Frog 35: The Monkey’s Paw

Listen:

Faint, somewhere above the Drago Plateau, you can hear it: the word on the wind. Now it winds around the top steeple of Osohe Castle, and there it goes down to Thomas’s Bazaar, Butch’s Farm, along the Cereulean Beach and slowing, for a moment, next to Nana, who learns from the word on the wind and teaches it in turn. Some villagers know the word only as a gentle breeze, others remember it as the orator of advice on psychic power. Today, the word on the wind whips through townsquare, winding and whining and waxing thus: “Be careful what you wish for, for you may receive it.”

Generic advice, maybe, from the word on the wind, but not untimely. Weren’t the Tazmilians listening to a speech earlier today? Weren’t the Tazmilians raising their hands and choosing to be happy? Some walked away, and the wind roared proud, but others stayed, watching the monkey dance and balancing on a single paw.

Yes, today in Tazmily a different assault begins: an assault on the mind and the heart. The Pigmasks have proven themselves dangerous, sure, with their chimeras and bombs and tanks. There is no reason to believe the Pigmasks couldn’t use their sheer military strength to cripple Tazmily and bring it to the ground; to kill everyone overnight and be done with it. But that’s not the goal, it seems.

Fassad has a different plan. Fassad, who we know as oafish and cruel, can also be convincing and confident. Fassad gathers the citizens of Tazmily to sell them… happiness? In a simple town like this? What else could the Tazmilians ever need, other than some additional emotional awareness? Sure, they’re a little stunted when it comes to support, and a little insensitive when it comes to grief, but they’re, mostly, good people, right? Or are they?

I wonder: if you wished for a perfect village, what would it look like? Would everyone be getting along, or would everyone do their job? Would a perfect village be simple and emotionally shallow, so long as it is efficient? Or would a perfect village be emotionally supportive, with the occasional error? Would it kind enough, but cold at its core? Would a perfect village look like Tazmily?

Would you call this a utopia?

These are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves over the next couple chapters of Mother 3. What makes Tazmily special? Was it ever special? Was it supposed to be? And on that line of thinking, is Tazmily supposed to be perfect? What is it, and why? Why are people the way they are? What do they work for? What do they want? Nothing? And if Tazmily is the image of its own success, what does that mean for people like Flint and Lucas, who were, in a way, shunned by the village when they most needed its support? What is the point of consistent simplicity if it comes at the expense of even a semblance of emotional support? Do we all just look nice and happy together, but at the end of the day we’re alone?

Or is Tazmily just fine? Hunky dory? When we push back against Fassad’s speech, what are we pushing back against? What are we valuing in Tazmily when we reject Fassad’s proposal?

Well, I guess I’m getting ahead of myself again. What speech? you may ask. And who’s Fassad? What website am I on? Is this YouTube? Is there candy?

It looks like we all have questions on our mind today, so let’s just jump in, shall we?

Chump in the Night

When we last left our poor little monkey, he was getting ready to sleep on the floor of the Yado Inn. Nevermind that there was more room in the bed for Salsa to at least curl up near Fassad’s feet, and–actually, on second thought, maybe the floor is the better spot to sleep. The last thing Salsa needs is to breathe in Fassad’s foot fumes.

But anyway, Fassad the chump goes bump in the night, and before you know it, he’s gone. Leaving Salsa alone.

Once again, you may think that Salsa has been left to his own devices inside the Yado Inn, but all of the other rooms are locked, and there’s only one way to go: outside, where Fassad paces around town square talking on what appears to be a Pigmask cellphone. Fassad tells whoever’s on the other end to wait until dawn, then to “storm the place,” meaning Osohe Castle. There’s also a mention of Duster, who Fassad at first pegs to be just some drunk Tazmilian before saying, “He’s got brown hair, a gloomy feel, slightly bad breath, and looks kind of like a bum?” I’d say that Fassad is being a jerk in his description of Duster, but, honestly, the Tazmilians themselves haven’t exactly been any nicer.

