Frog #18: Show Me the Monkey

Duster is in for a long night, but today is going to be another short adventure on Frog by Frog. Walking from Lucas’s house, the next nearest frog hangs out at town square. Just as we once made this trek from Frog #1 to Frog #2, we are now walking from Frog #17 to Frog #18.

Time really hops by, doesn’t it? It feels like just yesterday I was introducing you all to the gossiping women, to Thomas’s goofy feet, and to Paul, standing by himself in town square.

Oh, wait. I actually forgot to introduce Paul, way back then. I completely missed him! Well, here he is, coughing uncontrollably simply at the thought of a fire!

Personally, I am enjoying visiting these frogs again. In a normal play-through, I usually regard the repeated frogs (i.e., the Tazmily frogs) as conveniences–“Well, I know a frog is over here, so I’ll just save my game real quick.” Playing Frog by Frog, though, I always remember the play session that each frog corresponds with whenever I see it. Last time I met today’s frog, I was heading for the Sunshine Forest for the first time. I hadn’t even met Lighter or Fuel yet!

There will be many more repeated frogs, and I’m sure I won’t be as sentimental each time. I just have a lot of fun imagining them as a fun little pit stop in a larger adventure. Maybe the true Mother 3 is the frogs you met along the way.

Well, like I said, we left off last time with Duster outside Lucas’s house, and if I stay around Boney or Lucas any longer it’ll just make me want to cry. However, I do want to point out again that I love how the plot brings Lucas and Boney together like that. I love that we see Lucas going to his pet when there’s nowhere else to go. Anyone who has had a pet knows the special kind of quiet support they can give. And really–Lucas needs it. The last day for him has been hell, so I’ll leave him here. I’m off to find something shiny.

And hey, who knows, maybe Lucas understands that Boney has also lost a valuable friend in Claus. I bet Claus was a little better at rough-housing with the pup, so maybe Lucas will do his best to compensate and toughen up a little bit.

Well, back to finding something shiny. This is no time for an episode of a Million Tazmilians! This is time for action! Let’s head north, to the castle–to the unknown! To the great question mark in the sky!

Make Way for the Monkey!

Admittedly, when I said I was headed for the unknown, I didn’t know I’d be crashing straight into ???. By ???, of course, I mean the same ??? who was at Butch’s farm, praising his prized pigs. This time, ??? is accompanied by a cute little monkey, who follows diligently behind the stranger.

For many players, this might be the first time they meet ???, as his appearance on Butch’s farm is more of a cameo than a story beat. For a potential first meeting, ??? doesn’t let on much. He says that he and his monkey are in a hurry, if Duster would please excuse them…

Then ??? departs with the monkey behind him. Before scuttling off, the monkey turns around and looks at Duster. Is this monkey trying to say something, or is it just looking? I suppose it’s possible the monkey has never seen, or smelled, someone like Duster before. Or maybe the monkey can tell Duster is a thief. Monkeys are very smart, you know.

Trust me: I’m not one to question where cute monkeys come from. As long as Mother 3 has a monkey character up its sleeve, then I say: Make way for the monkey! Although, I didn’t expect to be literally bumped aside by ??? when making way to the monkey, but hey. Life comes at you pretty fast these days in Tazmily. I wouldn’t be surprised if this place had a railroad running through it before long.

If you keep walking north, you can trigger a cutscene with Butch, but we’ll get to that in the next section. For now, I’m going to see if I can follow ??? and the monkey. Duster is a thief, after all, and thieves can pick up a trail better than the most astute hunting dogs. We need to put his stealthy inquisitiveness to use. Plus, I don’t quite trust ???. He seemed pretty chummy with Butch yesterday, and now he’s walking around Tazmily at night. With a monkey! What’s going on here? Only one person can walk around Tazmily at night, and that’s Duster, baby! Hasn’t ??? ever tuned in to Duster After Dark?

