Frog #15: Somewhere, Someday

The tagline for the original Mother is “No Crying Until the End,” but I already feel like crying. Frog #15 is the final frog of Chapter 1, and even though I’m excited to finally begin playing and writing about a new chapter, I’m not ready to let this one go. I don’t want to say goodbye to Flint, and I think I’ll even miss Alec. I know we still have a long way to go, but, like any good story, I don’t even want to think about this one ending. I want to stay in Chapter 1 forever.

Well, maybe I’m not allowed to cry until the end of the game, but I’ll at least let myself tear up a bit. Seeing how things go today, it’ll be hard not to.

That’s right. Anyone who’s played Mother 3 knows that Chapter 1 continues its commitment to tragedy up to the bitter, yet redemptive, end. I know I say this a lot, but I also remember playing this part of the game for the first time, over a decade ago. (How can it be that Mother 3 has been a part of my life, of all our lives, for so long? It feels like yesterday I was reading about the game for the first time on starmen.net…). Back then, some of the themes of Chapter 1 didn’t hit me like they do now, but I still remembering wondering how everything had gotten to this point. How did a game that started on a peaceful farm get all the way to a deadly plateau, with at least one life lost and another hanging in balance? How’d it all go so wrong?

We could trace it all back to that fire in the Sunshine Forest, I suppose. That was our inciting incident; lives needed saving, and Flint stepped up. He was our reckless tough guy when all other Tazmilians failed. Some people flocked to his aid, but for the most part, our lone cowboy saved the day a handful of times. They say that Pigmasks still fear the stick-wielding sheep farmer.

And that’s about as much of a preface as I can offer, folks. This is the Chapter 1 Finale. Who lives? Who dies? Who cries? Where’s Claus?

Actually, before we go into the gameplay, I wanted to share a quote from Itoi that I found recently, thanks to the Sources and Citations page of motherforever.net. In an interview about EarthBound 64, Itoi was asked, “Are there recurring themes in the series?” And he replied:

No way. (Laughs). Games are just that–a game. Not something to revolve around a theme. Say we come across a falling ball. What can we do with that ball to turn it into a game? As long as there’s someone to catch and someone to throw, we can play catch. If someone has a bat, we can play something else. So if you wanna know what the theme is, it is: “there was a ball.” (Laughs) But young developers would be mocked if they said they had no theme, so they don’t really have the luxury to say that.”

Now, I admit, at first this quote kind of confused me. Itoi has spoken at length about his reasons for naming the series Mother, some of which relate to his own life, and some of which relate to the content of the games. Itoi has also acknowledged similarities between the Mother games, as well as certain things he likes to put into games, whether they are certain ideas, characters, enemies, songs, or situations. Itoi, though he ejects the idea of “theme” here, seems to speak about theming all the time. You could argue that all of these things make up a game’s thematic body, whether a creator sees it that way or not.

The quote also made me feel a little silly, since I have gone on and on about the themes of Mother 3. Loss and levity, for example, accompany each other so often that certain scenes and moments begin to feel thematic. Of course, after reading Itoi’s quote, I thought, “Would he just laugh at a blog like this?” I mean, like I’ve said before, I don’t pretend or try to be an authoritative voice on Mother 3, or anything, but I do like to conjecture and explicate, seeing what I can find in the story and the design of the game.

The more I’ve thought about this quote, though, the more I’ve been reminded of my aims from Frog Zero: to find the play. To find the fun. To find the ball, and see who wants to play catch. And maybe that’s what Itoi means. When Mother games, and specifically Mother 3/EarthBound 64, were designed, they were not confined to a specific theme or goal; they were designed to be fun and to be imaginative. It wasn’t a question of, “Should we always balance out our tragic moments with humor?” But rather a decision of, “Hey, something sad just happened. Where did that ball go? It’s time to play again!”

Maybe, at a base level, this is why the Mother games feel so eclectic in their influences and in the directions of the stories. Probably because of Satoru Iwata’s influence on Mother 2, I feel like Itoi didn’t say “no” very often, both to help his own visions come true, and to help the development team’s ideas come to fruition. I mean, simply reading the announcement cancellation of the original EarthBound 64 is enough to bum me out for the rest of the day. When I read this post, it feels like Itoi hated saying “no” just as much as he hated cancelling the game itself. He didn’t want there to be an end to the fun.

So I just want to reiterate: when I extrapolate about something in Mother 3, I’m not trying to suck the fun out of anything, but find even more fun in it. I find fun in details, and the Mother series, specifically Mother 3, tends to have very playful details–tends to be overflowing with details, actually. And you know what? Even if this blog would seem silly to Itoi, then so be it! I am having loads of fun, and by paying attention to the details in Mother 3, I’m finding bats, balls, gloves, bases, and a whole set of equipment to put my baseball team together. There was a ball indeed, Itoi, and I’m going to try to hit it out of the park!

But I digress! As always.

Anyway, like I said, I think this quote is supposed to be about thematic decisions related to design, and what ideas guide a developer. Itoi is sort of saying, “Each Mother game could be vastly different from the others–we just want to make them fun,” whereas a series like Super Mario or Dragon Quest or you-name-it might be held to certain design principles or processes. Sort of like how Ocarina of Time, a watershed Zelda and Nintendo 64 title, at many times seems designed around the time travel mechanic, whereas I think Itoi might find an idea like to be a little suffocating.

And still, this is an interesting quote to think about, considering what’s ahead for us, and what’s ahead for Flint and Alec. It’s difficult to watch the end of Chapter 1 of Mother 3 and not pick up on some thematic work at play. So many story threads come together in this final part, but maybe we should also look extra hard for where we can find the fun, the ball. Flint does carry around a stick, after all, and he has the best swing in all of Tazmily.

Is there fun to find in the end of Chapter 1? Where is the play in such a dire, dire end? Is this a moment where we need to be serious, because there’s a game going on here? Or is this a moment where we need to take it easy? Because it’s really just a game, after all.

