Frog 30: Salsa and Chips

Once upon a time there was a monkey named Salsa. Salsa liked to dance, eat bananas, and hang out with his girlfriend, Samba. If you asked any monkey about Salsa, they would have said something like: “Salsa is a very, very nice monkey, who deserves the best in life.”

And it was true: Salsa was brave, nimble, and smart. There was nothing Salsa wasn’t brave enough to try, nimble enough to climb, or smart enough to figure out. On the outside, he may have looked like an ordinary monkey, but on the inside, he was a hero in the making.

One day, due to no fault of his own, Salsa found himself in the captivity of Fassad. Fassad had separated Salsa from his girlfriend; then, soldiers in pig masks took Salsa’s girlfriend away on a big, round spaceship. Fassad was a mean, nasty person, who electrocuted Salsa with a remote-controlled device, and laughed at Salsa when the monkey was in pain. Salsa was in pain, usually, due to Fassad.

When Fassad laughed, it sounded like this: “Nwehehehehe!”

The worst part of it was that if Salsa tried to run away, Fassad only had to press a single button on his device and the monkey would be shocked on the spot. And if Salsa ever acted in a way Fassad didn’t want him to act, you can guess what happened next.

In other words, Salsa was stuck, in the middle of the desert, with the mean and terrible Fassad. He found he had no choice but to be brave and march onward. So that is what he did. Through the sand, and over the dunes, Salsa pawed through the deathly desert. And Salsa would learn that luck was on his side, because just steps after his journey began, he came upon an oasis…

Over and Dung With

How’d you like that opening? I’m playing around with the idea of writing some sections of Chapter 3’s frogs as if they were a children’s book about Salsa. I mean, I don’t have the writing style down yet, and maybe children’s book wouldn’t be the most accurate term for the style, but you know what I mean. For some reason, that’s how Chapter 3 makes me feel. It’s like I’m reading the old folktale entitled “The Suspicious Peddler,” which would of course be located inside Tazmilian Nights.

I don’t know, I just can’t shake the feeling that a monkey, a peddler, and a dung beetle could easily be the cast of a metaphorical desert fable. The dung beetle would ask the monkey and the peddler if they’d seen any dung, and when they said no, the dung beetle would ask the monkey and the peddler if they could find it some. If they did, then the dung beetle would let them drink from the water of the oasis.

After collecting dung for the dung beetle, the monkey and the peddler would return to the dung beetle. The dung beetle would say that the dung they’d brought was good, but not great, and that if they could find dung of slightly higher quality, then he would let them drink the water of the oasis. The monkey and the peddler would travel around the desert and meet all sorts of creatures: a frog stuck in a sandy vortex; sand lizards baking in the sun; ant kings, talking bones, and ancient creatures from deep in the dunes.

All of these creatures would teach the pair something–desert wisdom, wrapped up in a metaphors. There would be quests within quests, symbols within symbols, and secret knowledge hidden in the passage of time and depth of the dunes. A true fable in the making.

A classic predicament to be in.

Finally, the monkey and the peddler would find dung suitable enough for the dung beetle, and he would allow them to drink from the oasis. After everything they’d learned from their journeys through the sand, the monkey would refuse the water, but the peddler would drink. Then, the dung beetle would reveal what it had done with the dung the duo had brought: down it had rolled into the oasis, joining in with the water. The peddler would become sick, and the monkey would escape the peddler’s clutches.

There would then be another lesson or metaphor about why the peddler shouldn’t have drunk the water, or something, while the monkey gets away free. Maybe the lesson would combine everything the pair had learned from the other desert creatures into one, succinct idea. “The water you drink is only as clean as your heart,” or something something, yadda yadda. You get the point.

And even though this isn’t really how things go down in Mother 3, it’s close enough. Though maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

When we catch up with Salsa again, we find that even though the desert is a brutal place, the monkey’s journey begins with an oasis. Before it becomes polluted with dung, Salsa can drink from this water over and over, replenishing his health and his sanity. Of course, Salsa can drink from the water after it has been contaminated as well, but it’s best to keep it to a minimum. Salsa already has it bad enough, so we shouldn’t make him drink too much of it.

