Frog 28: So Long, Duster

Here we are at the Chapter 2 Finale. Totaling in at 13 frogs, Chapter 2 has taken us on an exceptionally strange ride. You might not remember it, but this chapter began in the middle of the night, as two thieves conspired and the moon rose high. There were zombies, ghosts, and decomposing composers. There was a simmering anxiety in Tazmily, a peddler pulling at the town’s strings, a sense that things will become even more tense before finally unravelling altogether. The Pigmasks patrol the sky by night and lay Osohe Castle under siege by day. We begin to feel like The Nowhere Islands need all the heroes it can get.

But there were also moments of excitement and heroism. With his Wall Staples and Rope Snake in hand, Duster proved himself to be a Tazmilian Indiana Jones. He swung across gaps, deftly ducked behind enemies, and utilized a wide arsenal of Thief Tools to gain the upperhand in battle, including (but not limited to) the deadly Tickle Stick. Duster may not be a hard swingin’, brute forcin’, emotionally distressin’ cold cowboy like Flint, but he’s still a hero in all the ways that count… even if he did bring back the wrong item from Osohe Castle on his first time through.

I’ve enjoyed playing as Duster. Sadly, at Chapter 2’s end, Duster is missing: flushed out of Osohe and dragged down-river, Kumatora and Wess find themselves without the thief, who, in a stroke of bad luck, wasn’t able to drag himself to shore with the others. While Flint ends Chapter 1 in a tragic position of even further emotional loss, Duster ends Chapter 2 just straight up lost. Who knows where he is?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we get to any of that, we have to talk about how it all ends. You know, I kind of like how, even though Chapter 2 keeps you on-the-rails just about as much as Chapter 1, the story itself takes a backseat, in a way. I mean, you’re still forced on a path (Osohe Castle), but there’s literally less plot happening. In Chapter 1, we had a major death, another presumed death, various moments of drama and tension, and as much of the emotional spectrum as a Gameboy Advance can be expected to handle. In Chapter 2, we hung out with Duster and did weird stuff. Wess told us what to do, and where to go, but even he didn’t really seem to understand the full extent of what was going on. Chapter 2 expresses itself largely through mystery, which is compounded by its odd setting: Osohe Castle.

That’s right, you can’t talk about Chapter 2 without talking about Osohe. At this point, I’ve said about all I can think to say about this old place. It’s just as strange as Chapter 2’s smokey plot. You don’t have a sense of the history of Osohe, other than the vague memories that Wess provides. Like the Sunshine Forest for Chapter 1, Osohe Castle is where all of the action happens in Chapter 2. We first acquaint ourselves with the castle by fighting against it, culminating in the battle with Mr. Passion; we then find ourselves fighting for Osohe, as the Pigmasks want something here as well. Or at least, both the ghosts and the thieves would agree that the pigs don’t belong.

Do the Pigmasks also want the Hummingbird Egg?

All in all, I think Chapter 2 is a perfect follow-up to Chapter 1. If you’ve been following the blog for the entirety of my posts about the chapter, then you know I’ve found a lot to appreciate here that I never noticed before. To name a few additional things, I loved how Dona, a Tazmilian I never really paid attention to, finds herself in the middle of a crisis of faith and sanity; I loved how the usually-chipper Bateau finds himself increasingly gloomy; I enjoyed talking with Bob and seeing him subtly manipulated by ???, the stranger; I loved Nana’s observation that none of the family members in Tazmily quite look alike.

If you think about it, Duster and Flint are great focal characters because they allow Itoi to explore Tazmily however he wants. Remember that one of Itoi’s goals with Mother 3 was to show a single place grow over time. Flint is our daytime character–our dependable tough guy who people need when things go sour, the type of guy who’s the first on the scene when shit hits the fan. Duster is our nighttime character–a thief who sees another side of the town, who fights zombies instead of animals, who sneaks around rather than forcing himself in.

I don’t feel like that paragraph quite says what I want it to, but basically, I’m saying Flint and Duster are great characters to see Tazmily through; I could easily see both of these guys being prototypical characters for Itoi’s original conception of playing a detective who’s trying to catch a thief (among other goals and tasks). Maybe that’s where these characters come from in the first place, and Itoi just kept the design concepts.

Speaking of good characters, we also got to meet Kumatora. I feel like I gave Kumatora enough of an introduction last frog, but I’ll just say again, I’m excited for her to be around. I know some people criticize the combat of the Mother 3 series as being simplistic, but I love playing around with PSI. I know that often the most optimal strategy is to just go for the hardest hitting attack, but I think Mother 3 gives the player a lot of unique opportunities with PSI, and it all starts with Kumatora. She won’t have learned any crazy techniques by the end of Chapter 2, but this is only the beginning…

Like any good mystery, Chapter 2 gets better when you pull back its layers. While the theme of Osohe Castle was more understated than any of the amazing tracks that played in the Sunshine Forest in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 was still full of great music and battle songs. One of my favorites was “Etude for Ghosts,” and the Chapter opener, “Passing Down Secrets.” But then I can’t stop there, because I remember “Zombeat,” and the chapter’s boss track, “Formidable Foe.” To be honest, I think one of more underrated tracks in both Chapter 2, and the game at large, is Chapter 2’s closing song, “Butch and the Villagers.” Maybe it’s the fact that it plays at a great moment in the story, but something about this track has always stuck with me. All in all, some of the music in Chapter 1 might have been more memorable, especially when thinking of the many emotional story beats Chapter 1 has, but Chapter 2 does its own thing and hits some great grooves along the way, and I like that.