The Child’s Shoe

When we last left Flint and Alec, they’d fought their way through the first leg of the Drago Plateau. Once again, I didn’t exactly do my due diligence as a Mother 3 player–I completely missed a new weapon: Fresh Lumber. You know, I feel kind of bad! For all my galavanting about people taking their time, playing the game slowly, and making sure to check every nook and cranny, I miss things all the time!

Honestly, I’m pretty sure that on my first few playthroughs of Mother 3, I went through all of Chapter 1 with only Flint’s original weapon: the stick from the Boney’s dog house. I know for a fact I didn’t pick up Lighter’s Lumber the first time, and I also know for a fact this is the first time I’ve ever picked up the Fresh Lumber. How should I feel about this? Do I suck at Mother 3? Do I not play around enough? Fresh Lumber isn’t exactly hard to miss if you’re actually exploring every inch of the plateau. To be fair, I had no idea the item existed, and I wanted to keep my inventory stuffed with bombs and beef jerky, like any law-abiding citizen would do.

As you can see, the Fresh Lumber is a really strong weapon. In a way, I actually preferred playing through this part of Drago Plateau with shitty weapons, because it makes the area more difficult. In the last leg of the Drago Plateau, leading up the boss, you have to fight an onslaught of trees (yes, you read that right), all of which burst into flames after you defeat them. When I only had the Stick to fight with, I remember this part of Drago Plateau feeling like a gauntlet, where I’d desperately hang on to all of my healing items because I needed them for the boss fight. This time around, I knocked trees around left and right like it was nobody’s barking business. Though it’s also possible I’m a level or two over-leveled, or just that I’ve gotten better at the game.

Either way, if you’re playing Mother 3 and you want a smooth exit from Chapter 1, make sure to pick up the Fresh Lumber. Keep to the left side of the previous area, with the Bald Eagles and Scorpions, and you’ll find it eventually. I cut together some footage of myself backtracking to get the weapon, so maybe I’ll turn it into a short “Notes from Nowhere” episode, or maybe I’ll just cut it into the video like I never even forgot it in the first place…

Anyway, back to business: just ahead of the save frog, Flint and Alec spot a baby Drago. The little guy is inspecting something on the ground, but it’s hard to make out exactly what it is. As soon as the baby Drago notices its being watched, it lets out a small cry and hops away.

He’s such a cute little guy, isn’t he? I’ve always wondered if this is supposed to be the exact same Baby Drago as from the Prologue, but I suppose its possible that it could be a different one. Either way, it’s a sign that we’re close to Drago Territory, which is good news, in a way. At least we’ll know the truth of the Dragos soon–have they become aggressive? Do Baby Dragos always look like cute little lima beans?

Of course, with any drop of good news, there’s always bad news in tow. Plus, the track “Danger” has begun to play again, which is as good, or as bad, a sign as any that we’re not safe around here (in fact, you could say we’re in Danger). Upon closer inspection, the Baby Drago had been inspecting a child’s shoe, specifically one of Claus’s shoes. And just like when Flint found the scrap of his wife’s dress, he picks up his son’s shoe to the tune of the world’s most depressing chime.

This is a bad sign.

Did anyone else see that tree move?

I don’t know why, but when Alec says, “This was one of Claus’s favorite shoes,” I can already feel my heart breaking again. My pain is still fresh from the Sad Lucas sprite! My pain is still fresh from Hinawa’s death! Give me a break, Mother 3!

But really–I don’t know what it is about that line, that detail, but it really hits me. I can remember being a little kid and having this pair of red and black tennis shoes that I loved, in the way that only a seven year old can love a pair of shoes. And Claus is just a little boy. He loves to run around, to play with the forest’s animals, to tease Lucas and chase Boney. He should be in bed right now, resting after last night’s events, his shoes next to each other on the floor and waiting for their next adventure.

Well, we have to press on, but I won’t pretend that the discovery of the shoe wasn’t a punch to the gut. The Pigmask Army has barely been in Tazmily for a day. How many people will they ruin?

It’s so little!

And honestly, evil Dragos aren’t even the only thing we need to be worried about. Just beyond this part of the plateau, the trees themselves become aggressive! Yes, the same trees who, for some time now, have looked strangely alive, finally come to life, and they’re no pushovers.

Okay, technically the trees aren’t as bad as I remembered, thanks to the Fresh Lumber, but I still don’t think this final stretch of Drago Plateau is a walk in the park. Each time you defeat a tree, it bursts into flames, which is something that trees also did in EarthBound‘s Peaceful Rest Valley, one of the more difficult areas of the early game and the game over all. Personally, I think exploding trees appear in these games not only because it’s weird and why not, but also because they teach the player about the rolling health bar.

The trees, for my money, have one of the better psychedelic backgrounds so far.

Basically, in EarthBound and Mother 3, damage dealt to the player is not received in full, so to speak, right off the bat. Instead, the HP meter “rolls,” giving the player time to heal themselves. The two most common scenarios where this matters are if the player takes “mortal damage” but heals themself before the HP meter reaches 0, or if the player takes mortal damage, wins the battle, and exits the battle entirely before the meter reaches 0. When you actually have multiple party members, you can toss around healing items and healing spells to keep party members alive while the battle is still going. It’s important to at least be comfortable with how the HP meter works, and to be comfortable enough with the Battle System to heal your characters somewhat quickly. The pressure is somewhat on, but not really.

I’m pretty sure, in Mother 3’s case, the Trees precede the final boss of Chapter 1 because familiarity with the rolling HP meter is important for the fight. We’ll talk about that more when we get there, though.

