I’ve begun to realize I am not with the times.
It’s true. I do not trust things that spark, whir, and rumble. I would rather walk on a haunted road than a paved one. When given the choice between a candlestick and a lightbulb, I’ll choose the candlestick, if only for the fact that I love the mesmerizing melt of wax. Call me uncivilized, and I won’t mind.
The best things in life are free.
Or at least, I’d like to be able to say things like that, but who am I kidding. I’m just trying to get into the headspace of someone who, like Lucas, has watched the world transform before his very eyes. I want to know what it feels like to be a sheep farmer who lives a stone’s throw away from a multi-floor hotel, which not long ago was a homely den of an inn. I want to know what it feels like to be Lucas as he steps onto the now paved roads of Tazmily town square, which looks much more like a Tazmilian downtown.
I’m not even sure where to begin at all, talking about Tazmily, which is why I’ve decided to keep today’s post on the shorter side (or so I thought). I know there’s going to be a lot to cover, a lot to take in, and at least a million Tazmilians to talk to, but after last week’s verbose return to the land of save frogs, I think it’d be better if I took things just one step at a time. Plus, a momentous occasion occurred in today’s gaming, which I have been anticipating for some time.
Can you guess what it is?
It’s the frog car, baby! The FROG CAR! My website’s emblem, my Twitter profile picture, my mascot, my captain, my calling card! Sure, maybe I wasn’t fickle enough to pump out frog car merch like some other folks on the internet, but, for the last year or so, this little amphibian in an automobile has been my face to the world wide web, and it’s a pleasure to finally meet this frog in the flesh.
See? Technology isn’t so bad. What was that old song again? The one that Itoi wrote? I think it’s lyrics were something like, as long as a frog car is around, nothing is really so terrible! Or was it, “Baby you can drive my miniature frog car?”
Ah, I can’t remember. Who cares! Turn up the wobble on the Happy Box, I’m ready to unwind!
No, wait! Turn it off! Turn it off! I’m happy enough already!!
All right, all right. You clicked on this post to read about Mother 3, not the ravings of a mad frog. I think I’m using humor to avoid the elephant-sized pig in the room: everything is different. Except Lucas’s house, but even that hasn’t been able to remain totally unchanged considering that the sheep pen is routinely struck by lightning. And why is that, I wonder? Could this lightning have been cleverly foretold on more than one occasion, or is Tazmily just being hit with an inconveniently precise weather front?
To add insult to injury, something Lucas is familiar with already, people come to look at his house like it’s some kind of exhibit. “So, this is Tazmily’s famous Lightning House?! It really is incredible!” says Guy, who’s name, it turns out, is not Guy, but more on that in a moment. The nearby Pigmask, who should fear a kid like Lucas if he’s heard any rumors of what happened three years ago, chides the boy, telling him he must really be happy if the constant barrages of lightning don’t make him want a happy box.
Of course, we could have guessed that the Pigmasks were the root cause of the lightning all along, but it doesn’t paint us a totally clear picture. And who the hell is this Guy?
You can keep your Happy Boxes and asphalt! The most jarring change in Tazmily, for me, is the fact that there are people here now! Generic people! With no names! Guy, Old Man, Old Woman, Girl, Lady! These johnny come latelies take up just as much, if not more, space than the (mostly) likeable villagers we have come to know and (sometimes) love!
I’m sure Itoi’s decision here was as simple as, “Tazmily is civilized now. Let’s have a bunch of people around, to make it feel like a bigger town, or a small city… Like something from Mother 2!” but the effect on the player, or at least the effect on me, is significant. I don’t like these people being here, and I think it was a perfect choice to not hold back this reveal until Lucas travels into town. Instead, there are random people that nobody knows right outside Lucas’s house, marveling at it. There’s some random old person off to the side who remarks that this is the only area of Tazmily that hasn’t changed in three years.
And look: I appreciate people being caught up on their Tazmilian history, and I appreciate this person’s appreciation of the simple atmosphere, sea breezes, and tell-tale smell of sheep that permeates throughout Lucas’s property… But how do they know that this is the only place that hasn’t changed in three years?! Have they been dropping eaves? Who the hell are these people! I’m losing my marbles!