All right all right, that’s enough recap. What do you say we jump back in to the thief adventure and see how it all ends? When we last left our friends, they were still, still, on the path to something shiny, and if the journey so far has been any indication, it’s not going to end easily. But there’s a power in this trio, as oddly-matched as they may seem. It’d be a shame if anything happened to them.

To Steal a Hummingbird Egg

The gang finds themselves on the top floor of Osohe Castle. Duster leads the way with an offbeat tiptoe; Kumatora follows behind, stomping her feet when a shadow passes overhead; Wess trails behind, his eyes darting left to right, his nose investigating like a dog’s, on the lookout for any potential traps–Osohe traps that he may have once set against intruders, oh-so-many years ago.

In the final hallway of Osohe Castle, you’ll find some familiar foes: the Osohe Cape and the Lingering Spirit. At this point, you should be able to take down both of these quickly, and there’s no reason not to use Kumatora’s PSI to your heart’s content. There are enough magic tarts and gelatins around to let the PK Freezes rip.

I know I harped on about this last chapter, but I really like this party configuration. As soon as Kumatora learns Lifeup a, the gang gains a much needed convenience for healing. There’s nothing wrong with amount of health items we have on Duster, but the Bags of Porkchips are running thin, so it’s nice to have an alternative source of HP. And similarly to Chapter 1, I’ve hoarded a decent amount of bombs. Duster’s holding a couple different types, including thunder bombs. In other words, I’m ready for the encroaching boss fight.

Because I’m going to miss this trio, I decided to fight the enemies, leave the room, re-enter, and fight the enemies again. I like messing around with Duster’s thief tools and testing out different PSI abilities against different enemies. It’s a nice and easy way to train, and if Wess participates in a useful way, sometimes you can dispatch enemies incredibly quick. I wanted to get a few more rounds in before the end, not because I wanted the experience points, but because I wanted to play a little bit longer.

And that’s what this is all about! If I can find a few extra moments to just play, then this blog is already a success.

Well, there’s only one way to go: through the door and into the room. Once again, the room is too mysterious, and rightfully so: the entire room is empty, except for a shining, winged egg, seated on a pedestal. Wess identifies this object as the “Hummingbird Egg,” or “The Egg of Light.” He knows that he hid it here long ago, but not even he knows quite what its purpose is. “The Hummingbird Egg is a balls of secrets inside secrets that are inside even more secrets…supposedly, apparently,” says Wess, as Kumatora and Duster look at the Hummingbird Egg with awe.

If you were smelling something like scrambled hummingbird eggs, don’t worry: that’s just what a plot device smells like. I don’t have anything against the Hummingbird Egg, but to be honest, I didn’t really connect with this part of the plot when I first played Mother 3, which I think has affected my view of its importance over all. I think the Hummingbird Egg itself is connected with an interesting part of Mother 3, but the object itself is more of a means to an end.

I hope that doesn’t sound too critical. I have nothing against mysterious, shiny eggs! This will be better to talk about later in the plot, when we know more about the egg’s true purpose.

For now, all we know is that the egg is important for some reason. Wess philsophizes for a while, pondering on the egg’s mysteries. “What sort of hope–or calamity–is hidden away in this egg?” he says, wondering what would happen if someone opened the egg. It’s all very vague, but I think it fits the Tazmilian mindset, and the Chapter 2 Vibe, pretty well. I’m not saying Tazmilians are outright clueless, but they are a bit oblivious at times. Which is also no attack against Wess’s intelligence, he’s clearly a sharp guy in some ways, but you’ve got to admit: something that’s mysterious just because it is, is definitely something a Tazmilian would accept. But hey, that’s just how things go on a thief adventure. We embrace mystery on this team!

Well, for now we’ll have to understand the egg only through abstract language. For Wess, the egg is so concentrated in secrets that it reminds him of condensed milk. He notes that Duster, a moron, couldn’t pick up on the scent of something so clearly potent–any good thief should be able to sniff out a secret from a mile away. Kumatora quips back with one of my favorites line in the chapter: “You really shouldn’t keep callin’ your own kid a moron like that. ‘Cause if he really is a moron, he wouldn’t understand anyways.”

Ah, Kumatora. Always the voice of harsh reason.

This is just another reason why I love this team: they have great dialogue. Which I guess is actually me saying I enjoy the interactions between Wess and Kumatora, since Duster is a silent third. But Duster being there still adds an element to things, especially because Kumatora and Wess are both such big personalities. Kumatora’s a natural swashbuckler; she throws care to the wind, follows her whims, and speaks her mind at all times. Wess is the King of Curmudgeons, though he has some soft spots. Basically, if Wess didn’t also have his thief abilities to back him up, he wouldn’t be able to command our respect or appreciation at all. You still don’t have to like him, but Wess is a useful ally who always acts on behalf of what he believes is right.

Anyway, soak this up, because the gang is about to be in trouble: something thunders against the door, and it’s no battering ram. Claymen, assembled in a small group, throw their bulky elbows into the door in an attempt to break it down.