Anyway, if you decide to follow ??? and the monkey, you’ll find that the two of them have checked in to the Yado Inn. Ya know, Yado? If you revisit the inn, you can see some new dialogue from Betsy and Bob, reacting to their experiences with ??? and the monkey.

Who, ????

Bob seems to be a huge fan of Tazmily’s newest visitors. ??? treated Bob to some bourbon, so he cheers in the name of the monkey and the stranger. Hmm…

This is the second time now that the mysterious traveling man has won over the heart of a Tazmilian with some kind of politeness. Coincidence? First, we found him complimenting Butch and his pigs. Now, he’s pouring bourbon down Bob’s throat, inciting Bob to celebrate in the stranger’s wake. (To be fair, Bob is so drunk that he also sings his own praises, which I thought was incredibly endearing).

Is Bob the cream of Tazmily’s crop? Not really, but after taking so strongly to ??? and the monkey, Bob passes out right there at the bar. Generosity is one thing, but I don’t think that bourbon was exactly great for Bob to drink.

Am I being too paranoid? Should I more willingly accept the kindness of strangers? Maybe. But don’t forget: 24 hours ago, we thought Dragos were peaceful.

Also, I’d like to take a second and acknowledge the fact that Shigesato Itoi actually got me interested in Bob, of all people. Having basically no memory of Bob from any play through, I didn’t expect him to show up more than a couple times in the story, much less have something noticeable to say. Yet here he is, directly interacting with ???, a soon-to-be major character in the story. Bob, the generic cowboy who drinks his days away–even he gets a little moment here and there. Who’d have thought?

Honestly, I expected Chapter 1 to be the best time for Tazmilians to assert themselves. Like I said in Frog Zero, I’ve only beaten the game once, so I don’t remember every NPC super well, and I was sure Bob didn’t really factor in to the story at all. At least not compared to characters like Lighter, Bronson, Fuel, or Wess, who consistently show up with some relevance. Maybe there are all kinds of little moments like this still in store for me.

Oh, who am I kidding? Of course Mother 3 has more surprises!

Anyway, what I’m getting at here is this: I don’t think we are supposed to interpret Bob’s drinking habit as something as dark as alcoholism–this is a Nintendo game, after all. However, if there was one Nintendo series where something skin to alcoholism would be explored, then the Mother series would be the one to do it. That said, ??? giving Bob more bourbon to drink is, yes, funny at first, because Bob is a funny, minor character, and he says funny things when he’s drunk.

But, I also think it keys us in to one of ???’s darker traits and hidden powers: his ability to draw the worst out of people, to tempt them with their darker natures. Bob was already drunk when Duster came into the Yado earlier. By approaching Bob with a faux friendship, ??? both earns Bob’s loyalty, and exploits his bad habit to the worst extent. And like I said, I don’t think Itoi necessariy wants us to interpret this interaction so darkly, but I can’t help but feel bad for Bob. ??? saw a man who clearly was not in control of his own urges, and he took advantage of that to create yet another loyal Tazmilian.

Also, I think Bob’s line: “‘Keep at it, monkey!’ is what I want to say. ‘Keep at it, me!’ is what I also want to say,” is now one of my favorite lines in the game. It’s so goofy and unexpected! Bob, don’t be a stranger around me. Next time I see you around Tazmily, the bourbon is on me. (Not that either of us has to buy the bourbon, though; Tazmily doesn’t have money! Just monkey!)

As for other swooned Yado denizens, Betsy seems taken with the monkey, but who wouldn’t be? I appreciate Jackie having nothing new to say, showing me that ??? hasn’t won over his heart so easily, but I can’t really be disappointed with Betsy. If that little monkey came walking through my inn, I’d be serving it hand and paw!

Plus, Betsy can hear the monkey crying through the door. Red alert! We’ve got a monkey in danger!