Again, I’m not saying this was Itoi’s intent, but these NPCs make me feel so alienated from the space I’ve become familiar with over the last few chapters. Remember how Chapter 1 started? With Thomas running up to Flint’s door and knocking? No one else was around, other than a save frog and a sleepy dog. Compare that to Chapter 4’s opening, with a tourist and a solider off to one side, and a random, musing, sight-seer to the other. This place was once a home, but now it’s just a place, and it even has a name: the Lightning House.
You’d be hard-pressed to argue that things inside Lucas’s house are any better, and that’s where, to me, Fassad’s victory makes all the sense in the world: whether through a Happy Box, or through total familial defamiliarization, a la Flint and Lucas, the Pigmasks have won the war both inside and outside of the home. Outside, there is the spectacle of technology and progress, inspiring Tazmilians to throw their precious time away to toil at the factory; inside, there is the comfort of the Happy Box, and if there is not, then there is lightning. Notice, as you visit the Tazmilians’ houses, that few details separate them now. Everyone’s home, outside of a few key possessions, looks basically the same.
I’m definitely getting ahead of myself, here. We know nothing about the factory yet, and maybe there are more hangers-on than we think; we just haven’t found them. What can I say? It’s hard to start off a day of gameplay feeling totally normal when your once-peaceful Tazmily is now filled with gawkers and soldiers. Some say this used to be a village where nobody even locked their doors.
Luckily, though, these gawkers are also talkers, and more people in a Mother game means more opportunities for dialogue, which is where Chapter 4 begins to shine. Yes, I’ll have plenty to say about the “sad” state of Tazmily, as well as Lucas’s plight as the town’s ostensible simpleton, but I can also acknowledge a good change when I see one, and let me just say right now that for anyone out there who has been waiting for Mother 3 to start to feel more like EarthBound, this is where it starts.
Whether you find a Pigmask on break, an unnamed person roaming the streets of Tazmily, or even one of your old villager pals (some of whom now have a time-skip redesign!), you’re likely to run into some classic Mother dialogue, full of quips, whims, and fourth wall taps that always bring a smile to my face. Is the humor always as sharp as EarthBound’s? Well, that’s not for me to decide, but what I will say is that I had a pretty good time hanging out in the now Hotel Yado.
Talking to the NPCs in the hotel makes it seem like Itoi has just been craving the opportunity to speak to the player through his beloved style of NPC dialogue. I’m not trying to over-intellectualize things from the start, but sometimes when I play EarthBound, I feel like I’m interacting with one “narrator” who jumps into a bunch of different characters. Case in point, one of the first Pigmasks you talk to calls you out on being the type of person who “just has to talk to everyone,” which he then quickly assures is not a bad thing by any means.
This Pigmask was one of the first NPCs I talked to during this gameplay session, and I’m not surprised at all that he speaks a line that sounds like it could have been lifted straight from EarthBound. Itoi is always slyly, and not so slyly, asking players to take their time, to talk to everyone, in an effort, I believe, to make people live this way in real life. Again, not trying to put words in anyone’s mouth, but Itoi’s attention to his NPCs has always felt like a call to say, “Hey, get out there in the real world too! Talk to everyone! Even the weird people!”
And I could be wrong, but I feel like Itoi has probably missed saying those types of things to players for the last three chapters (or the last 11 years) where narrative took a front seat. Now that Mother 3 has opened up, the pace has changed drastically, and the player can take their time without someone constantly telling them where they can and cannot go. More often than not, NPC dialogue in previous chapters almost always had to do with the story, or with building character. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things, but I know I, and I’m sure many other Mother fans, start to miss the good old fashioned Mother non sequiturs hiding behind any NPC. Honestly, the nice thing about Mother 3 that I don’t hear praised often enough, if ever, is that we get both. On one side of the room, I’m talking to a Pigmask who is subtly breaking the fourth wall; on the other side of the room, I’m talking to Betsy, who’s mentioning how many customers the Yado Inn started to get when Fassad came to town, which gives us, the players, a little tidbit of how these changes came to be over the last three years.
Plot on one side, fun dialogue on the other!
