twoson.

However, I still like the mountain trek with Alec, especially the Drago Plateau. We can’t forget that, just because we aren’t surrounded by fire, the stakes are as high as ever: Claus is alone out here, trying to avenge his mother’s death. For me, the empty, dry, almost wasteland-ish vibe of the Drago Plateau is an amazing foil to the rain and fire of the previous night. Yes, there’s a river running through it, but the enemies are giant scorpions, vultures, and crag lizards. Like a desert, this plateau doesn’t support anything but the toughest creatures.

I don’t trust the looks of that tree.

Drago Plateau is a desolate, but probably fitting, setting for the end of Chapter 1. If the look of it isn’t enough for you, the music should be: “Danger” plays in this area–a creepy, echoey, ambient song that doesn’t exactly instill me with hope about finding Claus. It sounds like the type of song you’d hear in a graveyard, or in an area at the end of an RPG, not just the end of Chapter 1. What I’m getting at is, I have a pretty bad vibe, and not one of those good/bad vibes that Bateau had earlier. This is a bona fide bad vibe.

The gameplay matches the song–it can get dangerous around here. I think I’m a little bit over-leveled right now, because of the times I’ve run around and played the game aimlessly, but I think Drago Plateau can be challenging if you aren’t prepared. Maybe not this first area, which is as far as I got before the next frog, but I think the area leading up to the boss (and including the boss) offers a challenge, at least to a first-time player. Drago Plateau makes me wish I could have brought Lighter and Duster along with me instead of Alec, but I think we’ll be all right.

Like I said, you’ll notice the enemies are pretty tough customers, or at least look like it. Large green scorpions, called Titany’s, skitter around, and I don’t really trust the shapes of those trees…

Maybe the battle theme for the Balding Eagles says it best with the title “More Troublesome Guys.” Everyone around here keeps trying to pick a fight! You can’t even open up a giftbox without somebody mean-mugging you. That’s what ultimately works for me about this setting: the enemies are tough, the music is on point, and the visual design ties everything together. We’re in Danger, and we can feel it!

Though, to be fair, sometimes you can’t even open a gift box without… not being able to open a gift box. Yes, one thing you’ll likely start to notice around this point in Mother 3 is that your inventory is full all the time. Some would argue that the Mother series has had inventory issues since its very first game, and that these issues have not improved much since 1989. I understand players’ frustrations with the Mother games’ inventory systems, but I think, sometimes, it’s more of a case of them being different than them being outright bad.

I’ll preface this with saying that I don’t mind playing older games, and many of my favorite games are RPGs from the 90s, so a clunky inventory system has never really thrown me for a loop. However, sometimes I think the negative reaction to Mother’s inventory systems is that players tend to respond poorly to anti-hoarding measures in video games. I think the Mother games want you to eat food items whenever you get them to try to stay as close to full health as possible. I think the Mother games encourage you to use items as you get them. I also think Itoi wants a character’s items, in a way, to help characterize them. Who carries what, and why? Not that trading items among party members is 100% smooth (it’s not, and this is definitely a flaw), but I think, at a certain point in each Mother game, you learn which party member you want to carry which kind of item. For example, Boney is often characterized by being a party’s quick healer, since he’ll usually go first in battle, and Jeff in EarthBound uses just as many items as normal attacks, with things like bottle and pencil rockets.

In the Mother games, the inventory systems remind me of heading out into the woods when my friends and I were kids. Who had the snacks? Who had the pocket knives? Who had the water bottles? Yes, the games require you to somewhat cumbersomely trade around items sometimes, but I think that’s also for the same reason that the party members don’t collapse on top of each other and actually walk around: if a character joins your party, they shouldn’t just disappear behind the main character sprite; and so, if characters were actually holding on to these items, they’d have to trade them around.

Is it just me or are the backgrounds getting trippier?

Of course, this argument isn’t great. If the inventory system can be defended with a movement toward realism, then how does Boney carry so many items? Why don’t the characters wear backpacks on their sprites? Etc, etc. I’m not saying my argument is perfect, but I think of games like Breath of the Wild, where every weapon (except one) will eventually break, and how many players reluctantly accepted the fact that their favorite sword was always a few swings away from breaking. Sometimes I think players like hanging on to items too much, and, if we’re to believe the words of the Advice-Giving Sparrows, that’s not a good idea! Eat your beef jerky! Let things go! Eat the sandwiches you packed! It’s like a First Person Shooter: if you hang on to that cool gun for too long, you’ll never actually get to use it.

Another game that comes to mind is Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War. Typically in Fire Emblem games, you can trade items freely among your characters both inside and outside of battle. In Holy War, you trade items by selling them to a pawn shop, then having a different character buy the item from the pawn shop. Many players dislike how Holy War makes trading more complicated “than it has to be,” but over time I’ve come to appreciate the game’s ideas. For one, this helps the player feel like their army is actually big; the player might intimately know each character, but the characters don’t necessarily all know each other. Maybe your cavalier doesn’t want to give away his Flame Sword for free, to some other horseknight who isn’t from his homeland–maybe he’d rather sell it and get some gold first. In addition, I think this trading system helps characters stand out from one another. It’s kind of fun to associate a weapon with a character, especially in a game that presents your characters in a historical sense and scope. The great weapons are remembered just as well as the great warriors, so it’s cool to say, “That’s Shanan, and he uses the Brave Sword,” etc, etc.