See, I told you we couldn’t trust ??? and his mysterious ways! Who is this traveler, who seems to charm villagers wherever he goes? And who is this little monkey, who seems to have risen to Second Place in the polls of Tazmily’s Most Handsome Animal, just behind Boney, and having recently passed Butch’s pigs, and Stray Dog? And most importantly, why is the monkey crying?

It’s probably best not to worry about it for now. But what do you think? Is ??? just a nice guy, with a monkey who has too many nightmares? Or is ???’s charm a bit too suspect, and something is going on in that room that ??? doesn’t want people seeing?

Dang it! My save frog was in there!

Well, I have to say: I know they don’t over-pamper you at the Yado Inn, but I really enjoyed this little stay. Like I’ve said a thousand times over, I love any moment I have with the Tazmilians that keys us in to their gradual development as characters, and as a whole. When I get to see small changes in dialogue in just two characters, that goes a long way for me. I could see how some players see that as nothing to be excited about, and I could also see Itoi himself being disappointed in small touches like this, compared to the more robust design decisions planned for EarthBound 64.

But hey–a little goes a long away. Bob and Betsy each got some more time to talk. In what other RPG would characters like Bob and Betsy receieve any kind of development at all? They commented directly on two major characters of Mother 3, and they elucidate ???’s influence on Tazmily for the player. For stuff like this, I’m less worried about having more, and more enthusiastic about finding what’s there. I’m already seeing more in Chapter 2 than I ever have while playing it, and it’s all thanks to the frogs.

Make Way for the Money!

That’s enough monkeying around–time to go find something shiny. Run northward, Duster!

Unfortunately, Duster can’t seem to pass through the archway without making way for somebody else. This time when Duster tries to leave town square, Butch intercepts him and tells the thief that he has a pretty cool secret. Now, seeing as Butch is the guy who owns a pig that claims to have Mother 3 secrets, I’m willing to bet that whatever Butch has to say is going to be pretty good. Maybe it’s a cheat code to always land all 16 hits of a musical combo! Maybe it’s a hidden treasure map to the prototype of EarthBound 64! Maybe it’s a plot to steal the Tazmilian Declaration of Independence: In Simplicity We Trust!

Unfortunately, Butch doesn’t have any Mother 3 secrets. From his pockets, the farmer pulls out a large bag and sets it on the ground. Before Duster can even guess what’s inside, Butch tells Duster that it’s a bag full of money.

That’s right: money! Not monkey!

Now, you might be thinking to yourself: money, in Tazmily? I thought everything was free? I thought there was no money? Isn’t this some kind of utopia?

And if you were saying those things, I’d be right behind you nodding my head. “Since when is there money in Mother 3? What are we, some kind of freak show?” is what I would say. Oh wait, actually, I would say, “What are we, sea otters?” (Sorry to Bud and Lou for stealing their punchline).

But it’s true: Butch has some fat stacks inside this bag, and he says that Tazmily will be entering an era of money soon, though not even he knows what that means. In fact, Butch is all over the place while he talks about his newfound money. I’m not saying Butch has ever been one for eloquence (don’t forget, Butch once said, “I bet it’s a big foresty fire”), but I think all this money talk has really gotten him a bit overexcited and a little bit frazzled. Even though he’s surprised that Duster has never heard of money, he himself concedes that he doesn’t really know what money is either, just that it’s going to be big, and he’s got a lot of it!

And that’s about when he says it: the only reason Butch has this money is because ??? just bought some of his pigs. Bought! Since when do we buy and sell things in Tazmily! What’s going on here? Is Butch named Butch because farmers butcher pigs? Do Butch’s pigs dream of Flint’s sheep?

It seems ??? brings more than just a monkey around. He brings commerce, capital, and cash. He brings illusions of grandeur, change, and competition. Butch now has $50,000 burning a hole in his overalls. But what good is it for? No one else has any money…

Well, that’s it, isn’t it? No one else has any money, and Butch has a whole lot, making him the richest guy in town. He’s not a Tazmillionaire or anything, but he’s doing well for himself.