Sure, EarthBound did this too, but it was different. You might catch wind of where Porky has been, or hear of the increasingy potent effect of Giygas’s influence on the planet, or pikc up the tidbits and hints of what you’re supposed to do at your latest stop of the Chosen Ones’ road trip, but EarthBound never quite had the balance of plot and exploration that some players say it should have had (I’m not one of these people, but I want to represent their opinion). For my money, though, I… wait. Sorry. Let’s start that over.
For my DP, though, Mother 3 deserves more credit in this regard. Those first three chapters of narrative and character development really start to pay off around this point because we get both worlds. With a bunch of nameless NPCs, Itoi can run more bits and jokes, as well as throw in exposition when he needs it. On the other hand, running into our old Tazmily friends has a whole separate type of pay off, seeing as they are characters we know and understand. I’m not saying every Tazmilian is a treasure trove of character development, but we still know them and their basic characteristics; we’ve been getting to know them for three entire chapters, and, in my case, I’ve been getting to know them for a year.
Running into characters like Betsy and Richie feels special among a sea of NPCs–even sad, as our old Tazmilian pals seem incapable of remarking on anything other than progress. With Betsy, it kind of fits–she was always a hard worker who wanted to see her inn do well by providing for its patrons. You’d think Richie, though, who grew up with Lucas as a child in this town, would have something to say to him, but no. She can be found outside her father’s store, the bazaar that once bartered, remarking vaguely on the beauty of advancement.
Although, I can’t use these two Tazmilians to account for all the rest of them, and, considering that the FROG CAR zoomed up to me pretty early in my gameplay session, I actually did not encounter any other Tazmilians today, other than Nichol who now runs his father’s shop. So let’s just talk about some more fun NPC interactions, not draw too many conclusions, then we can wrap this thing up, okay?
Like I said, Tazmily may be becoming a place of estrangement for Lucas, but for the player, Tazmily has become much more fun and interactive. I have to admit that, despite the illusion of happiness and progress that one might glean from “A Railway in Our Village!”, the song is truly an amazing way to kick off a gameplay session. When I boot up Mother 3 for my next frog, I never know how it’s going to go. Am I going to feel inquisitive? Playful? Patient? What if the gameplay session is short, or not particularly fun?
But all of those feelings melt away as soon as I hear Tazmily’s latest track! I yell at the top of my lungs: “Hey everyone! There’s a railway in our village! Did you hear me?! I said–”
Okay, maybe I’m approaching this latest post a bit too unabashedly. I’ve gotta reel this in! Come on, Shane! We’re talking about a video game, here! (Maybe Fassad’s lies are already working their way into my mind…).
All I’m trying to say is, in Chapters 1 through 3, sometimes our Tazmily Theme Song could be anything from the excellent “Mind of a Thief” to the dour “Sorrowful Tazmily,” so it’s nice to have a consistent, upbeat song to listen to while playing. Just like how it’s nice to have a consistent, upbeat song in the supermarket while you’re spending all of your hard-earned DP.
Dammit!! Fassad has turned the world into a Price Cutter!
Speaking of the power of music, you’ll also notice that two songs, while sounding similar, have changed up their instrumentation. “My Wonderful Room” and “Fun Shopping” are remixes of “In the Room” and “Fun Bazaar” respectively. These have been updated, as far as I can tell, to reflect the changing times, with “My Wonderful Room” leaning more heavily into a synth-based, sci-fi sound. Like I’ve said before, as much as I love the music of this game, I don’t always have the vocabulary to describe it, so I’m going to leave it at that for now. The updated “Fun Shopping,” of course, sounds more fitting for a supermarket than a trader’s bazaar, but it’s not so drastically different that I’m going to wipe the dust off my Marx & Engels Reader or anything.
There’s also the stand-out track of the day, “Hotel Yado,” which is as much a far-cry as “Homely Yado Inn” as any song could possibly be. Don’t get me wrong: I love “Hotel Yado.” It makes me feel like I’m staying in a swanky hotel, ritzy and fritzy, as concierges and customers hustle and bustle over the morning news. Hey, you there! Concierge! Bring me the morning paper and a back of Marlboros!