And no, Salsa and Fassad don’t begin their adventures learning lessons from a dung beetle sage, but you can bring dung to a dung a beetle, and he’ll award you with experience points, which is basically the same thing as learning a fabled lesson. Because Salsa is at such a low level, he’ll gain levels incredibly quickly. I ended up bringing dung to the beetle a handful of times, and I’m not exactly sure if the dung you pick up has random effects, or if it automatically increases the amount of experience points each time, but if you bring the beetle enough dung, eventually you’ll bring him “Legendary Dung,” which I think awards around 50 experience points.

Collecting dung for the beetle is a fun little side quest that can also act as a way for players to toughen up Salsa without having to fight. I had actually never collected dung for the dung beetle before, which probably explains why I always struggled so much with the upcoming boss, the Cactus Wolf. At this point, Salsa must be level 7 or 8, while I think I typically went into that battle with Salsa at level 4 or 5. Every little bit counts!

But still, I thought it was interesting that Chapter 3 has this little built-in way to take care of players who struggle in the desert portion. As we’ll see in a second, most of the time Salsa has to rely on Fassad to fight for him, but the Fassad battle script won’t always be reliable. Because of this, a newer or inexperienced player could get stuck in the desert in some difficult encounters… but not with the dung! And as usual, I’m sure Itoi put the dung beetle into the game because he thought it would be funny for the player to collect dung, but it’s nice that a useful mechanic is tied to the sidequest as well.

Not that it has to be! As long as the dialogue remained interesting and funny, I’d have kept rolling around dung for who knows how long. It is funny to me, though, that it’s not like Salsa can find dung out on the ground. You get dung from defeating dung beetles in combat, so really Salsa is going around killing other dung beetles and giving all their dung to just one beetle.

And even if you don’t care about the experience points, Wan Sum Dung, the dungless dung beetle, is a pretty great, albeit a little bit ridiculous, character. I think Shigesato Itoi deserves an award for writing some of the best bugs in all of video games. Buzz Buzz from EarthBound, the Mole Cricket from the Prologue, and now Wan Sum Dung, the world’s most manic and enthusiastic dung beetle. This guy just projects such goofy energy that I can’t help but wheel back dung to him, over and over. I just want to see what he says next!

Also, it’s been a while since we’ve talked about Mother 3’s balance of tragedy and levity, but I’d say this is a good example. Salsa started off the chapter being separated from his girlfriend, electrocuted, and kicked into the sand. Now, he’s finding rare, exquisitely-aged dung for dung beetles and drinking from a slightly smelly oasis pond. If anything, there’s even a bit of a joke in the fact that Salsa finds an oasis immediately when his desert adventure begins, though it’s also possible that Fassad chose this location because of its relative hospitality. I mean, how many people can say they started their deadly, desert captivity with an oasis nearby?

I also just think there’s something really charming about choosing this little dung beetle quest as one of the first things the player does with Salsa. Itoi could have probably gone darker and more desperate in this desert section, but he keeps it light. And smelly. There’s been enough darkness already.

Other than the dung beetle, though, the desert is your own to explore. It’s not quite as big as the desert from EarthBound, but it’s not small, and you’ll have a great song to listen to while you walk around. I guess we haven’t talked about the song yet, have we? As Salsa and Fassad traverse the sands, “Monkey’s Love Song” plays, a song I’d describe as both triumphant and exhaustive. On one hand, “Monkey’s Love Song” is strangely upbeat at certain points, making Salsa’s journey truly feel like a Hero’s Quest as he survives Fassad’s clutches and, hopefully, one day returns to his girlfriend. At other points, though, “Monkey’s Love Song” fits desert travel a bit too well. Through this song, I can feel every foot step, or should I say paw step, over every grain of sand… a long, long journey to who knows what? More torture? More of Fassad’s whims? That’s what “Monkey’s Love Song” communicates to me: I’m on an adventure, sure, but right now the adventure is sand, sand, and more sand, as far as the eye can see.