The main purpose of this scene is simply to give players context for what was going on in Tazmily while Duster was away in the castle. I don’t have much to add on the commentary side of things, to be honest, though I do get kick out of Fassad’s talking-on-the-phone sprite. I love how one of his arms is out, how he jabbers away at the goofy, antenna’d phone, how he looks like some shady businessman stalking around Tazmily at night. Though I guess that’s the thing, isn’t it? Fassad, as we’ll see tomorrow, is literally a shady businessman.

Notably, we also see Fassad take Butch’s bag of cash from the well, but that isn’t even the worst crime of the night, and we’ve talked about that whole situation more than enough.

Do you remember back when I started writing about Chapter 3, and I referenced a moment of Fassad’s abuse that is legitmately difficult, at times, to watch? Well, that moment happened today. And trust me: I really don’t mean to sound overly dramatic, but I’ve always hated this moment in the story.

Basically, after Fassad finishes up his phone call, he spots Salsa nearby, dropping eaves. This time, though, Salsa doesn’t get away with just a single shock from the remote; instead, Fassad electrocutes him multiple times, with each strike coming between the heated words of a demented diatribe. To me, this has always felt like Salsa’s “lowest point” of the chapter and of his story. Fassad absolutely fries him, then has the gall to demand that he laughs on command before going back to the room.

In hindesight, I feel bad for doing this, but I decided to disobey Fassad (again) and have Salsa dance instead, which resulted in more shocks from the remote. It’s not right, what I put this monkey through, but I’m trying to explore the game as much as possible! But it did make me feel bad. I don’t mean to sound like a softy, but I really do hate this scene. I can remember cringing with discomfort the first time I saw it, with the shocks coming repeatedly one after another. I remember feeling like, “Is this really happening in a Nintendo game?”

And I understand that these are two cartoon people, and I understand that I’ve seen the Roadrunner do much worse to Wile E. Coyote, but I can’t tell a lie: those sequential electrocutions messed me up!

Although, this isn’t even the worst part–not fully at least.

The next morning, Fassad and Salsa awake, and the master tells the monkey that he needs to bring his A-game today. He’s going to need a good performance out of Salsa to win over the hearts of the villagers, and if Salsa does a good job, Fassad will let him go free. Maybe even give him a banana. Maybe even reunite him with his girlfriend.

And look: I want to believe Fassad, and I know that Salsa does make it to freedom in the end, but I don’t know. On one hand, it’s almost like you can sense faint regret in Fassad–an exhaustion, or maybe a softer, quieter energy before he gives his speech; maybe he hates using Salsa in this way, and it’s all for the “greater good” of the Pigmasks’ plan. On the other hand, I don’t believe him at all. I’m not sure he would have actually freed Salsa when all of this was over. I think he would have either kept him as a performing slave, or, if the conditions were right, killed him. So maybe the energy isn’t softer and quieter, but just all the more manipulative. Because when is the best time for the abuser to make promises, to appear kinder, to strike bargains?

Right when he needs something, and right when he fears that the captive might be escaping or discovering better options. Don’t be fooled: abusers are the best negotiators. When they want something, they will make you think it’s up to you to give it to them. They will even make you believe, for a moment, that you actually wanted this.

The next morning, the two step out of their room at the inn and socialize with some folks before the big performance. Tessie asks Salsa if he has eaten lately (when is the last time Salsa ate? Not counting Nut Bread in battle. This poor monkey needs some banana bread!), and Bob remarks that Tazmily used to be much more carefree, until recently.

Oh, Bob. Maybe Tazmily seemed more carefree because you were drunk the entire time. You’ve got a malnourished monkey standing right in front of you and all you can think about is the times and how they are a-changin’? Also, what time is it, Bob? Is that a bourbon or just some really strong coffee? It smells like it could peel the steel off a metal banana peel!

But really: Bob knows that people have died recently, right? The village didn’t just decide to not be care-free anymore.

Well, whether Bob is drinking coffee or bourbon, whether Jackie decides to spend the money, whether Fassad will keep true to his promise or betray Salsa… it doesn’t matter, does it? Whether or not Salsa wants to help Fassad, he has no choice as long as that collar exists. And today is the big day. All of the obedience to this smelly, evil man has led to this: Salsa’s performance.

Let’s break a leg, monkey.

The Peddler’s Prophecy

Now the Peddler walked to town square, and there he set his stage: postured in front of the well, with the monkey to his left, and enough room to walk and to speak. Today would be the first day he spread the good word of happiness. Today would be the beginning of the future.