It’s too early to tell if money will catch on in Tazmily, but Butch isn’t waiting to find out. He hides his money in the well in the middle of town square, trusting Duster with his secret. Personally, I would have suggested hiding it underneath a mattress or something, but hey–Butch is still learning. He’s never had 50,000 bucks before! I’ve never had 50,000 anything! Except rice!

But as usual, the plot thickens.

See, the traveling stranger didn’t just give Butch the 50,000, nor did he just buy the pigs from Butch. As we all probably remember, ??? loved Butch’s pigs and showered them, and their owner, with compliments. As Butch reiterates now for Duster, ??? loved Butch’s pigs so much that he asked the farmer, in tears, if he’d trade the pigs for the money.

Is anyone else smelling that? I mean, we’re about a half a mile away from Butch’s farm, so I’m not saying this is the case, but I think there’s some horse shit in the air.

For my money (no pun intended), ??? knew exactly what he was doing. The cute monkey, the pig praise, the bourbon for Bob… I think someone is trying to sway the civilians of this ol’ town. To put it in Scamp’s words, something ain’t right in this town–I can just feel it.

We have plenty, and I mean plenty, of time to talk and think about ???’s plans for Tazmily and what everything means for the characters and for the plot at large. I think I have such a fascination with it right now because I love seeing all the little hints of what is to come. Even ???’s cameo in Chapter 1 (Frog 11, Part 2) provides enough information to chew on. Who’s this stranger? Why is he so in to pigs? Actually, why is he buying the pigs?

Everything from the bourbon to the bump-in with Duster is simply fun to track. The first three chapters of Mother 3 have a lot of moving pieces, and it’s fun to see who was where and what caused what. If, for example, Flint had not taken a break at the Yado Inn after saving Lighter and Fuel, would there have been hope for Hinawa? When did ??? first sneak in to town? Was it last night, during the forest fire, or has he been lurking for a while? Where is Claus right now? Would we still be able to see his body in the canyon?

Back to the matter at hand: the monkey! I mean, the money! Sorry–ever since I saw that monkey, I’ve lost all my cents.

Anyway, I assume ??? had a few reasons for giving Butch 50,000 DP, even though a currency is only as useful as it is accepted and put in to practice. Maybe 500 wouldn’t have sounded as good if someone doesn’t already know what money is, or they don’t care. In which case, you may as well show them that, even if they don’t know what money they can still have a lot of it, and at least they more than anybody else.

And doesn’t it feel good to have a lot of it?

??? has even succeeded in sowing the seeds of distrust in Butch, just through the existence of money in the first place. “I don’t want any ignorant people taking off with it, so I’m gonna hide it in this well here,” says Butch. Who could he be referring to? I didn’t know Tazmilians had it in them to consider people “ignorant.” I thought this was the town where nobody locked their doors? How quickly we have changed! Did ??? tell him that people would be jealous, or did the money itself cause this change of perspective?

See, that’s why I love the detail that ??? approached Butch after Hinawa’s funeral. Everyone in Tazmily (mostly everyone) was affected by Hinawa’s death, so ??? saw it as the perfect opportunity for some manipulation. By adding the 50,000 value on top of the crying performance, ??? gets to Butch’s heart pretty quickly, just as he does with Bob and Betsy. Butch even immediately associates the money with the power of wealth and possession: “He gave it to me, which means it’s mine, right?”

And in one fell swoop, say goodbye to the Tazmily Bazaar, the unlocked doors, the unspoken trust among the villagers. Say goodbye to Butch as a bumbling, kindly farmer, who loved Hinawa’s cabbage probably more than Flint himself, who braved the cold and the rain to search for Claus, who tried to join the search party when the fires were still blazing. Say hello to the era of money, to suspicion, to conspiracy. Say hello to ??? and the unknown.

Butch can hide as much money in the well as he wants, but it doesn’t matter. ??? poisoned the well a long time ago, my friends.