Who knows where we’re going?

I also think “Monkey’s Love Song” is supposed to emphasize the silliness of Fassad and Salsa as a pair. Don’t get me wrong: what’s going on here is sad, and Salsa is in a bad position. But there’s still humor to be found in the fact that Salsa and Fassad are running around the desert, picking up dung, fighting lizards, and getting into how knows how many disagreements and miscommunications. There’s a comic absurdity to Salsa and Fassad as a team.

At least Fassad is handy in a fight. One of the first things you’ll notice about Salsa is that he’s not exactly the strongest fighter you’ve ever had in your party. In fact, he’s by far the weakest. I’m excited to see how much easier the upcoming boss fight is going to be now that I’ve actually helped the dung beetle with his dung, because in the past I’ve had a bad time trying to defeat the Cactus Wolf.

A bad time unless Fassad steps up to the plate. That’s the thing about Chapter 3: Salsa has more than a few tricks up his monkey sleeve, but whether you lose or win some of the harder fights really depends on whether or not Fassad defeats the enemies for you. Fassad can attack enemies for decent chunks of damages, usually defeating the weaker ones in a single blow. Sometimes, though, Fassad won’t do much in combat, which means you can either bash the enemy as Salsa for a low amount of damage, or experiment with his Monkey Tricks.

Salsa, being the cute monkey he is, can Apologize to enemies, which can sometimes make them lose a few turns. Salsa also has the option to make his enemies laugh, which will similarly make them lose a few turns. I never use these abilities often, but if I’m in the mood to imagine Salsa fake-crying or doing some kind of silly dance, then I’ll give them a shot. Speaking of dancing, though, Salsa can also Dance, a move that can buff Salsa, or a party member’s, speed, offense, or defense. (See, you might have thought Fassad was evil for forcing to Salsa to dance, but he was just encouraging the monkey to share his abilities with the world!). Last but not least, Salsa can use Monkey Mimic, which will mirror the attack directed at Salsa and deal equal damage back to the attacker–best suited, in my opinion, against bosses and tougher enemies. Anything else, Fassad can take care of.

Speaking of Fassad, what can he do in battle? Well, he can Attack and Bum Rush, which will typically defeat any non-boss enemy in one (or two) hits. He can also turn on the Punishizer (Salsa’s collar), which shocks Salsa for 1 HP of damage but also cures some status effects; he can also simply place his finger on the Punishizer’s button, which does nothing (except make Salsa sweat). Fassad can also peel a banana, which has no effect on anything, and hide in Salsa’s shadow, which also has no effect on anything except our already-low opinion of Fassad. Last, and certainly not least, Fassad can throw a bomb, which usually deals anywhere from 180 to 230 points of damage. Not bad, for an antagonist.

And that’s how it will be with these two. Salsa can do anything a normal party-controlled member can do, albeit with incredibly low offensive stats and no PSI, and Fassad can, and will usually, dispatch enemies at his own volition. In other words, even though you’re in Fassad’s clutches, you can’t defeat enemies without him; in this way, Fassad actually saves Salsa’s life over and over… even though he’s the reason Salsa is in the desert in the first place. It’s a unique dynamic, built on contradictions, and in my opinion it’s something Itoi had been working toward for quite some time as a video game writer.

Now, I’m not saying that Chapter 3, or even Salsa and Fassad’s dynamic, is Itoi’s crowning achievement or anything, but I do think it is one of Mother 3’s best ideas, and I also think it’s another relationship that makes Mother 3 so special. For example, all of the other party configurations so far in Mother 3 have featured people who are allies, or at least band together due to dire circumstances. In Salsa and Fassad’s chapter, we’re playing as a captive and captor. When Salsa finds a Luxury Banana in a gift box, Fassad eats it and tosses the peel to the ground. What Fassad says goes, and there are no exceptions.