But do you remember how it used to be? Do you remember when this was the Homely Yado Inn? Listening to these songs back to back is jarring. I can still remember listening to the slow, sweet tunes of the Yado Inn’s track, as rain poured down outside and Lighter recovered from his wounds. I remember running in here one night as Duster and finding Bob slumped over a whiskey. I can still remember Isaac approaching Flint outside, asking if he’s seen Hinawa and the kids…
Okay, okay, okay, now back to the main event! You can tell I haven’t written these frog posts in a while–I can’t stay on track. I want to circle back around to about Hotel Yado, simply to point out a few things that literally made me laugh out loud. And to all of you Mother 3 haters who see EarthBound as the series’ peak in jokes and kooky dialogue, I direct you to the following interactions! Mother 3 has a sense of humor, too!
So the first thing in the hotel that I found to be charming as all hell was the quietly conducted meeting on the second floor. Basically, there is a conference room at the hotel that groups are welcome to use, but there’s a sign that asks any people in that room to please talk in whispered voices. When I saw this sign the first time, I thought it was just your typical quirky sign that one might find in a Mother game.
That is, until, I started visiting all of the rooms on the second floor. One of the doors is locked, but you’re able to listen from the outside, and what follows is, what I think to be, the funniest NPC dialogue I’ve encountered yet in the game.
I mean, no one tells any jokes. It’s not like an Alec pun fest, or an unfiltered Pigmask thought, or anything like that. It’s just so funny to me to imagine a bunch of people in this conference room whispering to each other, saying things like “exclamation point” when they mean to be yelling, and “new line” when they are trying to start a new sentence. It’s also paced in a humorous way, because, to trigger more dialogue, you have to keep going up to the door, and it feeds you just one line at a time. So one moment you’re reading that someone brought too many rice balls, then a few lines later someone chimes in and asks if they can take the extra rice balls home.
Okay I’m not saying this is groundbreaking comedy! But if you haven’t played around with this interaction in a while, then I highly recommend checking it out. I know that me explaining it in writing doesn’t do it justice, just as every joke dies as soon as someone has to explain it, but I just found this part of the game so charming and lighthearted and totally unexpected. I had no idea that there were quiet business meetings in Tazmily! I had no idea that people would actually follow the rule! It’s all just so sweet to me.
Also, again, compare this to the dialogue of the last three chapters. Has Tazmily lost some of its soul? Well, that remains to be seen, but at least this old sheep-smelling town has gained some fun dialogue.
What can I say? It makes me feel like I’m playing EarthBound.
And listen: like I said before, Mother 3 balances its plot exposition and funny dialogue pretty well. The punker out in the hallway will tell you that despite being in a luxury hotel, he’s not nervous. Maybe it’s because his pockets are lined with all the money he’s been making at the factory! On top of this, a Pigmask mentions that Fassad has turned Butch’s farm land into a training ground for the army, and a businessman says something about a guy in a band named Lucky. He’s a little bum-like, but he’s a good performer.
For me, all of these little tidbits do more for my immersion than someone saying “Giygas’s influence is strengthening!” Mother 3, despite working with a smaller world, makes it feel so much bigger. Would I have liked to see what a ten-year timeskip looked like in EarthBound 64? Sure, but I also appreciate what’s being done with this smaller scope and how a world is being built. Honestly, playing Frog by Frog is helping out Mother 3 quite a bit in Chapter 4 so far. There are so much lines of dialogue a player might just rush through on a typical play-through of the game, which, of course, I only point out because I was often a player who rushed through dialogue. In the past, I’d never noticed Mother 3’s careful, patient approach to setting the stage for what’s to come. To be honest, I often found myself leaving Lucas’s house and getting right to the action. I rarely took my time.
Anyway, back to the jokes!
The other interaction I wanted to point out involves the woman alone in her hotel room. I’ve always found it funny that Mother games allow the play to, somewhat, freely explore hotels. It’s not something you’d think would be seen as normal, but again, compare Mother to the RPGs of its time: was it really ever normal to freely roam every room of a castle in a Final Fantasy game? Was it ever normal to break all the pots in someone’s room in a Zelda game? No, it’s not proper to break into someone’s hotel room, nor is it something you should really try to do in real life, but in a video game, who cares! You’re just a kid barging into people’s hotel rooms! Why not? You could even consider a head canon where Lucas doesn’t really understand the concept of hotels, and so just walks into people’s rooms.