The Trees fight to the tune of “Toppling March,” which is an alternate version of “Astonishing March.” I think this a good example of how essentially the same song can personify different things for different enemies. Against the Crag Lizards, “Astonishing March” emphasized the creature’s bulk and strong attacks–the words rambunctious and unabashed come to mind while fighting. With the Trees, I feel like “Toppling March” emphasizes the weirdness of the enemy itself, from its weird eyes and smile, to the fact that it basically kills itself to try to you down with it. The song communicates a whimsical chaos that is perfect for such a strange enemy.

I know I mentioned this in Frog #13, but I still kind of wish Drago Plateau was a larger “dungeon.” The final area with the Trees is not very long, and the final boss of the chapter can practically be stumbled upon, but maybe that’s the point. Personally, I really enjoy this area of the game, and I would have loved to explore it a little bit more. Sure, the pacing of the story could take a small hit, but I feel like the discovery of Claus’s shoe is perfect forward momentum that could have been stretched at least a little more. Maybe just one more combat encounter area, where Trees, Crag Lizards, and Bald Eagles all have to be fought.

Then again, that would ruin the desolate vibe of the Drago Plateau. Yes, I’d like for there to be more Mother 3 for me to play, but Chapter 1 never overstays its welcome, and that’s a valuable quality for anything to have, especially in an RPG. I love the increasing scarcity of the Drago Plateau as Flint and Alec trek farther and farther in. Yes, the Bald Eagles, Scorpions, and Crag Lizards were formidable foes, but I get the sense that this upper area of the plateau doesn’t sustain much life. There are claw marks everywhere and little to no vegetation. The Trees themselves are completely bare, in addition to the fact that they burst into flames.

This is not a place for a little boy. This isn’t even a place for a cowboy.

So, for those reasons, I’ll argue against myself: the Drago Plateau is just fine how it is. I know I mentioned this in the previous post, but what a cool location to end Chapter 1! The setting is as lifeless, as hopeless, as they come. I’ve seen fire, I’ve seen rain, and I’m still not sure I’ll ever see Claus again.

I also like how, without realizing it, we’ve traveled fairly high. There are a couple vantage points where you can tell how high up this mountain goes, and where exactly Drago Plateau is. We really could have used Duster and his Wall Staples, but I’m glad Boney didn’t come. It’s dangerous up here for a pup!

One of my favorite things to dissect in any story is its setting, so I apologize if I’m going a bit overboard here with Drago Plateau. I just love this environment and appreciate what it adds to the Nowhere Islands, and to Chapter 1 as a whole. I even like how it, in a way, puts the Dragos themselves into a better perspective: sure, maybe they’re peaceful, but to survive in a landscape like this, you have to be the absolute peak of the food chain. Dragos are strong. Very, very strong. They might have been play-fighting in the Prologue, but I bet they could rip apart anything if they really tried. Even a Pigmask Tank!

But maybe there’s still hope, and this is all a misunderstanding. Maybe Dragos are vegetarian. Maybe they’re vegan! We don’t know how that Drago Fang pierced Hinawa’s heart. We don’t know how long these claw marks have been here. We don’t know if the leftover, partially destroyed Pigmask site was a failure or a success. Is there another chimera afoot, or did a Drago destroy the technology before the Pigmasks could use it?

I do like how we see another Pigmask station. Yes, the boss is literally 30 feet from this spot, so it’s less foreshadowing, and more Caution! Chimera Likely Afoot!, but I still like it as a visual detail. We recently ran into two Pigmasks, which was enough of a bad sign, but this makes things even worse. Plus, for some reason the sci-fi looking tech on the ground is a cool foil to the otherwise desolate mountain. We get to see how clearly the Pigmasks leave their mark, and even when the technology has been seemingly destroyed, the trace of it remains.

Nearby the metallic panel, you’ll find the last gift box of Chapter 1. It’s a piece of Beef Jerky, which to some might seem underwhelming. Well, I’m here to tell you it’s anything but that. Firstly, finding Beef Jerky at the top of a mountain like this, perfectly wrapped, is a marvel in itself. If I found Beef Jerky in these circumstances, I’d be telling people about it until the end of my days.

Secondly, this piece of Beef Jerky might be the difference between life and death, so pick it up, stick it in your cowboy hat, and say a quick prayer.

This is the end.

The Drago’s Fang

After a long fight, Flint and Alec finally make it past all of the exploding Trees. Flint readjusts his hat while Alec pats the flames off of his. I hope whatever PSI technique Aeolia taught Claus was enough to get him at least this far. Maybe there’s still time. Maybe he found some Fresh Lumber of his own. He has to show up soon, right? The Drago Plateau does not go much farther.

Though there is a rock structure that could pass as a shelter of some kind, a nest. And while it may point toward inhabitation of some kind, there’s still no sign of Claus, except his other shoe. Flint kneels down to pick it up as Alec calls out: “Claus! We’re here to rescue you!”

I love the stillness of this scene, the undercurrents of Danger. It’s not hard to imagine Alec’s voice still echoing through the mountains when, suddenly, something: a stomp. And another stomp. Then, the shape of a Drago appearing from behind the boulder.

That’s no ordinary Drago…

One stomp at a time, the Reconstructed Drago reveals itself and advances upon Flint and Alec. The Reconstructed Caribou looked threatening in its own right, but nothing like this: the Drago’s eyes are blood red, icy blue; its body scarred, bruised, and stitched; its lower jaw and legs replaced with steel imitations; an entire section of its skull, too, molded into metallic. Another tragic reconstruction.

This is not a peaceful Drago. By the looks of it, it’s barely even a Drago anymore.

The Mecha-Drago creeping around the boulder with Flint and Alec slowly backing up, and with Claus’s little shoe off to the side… this is probably my favorite image from all of Chapter 1. Yes, I know I did my gushing about Boney’s cutscene back in Frog #9, and I still maintain that it is one of my favorite moments in the whole game (if not my favorite). But this scene is really something else. It’s such an amazing “Oh shit” moment that ties together so many things at the end of chapter. It’s an amazing set-up to an amazing boss fight.