Watching how Fassad treats Salsa probably makes many players hate Fassad. And I’m sure Salsa hates him too. Other than the Pigmasks, we haven’t really been given anyone to hate in the story of Mother 3, and the Pigmaks are more of a faceless mass, a collective identity, than an individual. But, as Itoi points out, Fassad is the first true villain of the game, the first character who embodies hate:

Hatred is really important too. In this case, it shows that there are people in the world of MOTHER 3 who hurt others out of enjoyment. Fassad doesn’t really understand the pain of others, you know? But the key is that he’s using the pain of others to accomplish things for his own benefit. No characters are really ever that bad. Character that bad can only be used as a joke.

Itoi in the Nintendo Dream Interview

It doesn’t surprise me that Itoi prefers to find humor in a character like Fassad instead of making him outright evil. I think Fassad becomes one of the more memorable characters in Mother 3, not just because he is evil, but also because he’s funny. Fassad can be so over the top, so conniving, so banana-peel-tossingly mean, that you sometimes have to sit back and enjoy it. There’s really no other character like Fassad. He’s tragedy and levity, rolled into one chubby person.

However, from this quote alone, I’ve never understood if Itoi is trying to defend Fassad, in a way. Is Itoi saying that Fassad truly doesn’t realize he’s being a jerk, simply because he’s focused on his own aims? Or if he saying that no characters are ever that bad, but Fassad is? Maybe he’s saying he doesn’t want to explore a character that evil, and so finds ways to make Fassad funny… hmm…

Either way, I’m going to save my big Fassad discussion for next time, because I’ve had a lot on my mind regarding this man and this monkey for a very, very long time. In fact, Frog #31 might end up feeling like an argumentative essay if I really go all out with it, which I hope to do. These two characters and their relationship fascinates me so much because, as I said in Frog #29, I think you can see shades of Itoi’s intent for these characters way back in interviews from the 80s and 90s. Itoi has been a genre-bender from the start, and while I’m not saying that Mother games are the most experimental RPGs of all time, I am saying that Itoi’s tinkering with the form will always interest me. I like seeing a creator’s ideas come to fruition over time, and, if anything, one of my great sadnesses for why Mother 3 was never localized is that I truly think Itoi accomplishes so much in this game, even in it’s Gameboy Advance form.

I’ll also add that my eventual writing on this topic isn’t going to be anything no one has ever said or thought before–the success of the Salsa/Fassad relationship as a unique gameplay situation is fairly obvious. What I’m interested in doing is elucidating the success of it just a little bit more, and showing how some of Itoi’s early ideas might have impacted the creative decisions of Mother 3, over two decades later. But as I said–next time, next time! For now, we know this: Fassad defeats enemies for Salsa, yet Fassad is a very mean man. Salsa, and so the player, is forced to rely on Fassad’s strength.

Speaking of Fassad’s strength, the desert has a unique slew of foes to throw at you. Dung beetles, sand lizards, great antilons, and a creature called a Sara-Sara-Sahara. None of them are so powerful that Salsa definitely can’t defeat them on his own, but it helps to have Fassad around.

Personally, I enjoyed fighting the Sara-Sara-Sahara the most, firstly because it’s an incredibly quick enemy that will usually out-do you in speed, and secondly because I have no idea what this thing is supposed to be. Maybe it’s just something I’m not familiar with, maybe it’s just a goofy made-up creation, or maybe it’s even something from Japanese culture. Whatever it is, I love encountering it out in the desert. The Mother series has some of the best deserts in the RPG business, and even though our stay in the Death Desert is relatively short, I think it still makes a strong impressions with enemies like this, and the upcoming boss fight.

If any Dung Beetles join the battle, the Sand Lizard will eat them.

That said, if the Mother series does deserts well, it does desert inhabitants even better, which leads me to my favorite part of today’s frog: the cow bones. I’m sure by now that anyone reading this blog, and anyone playing a Mother game, knows that a pile of bones is never just a pile of bones. A pile of bones is a potential friend, or an opportunity for philosophical insight, and Mother 3 presents no exception with its pile of cow bones.