The first time I played Mother 3 back in 2008, I loved this moment of Chapter 2. Yes, there was the Pigmask Airship early in the chapter, as well as the tanks outside of the castle, but this was the moment where the conflict truly escalated. The Pigmasks moved from clandestine operations to full-on assault, and it was exciting! It’s even kind of ridiculous that three Pigmasks and three Claymen attempt to break the door down. No matter how evil the Pigmasks are, they always look goofy.

It’s also nice to see some urgency in the situation. Don’t get me wrong, Chapter 1 was filled with urgency, from the opening forest fire to the ending showdown, but Chapter 2 has operated at a different pace. For the first half of the chapter, the quest for something shiny almost seemed unconnected to the main plot, as if hunting for artifacts in old castles is just something thieves do. Wess had said that the enemy was moving, and that Duster’s mission was very important… but that was all easy to forget when 5 minutes later you’re fighting zombies and talking to ghosts. Suddenly, Wess’s words of urgency, of conspiracy, and of things happening starts to feel very, very far away…

But now, Duster’s mission, and everything that happened in Chapter 2, seems so much more important than ever before. The Pigmasks aren’t just a background influence anymore; they’re rolling tanks into courtyards and breaking down doors to get the thing we’ve got: the Hummingbird Egg. But why do they want it? And, for that matter, why do we want it? The only person who seems to know anything (barely) is Wess.

And honestly, I still feel bad for the Claymen. If the earlier fight wasn’t indication enough, this scene proves that the Pigmasks Army probably has thousands of these guys, forced to do whatever the Pigmasks require, forced to be living battering rams!

Poor Claymen! We need to convince these guys to unionize!

But man, I wish we had the option to fight the bad guys! I think I could take ’em! Sure, it took Duster and Wess’s combined efforts to defeat just one Clayman earlier, and fighting three at once, with three soldiers as well, and perhaps more soldiers on the way… Okay, we might lose, but we’d go down swinging! Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!

Kumatora has other ideas, however, and she plucks the Hummingbird Egg from its golden, goblet-like nest. I can see it now: Kumatora flipping the egg up into the air like a shiny football, catching it, and tucking it under one arm. There’s truly never a dull moment with Kumatora around.

Unfortunately, the over-eager Princess should have waited just a split second longer for old man Wess to speak up. “Princess! Pleaste wait!” the thief yells–but it’s too late.

Down, down, down our trio falls, revealing all along the purpose of the gaps in Osohe Castle’s floors: a trap, perhaps built by Wess himself, to punish anyone who attempts to steal the Hummingbird Egg. I’m glad I got such a good screenshot of this moment: Duster, with his hands on his cheeks; Wess, falling as if the middle of a Looney Tune run; and Kumatora, already appearing to brace herself for whatever lies below…

There’s Something in the Water

Or should I say, whatever lurks below in the deep, still waters of Osohe’s underground pool. That’s right: Wess didn’t design the trap to, say, impale the thief on a bed of spikes, or drop them into a vat of bubbling acid. Instead, the gang falls right into a body of water, which wouldn’t look so bad if there weren’t literal skulls piled so high that they protrude from the surface.

I think this is what they call going out of the frying pan and into the fryer, except in this case we went out of the frying pan and into the sink.

Honestly, I love this entire sequence. I love that its Kumatora who pulls the proverbial trigger by springing the trap, I love how we end up in an even worse circumstance than we were in before, and I like, again, the dialogue between Kumatora and Wess as they pop up from underneath the water. This party configuration is nearly at the end of its tale–this is the last of the good old days! Frogs from now, we’ll be looking back at the times when Wess, Duster, and Kumatora were all together, running around Osohe Castle and fighting the spirits of the undead.

But what are we going to be fighting down here? A ghost shark? The Kraken?

At first everything seems okay. Wess and Kumatora swim to the surface and gather their bearings. Wess tells Kumatora not to worry about “the moron,” as he has been trained to survive situations exactly like this. On one hand, I like that Wess shows some confidence in Duster’s abilities, but on the other hand, he could also be downplaying Duster’s safety under the guise of assumption. I wouldn’t put the latter option past him, as we know Wess likes to look cool and collected in front of Kumatora.

Luckily, Duster surfaces too, not long after the others, with the egg safe and sound! How’s that for a heroic move? Duster is much more than a thief with bad breath: he’s a thief with enough awareness to save the artifact in a high pressure situation. Without Duster, that Hummingbird Egg might be at the bottom of this moon-shaped pool, where it would sit for thousands and thousands of years! Good job, Duster!

Of course, it’s Duster’s safety that matters more than any egg. Wess reveals his true thoughts on the matter when he says, “Oh, the egg! Oh, and Duster.” I see you, Wess! You didn’t trick me for one second! Though, to be fair to Wess, he does say, “Duster, I’ve called you a moron 11 times so far but I take it all back now!”

Is that the half-assed apology that Duster deserves? No; in fact, by this point, Wess should be dancing in Duster’s honor, but we’ll take what we can get. When Wess himself says that he’s taking back all the name-calling, you know you’re witnessing something special. Could this be the character development Wess needs to stop being an asshole?

I wish I could say that Chapter 2 closes here, with the gang swimming out of the castle’s mote, down the river, and back to Tazmily. I wish Wess had to begrudgingly accept that it was Duster who truly saved the day, and, seeing as the sun is still high in the sky, I wish Duster himself could go home and get some much-deserved sleep. Unfortunately for our gang, things from bad, to worse… to even worse.

