Frog 36: Monkey Delivery Sadness

A few months ago, I looked at my bank statement and noticed a five dollar transaction from Door Dash, for a service called Dash Pass. I googled Dash Pass and learned it was a subscription service, so out of curiosity, I looked more closely at my statements over the last few months and discovered that I’d been subscribed to Dash Pass for about six months.

This was an unfortunate discovery indeed, as I had never used Door Dash in my life. I tried calling Door Dash’s customer service to have both the charges removed and my Credit Card information taken out of their system, but as each month passed, I would have another Dash Pass charge in my statement. I called Door Dash four times total before the Dash Pass charges were finally removed, and even then Door Dash refused to remove the charges from the prior six months when I was being charged for no reason.

This is all just to say: sometimes delivery services suck. Or maybe this is to say: sometimes you don’t know what you sign up for. Or maybe: sometimes you don’t sign up for something, and you get it anyway. Or maybe: I don’t know, let’s gets back to Mother 3.

Where to begin writing about today’s frog? Some would say that the delivery of the Happy Boxes is the most important, or at least most memorable, moment of Chapter 3, while others would say it is one of the game’s most notorious tasks. If you’re playing on an emulator, you’re welcome to simply speed up the gameplay and make the Happy Box delivery a piece of cake, but I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised to hear me say that that kind of defeats the point of the whole thing. Still, I won’t blame you for doing this. Power to the players. If you don’t want to be forced to walk slow, then speed that shit up.

But on the other hand, it’s worth it to walk slowly when you deliver the boxes. Mother 3 has decided to change up the speed of the gameplay, in order to tell its story in a certain way, so why not just let it do its thing? But more on this in a second.

For the delivery of the Happy Boxes, Salsa has been tasked with carrying one Happy Box at a time to each of the villagers who raised their hands during Fassad’s speech. Salsa has to run to the Sunset Cemetery, picks up a Happy Box, then slowly haul it all the way across town to Isaac, Biff, Abbot, or Abbey. Then again. And again. And again.

Say a prayer for Salsa’s back.

It’s tough work for a monkey, and it’s work that could much more easily be done by Fassad himself. Honestly, anyone but a small monkey should be doing this kind of work. Salsa carrying the boxes on his back is like Itoi tripling down on Salsa’s circumstances being as terrible as they can possibly be.

Along the way, Salsa can talk to both villagers and animals, with the difference being that the animals become verbose, and the Tazmilians tend to quiet down. No one has much to say to a little monkey! I think my favorite dialogue interaction of the day was the little mouse who lives outside Caroline’s house. He tells a “scary story” about how all of the nuts he stored for the winter were mysteriously turned into bread. Bread!! Caroline is the nut bread master, so it’s no surprise that she found the mouse’s stash and baked up the lot of it. If you decline to hear the mouse’s story, he’ll chide you and call Salsa a scaredy-cat.

What is it with the Mother series and mice? I swear that among all the animals in the series, even frogs, the mice are probably the most well-written. Even all the way back in the original Mother!

But yes: for once, the animals have more to say than that humans. Butch’s pigs (what is left of them) are as talkative, yet cryptic, as ever, and the Stray Dog can finally express himself beyond just a few barks. Even the cows seem more clearheaded than usual (though maybe that’s just my adoration of cows showing). I like feeling like I’m a part of the Tazmilians animal kingdom! I wish we got to play as Salsa more during Mother 3. Imagine a team-up between Claus and Salsa! Imagine a party configuration of Salsa, the Stray Dog, and the Mouse outside the House! Maybe they could all be led by Lucas, who is rumored to be close with animals.

On second thought, Flint’s sheep aren’t anymore talkative than before. The one you can talk to just stares at Salsa and says, “Monkey.” Not exactly a big-brain observation! It’s the same thing Caroline’s daughter says when she sees Salsa, and, to be fair to the Tazmilians, some of them will talk to Salsa like he’s a reasonable fella. Bronson will warn Salsa to stay away from his dangerous tools, and Jonel will tell Salsa that he can tell Fassad is not what he seems. You’d think that someone as high, mighty, and moral as Jonel might, you know, do something about Salsa’s bad situation, but you’d think wrong.