And the monkey, now resigned to his fate, decided he may as well do his best to dance. He has made it this far, after all, and it is best to sell a prophecy with a spoonful of sugar. There there, monkey. It’s almost over.

Thus was the monkey’s job. Dance when those who listened seemed to be fading–make them laugh, make them smile. At the very least, distract them. Prophecy is also best served with a side of sleight.

And soon the people came to listen–what else was there to do? Sure, there was work to be done, and gossip to share, and perhaps still people to console (could grief last beyond a couple days? Surely everyone should be feeling better by now, thought some of the Tazmilians), but this was more important: a speaker from a land far away. Peddlers could bring more to town than just wares; they could also bring ideas. Who knows what the Peddler knows? Only the Peddler, until now.

A number of Tazmilians (a million?) gather ’round Fassad as he begins to orate. I like how we get to see the build-up to this moment–Tazmilians gathering from different parts of town, and even little Fuel running along with Lighter. It’s a fun scene, and one that’s full of foreboding if you’re already familiar with the story of Mother 3: this may be Fassad’s first speech, but it certainly won’t be his last.

And who we do have here listening? Biff, Paul, Linda, Lighter, Fuel, Reggie, Abbot, Abbey, Lisa, Brenda, Nana, and Jonel. A pretty good group of Tazmilians! I admit that, in the past when I’ve played Mother 3, I was never as good at keeping track of the various villagers, especially during this scene when they’re all gathered en masse. This time around, however, thanks to playing Frog by Frog, I feel like I’m watching a group of my friends, with everyone in the same spot. I know at least one thing about everyone standing here, and each villager is at least somewhat unique from the other.

That’s a cool feeling. Tazmily is still Mother 3’s best accomplishment so far, beside the soundtrack.

And so Fassad’s speech… It’s a classic grift! A long-game scam. Fassad brings people in with compliments, with easygoing language, with “Blue skies, white clouds… plentiful crops, stout livestock…” You’d think for a moment that Fassad likes Tazmily, and that he admires the villagers for all of their hard work–he even says so. Like any good pitch, Fassad begins simply by asking: “This is all pretty good, but what if it were better?” Fassad reminds me of a corrupt leader, outlining his newest five year plan. He reminds me of any confidence man, of an Amway representative trying to get you to in their downline.

In short, he’s the worst! But the Tazmilians don’t know that yet.

Although, Fassad doesn’t just say, “What if things were better?” He says, “What about happiness?” At this point, the first villager leaves the group, Lighter, and when I think about it, it makes sense. I mean, it’s possible that Itoi assembled random characters here–whoever would have been around, storywise, to be included the scene–but it’s also possible that Itoi has been writing and conceptualizing these characters for a long time (since at least the late 90s), so even little details like this might be deliberate.

In this case, I think it is. Lighter believes in duty, in work, in expressing yourself through action instead of spoken intention. We know this about him because we’ve been interacting with him for three chapters and over thirty save frogs. Lighter isn’t the type of guy to stand around and talk about happiness. He doesn’t care! He’s the type of guy to make something happen for himself, whether or not it has to do with being happy.

Could Lighter benefit from learning a thing or two about happiness? Sure, and all of the Tazmilians could. Everyone here is a little bit out of touch emotionally, and I’m sure a nice seminar on happiness, sadness, and the whole kit and caboodle of emotion could bring some spice to this town. And is Lighter himself a happy man? I wouldn’t say so–his house just burned to a crisp, and his good friend’s wife and son are dead. So yes, Lighter could also benefit from more comfort, from more happiness… but I think he senses that this ain’t the place or the way to do it.

Fassad waxes on about happiness, and the what-ifs of having it, but his speech doesn’t stay so abstract. Not longer after reeling in villagers with his suggestions of something more, Fassad flips to scare tactics: chimeras roam the forest, dark shapes hover overhead, and soon, lighting will shoot down from the sky–of this he is certain.

