Frog #20: The Secret Cabbage Garden

I believe it is important to find simple things you enjoy. For example, I like to relish in the final forkful of a salad. Sometimes, I rewatch all of On Cinema in a week’s span while playing Runescape. I also like to sometimes forego cooking on a Sunday, and instead buy a Little Caeser’s pizza with some of the dipping sauces and go to town. And sometimes, like once or twice a year, I go to a very specific Chinese buffet all by myself.

It’s now hitting me that many of my simple pleasures have to do with eating, but that’s beside the point. Simple things like this help us get through life. Sometimes the only way to play is by the beat of your own drum, even if that means you’re going to miss a thousand rhythm combos.

I think I’m starting to mix up my metaphors. Maybe I’m still dazed from Aeolia’s rose hip tea. What time is it?

Dali's Clock - YouTube

Wait a second, that’s an EarthBound picture. I’m all scrambled up!

All I was trying to say was, playing Mother 3 felt like a simple joy today. I admit that the area I traversed could, to some, be bland (a short tunnel connecting the graveyard to the castle), but I enjoyed the jaunt. For some reason, I liked the basic action of walking around, probably because I have been reading The Lord of the Rings. People spend so much time walking in those books, but I never get bored of it. Though I guess I’ve come full circle now, because The Lord of the Rings was a huge influence on an entire generation of RPGs that continues to this day–the exact same generation and style that Itoi hoped to reinvent with Mother.

And really, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a good old fashioned walk.

Mushroomized | EarthBound Wiki | Fandom

Wait a second, that’s an EarthBound picture again. What’s going on here?

Actually, that’s another simple thing I enjoy: how weird Chapter 2 is. I feel like I’ve said this a few times now, but I love Duster as a focal character for this offbeat chapter of an offbeat game. While I still tend to miss playing as Flint, because it feels like we just got to know him, my appreciation for Duster grows fonder and fonder all the time. In a way, the stranger Chapter 2 is a perfect fit for Duster, a bit of a bizarre town recluse. Flint, on the other hand, is seen as a bit of a loose cannon, and while I think the extent of Flint’s true emotional recklessness is up for debate, you can’t deny that he’s an expressive guy, when it’s all on the line. Flint is a great match for Chapter 1’s emotional, surprising, high-stakes scenarios. Duster is a perfect match for Chapter 2’s bizarro, mysterious disposition.

But nighttime looks different to Duster than it does to Flint. The Eyes of a Thief see farther than a Cowboy’s, make no mistake.

The Secret Tunnel

Well, I guess it’s time for me to talk about the actual gameplay. Sorry–it’s like I said before: I think the rose hip tea is hitting me funny. It’s tough to stay on track these days. Luckily, there is little navigational effort required where we’re headed.

Last frog, we left off Duster in Nippolyte’s shack, in a room with two gift boxes. These boxes contain Beef Jerky and Cheese, which Duster loves. You know, Nippolyte strikes me as a Beef Jerky and Cheese type of guy. Being a gravedigger, he knows exactly what makes an excellent midnight snack.

Though the true attraction of the room isn’t the food, but the bookshelf. No, Duster isn’t just making a quick supply run–Nippolyte’s shack houses more secrets than gouda thought. And if you think that’s cheesy, then get a load of this: behind the bookshelf lies a secret passage, connecting the graveyard to Osohe Castle. Just like in a Scooby Doo cartoon, the best way into a haunted castle is right behind the trapdoor-bookshelf. Where’s Boney when you need him?

I see you, bookshelf.

How many other secrets does Nippolyte keep, working in the graveyard all night by himself? Is this secret passage just the tip of the iceberg?

Speaking of which, I should’ve known that zombies were just the beginning of Chapter 2’s wonky enemies. As Duster makes his way through the underground tunnel, he finds much worse than the living dead: Leeches! And Lobsters!

Though called “Spineless,” the lobsters look happy-go-lucky as far as I can tell. Not crabby in the slightest.

I really like this short encounter area because of how simple it is. Neither the leeches nor the lobster will ever give you too much trouble. The lobster can buff itself and has decent offense, but it’s unlikely you’ll lose a fight down here. Even the battle song, “More Cumbersome Guys,” should tell you everything. You’re not in much danger down here.