Anyway, like I said, to some players, the delivery of the Happy Boxes is an important and memorable moment. The delivery segment marks the beginning of arbitrary consumerism in Tazmily–happiness for the sake of having it; goods being confused with good–and denotes itself by being somewhat unique in gameplay. Salsa is not able to run while carrying Happy Boxes, forcing the player to soak in both Salsa helplessness and the weight of the mission. “Monkey’s Delivery Service,” the song that plays while delivering the Happy Boxes, couldn’t be a better personification of this part of the game: a forlorn track, with hopeful moments of upswing, undercut with a subtle weariness that makes you wonder how long Salsa is going to be trapped. Though we haven’t been with Salsa for very long, this song makes me feel like I’ve known him for years.

For all of these reasons, this part of the game is great. Especially if you’re a first-time player who’s playing the game on emulator, I’d encourage you to not speed up the gameplay. I think it’s a cool decision that you have to actually delivery each happy box to each person; you’re forced to experience Salsa’s labor in a deliberate way. Is it ultimately just the gameplay being purposely slowed down? Yeah, definitely, but I appreciate the decision nonetheless.

As a point of comparison, in EarthBound, there was a waterfall you had to stand outside of for three actual minutes before gaining entrance to the inside. That part of the game, like the monkey delivery service, is notorious among fans, and for some similar reasons: some see it as a silly joke worth sitting through (if not just a good time to take a break), and others see it as speed-up fodder for an emulator. Personally, I tend to “honor” the goofy idea by waiting through the three minutes, even if I am playing on an emulator where I could just push the spacebar. The three-minute wait seems like such a dumb Itoi joke that it always makes me crack a smile, and I’ll typically just grab a glass of water or something while waiting. I’m not saying it’s an amazing moment or anything, though.

However, in the case of the monkey delivery service, it’s more of a narrative decision to deliberately slow down the pace of the game. I don’t know if all that much is gained for our perspective of things; we know Salsa’s life sucks right now, and we know he’s in Fassad’s clutches more than ever before. But I personally think I enjoy the repetition and the slower pace because it imprints Tazmily on my memory–on this precise day, at this precise moment. When I think back to Chapter 3, I always remember this. These Happy Boxes, as ridiculous as they are, are a turning point for the village. I remember the tone, I remember the mood, I remember how things were because the game slows down.

Again, I’m not saying these parts of each game are supposed to be compared. I’m pointing it out mostly to say: here are two different methods that slow down the player’s typical pace of gameplay, for two different reasons. What can I say? I wouldn’t be writing a blog like this if I didn’t like how Itoi wrote games. That’s all.

To give some credence to the people who do speed this part up, or who outright dislike it, we have to remember that almost all of Chapter 3 has been designed through limitations, and for players who are replaying the game, this whole thing can feel like more of a speed bump. Sure, some of Chapter 3’s limitations have been creative in the way they convey characterization and narrative information, but I can also admit that for all my jabbering about Itoi’s successes in RPG storytelling, for some players Chapter 3 is just less fun.

And to be fair, I can also see someone not enjoying Salsa + Fassad in combat, since so much boils down to waiting for Fassad to help out and making sure Salsa’s health is high enough to survive a strong attack. Mother 3 is already reluctant to let the player venture too far outside what it wants structure-wise, and Chapter 3 commits to a lot of that. Plus, as Egoraptor pointed out years ago in his seminal video essay on Ocarina of Time, waiting in video games is usually just that: waiting. It’ll try to trick you into thinking something else is happening, and it’ll try to be the semblance of something else, but sometimes waiting is just waiting, and all that’s happening in the mind of a contemporary video game player is that the pace has been slowed down–nothing else.