In the midst of their celebrations, a shadow emerges from the depths of the pool. It slithers underneath our heroes, around and around, a black, coiling shadow that finally centers itself directly underneath the Hummingbird Egg. There is a moment where no one, not even the shadow under the surface, moves. Stillness in the water.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

It’s time for a boss fight, folks! Emerging from the water and towering over the trio is the Osohe Snake: a pink serpent with creepy, slitted white eyes. An excellent battle track, “Formidable Foe,” begins to play. Whereas Chapter 1’s “Fight with Mecha Drago” seemed to emphasize the brutishness and intimidating spectacle of the Chimera Monster, Chapter 2’s “Formidable Foe” sounds more chaotic and eccentric, more panic-filled and stressful, which helps me visualize the Osohe Snake’s attack style within this small space. I can imagine it slithering around in the water, snapping forward to attack, then sinking underneath the waves again as the piles of skulls shudder and shake. “Formidable Foe” makes the Osohe Snake feel like a force that can’t be contained, and if you’re not ready, this is no easy fight.

There’s definitely something silly about the Oh-So-Snake. Its tongue hangs out of its head, and its thin, tiny eyes can make it appear dimwitted. However, I’ve always been creeped out by the snake’s wide, hair-thin smile, and, to me, the eyes fall more into the uncanny, unsettling territory. As in, those eyes feel like they’re ready to kill me, especially when the Snake does the thing where it’s half under the water, and half above with the water, with its eyes just peeking along the top of the surface. The Oh-So-Snake may look Oh-So-Silly, but I have a feeling there’s a reason the Hummingbird Egg’s trap sent thieves down into this pit: there’s no coming out of a fight like this alive.

I think this is why I enjoy the fight with the Oh-So-Snake, even if we don’t have as much emotional investment in the fight itself, in comparison to something like the Mecha Drago fight, or even the Reconstructed Caribou. Yeah, Duster and Wess aren’t fighting to avenge their dead wives or children, but they’re still in a high-stress situation against a Formidable Foe. The dire cirumstances, combined with the fact that the snake actually hits pretty hard and has a decent amount of health, has always made this boss fight a challenging but enjoyable one for me. I want to defeat the snake, because it freaks me out, and it’s fun to fight the snake, because there are a few different things to manage in this battle. It’s a well constructed encounter, and I think it’s a great capstone on the combat-heavy trek through Chapter 2.

I’ll say straight away that, once again, my fight wasn’t too difficult because I had so many bombs saved up. I don’t know how this keeps happening to me, but I keep somehow going into all of these fights with more bombs than a demolition team. But if you don’t have as many bombs as I did, there’s still hope for you: the Snake may hit hard, but it’s susceptible to crying, so Duster can use Smoke Bombs to bring down the Snake’s accuracy. Meanwhile, throw some PSI at the Snake with Kumatora, and try to keep everyone’s health at least above 60 or 70, because the Snake can cause a huge wave to crash into your party, dealing around 50 damage a piece.

After the Snake uses its big attack, it’ll hide most of its body underwater again, only showing the top of its head on the surface. Kumatora, at this point, tells Duster and Wess to climb up the mounds of skulls so that they are safely out of the water. Then, she concentrates her energy all to a single point… takes in a deep breath… feels a small static shock in finger tips… and lets loose PK Thunder, dealing massive damage to serpent.

That’s right: when the Snake is submerged like this, Kumatora can use PK Thunder and it’ll be extra effective. And yes, the whole thing with the gang crawling up on to the skulls is just my own head canon, but that’s actually how I see this fight working in my mind. Like I’ve said before, I like to imagine Mother 3 as if it were a cartoon, and it’s so fun to visualize the Snake crashing into the piles of skulls as the thieves jump here and there, with Kumatora throwing PSI blasts into the water that light up the entire dungeon with brilliant, vibrant color. Duster could even leap on to the wall with his staples, then throw Smoke Bombs down into the water to confuse the Snake. Meanwhile, Wess could leap from skull mound to skull mound, throwing bones and bombs at the snake below. There are so many options for a fun animation!

I think I like the details of the skulls so much because it makes an otherwise almost-goofy enemy into a certified killer. Who knows: maybe all of Osohe’s Ghosts were just a snack for the Oh-So-Snake? Maybe that’s how you get invited to the big ghost party: get killed by the snake, have your skull adorned in one of the piles, then head upstairs for a glass of wine and afterlife socialization.

Mother 3 - Oh-So-Snake - YouTube

As long as you keep it together and don’t let yourself get caught off guard by the wave attack, it won’t be long before you’ve defeated the Oh-So-Snake. By the way, this enemy’s name in the Japanese version is Osohebi, with hebi being the word for snake; so, it’s the Osohe Hebi, or the Osohebi. There are some fan theories that instead of the Oh-So-Snake, the gang would have fought the Kraken during the escape from Osohe, but I’ll outline that information at the end of this post. We’re so close to the end!

Anyway, with a PK Thunder and a kick to the eye, the gang defeats the snake, and it sinks to the bottom of the well. However, these three seem fated to always get swept from bad to worse, because before they even have a chance to celebrate, Osohe Castle flushes them down its drains.

If only the Pigmasks had aimed their droppings a bit more accurately earlier in the chapter, they could have landed in Osohe’s Underground Toilet Bowl! Oh well.