Sometimes I wish the Mother series had more boss fights (really I just wish the Mother series had more everything), because I always love the designs and the fights themselves, but I can’t really complain that there aren’t enough. Each of them is set up so well. There’s always such a palpable amount of tension in the story when Mother 3 decides to throw a boss at you. Don’t forget: when we fought the Reconstructed Caribou, we had three party members, one of which had a skill that could pin the caribou down. This time, our party isn’t so well-outfitted.

We have Flint and Alec. The cowboy and the father-in-law. One of them weaponless, and the other armed with a single piece of lumber (and about six bombs). Each time the Drago steps forward, Flint and Alec step back. The scene lingers in tension, escalating when the Drago finally roars…

… and charges forward, triggering the finale of Chapter 1.

Right off the bat, “Fight with Mecha-Drago” puts songs like “Astonishing March” to shame. Intense, boisterous, and unrelenting, this song is a perfect fit for the boss it accompanies, portraying the sheer strength of the Mecha Drago. I even appreciate the jagged, gray psychedelic background. To me, it’s a reminder that what we’re fighting is half metal: a cyborg.

The Mecha-Drago’s battle sprite is also in an entirely different league than anything we’ve seen before. Here, we get a much better idea of the Pigmask’s experimentation. It’s no surprise they’d augment the bottom jaw, making the Drago even more of a killer than ever before, but, for some reason, the metallic legs have always stuck out to me. Whether pinning prey, or eating prey, the Pigmasks have made sure this thing is truly a machinated monster.

And that’s not all. The Drago’s eyes have been replaced with blue and red robotic lenses, and the back of its throat can now shoot out flames. Actually, I’m only just now making the connection that when the Mecha-Drago shoots fire, it is meant to come out of its mouth. For some reason, my interpretation of that attack had always been that the Drago sort of just erupted flames from its body. It’s not entirely implausible; the only surviving parts of the Drago’s original body are its left arm, torso, and (most of) its head, so I thought the flames just like–shot out? Although, I guess you could also interpret the metallic surfaces as armor, instead of replacements.

What are people’s takes on this? I have always interpreted the chimeras as unions between biology and machinery–body parts replaced with metal, with weapons. Though I guess it’s not impossible that some instances of metal could be armor. That’s really neither here nor there; something I’ve never thought about before is how the Pigmasks also added spikes to the Drago’s back. Because these aren’t metal, I’ve never paid much attention to them before. I figured I knew that the Dragos were dinosaur-like, so why wouldn’t they have spikes?

It’s only now that I realize the blood-red spikes are also augmentations, forced onto the Drago’s body to make it “cooler.” Could this really be the same creature who Lucas once recognized as having “gentle eyes?”

When I stop to think about it, I guess the Mecha Drago really has been altered to make it “cooler,” at least cooler in the eyes of a whimsical sadist. Here we have a peaceful, green dinosaur. Sure, we know they are strong, but their visual design is nice and rounded, with very little suggesting strength or danger.

In the tragic reconstruction, we have a weaponized, brutal creature, with sharp edges to its design, and a fire-breathing cannon set in the back of its throat. It’s almost as if a little boy with a wild imagination was asked to redesign a peaceful creature. What could this mean for the brains behind the Pigmask Army? Who are these people?

Man, I could talk about the Mecha-Drago forever. It’s one of my favorite bosses in the entire game, even though its appearance is so early. Before I talk about the battle itself, though, I’ll say this: I love how the Mecha-Drago factors in to the plot of Chapter 1. We’ve been leading up to its appearance for some time now. Are the Dragos good, or evil? What is the extent of the Pigmask’s chimera technology? What awaits Flint and Alec on Drago Plateau?

The Mecha-Drago is already visually threatening, but it’s such a perfect boss for the end of Chapter 1 for everything its visual design tell us. What do I mean by this? Well, I promise I’m not trying to get too literary, but hear me out (and I promise I won’t get too thematic, either). If the Tazmilians had been correct and the Dragos had remained peaceful (i.e., not captured by the Pigmasks), then finding the Dragos alive, well, and peaceful would have been a sign of hope and resilience for Tazmily. Everyone could breath a sigh of relief: there’s still a chance, and maybe things haven’t changed beyond the point of no return.

However, as soon as that Mecha-Drago steps out from behind the rock, Tazmily’s innocence, and Tazmily’s hope, truly vanish. No–not even the peaceful Dragos were safe the Pigmasks. The Mecha-Drago is a visualization of the corruption and the power of the Pigmasks: nature turned berserk; animal turned cyborg; the final hoped turned to certain despair. What, are we supposed to believe Claus is alive after seeing this thing?

Anyway, I hope no one thinks I’m reaching, here. I’m not implying that Itoi said to himself, “The Mecha-Drago symbolizes blah blah blah.” I’m just saying that all of Chapter 1’s little plot points come together so well through this boss. Whether or not it was on purpose, the Mecha-Drago is just so god damn cool–so much is communicated visually to the player even if you just want to appreciate the design. The fight itself, additional interpretation aside, is climactic, dangerous, and harrowing. If you’re not prepared, it’s an easy fight to lose, especially for a first-time player.

Which is all the more reason to circle back around to “Fight with Mecha-Drago” as a battle song. Every time I listen to this song, I can still hear the sound effects of the battle: Flint slashing the hide of the beast, the Drago’s cries, the explosions of bombs and bursts of fire. The first time I played Mother 3, this boss fight was everything I had been looking forward to in a new RPG, especially one in my favorite series. Even today, when I know how to beat the Mecha-Drago fairly easily, I’m almost always on the edge of my seat. This battle has a way of bringing me in. Before I realize it, I’m imagining the battle in my mind. I’m transported from a little Gameboy Screen, to an entire scene of an intense fight.