If you feel like I’m going on and on about how people feel about this part of the game, I apologize. That’s just where my head is at, more so than the dialogue among the villagers. This part of the game is more about the feel, at least for my bones! I will transition over to another section of A Million Tazmilians here in a second, but I really don’t have all that much to say. I’m adding pictures of some of my favorite dialogue moments here in the intro because I don’t even know if I’ll bring them up later.

Yes.

I talk a lot about the musical motifs I notice, but I also want to start bringing up visual motifs as well. Honestly, while it is Obvious 101, Salsa being crushed underneath the Happy Box is only the beginning of Mother 3‘s story portraying characters crushed or otherwise disenfranchised about the demands of their labor.

In fact, Salsa’s labor is the exact same thing we see both Claymen and Tazmilians enduring later in the game, walking back and forth, back and forth, over and over and over and over in the mines. This is what Fassad’s influence results in: meaninglessly, difficult labor. Labor for the sake of labor. “Goods” for the sake of goods. We all know that Fassad could have these boxes delivered in five minutes if we threw them in a pork bean, or at least used a wagon or something. Hell, even if he himself helped out simply by carrying one. If the goal was truly to deliver the Happy Boxes as quickly and efficiently as possible, having Salsa do it is the actual worst case scenario. But no, Fassad’s just on the phone somewhere, gabbing and eating bananas!

This is where the exploitation begins, folks!!

Wheesh!

I guess I’m getting ahead of myself in all sorts of ways, aren’t I? But honestly, I don’t have that much to say about the Monkey Delivery Service. It sucks for Salsa. It’s another way of hurting a poor little monkey. It’s a sign of things to come. It’s a message about the reality of labor that goes into getting our products to us, now more than ever. Of course you’ve heard: would you use that iPhone if I told you a child died to make it? Would you love that Happy Box if I told you a monkey damaged his vertebrae to deliver it to you? Would you enjoy that Dash Pass subscription if I told you the driver is underpaid so she has to work for three delivery companies at once?

The Monkey Delivery Service is another of Mother 3’s many jabs at not just capitalism, but the absurd machinations that keep modern consumerism alive and well. The more you peel back the layers, the less it makes sense why we do this to ourselves, and then we realize: we don’t! The corporations, the Fassads, reign supreme over all.

Would all of the world accept the blatant maladies of delivery-consumerist culture if we had to look at sad, suffering monkeys toting all of our products around? (Hell, as I am writing this, one Amazon warehouse has decided to do away with its usual shifts in favor of ten-and-a-half hour “megacycle” shifts. Workers can either agree to work this shift, which runs from 1:20 a.m. to 11:50 a.m., or lose their jobs. All to ship out more boxes, to make people happy…). I’m not trying to belittle the real, lived experiences of not only these Amazon workers by using Salsa, a monkey from a video game, as a comparative metaphor. I’m mostly trying to point out the hyperbolic conditions we allow capitalism to exist under. We make more excuses for companies than we do for our fellow humans.

I know.

Yikes! Am I getting to serious? Look, I’m not going to give you, or even attempt at, the answers to questions like these, nor am I trying to get you to see it like me. Not that I think all of these questions are mere hypotheticals; I think our rapidly-changing world needs to develop some solid answers to capitalism’s ethical failings soon–I think it has needed to do this for a very, very long time. And I also do think that, through images like Salsa carrying “Happy Boxes” on his crunched, strained back, Itoi makes some clear statements about contemporary consumerism that I honestly believe work even better in 2021 than they did in 2006. But sometimes I also think Mother 3 is doing a smaller critique than people think; or, if not smaller, more character-specific. Through basing these commentaries on the growth of certain characters, I think Mother 3 does more than just offhandedly critique capitalism, comment on consumerism, and do whatever it does with communism. Mother is a trilogy, at the end of the day, for a reason, and this version of the world of Mother 3 would not exist if not for the stories of the previous two games.