Speaking of battle songs, the Detached Leeches mark the return of “Bothersome Guys,” one of my favorite battle tracks in the game. Even though this track tends to denote the little guys who can’t pack much of a punch, it’s a big win in my heart!

Anyway, I like this area. It’s okay that it’s easy. The leeches and lobsters are perfect for testing out Duster’s Thief Tools in a more relaxed battle setting than the zombie men, zombie women, zombie dogs, and zombie headstones. At times, I found myself listening to the music and absent-mindedly hitting ‘A,’ which is the exact gameplay habits that many people chastise JRPGs for. To me, though, I just felt like I was relaxing and walking around in a weird underground tunnel. Nothing wrong with that!

Even though it’s an uncomplicated, straight shot through, I still like the setting. It’s a dank tunnel with some even danker leeches in it. I like the return of “Cautiously,” the anthem of all caves. And sure, this passage isn’t some kind of huge secret or anything, as we can assume that Nippolyte probably uses this tunnel all the time (and maybe dug it himself, given the shovel and pick ax at the other end), but I still love that it’s a secret, hidden tunnel underneath the graveyard. What else could Tazmily be hiding? What other secrets can be found in this town, hidden behind unassuming bookshelves?

To me, that’s where Itoi’s cited Twin Peaks influence starts to come in. In Twin Peaks, the show begins as a murder mystery, where we learn more and more not just about Laura Palmer, the dead girl, but also about the townsfolk themselves–their secrets, their desires, their mistakes. As time goes on, the setting itself, Twin Peaks, becomes more deeply characterized, as various hideaways, hideouts, and even stranger locations are revealed. The town begins to open itself up.

So yeah, I like this little transitional zone, for that reason. A hidden underground tunnel, that very few know about. And another thing I come back to again and again is that I simply like how Mother 3 looks. It’s a simple detail, but I love how this is an underground cave, and a bunch of water has collected on the ground. How many RPGs have you played where a cave is an untouched, brownish gray area? In Mother 3, even this short tunnel is fun to look at. It’s fun to take in. But Mother 3 sure does love its hallways, doesn’t it?

I mean, I get it–there’s no reason for this tunnel to be anything more than this. Someone, probably Nippolyte or a groundskeeping crew before him, dug this tunnel for the express purpose of getting from the graveyard to the castle, to tend the grounds. It makes sense for the world building, or whatever. Not every location we visit in an RPG needs to be a larger “dungeon,” or anything like that.

But. It is just another hallway. Like I’ve said before, I love Mother 3, and I don’t really think of stuff like this as I play, because I’m a simple-minded gamer. But in hindsight, as I write about these areas, I do see why some fans don’t enjoy Mother 3 as much, or at least its moment-to-moment gameplay. I know I probably sound like a broken record by now, but it’s a perspective that I’m interested in examining, and I don’t fully disagree. Sometimes in Mother 3, I feel like I just walk wherever the game wants me to, and that’s about it.

However, I also think we could see it as restraint in design. Not everything needs to be expanded upon in every section of every video game. If anything, some RPGs are more bloated than ever, with hundreds of collectibles, side quests, items, equipment parts, you name it. Even the caves have caves, in these games–and sometimes the caves have caves that have caves, with a cave city attached! It’s nice to know that sometimes, when I’m going from one location to another, I don’t have a hundred other things on my mind, five different bouncing waypoints on a mini map, eight different pieces of equipment and about ten side quests in the background. In a way, I think a lot of contemporary RPGs gave me UI fatigue–like I’m constantly being asked to take in some new map, area schematic, or branching dialogue option.

Then there’s Mother 3, where when I can’t get into the castle, I find the secret tunnel, I walk through it, and now I’m to the next story beat. Yeah, it could have been fun to explore a larger underground area (maybe, finally, the interesting mine cart track from the EarthBound 64 trailer, which was cut) beneath both the graveyard and the castle, but sometimes a tunnel is just a tunnel, folks. Life is full of all kinds of straight and narrow paths, and while I don’t encourage you to take all of them, it’s okay to pick one every now and again just to see where it takes you.

And uh, if that doesn’t do it for you, then at least you get to fight three leeches at once at the end of the tunnel. That’s pretty fun.

One of my new fav psychedelic backgrounds.

All in all, not a bad hallway.

Osohe Can You See?

Flowers are pretty and all, but they don’t fill the belly, y’know?