Speaking of actually fighting the Mecha Drago, this battle has a few pitfalls that can throw off a first-time player. Firstly, you need to use the Drago Fang item in battle. When you select this item, Flint jumps onto the Drago and pierces its hide with the Fang, making the Mecha Drago susceptible to damage. Without using this item, you won’t be able to deal any significant damage to the Drago at all. Like I discussed back in Frog #11, Mother 3 does not allow you to miss this item, so all you have to do is remember to use it.

Once the Drago is damaged, however, the fight is far from over. My strategy usually involves saving all of the bombs I found in Chapter 1, then letting them all go during the fight. This time around, I was able to collect six bombs, which made the fight pretty easy. Actually, for the first time ever in a play through of Mother 3, my Thunder Bomb actually paralyzed the Drago for a few turns, which made the fight even easier. I actually felt kind of bad! It didn’t feel fair. I have never seen this statuses effect happen against the Mecha Drago, so there really is always something new to see in Mother 3.

I assume the Thunder Bomb has a small chance of making any enemy go numb, but I liked imagining that it woked on the Mecha Drago because of its mechanical parts, or something. A Jurassic Short Circuit! Either way, this fight isn’t too hard if you’ve saved a couple bombs. Next time I play Mother 3, though, I don’t think I’m going to use any bombs in this boss fight. Something about it felt too cheap this time, and now that I know the Fresh Lumber exists, maybe I just need to go mano-a-drago to see what I’m really made of.

Even if you don’t have bombs, it’s a good idea to bring a bunch of healing items to this battle. The Mecha Drago is no joke in terms of dealing damage, so you’d better Bulk Up and have some beef jerky on hand. Of course, the real danger comes from when you actually defeat the Mecha Drago: flames burst out, dealing mortal damage to Flint. If you haven’t been keeping your health up, or if you don’t get through the remaining battle dialogue fast enough, Flint will die, meaning you’ll have to fight the boss again.

Personally, I really like this touch to the Mecha Drago boss fight. Firstly, it makes me feel like this isn’t exactly a battle that Flint, or maybe anyone, can win; but, rather, fighting the Mecha Drago is a scenario where you simply hope you can survive. Also, I like how this raises the stakes. Speaking from my own experience, the first time I ever fought the Mecha Drago, I ended up succumbing to the fatal damage of the explosion. I was under-prepared for the fight, and I didn’t know to expect that kind of attack at the end. Even though I lost, the battle left all that much more of an impression on me. Even though it’s only Chapter 1 of an 8-chapter game, the ending of this boss fight feels so climactic, so meaningful, and so epic. And I hate the word epic!

I also like how, if you don’t have bombs, or if you’ve run out of bombs, this fight is basically blow for blow until only the winner is left standing. The Mecha Drago deals a lot of damage, so you need to be both healing yourself, and fighting back, which poses some challenges for Flint because he’s a lone party member. Yes, Alec is here fighting and dealing 1 damage at a time (bless his heart), but it’s up to Flint to win the fight. Near the end, the fight truly becomes a nail-biter as the healing items become fewer and fewer, yet the Mecha Drago continues to fight back.

Eventually, though, Flint defeats the Mecha Drago, and with a chilling roar, flames erupt from its body, engulfing everyone in its path.

The Child’s Cry

When the battle ends and we return to the scene on Drago Plateau, Flint, Alec, and the Mecha Drago have all fallen to the ground, with Flint barely standing. The Mecha-Drago writhes on the ground, also attempting to stand up again. Even Alec, though he isn’t able to be controlled in battle, has been injured by the blast. Everybody hurts.

Mother 3 definitely has bosses that are more fun, interesting, and challenging to fight, but few of them accompany such cool scenes after their battles. You really get the sense that everyone has taken damage and sustained some serious injuries. You really get the sense that Flint went in to the battle prepared to die.

Mostly, I appreciate the fact that Flint doesn’t defeat the Drago without walking away with wounds of his own. While I’m sure you can train Flint up to a high enough level to where he could survive the Drago’s final attack, I like how, narrative-wise, the explosion at the end will mortally wound 99.9% of players. Plus, it’s more good news and bad news. Good news, you defeated the Drago! Bad news, you just took mortal damage, so you’re probably going to die.

Once again, Mother 3 captures me with its sprite design and animations. Seeing the Mecha Drago lay on its side makes me sympathize with the same beast that was just trying to kill me. I mean, I understand if a player hasn’t felt for the Mecha Drago up to this point, but if you can look at the chimera laying on the ground and not feel even an ounce of sympathy, then you and I see the world differently. The Mecha Drago is not a monster. It is a victim! Plus, the design of the Mecha Drago is weirdly disarming when it lay on its side like this. Seeing its little arm reach out while its mouth hangs agape–I think its a sympathetic image. The creature looks confused and hurt.

Also, I think the Mecha Drago is one of my favorite examples of a boss design, both with its battle sprite and with its overworld sprite. It can be difficult to maintain the same level of detail apart from the battle sprites, yet the Mecha Drago is rendered just as good here as it is anywhere else. The towering, roaring, hugely powerful foe has been reduced to a struggling animal that cannot stand up. Like Flint and Alec, the Drago eventually does stand up… only to fall down again.

Though for Flint, the battle isn’t over. With the Mecha Drago finally in a vulnerable position, Flint brandishes a spear, which uses the Drago’s own fang as its point (or so I’ve always assumed, it could just be a regular spear). Flint advances upon the Drago, ready to kill it and avenge his wife’s death.

Before Flint can act, however, the Baby Drago returns, standing between the mysterious men and the injured mother. The Baby Drago nuzzles its mother and licks her wounds.

Flint doesn’t care. He crouches low to the ground, ready to strike with his spear, ready to kill both the mother and the child. Alec pleads with him to stop, to think about what he’s doing, to realize that, if Flint kills the mother Drago here, then he’ll make the child go through exactly what Claus and Lucas had to endure: a mother, snatched from the world in the blink of an eye.