But so our heroes get flushed away, down the river and through the woods. You probably didn’t expect such a heroic outing to end in such a uproarous flush, but here we are. And this is also our farewell to Osohe, for now. I don’t think I have anything else to say about this castle, other than a final thought: as I’ve telegraphed throughout these frogs, my opinion of this ghostly place has truly changed. I like Osohe Castle now. I mean, I always loved the ghost party, and I always enjoyed the boss fights, but the castle itself–I have a weird affinity for it now. I feel like the environment has truly come to life, and I care about Osohe. It’s a strange feeling.

I recently listened to the Mother Forever Interview with Reid Young, and he said he loves Chapter 2 because it almost feels like its own separate, mini game. I agreed with this, not only because I had reached a similar conclusion on my replay of Chapter 2 earlier on, but because I feel like you can play Chapter 2 without any context of the rest of the game and still have an amazing time. Similarly, you can play Chapter 2 and clearly feel that this is a Mother game, even if you just played it by itself. Chapter 2 is like its own standalone episode, and even though it obviously connects to the plot of Mother 3 at large, I appreciate its commitment to doing its own thing, especially with all the Osohe stuff.

Of course, as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself. If we’re going to talk about a chapter that does its own thing, then we’ve got to talk about Chapter 3. And we can’t start talking about Chapter 3 until we finish up Chapter 2.

So, let’s see where our friends ended up, shall we?

Washed Up

In every hero’s journey, a hero must return home. Sometimes, the return is celebrated and extravagant–a hero returns after completing a task, and public recognition follows immediately. Sometimes, the return is subtle, quiet–a hero returns and finds themself changed, finds they can never go home again, at least in their heart. Sometimes, the return is nasty business–the hero returns home and finds that a new evil has arisen, or a new problem calls for their attention.

It’s not easy being a hero.

In the case of our friends, their return home is a little bit lucky and a little bit sad. Fuel and Lighter, walking by doing whatever it is Fuel and Lighter do in the middle of the day, pass Kumatora and Wess, washed up and face down on the riverbank. If not for Fuel’s sharp eyes, the two might not have been spotted at all, and Fuel even admits later that he almost decided to just keep walking (oh Fuel! We know you better than that. If some tweaks had been made to Mother 3, you could have been the hero!).

Wess and Kumatora certainly look like they’re in bad shape. Imagine being washed up like that, with the sun beating down on you, after having just fought for your life against a creepy, gigantic snake. That’s what makes me sad: our heroes look strung out and defeated. In fact, these two are lucky they survived at all! What if they had drowned? What if they had lost the Hummingbird Egg?

Wait a second…

Duster! There’s no Duster! Where is he? Fuel says that Wess and an “especially tough girl” got washed down the river, but where is Duster? Don’t get me wrong: I love Kumatora and Wess, but Chapter 2 was the Thief Adventure, and my main thief is nowhere to be found! Did he drown? Did the Hummingbird Egg hatch, birthing a magical bird that flew Duster away to distant lands? Did Duster get washed out to sea?

Okay, obviously I know what happens to Duster because I’ve played Mother 3 before, but I’ve always loved this set-up at the end of Chapter 2. To start, I always enjoy when Fuel and Lighter are involved in the plot. They’re good people, good Tazmilians, who may not have the luxury of being main characters, but if we needed them to step up for us, I bet they would. Some EarthBound64 fans theorize that Fuel and Lighter would have originally played a bigger part around this time of the game, but, again, I’ll get into that later.

Also, I know I haven’t appreciated Tazmily’s grass in a while, so I’ll also say that I love this scene because we have, again, been in Osohe for what feels like forever. Leaving those purples and blues for the vibrant greens of grass, the vibrant blue of the river, and the wood of Wess’s cozy thief den… it feels rewarding! It feels like I’ve joined the land of the living once again.

If only Duster were here to celebrate it with us! Chapter 1 leaves Flint feeling lost–his wife and son are gone, and he can’t help but feel, twice, like he was too late to do anything about it. Chapter 2, on the other hand, leaves Duster literally lost. He accomplished his task, he survived the battle with the Oh-So-Snake, and he appeared to be swimming valiantly against the current as it pulled him out of Osohe Castle, but…

Where could he be?

To me, Chapter 2 had to end with another mystery. It just wouldn’t have fit the theme of the rest of the chapter if everything was wrapped up neat in a bow. I also like how, just when you think the chapter might be over, Kumatora and Wess team up to look for Duster. Their pairing will be brief, but you can still talk to a few Tazmilians before heading to town square to see if Duster beat you there.

My favorite of these interactions is probably with the Stray Dog, who sees Wess with Kumatora and says, “Bow-wow! (You gotta be kidding me!)” Though it’s also funny to me that, when Scamp sees Kumatora, he suddenly decides that something great is happening to the town, and maybe something great is even happening to him. Scamp has been all doom and gloom this entire time! Funny how much one cool-looking princess can change a town.

However, I shouldn’t say that someone on their deathbed is all “doom and gloom.” Scamp isn’t long for this world, and if seeing a cute girl, one last time, is all he needed to feel like great things were coming to him, then I think that’s all right. Even Matt says that Scamp hates how only men come to see him, although I’ve only ever seen Nan and Alle in Scamp’s room, so I’m not sure what he’s talking about. Maybe that’s his mind going after all.

Well, hang in there, Scamp. Maybe great things are going to happen to this town.