Nippolyte, the Gravedigger

Once getting through the underground tunnel, Duster finds himself in the Osohe Castle courtyard. Just because he has solved the drawn-up draw bridge issue, however, doesn’t mean he’s going to find his way inside so easily. The front gate is still locked, which appears to be the only way in.

However, there are worse courtyards to be stuck in. Osohe Castle houses both an Advice-Giving Sparrow, who explains how advantaged and disadvantaged battle encounters work, and the gravedigger Nippolyte, who tends a potato garden.

Probably my favorite part of this small area is talking Nippolyte, who, though he still doesn’t really know Duster’s name, imparts some knowledge about Osohe Castle and the surrounding area. The first time you talk to Nippolyte, he’ll commend you for making it through the tunnel “without being done in by all them monsters.” I wonder if the monsters attack Nippolute too, and if he’s just stronger than he looks? And hey, who am I to judge–Nippolyte is an active groundskeeper from dusk til dawn, so as far as I know, he’s much stronger than Duster.

I mean, look at his excellent form. We’re talking about a true connoisseur, here.

If you continue talking to Nippolyte, he’ll tell you that not only is the castle impossible to get inside, but also the royal family doesn’t even live there anymore. King Osohe, Queen Seneka, and even the princess, who he describes as “one hell of a princess, quicker than a monkey and stronger than a bear,” have all abandoned the castle and its grounds, leaving the whole place empty.

Personally, I had never talked to Nippolyte much on my previous playthroughs, and even though I liked his visual design as a character, I didn’t put much effort toward getting to know him. And I’ve gotta say–Nippolyte interests me! Why is it that the old boys of the town, like Wess, Nippolyte, and Alec, know all the best secrets? Is this stuff common knowledge to, I don’t know, people like Thomas, or Lighter and Fuel? Don’t forget, Wess claims to have served King Osohe, which must have been way-back-when as a younger thief. Can we also assume that Nippolyte has been the groundskeeper for just as long? Is there another reality where Duster, the son of Wess, and Kippolyte, and son of Nippolyte, team up and storm the castle, combining their talents as a thief and a gardener?

Though I don’t want to get into spoiler talk right now (if you know, you know), I still like thinking about how Nippolyte would have come to know the history of Osohe Castle, or even the fate of its princess. Honestly, of all the NPCs we’ve met so far, except maybe Leder and the Magicantians, Nippolyte is one of the most intriguing. Does this guy just hang out with zombies all day and reflect on the state of Osohe Castle, of history, of shovels?

That’s the great thing about Nippolyte, in a way. On one hand, I could see him as this knowledgable old gravedigger, who has seen a few generations of Tazmily come and go. He has buried friends, family, and royalty, creating such a bond with the grounds he keeps that he continues to tend them long after a new age has begun.

On the other hand, I love the idea that Nippolyte is just an aloof, carefree groundskeeper who knows a bit of gossip. Like, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s never even seen the zombies, because he’s usually just bent over some mound of dirt, digging a new hole. Maybe he has never noticed the Mobile Graves, the Zombie Dogs, or anything or the sort, as he strolls along in his simple life of tending to potatoes and cabbage. Zen in the art of Groundskeeping.

However you want to interpret Nippolyte, he seems to be a pretty good guy. Who knows–maybe he stays so fit at his old age by fighting zombies, leeches, and spineless lobsters every night. Maybe he’s a graveyard sleeper agent of some kind, and when the right circumstances align, he suddenly wields his scythe as a powerful weapon, shouting commands like “Tend the garden!” or “Peel the potato!” as he dispatches enemies with ease.

Of anything you can learn from Nippolyte, probably the most important thing is his perspective on flowers. Why is it that the old gravedigger only keeps vegetables gardens? Couldn’t he brighten up this dreary atmosphere with, I don’t know, some tulips or something?

But hey, a gravedigger’s gotta eat! “Flowers are pretty n’ all,” says Nippolyte, the hungry old bastard, “But they don’t fill the belly, y’know?”

And if anyone has a problem with Nippolyte using the castle grounds as his own personal vegetable garden, then take up your complaints with me, because I’m on the old timer’s side. I mean, here we have an old, ancient, beautiful castle, just sitting here with no using it. What is Nippolyte supposed to do? Not dig a tunnel to the castle grounds and grow vegetables? If anyone looks at a haunted castle’s untended grounds and doesn’t see the it as an opportunity to grow cabbage, then I don’t want to know ya!