Every time I play through this scene, I get something new out of it. I mentioned before how the battle on Drago Plateau ties together so many of Chapter 1’s ideas (I’m hesitant to say “themes,” now 😛 ), and I think this moment especially accomplishes that. The Dragos are not the villains here; the Pigmasks are. Yet, if Alec wasn’t here to stop Flint, or if the Baby Drago wasn’t here to stop Flint, the Pigmasks would have indirectly taken the lives of two mothers: Hinawa, and the Mecha Drago. FLint himself would have played both hero in villain; savior to some, murderer to others.

I don’t really know what else to say, other than to just enjoy this scene. So much is told through the images, without any dialogue at all. Remember that Hinawa stood between the Drago and her boys to save their lives; now, the Baby Drago stands between Flint and its mother to save her life. Sacrifice is a facet of love, of real love, and, at least in the world of Mother 3, humans and animals understand this innately. The Baby Drago is just as willing to sacrifice its own life as Hinawa was.

Something I love to think about is how each murder both is and is not at the hands of the murderer. Yes, the Mecha Drago killed Hinawa, but not of its own accord–the Pigmasks are what instilled blind malice in the animal. And yes, Flint wants to kill the Mecha Drago, and maybe even kill the Baby Drago, but not of his own accord–the Pigmasks are what took Hinawa’s life, are what drove Claus to run off into the mountains. Every Tazmilian, every animal in the Nowhere Islands–everyone has been manipulated by the Pigmasks, the mysterious army who both brings out the worse sides of human nature, and augments the natural world outright.

In other words, none of this should have ever happened.

I also love comparing the Baby Drago to Claus. When Flint continues to advance upon the mother, the Drago pushes him back and roars. It’s not as threatening a roar as what the mother is capable of, but it still has its own power, and, as a closing image of the chapter, it’s kind of chilling. But how is this little Drago so different from Flint’s own son? Claus is every bit as brave, every bit as strong, every bit as vengeful as this Baby Drago. They are both children who would do anything to protect their family. Unfortunately for Claus, I’m sure he did do this exact same thing–stood up to an enemy much bigger than himself, whatever the cost.

In the end, though, Flint gives up. He does not advance upon the Dragos. He ends the cycle of murder and of pain that the Pigmasks began. If he were to kill the Mecha Drago, he would be no better than the Pigmasks themselves. All he would have done is create another motherless child.

Man, how’s that for a closing image? Chapter 1 is not my favorite chapter in Mother 3, but it is easily one of the better written chapters. All of its ideas and themes have so much pay off in the end. Flint’s act of grace here is more powerful than anything he has done in the entire chapter. Flint, defined by his strength, is at his most powerful when he chooses not to use it. Flint is at his best when, like a Tazmilian should, he chooses peace.

At the end of the day, are the Pigmasks still ahead? In a way, yes. Their assault on the Nowhere Islands has begun, and, in most ways, it is a success thus far. But, to me, Flint’s act of mercy is an important precedent for how our main characters conduct themselves throughout the game. Yes, you can’t beat an army without fighting back, but some ways of fighting back will always be more effective than others. Grace can lead to power.

(This is only the first instance of the “macho” world finding its limit, in fact. We will see more and more challenges to the “might is right” dynamic as the game goes on).

And that’s where Chapter 1 leaves us: the Baby Drago roaring as Flint and Alec look on. Flint has failed to find his son, but he may have succeeded in saving his own soul. Flint may be aggressive, but he is not a murderer. Even though Flint appears throughout the remainder of Mother 3, for me, his arc is completed here. Searching for Claus is something he’ll be doing for a long time, for the rest of his days, but at least he won’t be doing it as a murderer, as someone who also took the life of a mother.

In these closing moments, the Mecha Drago also sheds a tear. Whether it’s crying from pain, or from the joy of seeing its child alive, or for any other reason, it’s still crying–the Mecha Drago still has feelings and is not entirely a robot. I’ve always wondered about this little detail. Is it just a cheesy moment?

Personally, I’ve always felt like the Drago’s Tear means that it’s not fully a chimera. And, if we continue with that hypothesis, we can potentially say that the only reason the Mecha Drago attacked Flint is because Flint encroached on the Drago’s territory. Who knows, maybe the Mecha Drago attacked because it knew its child was nearby, and it feared that Flint might target the Baby Drago as well. Maybe the whole thing was a misunderstanding. Just because the Drago is big and strong doesn’t mean it can’t get scared. How would you feel if a lumber-slinging cowboy walked up to your nest with a fire in his eyes? You’d shoot fire right back, especially if your child was near.

I think it’s worth noting that the Mecha Drago didn’t attack Tazmily or anything. The Reconstructed Caribou didn’t either. In each case, Flint found the chimeras; they didn’t find him. In the Drago’s case, I’ve always felt like its peaceful nature might be in constant battle against its new monstrous nature. I think Mother 3 plays with the idea of “chimera” in so many different ways, and, in this case, maybe the Drago is a chimera on the inside and on the outside. Its body is made of Drago flesh and metallic parts; maybe its soul is split in a similar way, one half ruthless fighter, one half fierce protector. How is Flint so different?

I guess what I’m getting at is, I wonder if this Drago was trying to basically exile itself and live in peace. We already saw that the Pigmask Technology on Drago Plateau was destroyed, and it’s not like the Pigmasks are still camping nearby, monitoring the beast (or are they?). At the end of the day, this Drago parent and this Drago child just want to protect each other. The Baby Drago still loves its mother all the same, even though she is now half metal, with colored lenses for eyes. It doesn’t matter to the child; he licks his parent’s wounds and protects her from predators.