And that’s some of the fun and humor of Chapter 2, at the same time. Isn’t it funny to be playing as a thief during all this? When the plot begins to introduce conflict/intrigue involving money, possessions, and suspicion, we’re playing as a thief! Someone whose mission, as we speak, is to steal something! And yet Butch, perhaps not fully understanding what the implications of thievery are in an era of money, decides to trust Duster with his secret. That’s a joke in itself, to me. The fact that he chooses the well in the middle of town is also funny. Oh, Butch! You’re new to this, my farmer friend.

Even more funny, you can truly be a thief and take Butch’s fifty grand if you want to, but Duster, in an action unbecoming of the types of thieves we know here on Earth, will return it to the well. I won’t lie–at first, I felt excited to have picked up 50,000 DP, and I don’t even have a use for it! Maybe money really is addictive. Plus, Butch, come on, buddy. You can’t reveal your hiding place when there’s a thief right next to you.

But in a way, it’s interesting that, while Butch has certainly taken to the allure of money, he still doesn’t totally understand the circumstances, Tazmilian as he is. Maybe ??? chose Butch as his first target to rile up the Tazmily ecosystem because he is a pig farmer, but maybe he just did it because Butch isn’t very smart.

Well, whether you’re more excited by money, or by monkey, we can all agree that wickedness is afoot in Tazmily. Though Duster, after holding $50,000 in his thiefly paws, must have decided that money didn’t really do it for him–he doesn’t want to exchange currency for goods and services. As a thief, he’d rather put his Scary Mask where his mouth is and take things for himself! Speaking of which…

Northward once again! This time, Duster feels the wind in his hair, the beginnings of adventure, the allure of the untold and the treasures therein. Mapson saw Duster running that night, and it appeared, for a moment, that the thief had not handicap at all, and he even seemed, thought it was likely a trick of the moon light, to fly…

… only for a few feet, of course, as the last interruption of the night isn’t a monkey, or a money, or a farmer, or a mysterious peddler–but a frog.

“Tough crowd tonight,” says the frog, seeing Duster’s frustration at all of the hiccups in his journey. “Would you like me to record your memories?”

To this, Duster almost says, “No,” but he doesn’t. For one thing, he can’t exactly speak, being our focal character, though at the same time, the thief concedes because there’s a lot on his mind. He knows that his mind should be set on something shiny, but how can it be now? Not far away, Lucas and Boney mourn the loss of a brother, and a mother. Not far away, a poor little monkey cries out from the room of an inn, while Tessie drags Bob’s drunken self to the last available bed. Not far away, money sits at the bottom of a well…

They say the Mind of a Thief is perceptive, and the Heart of a Thief is strong, but poor Duster feels more confused than he’s ever been, and his heart has started to grow weary.

So the thief sits down with the frog, and tells it what he knows, and watches the moon for a while before setting out once again into the dark.

5 thoughts on “Frog #18: Show Me the Monkey

  1. It’s cool to see how Itoi and the team tried something different in regards to how the villains take control of the game’s setting. Comparing Earthbound and Mother 3, the villains of the former use the sheer power and reach of Giygas’ PSI to make otherwise harmless animals, gang members and hippies aggressive, while the villains of the latter use agents like ??? here to manipulate and convince people to adopt a corrupt societal system.

    Also, the fact that ??? wants pigs is some devious foreshadowing. And pretty horrifying, given what enemies are going to be faced later.

    Here’s a question: Do you think there should be another official Mother/Earthbound game? Not necessarily a sequel or anything that connects to previous entries (even if there are some potential character threads that can be picked up – glances at Jeff -). I recognise Itoi said something along the lines of “wanting to be the player next time,” so would getting someone else to take the reigns for a game or two be plausible? If so, who’d be good for the job?

    I think the premise —turn-based RPG set in a quirky world resembling/reflecting our own, where swords are replaced by baseball bats, magic with psychic powers stolen(?) from aliens, and energy pools recording your history with trusted confidants to debrief with (whether they be a parent or a frog)— is one that has a lot of potential.