In Breath of the Wild’s case, I think the game both wants to 1) keep the player experimenting with new items; 2), maintain the sense of scarcity from the early game, which largely impacts the pacing and stakes; 3) encourage the player to embrace variety and randomness as a compliment to the huge traversable landscape. For the most part, I think Breath of the Wild succeeds, though, again, I understand some players’ frustrations. I just think it’s important to actively use items more, and be willing to part with them, to keep your inventory clear, or at least to keep your gameplay experiences varied.

In Holy War’s case, I think the designers wanted to take a series staple action, Trading, and turn it into something more complex, impacting inventory management and character outfitting. Is the pawn shop the best idea in the world? Well, I don’t know if it’s infallible, but I know that, once you’ve made enough money in Holy War, it’s actually not that hard to pass weapons around like it’s no big deal. There are actually some fun and intricate strategies to item and weapon management because of the pawn shop system. Without it, an entirely extra, engaging (to some) aspect of inventory management would be lost. And again, I think that even though the player comes to love all of their individual characters, the characters themselves are just part of an army together. That doesn’t make them friends, and that doesn’t mean they won’t want to make a buck off of each other at the pawn shop.

So, what’s the line between experiment and mistake? Well, to argue against myself, the Mother series has had a clunky inventory system since the very beginning, so I definitely think Mother 3 could have improved upon it more significantly. At the same time, don’t you find something freeing in using items more? Sometimes, by the end of a Final Fantasy game, I have so many god forsaken items in my inventory that it entirely breaks the illusion that my characters would be carrying this stuff around in the first place. I kind of like that in EarthBound and Mother 3, I’m always tossing stuff, or eating stuff, or selling stuff to make a buck. As for the Mother inventory system, it’s definitely just bad.

Also, really, eat your food and keep your inventory open; there are a lot of bombs to pick up. When I first played Mother 3, I remember I had a tough time defeating the final boss of Chapter 1. It helps a lot to have a few bombs to throw, which you can collect throughout the chapter. There’s a thunder bomb outside Wess and Duster’s house, and a few Running Bombs here and there. I usually go into the fight with two or three.

Somehow I ended up with six bombs on this playthrough, which is actually kind of funny because I think I’ll win the battle just by throwing them all. It’s still important to keep your health up during the fight, but I can’t believe I’ll actually be fighting with six bombs. So much for being a mild-mannered Tazmilian; mess around with Flint’s family, and he’ll show up to Drago Plateau with his hands full of explosives!

Sounds like a plan Claus could’ve gotten behind, honestly. If only he hadn’t run off. Where is that little guy, anyway?

And that’s really all there is to say. I liked this section a lot. Moving back and forth across the river on the wood-planked bridges reminded me of Peaceful Rest Valley, one of my favorite early-game areas in EarthBound. The danger up on Drago Plateau isn’t at the level of Peaceful Rest Valley, but the similarities in their environments is enough for me. I think I just like bridges! All video games should have more bridges.

Even though I love Drago Plateau, and I like the next part of it even more because it’s a little challenging, I personally think this beginning section of it is for players to grind out a few more levels, if needed, before the final boss. With the Instant Revitalization Device so close by, and gift boxes strewn throughout the area, and even the change in tone with the music–all of this seems like Mother 3 is saying, “Hey! Something is about to happen! Make sure you’re ready for what’s ahead!”

Also, I know that one of my missions on this blog was to show that Mother 3 is much more than just “that one cult RPG that gets dark,” but I can’t lie: Chapter 1 is definitely grim. The first thing we did was rescue a boy from a forest fire, barely making it out alive. At that point in the story, though, the rescue mission was full of hope and heroism, and even the hunt for Hinawa and the boys had moments of triumph and success from multiple characters: Flint, Duster, Boney, Wess, Lighter, Bronson, etc.

Yet here we are at the end, hanging on to whim and a prayer that Claus is still breathing. This is where all of our questions converge: could the Dragos still be peaceful? Could Claus have doubled back home, and this is all a wild goose chase? Could we be too late? If Mother 3 has shown us anything for certain, it’s that things can, and will, go wrong. Our heroes are fallible. Can Flint save his own son, as he once saved Lighter’s?

Just up ahead, you’ll find the next save frog. He’s near a small patch of grass, but I wonder if he really wants to be up here. Is it safe for a save frog, up this high on Drago Plateau? Or is the frog here on our behalf, to make sure we can record our memories with someone before we face certain doom? Maybe Flint and Alec will perish in the upcoming fight, leaving this lone save frog to share their tale.

Save frogs are supposed to make us feel calm, aren’t they? When we see these guys, we’re supposed to feel like everything is going to be all right. For me, right now, it’s a little hard to believe that.

Are we supposed to believe that Claus made it through here? If Claus made it through here, are we supposed to just hope he didn’t run into a Drago on Drago Plateau? And what about those Pigmasks? Is there another chimera lurking around up here? What, exactly, is Flint hoping to find? Maybe Claus chickened out, and he’s playing with Lucas and Boney right now out in the front yard.

Or, maybe he’s dead.

But I know better than that: Claus is his father’s son, and when Flint sets himself out to do something, he does it. We know that Claus, at least, has a powerful PSI technique from Aeolia. We know that Claus, at least, is braver than most of Tazmily put together. We know that where Lucas cries, Claus fights. We know that when his father gets tossed in jail, Claus breaks him out. We know that when life gives Claus lemons, he says, “Where’s my cabbage?!”

So, I’ll hang on to hope that Claus is just ahead, not much farther now, waiting for us to meet him. And somewhere, someday, we’ll all be happy again.

Cross your fingers ~

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