There’s also some fun to be had with Alle and Nan on the bridge. Depending on how you answer Alle’s questions, she’ll assume Kumatora is a man, or she’ll be shocked to learn that Kumatora is a woman. I like these little interactions with Alle because they remind me of her asking Flint how long “a while” is. Alle seems to be at that age where she has enough understanding of language to be able to express herself, but she’s also young enough that so many things are still new, or just out of her grasp of understanding. I think it’s really cute, and I wonder if Itoi enjoys writing a character like this because he also had a daughter. I mean, that could be looking too far into it, so I won’t go down that rabbit hole, but some of the cute things Alle says just remind me of things that actual kids would say, and it can be harder than people think to write good dialogue for a child.

But the real action is in town square, where some villagers have gathered around the well. Butch, hemming and hawing near his brother Biff, calls out to Wess as soon as the old man appears. Butch is looking for Duster, the conniving thief, because he is suspected of stealing Butch’s money. Or, rather, Butch suspects that Duster stole his money, and everyone else just stands around thinking, “Wait, what’s money?”

Butch explains that Duster was the only person who knew that he put his money in the well. Lisa chimes in to ask Butch where and how he got the money (and she also wonders what money is), but Butch redirects the conversation back to his conspiracy. He’s raving, freaking out, accusing Duster and Wess with as much conviction as possible. Butch’s claim is that Tazmily has never had anything worth stealing… until Tazmily had money. Duster and Wess, then, were just two thieves waiting for the moment where some real treasure showed up.

I want to feel bad for Butch, seeing as he’s caught in a conspiracy much larger than himself, but he’s also ridiculous throughout this whole scene. Money made quick work of Butch’s mind, and now it’s all he can think about. When Brenda or Lisa tries to comment on the situation, Butch lashes out at them, furious for something he doesn’t even understand. The village was certainly a more somber place when Hinawa died, but this is the first scene where we can see some things, or some people, coming apart at the seams. ??? knew exactly what he was doing when he gave Butch that cash.

Speaking of Hinawa dying, Flint and Boney join the group after a little while, and it’s nice to have them here. For one, having Flint around is nice because if anything gets out of hand, he can just whack Butch to the ground with some lumber. And for two, it’s just always good to see Boney. What a good dog!

Butch, again, makes me wonder how much of a chicken-egg situation this is. Because the Butch we met in Chapter 1 was goofy and bumbling (don’t forget his line about the “foresty fire”) but also helpful and earnest. Butch was out there in the rain looking for Hinawa; Butch even caught a cold looking for Hinawa! And sure, he was hoping that she would return home and make everyone some Cabbage, but Hinawa makes some mean Cabbage, so who can blame him?

But what I’m getting at is: did Butch have this latent greed inside of him, and ??? brought it out? Or could ??? have picked any of the villagers and produced these same effects? Because we know that it was more than just the money: ??? complimented Butch about how well-cared for his pigs were, and Butch took that compliment to heart; ??? then bought some of Butch’s pigs, which is why the money is here in the first place. If anything, ??? groomed Butch into greed–first inflating his ego, then giving him something other people didn’t have yet or even understand. In a way, I feel bad for Butch, because he doesn’t even realize anymore, after a day, that there is still a moment to turn back. He can just forget this entire thing right here and right now, and everything will be okay.

But he also can’t, because ??? bought Butch’s pigs from him, don’t forget. By buying Butch’s pigs, ??? effectively says, “These animals, and the effort you put into raising them, is worth 50,000 dollars.” When that $50,000 disappears, Butch’s loss feels much greater in his mind, he just doesn’t realize that Duster isn’t the one who robbed him. I think Butch is a great example of how an ideology can quickly change the way someone sees the world. If no one else in the world had money, Butch’s money wouldn’t be good for anything. If no one had told him that labor could be valued with money, I’m sure Butch would have been perfectly content to just take ???’s compliments about his animals, and continue living his life as a proud farmer.

Alas, Poor Butch, a victim of the peddler’s tricks. Who will be next?

Anyway, Kumatora jumps to the thieves defenses, cutting in with, “Alright! Shut yer hole and listen punk!” which is just an amazing Kumatora moment. She could deep-fry Butch where he stands if she wanted to, but thankfully Wess’s mysterious new friend doesn’t murder anyone in front of the villagers. I just love that Kumatora sticks up for Duster and Wess. She doesn’t totally understand what’s going on right now, and for all she knows, maybe Duster did get a wild hare and steal Butch’s money, but she cuts in to defend her new friends, and I really like that.

Butch’s amazing response, of course, is “A friend of the thieves? No violence!” as he hides behind Biff. And look: I’m not trying to find ways to defend Butch, but I think we should all remember who he was 48 hours ago. It’s clear that ??? brings out the worst in, if not everyone, most people. Don’t forget Bob, who reached new levels of drunkenness with ???’s help. ??? must have a plan of some kind, though it’s only just beginning to take shape. At times, though, I do have to wonder if he knew it would work this quickly, but again, that must be why he chose Butch: he saw an exploitable person with a valuable thing (livestock).

Well, once Butch has screamed at just about everyone (I enjoy how Paul and Linda are just here, watching the show) and laid bare his conspiracy about the thieves, Flint finally joins the fray. “Let’s just all of us calm down,” he says, as Boney ruffs an affirmative “Bark!” which of course means, “Duster might smell bad, but his heart is made of gold! And come on Butch, you are better than this!”

