Frog #32: Salsa and Beans

They say that if you can’t see the forest for the trees, you are too involved in the details of something to see the bigger picture. But, in a way, on the Frog by Frog Blog, we’re trying to immerse ourselves in the details–to be a part of the bigger picture by getting to know each and every tree. Maybe there’s a better idiom I could have used to start this post, but I don’t really care. Today was a great tree! Or should I say, a great tree frog?

Today was one of those lovely days of playing Mother 3 where I simply walked from Point A to Point B and enjoyed a couple details along the way. And look, I know that on this blog I’ve talked a lot about the weaknesses of Mother 3’s linearity, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a good one-way street every once in a while. This morning, I woke up, did yoga, went on a run, ate a little breakfast, played some Mother 3, and now I’m writing as a stormy front rolls through town. The sky is gray, just how I like it, and the light is soft and calming.

What more could I ask for?

That’s also how I felt playing Mother 3. What else could I ask for? While walking around in the underground tunnels with Fassad, “Cautiously” was playing, and I don’t know about you guys, but every time I hear this song, I just feel like I’m playing Mother. This is the perfect song for exploring an echoey tunnel, or a deep, winding cave. You’re technically supposed to get into the Pork Bean and drive it through the tunnels of Candum Pass, but you’re also just as able to walk through the tunnels instead, which takes a bit longer, but is still fun.

There’s not much to find if you decide to walk through the tunnels, except for a dead end and some pill bugs, but it’s still fun. I like the idea of Fassad taking a quick nap while Salsa runs around the tunnels. The poor little monkey has probably never seen anything like this–paved roads, metal structures. There’s even one part of the road that passes through a forest, which you can see through a glass wall!

It seems that the Pigmasks really are building an underground road system that cuts through different areas of the planet. And, picking up on my discussion of the creepiness of how hidden the Pigmasks are, some tunnels lead right up to caves in Tazmily. Like they’re literally just kept back by a chain-link fence, but, other than that, you’re about a quarter of a mile away from the good old Tazmilian square. It’s an interesting invasion strategy. The Pigmasks didn’t just land their spaceships in Tazmily one day; instead, they paved a road across the world.

Although, I’ve never really understood the point of Fassad and Salsa journeying all the way from the desert. After the episode in the Sunshine Forest, it seems that the Pigmasks, at least in their actions, are known to the villagers. So what’s the point of starting off so far away, as opposed to hopping on a ship with Salsa and flying there? The Pigmasks already leave the desert on a spaceship, so why not just hitch a ride? I see how dropping Salsa off in a desert is a good intimidation tactic, but I just thought it might be more than that.

Not that it really matters. Maybe it was just an excuse for Salsa to ride in a Pork Bean, which I have no problem with. The vehicle comes with its own song, a techy, boop-beeping rendition of the Pigmask theme, with a cool, static breakdown every now and again. And no, I’m not going to say, like I always do, that this is one of my favorite songs in the game, but I am, as usual, impressed by Shoga Sakai’s ability to reinvent the same musical motifs so many times. Why not have a rendition of that theme that sounds like this song? It helps everything mesh together and feel like a cohesive story, even though we’re playing as two characters that are completely separated from the protagonists we’ve already come to know. And I don’t know, call me crazy, but even that little breakdown (it’s very short, at 0:26 in the song), like why is that in there? But also, why not? I love it!

I’m going to feel a little silly using the song “Bean Bean Pork Bean” as a transition to talk about this, but musical motif, especially on the scale of a soundtrack this robust, fascinates me. As I’ve said before, I don’t really have the musical vocabulary to break down every song, and even to explain when I’m recognizing motif and what I think it’s doing. However, I think I connect so strongly to motif because it reminds me of writing. I think the best way to elevate any short story, any novel, any memoir, or any poem, is to find places to create motif: repeated images, repeated phrases, mirrored and “rhyming” actions.

Motif can create a second language for a story (or in Mother 3’s case, a soundtrack) that doesn’t always have to be doing anything specific. Motif helps us follow the broad strokes of a narrative as one action links causally to the next, connecting thematic dots and ideas along the way. We’ve heard the Pigmask Theme sound threatening and bombastic, but in Bean Bean Pork Bean, a song that plays when we’re using this transportation Pig Mask technology (that is legitimately useful), the Pigmask Theme sounds more futuristic and techy, as if to say, “Yeah, here’s the Pigmask Theme because the bad guys made this ship, but… image a future where everyone is zipping around on Pork Beans! Pretty cool, right?”

Of course, that’s just my interpetation of the motif in this scenario. Honestly, the real reason that the Pigmask Theme shows up allover the game is because it was originally going to be Mother 3’s main theme, as opposed to the Theme of Love and its variations. I highly, highly doubt Shogo Sakai composed “bean Bean Pork Bean” with any of my interpretive thoughts in mind, but that’s the power of motif: it helps us speak the language of narrative in a way we otherwise couldn’t do; it allows us to talk about Mother 3 in Mother 3’s terms. George Lucas would say “It’s like poetry, so that they rhyme,” but he also said that “Jar Jar is the key to all of this,” so I’ll cite a different George, George Saunders, who said, “Every detail of a story is intentional. Every detail must ultimately serve the higher purpose of the story itself.”