“What, do you expect cow bones to talk or something?” says the pile of cow bones labelled ‘Talking Bones.’ I don’t know why, but I just find it so funny that something labelled ‘Talking Bones’ would begin a conversation like this, as if we’re the ones who should feel silly for approaching it with an expectation of conversation. “In real life, this cow WAS known for having such a quiet side…” say the bones, reminiscing on their past life.

Seeing as I’m writing to other Mother fans (or so I assume–hello strangers!) I probably don’t need to explain why I like these talking bones so much. It’s just so classic Itoi, so classic Mother, that I can’t help but take delight in it. I will add, though, that to me this is one of those spots where, again, I feel like Chapter 3, and Mother 3, could get more credit for being a proper entry in the series. Why do I have this chip on my shoulder? Maybe because, rightfully, EarthBound is seen as the king of the Mother series, which I don’t think is without good reason. But to me, what’s special about Mother 3 is that we know Itoi had pretty specific aims for the game, throughout all the years of development. We know the story, or at least the ending, was going to be darker; we know, in EarthBound 64, he wanted there to be more options in battle; we know, above all else, that his dreams for Mother 3 were big, and I’m sure both Mother fans and maybe even Itoi himself will always wonder what could have been when looking at the graveyard that became the years of Mother 3 development.

But I guess that’s what I’m getting at. To me, Mother 3 could have been a game solely for Itoi–it could have been an auteur’s video game, a vision of and for his own whims. But despite all the talk of what Mother 3 could have or would have been, the game is still full of talking cow bones, still full of silliness and lightness. Even in Chapter 3, which is arguably the most on-the-rails chapter of the game (other than Chapter 6), Itoi finds moments to tell jokes with piles of dead bones. I mean, let’s not ignore the whole reason Salsa is truly in the game, at least in the Gameboy Advance version we received: Itoi wanted to tell Fassad’s story, but he didn’t want the player to control a bad guy. Salsa is basically a monkey-window into the larger plot. I think this is evidenced by the fact that he basically disappears after Chapter 3.

I think I’m talking in circles here, but what I’m trying to say is that Chapter 3 is not as much of an outsider as you might think, if you stop to smell the roses… or, smell the desert bones, at least. There are still jokes, there is still an alive and interactive world, you just have to go find it, sometimes. Chapter 3, and Mother 3, are still funny!!

Speaking of which, another delightful moments in the Death Desert is the sign nearby a frog, spinning in a sand vortex. While I feel so bad for this poor little frog, you can’t deny that it’s pretty cute watching him spin around and around. Look at him! He’s adorable! Just going in circles, meeting his potential death with a froggy bravery.

But the sign–the sign might actually be my favorite bit of the day. If any players were wondering, “How did these frogs get in the desert? How are they alive?” Itoi is one step ahead of you, with a sign that explains everything. “Frogs in a desert?” the sign reads. “It’s actually not as crazy as you might think. Some species, such as ‘sand frogs,’ do exist in arid, desert regions like Africa… these frogs burrow into the ground to protect themselves rom the harsh, dry climate.”

I think this is hilarious, mostly because it exists in the first place. I adore the fact that right next to a spinning frog, there’s this sign that just educates the player about sand frogs in desert regions. I also love this because I feel like it’s Itoi having more fun with the whole frog idea. We’re only in Chapter 3, so some players might still be missing the telephones of the previous two Mother games. With these players in mind, and their potential skepticism at frogs in the desert, Itoi says, “Not so fast! Frogs can live in the desert, see?” This sign seems like a goofy bit and a sly defense of the save frogs at the same time. Any detractors of the frogs can face the hot facts on the sign!