But yes: Flint, playing the role of the sensible father on a classic sitcom, calms everybody down. He tells Wess that they all believe his story, and no one is going to be accusing anyone of anything. He suggests that all they can do now is wait for Duster to come home.

I’ve always enjoyed this scene with Flint, first and foremost because it’s fun to see our former protagonist truly embrace a speaking role. Flint, in a way, is a “hero” all over again, except this time instead of saving villagers’ lives, he steps in as a voice of reason. Scenes like this show us why people look to Flint when things go badly, why villagers respect him and care about what he does or thinks. However, I’ve also always wondered if this scene is purposely to show a more mellow Flint. From the beginning of the game, other Tazmilians called him reckless, so maybe this is one of Flint’s first attempts at a de-escalation that doesn’t involve hitting someone with a stick.

Or, the sadder interpretation is, of course, that Flint isn’t “mellow.” He’s still broken. His wife and son are still gone. Maybe, on another day, Flint would have done what Kumatora did–get up in Butch’s face and tell him what’s what. But, because of the heaviness in his heart, maybe Flint moves more quickly toward reconciliation. He doesn’t want to see anyone fight anymore. And I’m not saying my entire interpretation of Flint is that he’s some kind of meathead; clearly Flint is capable of peaceful resolution without being depressed. But it’s just something I’ve always thought about: if the events of the other day hadn’t happened, how would Flint be acting here?

Man, I miss writing about Flint! Duster was a great character, but Flint has more flaws, more contradictions, more edges. And in addition to that, I think playing Frog by Frog really strengthened my bond with Flint. Even if you play Chapter 1 of Mother 3 in 90 minutes, you’re going to go through an intimate and dark journey with Flint as the losses and questions pile up around you, so I’m not saying that playing Frog by Frog is the only way to feel what I’m feeling. That said, playing Frog by Frog often made me sit with Flint, made me dig in to those emotions. I deeply enjoyed writing about Chapter 1 and the type of character Flint is, so what can I say? It’s good to see him again.

You’ve also got to wonder what the villagers think of Flint showing up like this. I assume that they’d be happy to see Flint stepping in and calming things down, but at the same time, this is the same town that wasn’t exactly comprehensively sympathetic to Flint’s grief, barely 24 hours ago.

Anyway, after everything, Wess gives us the final line of the chapter: “Duster, you moron… You better come back soon…”

Then, the chapter’s closing text crawl begins, accompanied by what I think is low-key one of the best jams in Mother 3, “Butch and the Villagers.” As usual, I don’t know if I have the musical know-how to describe why I like this song, but I just do! I think it’s a great tonal match for the end of Chapter 2, as opposed to Chapter 1’s lamenting dirge. This song makes me feel like the conspiracies are beginning to pile up, yet there’s still hope for goodness left in the world. And maybe the only reason I think that is because that’s basically what the text crawl says… but look, I just like the song, okay?!

It’s so weird to be at the end of Chapter 2! I’m not sure what else I can say that I haven’t said yet. I enjoy Wess’s final line, because I think it shows that, somewhere behind all of those “morons,” Wess does care about Duster. I loved seeing Kumatora stick up for the thieves, I loved seeing Flint and Boney show up, not just because we got to see Flint’s character in different circumstances, but also because it’s simply fun for the world of Mother 3 to interact with two of the protagonists from the previous chapter. Even though the physical size of the Mother 3’s world hasn’t increased, doesn’t it feel like it’s getting bigger? Itoi’s concept of following one place’s growth over a period of time really works for me, at least so far.

To me, the standout “character” of Chapter 2 was the gameplay. From Mr. Passion to the Oh-So-Snake, from the zombie battle to the Clayman fight, Chapter 2 threw me in a lot of exciting combat situations, which allowed me to experiment with Duster’s arsenal of tools. Traversing Osohe Castle was so different than trekking into the Sunshine Forest, and I’ll truly miss speaking with all of the different ghosts. There’s really nothing quite like Chapter 2, nor is there any other character quite like Duster, who is now missing, along with the Hummingbird Egg.

If I could have any wish granted about Chapter 2, it’d be that the ending portion with Kumatora could have been a little longer. Whether that means more gameplay in the castle, or more gameplay between being flushed out of the pond at the end. Apparently I’m not alone in these wishes, or at least in my want for more gameplay, as some EarthBound 64 fans have surmised that this part of the game actually would have led to a more extended sequence involving the Kraken. The data isn’t super conclusive, but remember that the Mother 3 Times teased the Kraken in a few different ways, so it was definitely going to fit in to the early game somewhere. A piece of the theory can be read here:

Basically, the river Osohe is connected to may have lead down the waterfall to Great Scale. Lighter and Fuel notice them washing down the river, and follow them down to rescue them. They get to Great Scale, and as they are all recovering the Kraken attacks. In the GBA version, Fuel just notices them wasted upon the shoreline. In the N64 cutscene, Lighter and Fuel both look ahead at something at the same time, like they are yelling out for help.

I also believe Blessing would’ve tied into such a scene. It starts out with a variation of Osohe’s melody, but transitions to an aquatic like theme, perhaps going along with Wess and co. Flowing into Great Scale.

In conclusion, I believe the Oh-So Snake was an abbreviated replacement. Great Scale was down sized to a simple beach in Tazmily, removing the Kraken along with it. So the climax of Chapter 2 was cut down, creating the Oh-So Snake as a similar, but new end boss.