I just can’t get to that yet! It’s too spoilery. It’s too far away. But we’ll get there soon. Just believe me now when I say: like the never-ending poem that is the Claymen, I don’t think Itoi’s metaphors in Mother 3’s are one dimensional. I think there’s a lot of meaning-making going on in Mother 3, due to the fact that Itoi had this story in his mind for so long, and due doubly to the fact that the story went through so many drafts. If there’s anything else I learned from A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, it’s that stories are like toys on a table. As you write the story, you move the toys around, and the story does all these different things based on where the toys are positioned.

Over time, as you revise the story, you dig in the toy chest for more characters, more images, but you always keep those original pieces, moving around the table to tweak the story. Yes, I sometimes lament the EarthBound 64 we never got, but I also really love the Mother 3 we have today. The story feels concise, and its images and ideas feel deliberate. If something appears heavy-handed, it’s almost always a sign to look a little closer and notice instead how the game has made specificity, nuance, and play out of its rich details.

Okay, okay, now I’ll wrap up this intro. But like I said, I don’t have a ton to say! And someone needs to stop me when I get going like that! Now what am I supposed to talk about in the main body of the post? This is what happens when I haven’t properly caffeinated before writing frogs. I end up all over the place!

Well then now: how to start? Last I heard, Salsa had run south from the Yado Inn. An unacquainted observer would think the poor, abused monkey was running in direct contrast to his master’s directions: Fassad says north, so Salsa goes south. The wiser observer would note the monkey’s nostrils opening from a south-westerly wind. The observer would then note that monkey not abandoning his post, but following the scent of sheep.

A Million Tazmilians V: The Monkey Delivery Servant

A disclaimer: this episode of A Million Tazmilians will not visit every Tazmilians in as much depth as previous episodes. The reason for this has nothing to do with my own laziness, but with the fact that, when you’re playing as Salsa, the villagers don’t really say as much to you. Sure, you have the occasional fun comment, or maybe someone speaking their mind out loud to the poor little monkey, but for the most part you have people who either don’t really want Salsa around, or people who just say that he’s a monkey.

With this in mind, I’m more going to hit the highlights of what I noticed while playing. Right off the bat, I actually feel a need to defend Pusher and Elmore for being so rude to Salsa in their home, because quite a few villagers, even typically nice people, don’t really want anything to do with Salsa. Don’t forget that Bud and Lou weren’t exactly thrilled to have a monkey in the midst, and even Nana and Bateau, two usually goofy people, tell Salsa to get lost.

In Nana’s case, it feels in-character, because she’s always been one of Tazmily’s more tuned-in folks. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not Salsa she has an issue with, but the situation at large. When she says, “I don’t want anything from you,” I think she’s separating herself from the dynamic entirely, not wanting any strange shows of “happiness,” and not wanting to contribute to whatever’s going on with Salsa. I also think she could mean this in a kindly way, like a release. “I don’t want anything from you, little monkey. Be free!” Nana has always been tapped in to the mysteries of the world, since way back in Chapter 1, so I don’t think she’s trying to be mean here.

Bateau, on the other hand, snaps at Salsa, telling him that he’s going to disturb the messenger pigeons. Personally, I didn’t even know Bateau was doing anything productive up in his airy, beachside property, so I’m happy to know he’s Tazmily’s mailman. That said, I was surprised at how quickly he lashes out. Maybe he’s still in a funk from the other day? And again, maybe I’m just interpreting Bateau as meaner than he seems. I’m just used to him cracking bad jokes at this point, or struggling to understand obvious metaphors.

Oh, Bateau!

Unfortunately for Salsa, many people in town have the impression that he’s just some weird monkey who hangs out with Fassad. By association, everyone thinks Salsa is trying to sell them something, or pitch them some new form of happiness. Like I mentioned above, some people, like Jonel and Reggie, can pick up on Fassad’s scent of sus-ness, but some people can’t, and for those Tazmilians, Salsa’s just in the way.

Now, I decided to take Salsa down to Flint’s before anything else, and even though the cowboy is patient and nice about it, he politely tells Salsa to leave him alone. I’m sure there’s a part of Flint’s heart that feels insulted that someone would try to sell him a “Happy Box” after everything he’s been through, but I also wondered how he knew the name when he wasn’t at the peddler’s speech…

Maybe Salsa can, like, mime it out or something, because I guess Flint only says, “A box?” not “A Happy Box?” But I don’t know. Leave it up to your imagination!