Anyway, interacting with the sand whirlpool will trigger a battle with a Great Antlion, which you can fight, or you can use the Bug Spray that was found in a gift box nearby. Using Bug Spray on bug-like enemies will deal insane amounts of damage, killing the Antlion in one hit. Though I feel kind of bad about this–maybe the Antlion was just trying to make a friend by entrapping the save frog. Maybe, like Salsa, the Antlion was just a little fella in a big, big world. Even the frog admits that “All that spinning and dizziness started to feel kind of nice after a while…”

You know, I really like when the save frogs have an added flair or dialogue line. I think it would be too much if all the frogs were this way, but I wish just a few more in the game had little added things like this. Even though I need no further justification for the frogs’ existence, I simply enjoy the unique save frogs because it makes them feel like all that much more a part of the world of Mother 3. It at least could have been cool for more of the frogs to have small, unique lines of dialogue the first time you talk to them, but, again, it’s not like Ness and Ninten’s dads always had unique things to say over the phone, so it’s cool.

I guess for this frog, nothing can be really be so bad as long as a monkey is around!

And so ends our next frog. And so continues Salsa and Fassad’s journey. Where will these odd companions be taken next? Will Fassad ever give Salsa a banana?

I like that I’m playing Chapter 3 at the end of 2020, and the beginning of 2021. In Chapter 3, Mother 3’s story approaches some of its darkest points, but it also begins to show hope on the distant horizon. I think we should all find some solace in that, and maybe even some resolve. Think of it this way: all of the frogs in Mother 3 so far have been there for us to feel better–things can’t be so bad as long as a frog is around, right?

Well, for today’s post at least, it was us, the player, who saved the frog. Is there a message there? Will frogs forever say to themselves, “Things can’t be so bad, as long as there’s a player around?” Maybe they will, and maybe they won’t, but I say: let’s all be save frogs for each other. When you walk away from an interaction with someone, do everything you can to make them think, “Hey, things aren’t so bad when that person is around. In a little way, they saved me today.”

*hop*

One thought on “Frog 30: Salsa and Chips

  1. Hi Shane,

    I really like the idea of doing “children’s book” style summaries of what occurs in game. Salsa’s story could honestly work as a child’s picture book, given that its violence is both cartoony, yet easily understandable as harmful and something the protagonist doesn’t deserve. Gives kids an idea of some of the injustices of the world, while also showing the hope that exists as long as we (to drift into vague spoilers) notice suffering and do something to help end it.

    Funny thing, I somehow completely missed Wan Sum Dung in my playthrough of Chapter 3! I might have instinctually seen him as an enemy Dung Beetle and so didn’t end up doing anything with all the Dung I required! Woops.

    I ended up going through the desert and the upcoming boss by simply defending and healing using items as Salsa and letting Fassad do the work.

    It…felt a bit weird to have Salsa’s captor be the main reason I survived, but I’ve come to realise two things:

    1. Salsa wouldn’t even be in this dangerous situation without Fassad capturing him

    2. I could narratively contextualise my gameplay experience as Salsa tricking Fassad into doing most of the work. Fassad, for reasons we’ll see, requires the monkey for his plans and I like to imagine Salsa knows this. So, even if Fassad berates and shocks him (I don’t really know why that heals his status ailments) in battle, Salsa puts up with it and forces Fassad to fight and keep both of them ailve.

    I’m ultimately uncertain how necessary Salsa is to the game. I agree with you that he really just exists to showcase Fassad’s cruelty and reiterate how the Pigmask Army abuses the natural world. Itoi’s thoughts on Fassad are interesting, but if recent years have taught me anything, it’s that real-life characters can really be as cruel as him while knowing full well how others suffer. And, memes aside, when I sit and really think about such people, I find very little to laugh at.

    Ultimately, though, I do really like the little simian. Worst thing I can say is that Mother 3’s story, outside of the things interpreted through individual gameplay experiences, doesn’t really say much about Salsa and Samba outside of: “they suffer” and “the blue collar you though gendered the monkey was actually a torture device” and “the pink bow is actually a bow because she’s a girl.” Through gameplay though, I can at least characterise Salsa as a clever monkey who can make things less difficult for himself, which is the interpretation I’m gonna go with.

    As alway, looking forward to the next frog!

    Best regards,

    Alexander

    Like

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