It’s also kind of sweet that Nippolyte’s potato patch is marked “Potatotos.”

Well, I bet you can guess what has to happen next. Nippolyte just suggested that it’s probably not even worth it to climb over the castle wall, which, of course, means Duster is going to pop out of Wall Staples and climb over the castle wall.

But before we get to that, let’s take in a bit of the castle’s environment.

Now, if the prototypical images from EarthBound 64 show us anything, it’s that the original design of Osohe Castle was much more elaborate, at least looking at it from the outside. I’ll have to hunt down this information, but I also read somewhere that the Kraken was originally planned to preside underneath the castle, which creeps me out in a Lovecraftian way. Look–squids, octopods, and krakens freak me out, okay? And knowing that one would have resided under the castle doesn’t do anything to quell my fears.

While the GBA’s rendition of Osohe is a pretty straightforward castle, I still enjoy walking around and taking everything in, and, in a way, the environment tells its own story. To the south, for example, the wall is broken, and while it may have just crumbled to time, who’s to say there was never a battle fought here, or that Osohe never lay under siege? For all we know, this crack is brand new, and the Pigmasks are responsible.

I also like the kinds of questions we can ask about this place. If Wess has memories of serving the king, the castle can’t be that old, yet the ramparts are damaged and even the castle’s banners hang in tattered shreds. What happened in this short amount of time to expel the castle of all inhabitants? Why is the drawbridge up and the castle grounds inaccessible to Tazmily? Why are the front gates shut and locked from the inside? What kind of secrets does this place hide?

Well, I’ll wait until we’re inside to talk about Osohe Castle at length, but these are the kinds of things that makes me appreciate Chapter 2. In Chapter 1, the Sunshine Forest makes sense as a central location, as does the Drago Plateau for where we end up at the closing of the chapter. Osohe Castle is such a fun shift in a new direction. Mother 3 doesn’t seem like a game that’s going to have haunted castles in it, at least right off the bat (before two beloved characters bite the dust, that is), and yet here we are, knocking on the front door and hoping a ghost or a zombie will lend us a hand (perhaps literally).

But we all know this door ain’t opening. We’re going up, baby! Wall Staple time!

Man, I never get tired of watching Duster use the Wall Staples. The Wall Staples, to me, fall right in line with the lovely assortment of inventions from EarthBound, like the Octopus/Pencil Eraser, and any of the Apple Kid inventions, like the Zombie Paper (which, if you’ve forgotten, is a sticky paper that catches zombies). I also love the starting animation, where Duster whirls around and whips out the staples.

Ah, to be a thief in a Mother game! If only Nippolyte could see us now!

I would say that being up on the Osohe Castle wall isn’t very interesting, but there’s a bunch of shit to find up here.

Honestly, I can’t believe I’ve never noticed this before, but these are the droppings that fell from the Pigmask Airship. Before writing this frog, I decided to Google a bit about Chapter 2, because when I first saw the pods fall from the ship, I wasn’t sure what they were. Were they Zombie pods? Were they escape pods of Pigmask soldiers? In my previous Mother 3 play-throughs, I had never inspected these, or at least I don’t have any memory of doing so. I think because of the limitations of the Gameboy Advance’s graphics, I assumed these were craters in the structure of the castle, not piles of waste on the ground.

I don’t think these are supposed to literally be the collected excrement of the Pigmask Army or anything–it’s probably just their compacted trash, and other waste. But you’ve got to admit, it’s a pretty awesome element of to further characterize the bad guys’ villainy: the Pigmask Army isn’t just altering nature with their chimeric products and bombs; their airships are quite literally taking a shit on the land of Tazmily, polluting an ancient castle with garbage. And no, this glob of waste product isn’t affecting the townsfolk or anything, but it’s the intent of it, you know? The Pigmasks have such a disregard for the Tazmilians and the Nowhere Islands. I mean, what if, for example, a mysterious airship flew over, like, Stonehenge or something, and dropped some intergalactic trash on it? It’d be a pretty visible “fuck you” to Earth, whether the insult is in the intent itself, or the fact that the aliens didn’t care enough to take the trash somewhere else. You have to admit, a pig themed army really should have airships that, at least visually, appear to shit on the Earth.