I still like the meeting-of-the-minds we have going on here with Salsa and Flint. These two don’t know it, but they have something in common: Flint’s wife is gone, and Salsa has been separated from his girlfriend. I know separation isn’t the same as, you know, death, but Salsa doesn’t know whether or not his girlfriend is still alive. Fassad could have had her done in hours ago. Salsa and Flint are two forlorn lover boys, and this is their chance to team up!

(As someone who was always disappointed as a kid when a comic storyline would conclude in a Team Up series [to drum up more sales in the struggling comicbook industry], I’m surprised at how often I advocate for unlikely Mother 3 team-ups).

And also: where is Lucas? Did I not look hard enough? I can’t find the poor guy anywhere. If there’s anyone who I think Salsa could bond with, it’s gotta be Lucas. I know Boney is there for Lucas, and I would never speak poorly of their amazing bond… but what if Lucas had Salsa around? There’s a Chapter 3 I’d be interested in playing.

Just let the record show that I did look for Lucas! Lucas, I’m always looking for you, my friend! I guess he could already be out in the wilderness rounding up some Dragos for his attack on the Pigmasks later in the chapter, but I hope I didn’t miss him, standing behind some tree or something. I guess I can always look more next time.

I even checked inside Lucas’s house, but the most important thing I found in there was a mirror. You’ll remember that mirrors in Mother 3 often tell us we are “Lookin’ handsome,” or that we are sporting the same old bedhead as always. Unfortunately, in Salsa’s case, the mirror reflects something much truer than physical appearance. When the poor, sad, little monkey looks into the mirror, the message reads: “What does a smile look like again?”

Oh, poor Salsa!!

Okay, let’s see, I was keeping it to highlights, here… I really like when Salsa and Boney meet, and even Boney, who has had an emotional few days in his own right, remarks on how sad Salsa seems. I like imagining Salsa wandering aimlessly for a while, not knowing where the cemetery is. How is he supposed to know? It was dark out when he arrived in Tazmily, so maybe he forgot where the cemetery is! So that’s what I picture: the poor little Salsa walking around with no direction at all. He runs into Brenda, who tells him, “You stink like a monkey,” and he runs into Richie, who says, “You look so sad,” and maybe Salsa starts to believe these things: he’s a sad, stinky monkey.

Even though Brenda is rude to Salsa, I was surprised at how sympathetic at least one of the Gossiping Women was. Jill comments on how tight Salsa’s collar is, and even though I wish at least one Tazmilian could realize that the collar is a torture device, I’ll take a little sympathy. Lisa, on the other hand, seems to be having second thoughts on not sticking around for the rest of the Peddler’s Speech. Could the peddler’s words already be sinking in?

I like this detail, coming from Lisa. Not long ago, she was literally laughing in Fassad’s face (if only she knew how powerful Fassad really is, and how brave she was to openly defy him). Yet now, she’s regretting her decision, or at least starting to regret her decision. What’s going to happen when Fassad’s speeches get more convincing?

Well, for every Tazmilian that expresses passing sympathy for Salsa, there’s an animal who sees right through him. The Stray Dog, who I still wish was able to join my party at some point in the game, tells Salsa point blank, “I know that you’re unhappy,” which confirms my suspicions that this mangy stray dog is one of Tazmily’s greater philosophers. Dogs know these things! Dogs can read emotions, as well as the subtle changes of the world, better than anybody! At least in my mind. And especially stray dogs.

Honestly, if you want to see Salsa engage in some more dynamic conversations, the animals of Tazmily are your best bet. A couple of them will tell you where certain Tazmilians’ houses are (the people you need to deliver boxes to), and others, like a mouse and the various pigs and cows, are ready to chew the cud with the monkey-come-lately in town.