And that’s the power of motif.

Like I’ve said before, never underestimate my ability to needlessly extrapolate! It’s my super power!

Anyway, whether you choose to walk the tunnels or zip through in a big bean, eventually you’ll find yourself in a garage for Pork Tanks. It’s an intimidating sight, especially because we know where many of these tanks end up: on the front lawn of Osohe Castle (I guess at this point in the story, we don’t technically know that Chapter 3 takes place concurrently with Chapter 2, so a new player would not know that these tanks end up in Osohe).

I admit, I get my Mother 3 timeline a little bit confused sometimes, at least in the first three chapters. I know that Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 run concurrently with one another, so my guess is that it’ll be nighttime whenever Salsa and Fassad emerge from the underground road. With that in mind, I do really like seeing these tanks parked down here. We, the player, know whats coming, and, again, it’s so crazy to me that these tanks are literally parked, like, not very far from the village itself. The War Pigs will be marching very soon…

Anyway, what else can I say? Hmmm… Well, it’s interesting to see behind the scenes of the Pigmasks more than we have before. Later in Mother 3, we’ll also have some unique chances to infiltrate the Pigmasks and see what they’re all about, but I enjoy this smaller glance as well. I like seeing the tanks lined up in this underground garage, and I like being introduced to the Pork Bean, even if it is just a fancy way to get from Point A to Point B. The Mother series has always liked flashy vehicles., and this one won’t be the last.

One little gameplay detail is that, when you’re in the Pork Bean, you’ll absolutely barrel through the poor little Pill Bugs who live in the tunnel. You can actually fight them as Salsa when you’re traveling on foot (or should I say paw), but when you’re in the pork bean they’re nothing but fodder in the way of high-speed travel.

Another sweet little detail about the Pill Bugs is that, when you approach them, they curl up into balls. When they’re like this, you can actually roll them around, because touching them won’t automatically trigger a battle. I wish I would have tried walking the entire distance of the road while rolling the same pill bug, but maybe it’s something to test out next time. You’ve also gotta wonder if this bug-rolling technology was also once meant to show Salsa rolling dung around the desert! If so, what a missed opportunity!

Aaaaand….that’s about all, folks. I admit, it feels good to write a shorter frog every once in a while. I’ve written about as much as I can about this area of the game. If I did have one final thought, it would be: how long has it taken the Pigmasks to build this road system? How long has their conquest of Tazmily been planned? I know we don’t need, and maybe shouldn’t even want, logical answers to these questions, but, in a way, I think it’s worth thinking about, at least a little bit!

Because, I mean, if the Pigmasks’ goal is just to “civilize” Tazmily, it certainly shouldn’t take this much work, right? A road system like this, which literally cuts through the planet, takes some serious dedication and manpower to build! It could have taken years!

And who knows? Maybe it did take years. Maybe that’s why there’s a save frog down here next to the tanks. Maybe this poor little frog used to hop around the caves and the mountains of Tazmily, until one day it hopped too far, and walls appeared all around it. Maybe this frog once thought the Pigmasks would want someone to record their memories for them, and so hopped along behind them even as they ignored it. Maybe this frog tried to make friends out of the enemy, but the enemy kept on building, building, building. They say that industry has a short-term memory, after all.

Or who knows: maybe this frog was once interested in large, machinated things. Maybe it dreamed of riding on top of a tank, and maybe it still will, someday. I can’t read the minds of save frogs; I can only allow them to record what’s inside mine.

Sometimes, I like to imagine this frog as an aspiring mechanic. He has watched these tanks, seen how they work, observed the walls and chains of industry appear before his very own, froggy eyes. When Fassad and Salsa come along, Fassad becomes distracted with one of the tanks–there is a smudge on one of its front panels. While Fassad mutters and fusses about the tank, the frog hops up to Salsa, then up on to a tank.

“Stay away from this part,” the frog says, perched on the edge of the canon. “And stay away from these, too,” the frog says, hopping from one tread to the other. “These are big, bad creatures–tanks–and the last thing I want to see is a flattened monkey, okay?”

Salsa, who remembers playing with the previous frog, attempts to rouse this frog into a game. He pats him with his paws, leaps from one tank to another, chases his tails in small little circles, all while the frog (a more serious, technically-minded frog, you see) watches from the sidelines. Then, seeing that the mean Fassad is still busy (now checking for his reflection in the surface of the tank), the frog reluctantly agrees to a game. Wherever he hops, Salsa must follow, and so there the frog hops, then here the frog hops, all over the tank, doing his best along the way to say things like, “See, this is the top hatch; a Pigmask might be hiding in there,” and, “Watch out for this part, okay? Monkey paws don’t mix with metal. And but I bet you’ve never seen something like this before…”

The frog is so excited to finally talk to someone about the tanks that have fascinated him for so long, but Salsa barely listens. He’s learning that these little green guys are fun to play with, and that’s all that matters. So the frog concedes, smiles, ribbits, and hops on Salsa’s head. He’s not sure why, this technically-minded frog, who has not played anything in quite some time, but he trusts the monkey to keep up the game. He trusts the monkey to lead them, effortlessly, to something fun.

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