Either way, Nippolyte’s vegetable garden fertilizer isn’t going to be the only unpleasant smell floating into Tazmily anymore.

Oh, and also, I guess it has been a while since I’ve had an EarthBound 64 conspiracy theory. As you may recall from Frog #11, Part 2, EarthBound 64 would have included mysterious “droppings” on a beach, which were going to have been left by the enigmatic Kraken.

We also know, or at least I think I have read somewhere, that the Kraken was originally going to appear, or at least reside, beneath Osohe Castle. As we’ll see later this chapter, a different boss appears, but I can’t help but wonder if these piles of “waste product” are a small nod to abandoned EarthBound 64 plot points. I mean, I’m not saying the Kraken would have taken a shit on the castle wall or anything, but like I’ve talked about before, “mysterious piece of poop” seems like an Itoi Writing Prompt 101. I wonder if the idea survived, at least in some form, because he thought it was so funny.

That’s right, folks–on the Frog by Frog Blog, we spent at least four paragraphs when discussing such importants matters as piles of Pigmask waste product.

Other than that, I’ve gotta say, I like the view from up here. Taking in this lovely Osohe architecture would be even more fun if there weren’t ants all over the place, but I can’t blame some eager ants for flocking around the biggest pile of waste product that anyone’s ever seen, except for maybe what can be found on Drago Plateau.

Yes, there is another ant up here who blocks your path, but this time around it’s just to tell you that it’s okay if you aren’t a master of rhythm combos. Similarly to how I have warmed up to Mapson over time, I also like the recurrence of this little ant, who claims to have been watching us battle. That just warms my heart for some reason! To imagine a little covert ant-friend, looking upon as Duster fights tomb stones and lobsters, thinking to itself, “Dang it! Only a 6 hit combo this time! I need to talk to that guy again!”

Who knows? Maybe ants are always trying to talk to us, if we’d only listen. And anyway, I think I need to view stuff like this from a different perspective sometimes. Not everyone playing Mother 3 will have a lot of experience with RPGs, and even those that do might not be able to grasp the rhythm system easily. There’s nothing wrong with Itoi wanting to check in every now and again, in the form of encouraging little ants. I also love the detail that the bugs of Mother 3 seem to be the spunkiest fighters that the Nowhere Islands has to offer. Maybe the Mole Crickets and ants need to get together and form a fight club, or something.

I think that’s enough talk about ants, shit, and cabbage, so let’s just get inside the castle already, why don’t we?

Once inside, you catch an odd feeling. You start to notice details, materializing before your very eyes, like apparitions. It could just be a draft, but maybe it’s a presence, a something-still-living that breathes in this ancient castle.

Maybe you notice the large painting of a woman, whose eyes follow you no matter where you walk. Whether she’s good or evil doesn’t bother you–but the stare does. You feel it on your back. You feel it trying to catch your eye-line, only for you to doubt yourself. It’s just a painting, after all. Paintings can’t look at things.

So maybe then you notice the empty suit of armor, which, given, the tone of the music track, could move at any second, as if possessed by a spirit. But that’s not scary. Nothing a Wall Staple or two couldn’t take out.

But maybe it’s the music itself you notice, the dreary, weary, leery “Osohe Castle,” which, like it or not, you’ll be listening to for a long time as you explore this old, cold place.

Or who knows–maybe, like me, your eyes are drawn to the torn carpet, the stained walls, and the cobweb overhead. Is this place worn to time, or to an attack?

Of course, you’re right at home if the first thing you notice is a little green friend, hopping nearby as if to say, “It’s pretty weird in here, huh? But don’t worry. I am a frog, after all.”

Oh, so, hey, Osohe Lady.

Whatever you notice first, you won’t be able to shake it any time soon. I’m not saying Osohe Castle is scary or anything–I’m just having a little fun with setting the tone. But the Osohe Castle portion of Chapter 2 can definitely get tricky. It’s here where, in my opinion, Mother 3 first starts to test the player’s mettle. There are tough enemies in here, and even tougher boss fights. And if that doesn’t wear you down, then the music just might, as we don’t return to the uppity “Mine of a Thief” after each fight, but to the slow “Osohe Castle,” which moves at about the pace of a zombie in the Tazmily graveyard.

Well, there’s no where to go but left. Or is it right? Did you hear that?

What will we find in this old place?

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