Lisa laughs at this, and Fassad runs over to her, challenging her reaction. But Lisa knows the difference between a lie and a rumor–she’s one of the gossiping women after all. Fassad definitely hams it up during this portion of his speech, and I think that’s why the two gossiping women were keen to his bullshit. They’re no strangers to exaggeration, nor are they easily tricked by someone outside their number. Lisa and Brenda, with Jonel following behind, leave the Peddler’s speech. Fassad wasn’t able to get them this time.

And in a way, it makes sense for this to be Jonel’s breaking point as well. Again, I’m not saying with certainty that these decisions were entirely on purpose, but I’m also giving Itoi and the rest of his team the benefit of the doubt; this story existed in his head for a long time. And so when you think about it: the gossiping women leave when Fassad spins some unbelievable gossip of his own, and Jonel leaves when Fassad delves deep into his own personal prophecy, which infringes on Jonel’s faith. Lightning raining down, “our” forest overrun with monsters, mysterious objects overhead… We don’t really know what Tazmilians believe in, but we know Jonel is a simple, conservative man of prayer. Something tells me that Fassad’s tactic here borders on heresy, when he begins to speak of the future with such conviction.

Fassad’s words seems to convince the remaining villagers, even though we know these “horrors” are things Fassad has helped to create. Similar to what’s done with Salsa, he now does to the villagers. “See that scary thing? I’ll take care of it for you,” leading to an imbalance in power in the dynamic, which is exactly what we know Fassad preys on. Sure, the chimeras have only been around for a few days… but what about in two weeks? And what about this lightning that is apparently coming? And what about these dark shapes overhead? When these things turn out to be true, more and more villagers suddenly need to start trusting Fassad.

Allow me a quick EarthBound 64 theory for a second (sorry!), and say that I think there’s a reason the original title, for a time, was going to be Mother 3: The Forest of the Chimeras. If we believe the idea that in the original game, more would have happened before the time-skip, then we can maybe assume that the slow emergence (not overnight emergence in a forest fire) of chimeras in the Sunshine Forest would have happened alongside a gradual ideological change in Tazmily. As Fassad continued to visit and to speak, more and more villagers would start to believe him; similarly, as the player progressed in the game, the chimeras would become stronger and more prevalent in the forest, lightning would begin to rain from the sky, etc. The player would see Fassad’s predictions come true over a longer course of time.

And honestly, Itoi’s original hopes to include more time-senstitive events (a la Majora’s Mask) could have seen Fassad’s speeches as, say, “weekly” occurrences that the player could on occasion overhear or decide to attend. As the game progressed, we would see more Tazmilians listening to Fassad each time, with his first speech being on top of a little wooden crate, and his late-game speeches being on, say, constructed stages with Pigmask decorations and banners.

I also think Salsa’s abuse could have factored in as a “detective” element. As the detective main character, perhaps Itoi would have subtly encouraged players to be suspicious of Fassad. If you followed him around enough, you’d eventually see him shocking Salsa when the monkey disobeyed. This would prove the player’s suspicions that Fassad is a facade: there’s something evil he’s hiding.

Anyway, I know a lot of that is a stretch and I have no way to back any of it through facts. It’s just that sometimes when I really think about Mother 3, and when I think about what we know to be some of Itoi’s aims for this game’s original form… I don’t know, it makes so much sense looking at what Mother 3 is. There are all these storybeats that aren’t bad on the GBA version, but when you think about them being stretched over time, you see a unique potential. Would the story have been better? Maybe not, but I think the presentation would have been innovative and dynamic. Truly a world of Mother 3.

Okay back to Fassad’s speech. He wraps the whole thing up with what we’ve been expecting: “But I have good news for you!” Fassad tells the Tazmilians that happiness will save us all, so raise your hand if you want to be happy. Four villagers comply: Abbot, Abbey, Biff, and Isaac.

Before we even talk about the villagers, though, we’ve gotta talk one more about time about what happiness means for a Tazmilian. Because that’s the thing: Fassad might, in a weird way, be right about some things. Maybe Tazmily does need happiness, and maybe it’s good for Tazmily to wish for happiness… though it won’t come from this peddler.

See, the Peddler’s Promise is a Monkey’s Paw–a desired outcome that is not what it seems, that will turn on you. When you take a people like the Tazmilians and sell them something like this, they will believe you if they think your intention is passable. On top of that, what for the Tazmilians is an innocent character trait, for Fassad is something to twist.