I just think it’s really touching. Somewhere inside the Mecha Drago, there’s still the real animal. It feels pain, it loves, and it cries. It is a parent, a protector, and a survivor. The Mecha Drago is a chimera, but that doesn’t mean its a monster. The real creature, the real mother, can still be found inside. To me, this is one of the most important moments in Mother 3, and we’ll revisit this idea, if you can believe it, at the very end of Chapter 8, in the game’s closing moments. Itoi may have rejected thematic consistency around game design, but, at least as a writer, I think Itoi weaves a theme through a narrative better than any other video game writer in the history of the business. One of my favorite things about Mother 3 is how well you can feel the inspiration and drive of the story. It really feels like a great fantasy novel turned into a video game.

And what of Claus?

Well, while I said the closing image of Chapter 1 is the showdown on Drago Plateau, I wasn’t being totally accurate. Flint’s reaction to Hinawa’s death, for some, is probably the saddest moment of Chapter 1, if not the saddest moment of Mother 3. For me, however, the next moment takes the cake (the cake of depression).

As the Baby Drago’s cries echo through the plateau, the camera pans over. At first, you might think the chapter is going to end on an image of a Tazmilian skyline, the edges of Drago Plateau set against a backdrop of Nowhere Island geography. Unfortunately, we get no such image. Instead, the camera pans to a small space between two cliffs, where at the bottom lay the body of a little boy.

This is the real heartbreak of Chapter 1, and the game makes sure you can’t look away from it. Mother 3 lingers on the image of Claus, while a final text crawl remarks on the events of the chapter.“Long Shadow” plays, closing out Chapter 1 with a march fit for a funeral–a dirge. Flint may have spared the life of a Drago, but, once again, he has lost a family member of his own.

The saddest thing about this is that Flint was so close. If he’d been just a little faster, he might have found Claus in time. If he’d look just a little longer, he might have seen Claus between the two cliffs. Flint, who will search for Claus every single day for the next three years, was never closer to finding his son than on the first day he ever looked. Flint may have the worst luck in all of Tazmily. Everything is being taken from him. He is always just minutes behind, it seems. Maybe there was a rush in Tazmily, after all. But how we were supposed to know? This is a town that doesn’t even lock its doors.

For me, the reveal of Claus laying facedown has always hit harder than the reveal of Hinawa’s death. In Hinawa’s case, everyone in town goes to her funeral. The game itself shows her framed in the middle of the screen, with the Love Theme playing in the background. Hinawa’s presence, and her memory, can be felt throughout the entire narrative of Mother 3, as characters recall her life, and Flint and Lucas continue to process her death.

In the case of Claus, there is never the same closure. He becomes lost in time. It’s so much more horrifying, more heartbreaking, than Hinawa’s demise, because of the mystery around it. I’ve always thought it was a pretty bold move to reveal Claus in this moment of dramatic irony–that is, the player knows something that the characters don’t. We see Claus’s body as his father stands just out of view. And as “Long Shadow” plays, and the text crawls by, you feel like you’re attending a smaller, more private funeral. The funeral of a little boy who wanted to avenge his mother.

I know I refer to my first play through of Mother 3 quite a bit, but I was 13 when I played Mother 3 back in 2008, and I remember feeling disturbed by the ending of Chapter 1. After the emotional rollercoaster of Hinawa’s death, the search for Claus, and the battle with the Mecha Drago, I was not expecting the chapter to close on an image of a possibly dead child. I mean, the game doesn’t confirm that Claus is dead, but, at the time, I figured this was because they couldn’t say it outright. This is still a Nintendo game, after all.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if Chapter 1 itself is part of Nintendo’s reluctance to localize this game in America. Yes, Hinawa’s death is shocking, but Claus’s disappearance doubles down on the darker tone of Mother 3. I know I’ve argued a few times now that Mother 3 is not as dark as seemingly every gaming publication says it is, but I can’t deny that the game certainly isn’t lighthearted. There aren’t many RPGs out there where half of the main character’s family gets killed off in the first 3 hours of narrative.

As the text crawl itself points out, Mother 3 begins, at least, as a tragedy.

The more I play Mother 3, the more interested I become in Claus. Before starting this blog and interacting with Mother fans on Twitter, I had no idea that Claus had as big of a fanbase as he does. However, now that I’m playing the game again, I can totally see why. We don’t get as much of Claus as other characters, but what we do get is so important for understanding him. He is as courageous as his father, and as kindhearted as his mother. Claus is as brave, or braver, than any other Tazmilian. If only he hadn’t been so brash. If only he’d have waited for his father.

If Claus had Lucas’s restraint (or fear), he would still be alive. If Lucas had Claus’s bravery, both boys might be dead. The dynamic between the two brothers reverberates throughout the entirety of Mother 3, and, as Claus remains missing, both Lucas and Flint are rejected the closure they deserve. Flint especially, in my opinion, becomes Mother 3’s most tragic character. He never stops looking for Claus. He never stops following the freshest trail, the newest lead, all the way to the end of the game.

I have also noticed that some players spectate whether or not Claus’s mission for revenge became a suicide mission, noted by the removal of his shoes. The idea is that, in Japanese culture, sometimes the removal of one’s shoes signifies that a death was a suicide. Now, I can’t speak to the full validity of this claim, because I do not know the origins of the idea, but I wanted to bring it up because suicide and choosing death is another idea that Mother 3 eventually contends with. We’ll get there when we get there, but I certainly don’t think it’s impossible that Claus realized his fate.

That said, I also think the scattering of Claus’s shoes could point to an even more gruesome, drawn out battle. The two shoes were probably a half mile apart (who knows–I can’t ascertain distance in a Gameboy game), which could show that Claus either ran or was dragged about the Drago Plateau. I mean, really, who knows what happened up here. The mystery of it makes it even worse. How much pain did Claus endure? Did he know it was a hopeless mission? What was in the child’s mind as he saw the strength of the Mecha Drago?