Now, I’ll say here that I ended up saving my game in the Prayer Sanctuary before proceeding farther with my Happy Box Deliveries. Honestly, it had been a while since I’d had so many screenshots of Tazmilians talking, so I wanted to cut things off before they got too out of hand. Next frog, I’ll finish up my deliveries and make it to Fassad in 10 minutes flat. He won’t even notice I’m gone.

However, there is still one interaction with a Tazmilian that I want to talk about, because I think it surprised me more than any other.

If you head over to Thomas’s Bazaar, you can chat with both Mike and Thomas (obviously). Mike is one of the three or four Tazmilians who will give you a treat for performing the correct trick for him, but Thomas offers something different. When talking with Thomas, he says, “Happiness, huh… For some reason, I’m not sure what that word means.”

Now, let’s think about what we know about Thomas for a second. Thomas can be loud, self-centered, gullible (but who’s not around here?), and a little hasty, but Thomas can also be helpful, action-oriented, brave (in his own way), and honest, if not to a fault. It was Thomas who came running for Flint on the Night of the Funeral, and it was Thomas who stayed with Lighter to make sure he was going to be okay. It was Thomas who carried Lighter out of the forest to save his life. He may have boasted about a couple things, but he earned it that night: Thomas did everything that Flint did, just short of rescuing Fuel from a burning building (which, seeing as Thomas is the town’s “fireman,” maybe he should’ve been the one going after Fuel).

We also know that Thomas is married to Lisa, one of the Gossiping Women, and he has two kids: Nichol and Richie.

So, why wouldn’t Thomas know what it means to be happy? What is the point of Tazmily if someone like Thomas doesn’t know what that word means? And I’m not saying Thomas is the best guy in town; Reggie, Flint, Lighter, Mapson, Bronson, Duster… Tazmily is full of good men. But Thomas is still a good guy, who has done some good things, and appears to have a family and friends who like him. So what’s the deal? Is Thomas just absent-mindedly musing, here? Is Tazmily, in its preserved tranquility, too sterile? Do people trade happiness for simplicity around these parts?

See, that’s what’s weird to me about the whole Fassad thing. In a way, Tazmily does need a wake-up call; Tazmily could be even better. Hinawa’s death (and Claus’s disappearance) has the potential to bring the town together, to show some Tazmilians how to feel… but then Fassad comes along and shoves Happy Boxes down everyone’s throats. Tazmily needs happiness, not happy boxes.

Or, is this more of a language problem? Do Tazmilians just not identify happiness? Because I’ve seen Lucas and Claus playing; I’ve seen Nichol and Richie sneaking around at night for a look at the action; I’ve seen Lisa, Brenda, and Jill laugh together. I’ve seen Hinawa and Flint laugh together, and seemingly look happy together… Are you telling me none of these Tazmilians were happy, or did they just not know they were happy? Is there some kind of pact among this small, intentional community that says, “Happiness is something we feel, not something we define?”

Maybe that’s it: like Reggie said, “When happiness is sought, it disappears.” Maybe the Tazmilians, or their predecessors, knew that the pursuit of happiness is a tricky ordeal, because once happiness can be objectified as something to have (e.g., a Happy Box) the whole thing falls to pieces. But that doesn’t answer the question of why someone like Thomas wouldn’t know what happiness even is. Perhaps the Tazmilians have hidden it behind language, and it isn’t something they talk about, or maybe they think it’s something they think they don’t have, when actually they do.

To be honest, sometimes it hurts my head to think about the Tazmilians. The plot gives us some answers later on, but I’ve just never really known how to approach this aspect of the game. And yet, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. To be honest, the happiest I’ve been in life, or at least the purest happiness I’ve ever felt, has been in simple moments when I’m with people I love, and when I have mental clarity. Rarely have things made me truly happy, though they have made me excited or even fulfilled, for a time.

So yeah. I’m not sure. I think I’m going to end it here. But what do people think about this? Maybe I’ll make a Twitter poll….

Once again I return to the two-sided question:

Isn’t this such a utopia?

Or:

You call this a utopia?

One thought on “Frog 36: Monkey Delivery Sadness

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