Echoes

So, as you can see, Echoes, an EarthBound 64 enthusiast, has quite the theory here. Personally, I think it makes sense, given how the Kraken was supposed to be a bigger part of EarthBound 64, especially in some early game events. Maybe the battle in Chapter 2 would have been just one in a series of battles against the Kraken, maybe the battle would have resulted with the Kraken dragging Duster away into the ocean. Who knows! However, I can see the deadly Oh-So-Snake as a suitable replacement when looking at it from a “cut content” angle. Also, imagining the Kraken being able to swim from deep under Osohe, out into a river, then into the sea surrounding Tazmily… that’s pretty unnerving! I don’t know about anyone else, but thinking of gigantic sea monsters living underneath ancient castles is exactly the kind of Lovecraftian shit that freaks me out.

If Chapter 1 showed players where Mother 3 was willing to go emotionally, then Chapter 2 reminds players that this is a Mother game, and things are going to get weird. That said, Chapter 2 is still so unique and not by any means formulaic–I feel like this could have been a standalone, five-hour Mother game, if it had been expanded in a few areas. But I love that about Chapter 2: it forwards the plot, with ???’s influence growing on Tazmily, and it also delivers some unique settings and gameplay scenarios that fit in with the rest of the Mother series. I could see some players preferring this chapter to Chapter 1, given its emphasis on gameplay, but I could also see some players preferring any of Mother 3′s chapters over Chapter 2. It isn’t as much of a black sheep as Chapter 3, and it isn’t as much of an emotional narrative as Chapter 1.

But I don’t think we should sell Chapter 2 short. A story doesn’t have to be emotional to be good. If anything, I like the pacing of Chapter 2 just as much as Chapter 1. I like the slow burn. I like Duster’s first trip to the Castle, and how we don’t really know what’s going on yet. I like how Wess joins the second time, raising the stakes and developing character. I like how the whole thing boils to a confrontation with the Pigmasks, a battle underneath the castle, and the disappearance of Duster at the end. No, we don’t have the heavy-hitting beats of Hinawa and Claus’s deaths, but we still have a bunch of excitement, which isn’t even touching upon the great oddity that is Osohe Castle. What a choice for a setting! I’ll miss all of those ghosts (especially the wine ghost.)

I feel like I’m approaching the Ramble Zone, so let me just say this: the point of this blog is to remember how to “play.” In the past when I’ve played Mother 3, I’ve enjoyed Chapter 2, but it has always been just another step to the more interesting parts of the game. I often rushed through Chapter 2, not even talking to all of the villagers or ghosts. I saw it as a combat-heavy chapter that could be beaten fairly quickly.

That said, I’ve never gotten more enjoyment out of Chapter 2 than when I played it Frog by Frog. Even if you know Chapter 2, or Mother 3 as a whole, down to the very minute details, and even if you know everything there is to know about Duster’s adventure… slow down next time. Smell the wilting Osohe roses. If this Chapter has never felt significant to you, I promise the potential is there if you give it time to breathe. Don’t forget that, because of playing Frog by Frog, I spent over a month in Osohe Castle. And I nearly spent another month in Osohe when returning and adding Kumatora to my party. Spending so long in a place teaches you a thing or two about it, and with confidence I can say that there is no other chapter quite like Chapter 2, and there’s no other character quite like our man Duster.

It’ll be a long time in Mother 3 before we’re doing things like fighting zombies, or swinging across gaps with the Rope Snake. It’ll be a long time before we hear the slightest rumor of where Duster might be. It’ll be a long time before we’re even in Tazmily again. Where are we headed next? Could Mother 3 be bringing us back to Flint? To Lucas? Or someone else entirely?

Goodbye, Chapter 2. I will miss you.

One thought on “Frog 28: So Long, Duster

  1. Happy Holidays!

    I really liked Chapter 2. I’ve spoken before about the fun I had playing as Duster, and getting a magical powerhouse with Kumatora fairly late in the game felt like a huge deal. Other Mother games usually introduce PSI fairly early, with Ninten in Earthbound Beginnings and Ness (technically Buzz Buzz before him) in Earthbound. I just think it’s cool that you control two non-PSI users, Flint and Duster, before getting to use Kumatora in battle. Makes magic feel more special in a genre where flying fireballs and flash freezing is commonplace.

    On the subject of Flint and Duster, it’s interesting how different they are, especially in regards to where they place on the “silent avatar” spectrum. Duster to me is closer to a “Pokemon protagonist,” someone who has established history/facts about them, and a few basic personality traits, but doesn’t really express much of themselves while acting as the vessel for players to experience the narrative. Duster doesn’t really have a moment similar to Flint’s reaction to Hinawa’s death, where he acts outside the player’s control (unless I‘m misremembering something major).

    To be clear, this isn’t a bad thing, just different. This makes Duster’s thoughts and emotions more open for player interpretation (not to say that Flint’s a filled page). You could even interpret his lack of independent action as a sign of discipline and calm. However, I don’t really have as strong a read of Duster, at least not yet. Any interpretation I have on his thoughts about Wes, Kumatora, Tazmily, Osohe Castle, the Pigmasks, etc. is less coloured by stuff I know about Duster, and more about how I personally feel about them.

    In any case, I’m excited to continue playing Mother 3 and reading this blog in the new year. Keep us the great work, stay safe and enjoy the holidays!

    Best regards,

    Alexander

    Like

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