    Heck, maybe we can actually play as the mother for once? Hmm…what if Earthbound…but also a family road trip? Parent(s). Child(ren). Dog (or maybe a cat this time?). Aliens in the woods? Travelling from one small town to the next, each with their own little cast of fun characters? Just spitting ideas here…

    Best regards,

    Alexander

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    1. Alexander!!!

      Thank you again for such a thoughtful comment. Reading and responding to these has become a highlight of my days! The fact that we can write in-depth to each other in the first place is such a fun sign of the success of these games; there’s so much to take in!

      You know, it has always fascinated me how EarthBound and Mother 3 establish stakes. On one hand, EarthBound is almost hands-off, in a way. Yes, we fight the Guardians, and Master Belch, and guys like Frank and Carpenter… but as far as HOW these guys/creatures became what they are, the player has to piece it together themselves by talking to NPCs and inferring what Giygas’s power entails. Sometimes people criticize EarthBound for this, but I’ve always really enjoyed it. It kind of reminds me of how in Valve’s Portal and Left 4 Dead series (and probably others as well) there is so much environmental storytelling going on. Reading scrawled messages on walls, examining the aftermath of things that have occurred, etc. And I agree–I’ve always enjoyed how the main villain of Mother 3’s approach is a bit more… deliberate.

      As for another Mother game… Honestly, all I want is remakes/remasters of each game, perhaps in a compilation form. If Nintendo were to make that happen, I would never criticize them for something ever again! Hahaha. Though I also truly believe that Mother lives on in games like Undertale, and in the enthusiastic Indie game development scene. I think the Mother series was ahead of its time in so, so many ways, and one of the biggest ways was just the quality of writing. I mean, I’d LOVE to see some kind of Jeff spin-off, and I would also love to see the Nowhere Islands, or even Lucas himself, revisited, and I’ll always believe the Mother series has more potential than nintendo sees…. but I personally don’t think it will ever happen. Hell, I barely believe in the possibility of remakes/remasters. I think what frustrates me is this whole narrative of “EarthBound failed because of bad marketing,” when really the marketing was VERY 90s esque, and VERY in-line with American pop culture at the time. What killed EarthBound was Nintendo’s own obtuse decision to sell EarthBound at (I think) a $20 mark-up compared to other games, while it was ALSO a new IP. I understand it came with the strategy guide and the stickers, but when something is a new IP, costs nearly $20 more than other SNES titles (in the era of Super Mario World and A Link to the Past), it’s just doomed from the start. And yet the narrative is that “Nintendo of America rolled out the red carpet for EarthBound, and it failed.”

      Uh oh! Now I’m starting to rant about Nintendo… that must mean it’s time to wrap up for the day.

      Well Alexander, I hope your Mother 3 playthrough is progressing smoothly! Remember, no matter how busy you get with your classwork, you can always make it to the next frog! 🙂

      Take care.

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      1. That’s pretty dang enlightening!

        I’ll admit, I always thought the “This game stinks!” marketing stunt was the main reason for Earthbound’s lack of success in America, but I had no idea the game had a marked up price.

        Where does one find information about initial prices for games that were made before the Internet and social media became widely popular? I’m wondering whether Earthbound/Mother 2 was similarly marked up in Japan. From what I’ve heard, Itoi apparently possesses a strong celebrity status in Japan, so I can imagine it being the only country that could get away with marking up this game’s price. If they only raised the price in America…then I have no clue why.

        Best regards,

        Alexander

        Like

      2. Hi Alexander!
        I have gathered this information from speaking with various Mother fans, and from reading about EarthBound a lot over the years. If I ever find an exact source, I will let you know! However, what I do know is that Nintendo of America was probably hesitant to launch a new RPG IP in the western market, and I think they thought the marked up price was going to ensure that they at least broken even on EarthBound. Unfortunately, I think they would have been better off simply selling EarthBound at the same price as a normal SNES game.

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