Though Claus is gone, it will still be a while before we truly begin Lucas’s story. Chapter 2 follows Duster, and Chapter 3 follows an as-of-yet unseen protagonist. In Chapter 4, we’ll pick up with Lucas again. To become the hero he’s meant to be, Lucas has to become a little more like Claus: fast-acting, forthright, unafraid. That said, Lucas also has to come into his own; his sensitivity, his emotions, and his quiet strength define him just as much as his fear and his crying. To become the hero of Mother 3, Lucas has to be both the best of himself, and the best of his twin brother. We can’t forget the unabashed bravery of Claus.

The last thing I’ll say about Claus concerns the importance of his fate in Chapter 1. Since Frog #2, I’ve talked about how Mother 3 establishes stakes. From the very beginning, the plot hasn’t shied away from putting children in danger; Fuel could have easily become the game’s first casualty if Flint hadn’t showed up in time. But, with Claus, Mother 3 shows that it is willing to go there. Children can die in this story. Mothers can die in this story. Forests can be destroyed, and the creatures in the forest can be irreparably altered.

To be honest, I’ve always enjoyed the background storytelling approach of Mother and EarthBound. You don’t interact with the main villain so much as see their influence on the world. You hear about what’s going on in the world through NPCs, picking up bits and pieces of information to create a larger picture. One of my favorite, simple examples of this is an NPC in Mother who asks you if your house was also attacked by a poltergeist. This simple line establishes that the episode which kicks off the plot of Mother (a supernatural occurrence in Ninten’s house) has also happened to other people, widening the stakes of the plot. Sure, generally we want to see things instead of being told things, but I like variances in approach. I’m always reminded of the Left 4 Dead and Portal series, which do so much of their storytelling not through exposition or dialogue, but through environmental details and suggestions of larger plots.

Mother 3, though, goes its own way in storytelling. The events of the plot effect Lucas and his family more than any other character in the game, positioning them as front and center to the drama of the story. We don’t just hear about people going missing; Lucas’s brother goes missing, and his father fails to find him. We don’t just hear about people dying; Flint’s wife is the first person to die. Chapter 1 establishes the stakes of the story and the motivations of our characters so well. We get to see firsthand that the Pigmask Army is more than just a group that makes chimeras and destroys the environment. Their experiments cost people their lives. Their attacks have real, tangible effects on the narrative world and the characters in it.

Speaking of tangible affects on characters, where, then, does this leave Flint?

It’s hard to think of a Tazmilian who has been through more than Flint in the last 24 hours. There were high points, of course. Flint saved lives in more ways than one. He directly saved Lighter and Fuel’s lives, and he indirectly protected countless Tazmilians by fighting the Reconstructed Caribou. And still, Flint walks away the most damaged. His son and wife are gone. Saving each was a race against a time, and Flint lost that race twice. I know I’ve said this a few times now, but I really think this says something about the direction of the story in Mother 3. The “macho” world does not hold the answers. Brute strength is not the path to victory.

Well, I don’t think it can be said simpler than this: when Chapter 1 begins, Tazmily looks to Flint to fix things. At the end of Chapter 1, Flint is the most broken man in the entire town. It’s hard to realize at first, but so much of Chapter 1 ended in failure. Like I said above, Flint was always just a little bit too late. Strong, but not quite strong enough. Flint is a hero, no doubt, but he is not the hero that will truly save Tazmily. That fate lies with one of his sons.

I think I’m going to write a bit of a round-up blog post about Chapter 1, finishing up any final ideas or thoughts I have about the introduction to Mother 3’s world. Honestly, I’m not sure what else to say today. So maybe we’ll leave it here for now. I’ve certainly talked for long enough. I meant for this final post to have a more rounded ending, a more cohesive structure, yet here I am, as usual, rambling and digressing.

To think that 15 frogs ago, we were just starting out. There was a fire in the forest, and a call for a hero. Now, we stand on a scorched plateau, not from fire, but from the relentless sun. I really believe that Chapter 1 is an important part of Mother 3, through and through. Like the character it follows, Chapter 1 is bold. You really never do see something coming, from Hinawa’s death, to the Magicantian party. There were so many moments of hope, in the darkest places, and also many moments of despair, right when we thought there was hope.

When I think of Chapter 1, I love to think of the contradictions. The ways in which our strongest heroes fail. The paths on which other heroes are born, though they may be crying now. The importance of being brave even in the most futile battles, of recognizing love in an opposing force, of recognizing love everywhere, maybe, to find the strongest weapon of all: a combination of smiles and tears, somehow–somewhere, someday.

~

~

(I’ll see you in Chapter 2, friends).

4 thoughts on “Frog #15: Somewhere, Someday

  1. I recently found this blog and caught up to (as of this writing) your most recent post. Your writing is very inspiring to me – engaging with Mother 3 on a personal level and analysing aspects of the game that traditional game reviews would overlook. It might be odd to say this, but I can imagine the people of Tazmily appreciating you taking the time to understand them as people. Even Mapson, who’d probably have a good laugh at you questioning how overtly mechanical he feels! Your posts engender empathy, with Itoi and his team, with the characters of the game and with yourself. It’s been a highlight of the past several days and a motivator to get me to write as well. Thank you for, well, being you.

    Like

    1. Dear Alexander,
      Thank you so much for this incredibly thoughtful comment!! Reading things like this is so encouraging, knowing that these writings are reaching at least one person out there. I’m also happy to know that this inspired you to do some writing of your own, because, as you can probably tell from this project, this blog does the same thing for me. It keeps me writing, and writing keeps me happy (or at least happier than I would be without it!!). I wish you good luck in your own writing endeavors. And as for Mapson, just wait until we get to Chapter 2–there’s a bit of a Mapson revelation in there 🙂
      Once again, thank you so much for this comment. It made my day when I read it, and it has resonated with me for the past couple days. Please stay well, and I hope you’ll continue along for the ride through the rest of the game. Try to aim for just 500 words a day! Even if you only end up keeping three of them. Eventually, everything comes together.

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