Villagers like Abbot and Abbey seem to be plain old gullible. Abbot likes to collect things, and Abbey likes to do what her husband does. She follows his lead. Sadly, though, Abbot claims that collecting stuff makes him happy, and I believe that at one point, in an innocent way, it did. Abbot and Abbey’s home is lined with plants, and I’m sure Abbot loved to collect those seeds and watch them grow. However, collecting is needless gathering, so of course Fassad can easily exploit these two (though Abbot might have latent consumerism inside of him due to something we learn much later in the plot).

Next, of course, is Isaac, who I’d forgotten wanted happiness in this scene, though now I’m glad to have watched his development frog by frog. So let’s take a trip down Isaac Memory Lane for a second. We’re first introduced to Isaac facedown in the Sunshine Forest, with his lungs full of smoke and his strength entirely gone. Later, Isaac asks Flint where Hinawa and the kids are, and whether or not he’s seen them. Isaac, of course, is present when Flint goes berserk, and is generally both available and helpful during the course of Chapter 1.

In Chapter 2, however, we see a different side to Isaac. He feels so far away from the others at the beginning of the chapter. With Light and Fuel’s house gone, Isaac is the only one living out in the forest, which at first seems inconsequential until the next day he can be found in town square. This time, Isaac is more listless than anything, feeling lonely and abandoned after the forest fire incident. While we aren’t totally clear what has changed for Isaac (maybe he has never been popular in town, and now he notices it?), my guess is that he, along with Lighter, Fuel, and Flint, nearly lost his life. I think Isaac is shocked that no one seems to care, and everyone, outside of a few villagers, is already moving on from the whole thing. Maybe Isaac, who seems a bit paranoid now about his status in the town (The Mother 3 Handbook points this out), is all the more sensitive after seeing little to no reaction that he could have been greatly harmed or even killed.

Whether that’s why he feels this way or not, in Chapter 3 he says “I just wanna see if it really is that easy to be happy,” and there’s something simple in that line that touches me. I don’t know that I have much to say about it. I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad. Tragedy and levity. Isaac’s feelin’ down, man. He wants to see if a true-blue pick-me-up is out there. Because maybe if it is, he won’t even have to worry about stuff like this anymore.

Last, but not least, there’s Biff, who says he doesn’t really know what’s going on, but if he can benefit from the Peddler’s promise, he’ll give it a shot. I think it’s important to remember that Biff is younger than some of the other folks here, making him, perhaps to a fault, more open-minded about what he’s hearing, and he’s also the brother of Butch. It didn’t take much for Fassad to trick Butch into craving money and wealth, so unfortunately, maybe, we’re seeing a similar exploitation in Biff.

So, we have some differences among the villagers who raise their hands. For Isaac, there might be an emotional reason buried underneath; for Abbot, Abbey, and Biff, there seems to be a natural inclination to just see what happens. Could the Tazmilians have guessed that by buying into Fassad’s dream, they were buying into industry? Into exploitation? Into defamiliarization from one another?

Maybe they would, if they listened to Reggie, who says, “Happiness leaves when wanted.” I like this idea, but it’s a little tricky to decide what it means. On one hand, Reggie could be saying that as soon as we try to pursue happiness, we are leaving a natural state of simply attracting happiness to ourselves through our actions and thoughts; in which case, contentment, ease, and relaxation may be more important than happiness. Or, maybe Reggie is saying that happiness leaves when it becomes a label for other things; if you can obtain X, then you will be happy. Maybe Reggie is saying that happiness, like inspiration, is something that strikes when we are ready for it–not something that can be grasped, maintained, or bought.

More interestingly, Paul and Linda, who have rejected happiness this time, present what could become a precarious scenario. Paul says that he doesn’t need happiness, because it’s standing right next to him (Linda). As much of a romancer’s line as this is, Linda says, “Happiness, huh… I’ll admit, I am a little curious.” Compare this to Abbot and Abbey, who go all-in on happiness because Abbot is fond of collecting things. While I’m happy to hear that Paul is so in love, I also have to be skeptical of any Tazmilian’s emotional awareness. Sure, Paul might be in love, but does Linda feel loved? It would be very Tazmilian of Paul to just say that he loves Linda, so she should know that and feel loved by him.