But like I said, there’s a lady alone in her hotel room, and if she doesn’t spit a line of dialogue that could have literally been lifted from EarthBound, then I’m a monkey’s peddler!
Upon seeing Lucas (and his dog) barge into her room, the woman wants to know Lucas’s reasoning. Like any normal person, she gives him four options: 1. Because she was enamoring; 2. So Lucas could flirt with her; 3. Because Lucas’s likes her; 4. Other. She ultimately decides that Lucas’s option is “Other,” and that he’s boring.
I think this whole interaction is pretty funny! Maybe I’m easy to please! Maybe humor is just hard to write about! I just think it’s so funny that she lays out three possible reasons for Lucas to be in her room, all of which have to do with him thinking she’s hot, then she adds the fourth option for Other! Is that funny to anyone else? Isn’t it even funnier that she decides Lucas would pick Other, deeming him boring? I don’t know–again, I feel like I’m killing the joke by explaining it, but I think this is hilarious.
I’m starting to feel like I would in the classroom, when I made a bad joke then had to explain it to all of my students. Writing about comedy is weird! So I’m going to stop there, I think…
Look, my reason for bringing all of this up is just to give Mother 3 a chance. Like I said way back in Frog Zero, EarthBound always gets to be the cool middle child: the funny one, the zany one, the bizarre one. Mother 3, then, always gets saddled with the emotion: heartbreaking, dark, mature. But one of my original motivations for this blog was to show people that Mother 3 can be funny, too! Mother 3 can be funny and balance a plot at the same time. Mother 3 can have a joke and a Pigmask in the same room!
Yes, when I walk the halls of the Hotel Yado, I do feel, at first, like I’ve walked into a segment of EarthBound, but maybe that’s just the music. Really, I should feel like I’ve walked into a segment of a Mother game. EarthBound isn’t the only game with jokes! And Mother 3 isn’t the only game with emotions. That’s all I’m trying to say, here. And honestly, 8-bit limitations aside, sometimes I think the story, or at least the lore/background, of the original Mother is some of the series’ saddest, most compelling material. Talk about a game that deserves a remake.
So I feel left in a somewhat tough spot, moving forward. Breaking down every dialogue interaction won’t be as easy anymore, nor would it be fun to read. We used to have a handful of NPCs, most of which said things relevant to something. Now we have a lot of people, all saying random things. The difficulty I’m having isn’t that I think my readers want me to mention every line of dialogue, but moreso that I enjoy all the lines of dialogue, and so feel compelled to break them down. But then again, breaking down all the dialogue in that way won’t make for good, easy, breezy reading. I mean, if it feels somewhat awkward for me to write about the jokes that I thought were funny, it probably won’t exactly read excellently either.
Well, I’m just going to follow my whims. If I decide to unhumoursly break down a joke, then I’m gonna do it! And if I feel like skipping over an interaction entirely, even if I liked it, I’ll at least try to represent it in the screenshots. I still want to celebrate Mother 3 as much as I can, but despite Tazmily getting a railway for the village, Mother 3 is finally starting to say goodbye to its train tracks. The world is opening up! We have more freedom than before! Or at least more time to screw around without someone telling us where to go. No one is saying boo when we veer, slightly, off the path!
Or at least not yet.
So, where does this leave us for the day? Well, before I could do much more exploration of Tazmily 2.0, a save frog in a red convertible intercepted me. He honked his little frog horn, asked me if I needed a lift anywhere, and said there’s nothing quite like getting out on the open road. I could see he was a worldly frog, someone more at home behind the steering wheel than on a lily pad. So I saved my game with him, and bid him farewell. I think he had places to be.
If I could add anything else before ending this post, it would be this: I really love walking around as Lucas and Boney. It feels so right to me. I always wished King could have been a bigger part of EarthBound’s story; I wanted a loyal dog at my side.
So, as Boney takes Lucas for this morning walk, everything feels okay in the world. I’m excited to play Mother 3 again, soon, to see where these paws will take me.