I know that’s a big leap to make about two of Tazmily’s less important NPCs, but I think it’s an interesting dialogue exchange. And we can’t forget the Monkey’s Paw. Don’t forget why the Tazmilians chose what they chose, and remember all of this when you see where it got them. Maybe if these Tazmilians had sustained a library with “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs, they’d have seen this coming, or even “The Gift of the Magi.”

Something to teach them irony, for goodness sake!

And thus ends the Peddler’s first speech. He wraps everything up by saying that any villager is welcome to receive happiness if they change their mind. In the mean time, those who chose happiness can expect it delivered to them very soon.

This is only just the beginning, folks.

Monkey Delivery Service?

We pick up with the boys later, as Fassad gabs on his cellphone and Salsa sits obediently still. Sounds like the Pigmask Army have officially run into Duster and Wes, if not Kumatora as well. There’s something endearing about a Pigmask Soldier telling his commander (or whatever Fassad is) that they’re “too tough.”

Poor Pigmasks!

And there’s even better news for the forces of good: Salsa is free, in a way. Fassad tells him to go out and deliver happiness (hint: it’s in the cemetery) to the four people who raised their hands, and if he can do it in under 23 minutes, he might get a little treat. While I don’t think Salsa should count on anything like that, I do think it’ll be good for him to get out and stretch his monkey paws for a bit.

But why get to work right away? Salsa’s a visitor in Tazmily, and in this town, visitors are family. Tazmily is like Olive Garden, I guess.

When you’re here: you’re family.

Yes, I took the time to make this.

Like any hard worker, Salsa starts his shift at the bar and shoots the shit with Bob. Bob tells us something cheerful (“My happiness is inside a bottle at Jackie’s bar”) and continues to drink just as much and seemingly as often as he ever has for the entire game. Keep it up, Bob, you iron-livered cowboy.

Betsy and Tessie both gives you hints of people you can perform tricks for (Mike and Caroline) for treats, like Nut Bread. Honestly, my inventory is filled to the brim right now, so I couldn’t fit more nut bread if I tried, but maybe it’s worth it to see if additional dialogue options open up (note from Future Shane: they do! So make sure to receive bread from these villagers. In the case of Alec, you can unlock a beautiful dialogue scene just by accepting nut bread from him).

I also decided to check on my favorite lumberjacks: Lighter, Bud, and Lou.

This unfortunate trio are still stuck in this too-small room together, but I can’t help but keep wondering: why don’t they just go outside during the day! Stretch your legs, get some air, visit a friend! It doesn’t have to be like this, you guys.

Bud and Lou, comedians as they may be, do not take well to Salsa. Bud calls Salsa a dirty monkey and demands that he “Stay back! Stay away from me!” Lou, in a polite tell-off, calls Salsa a cute monkey, and then asks him to please leave the room. Maybe these two are just uneasy around animals they’ve never seen, but lighten up, you guys!

Maybe they’re just monkeying around. Though Lighter isn’t joking when he says, “You look at people with the saddest eyes, monkey.” True that. We can always count on Lighter to keep it real with us. Salsa’s seen some shit (in more ways than one) and it shows.

Well, it’ll always be hilarious to me that the three men choose to hang out together in their small hotel room all day. In the mean time, Salsa decides it’s about time to get out of this dusty old inn: he’s got boxes to deliver! He’s got a job to do!

Which is exactly what he didn’t do. The little monkey followed his intuition and walked south, the direct opposite of where he should have headed, toward the smell of animals. Humans, particularly one human, had been nothing but trouble for the little monkey lately, so off he went, following his nose, to arrive somewhere that at least smelled familiar.

There, Salsa saw a cowboy. The cowboy was quiet, but he was thoughtful with his animals. Salsa did not see a single shock, slap, or shove. He did not see the cowboy yell at the animals, or even talk to them. The cowboy made sure the animals had water and food, then scratched the animals behind their ears, then kneeled down next to them to see how they were doing.

The frog hopped up next to Salsa and said hello with a quiet ribbit. Salsa looked at the frog, then at the man, then at the sky.

He wished someone would save him.

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