Frog 46: The End of the Party

(For those here for the juicy Flint rant, scroll down to the section titled “The Cat’s in the Cradle”)

Three years ago, there was a party in Osohe Castle. The wine flowed–from bottle to glass, from glass to lips, from lips to floor–and the music blared all night long: ragtime notes from a piano, and a hollow voice promising to never forget the mole on a lover’s inner thigh. In the kitchen, a dedicated chef slung out order after order of party favor plates, mumbling something under his breath about another’s dinner pie. A wallflower spoke up, a suit of armor cut a rug, and all the raucous souls of Osohe partied like it was their last night to live. Some say there was a thief, and others say there was an army, but the effects of both time and merlot have rendered memories of the night, admittedly, murky.

Because: was the party three years ago? Or was it last night? Or was it a month ago, and the next party is still to come? Maybe it’s even tomorrow.

Such is the reality of the afterlife. One’s memories become cloudy and stretched, like on the waking morning of a hangover. A party every day, a part that never ends, can become a punishment. Something a Greek god would endure, maybe. A hell.

Which is all just to say: I visited Osohe today. It was actually the last thing I did, but I’m performing a rare break of continuity because I was excited to see these goofy ghosts again. Ever since Lisa mentioned there was a ghost in Osohe who knew about Dolphin Ossicles, I’ve wanted to come poke around these grounds again as Lucas. I’ve personally never ventured up to Osohe during Chapter 4, preferring instead to return in Chapter 5 when there’s a nifty item to be found (hint: you need the Rope Snake to get to it, which we currently don’t have).

Anyway, long-time readers of the blog may remember that I’ve always had an affinity for the partying ghosts of Osohe. They are some of my favorite NPCs in the entire the game and they never cease to make me smile. I just love the concept: a bunch of ghosts posting up in an old castle and partying their asses off until the end of time. If I have some mobility in the afterlife, you’ll know where to look for me.

(Hint: the ever-growing wine stain in the corner of the room, below the Rembrandt painting, next to the Wall Staples. That’s me)

I have especially enjoyed the candid quality of the ghosts in conversation. Chalk it up to the afterlife freeing us of our inhibitions, or perhaps Itoi’s enjoyment of paranormal partiers, but something about the dialogue with the ghosts is always just a bit snappier. I love, too, how everyone is hyperaware of how long it’s been since they’ve had a visitor. The pianist admits to singing the same song for three years, the ghost by the Map Gift Box admits to saying the same line of dialogue this entire time, and another ghost even concedes, “Wow, I’m surprised you came here. This castle’s so boring now I could just die.”

Now that’s the ghost humor this game has been missing for the last chapter!

Although, my favorite interaction in this revisitation of Osohe involves a ghost who says that typically no one talks to folks like them. With no stand-out characteristics, no item to give out, and no special contribution to the plot, an NPC like this would be “lucky” to have been approached by the main character. “But I’m happy,” says the ghost. “You talked to me.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Why does the Frog Blog guy fall for this ethical appeal every single time it happens?” Or, in other words: why does it touch my heart so much when NPCs thank the player for talking to them? At the end of the day, it’s not like I’ve actually talked to a lonely person. I’ve just interacted with a line of dialogue that Itoi put into the game. Sure, maybe many players don’t travel up to Osohe to talk to these ghosts, especially considering there are no rewards to be found on this particular trip, but at the end of the day it’s still just a dialogue prompt. It’s nothing special.

But, to me, it is special. I just really really love that it’s here. On one level, I’ve always adored the Mother series’ mission to encourage players to talk, or at least to listen, to others. No, I’m not advocating that everyone reading this blog, or playing Mother 3, should make it their mission to talk to strangers at every given opportunity, but I do think it’s beautiful that Itoi is so committed to this idea: talking to the person you might have never talked to, and talking to people just because they’re there, not because they have something to “give” you. Like when the Pigmask in the Yado Hotel assures Lucas that he thinks it’s good that he (Lucas, the player) talks to as many people as possible, I’ve always felt like that’s Itoi saying, “Let’s all make the world feel less lonely.” In fact, if talking to this ghost resulted in Lucas earning an item, the whole thing would feel different. I think it’s important that Mother games let players have experiences that aren’t always met with literal reward. The reward is intrinsic!

In an interview with Akihiko Miura, a designer and developer for EarthBound 64, this exact sentiment is mentioned. The interviewer asks, “As a designer, what do you think of your game, Mother 3?” to which Miura responds, “I like games that communicate with people. Mother is a video game, but it also teaches you the importance of communicating with others. All the games from Mr. Itoi, general chief of the project, revolve around this concept.” While we’ve also seen Itoi say in the past that none of his games revolve arounds themes (though I still still suspect there was a meaning lost in translation, here) I do think he wears his heart on his sleeve when writing them, hoping to impart certain lessons on to players. I think he wants people to know what it feels like to approach a lonely person, for no other reason than to chat. I think he wants to people to know that we’re all we’ve got–we don’t have to be alone at the end of the day.

However, I like NPCs like this for another reason as well. See, gaming has become social than ever before, so the unhealthy stereotype of a lonely video game nerd isn’t as prevalent as it once was. That said, I still think it’s fair to say that video games, specifically long RPGs, are more likely to attract a person who might tend to be a little lonelier than your average social butterfly. In this regard, I think it’s kind of sweet that Mother 3 contains a lonely, outcast NPC, who no one ever really talks to. Again, yes, we’re just interacting with a line of dialogue that Itoi has written and placed here… but if we let our imaginations take over, we’re interacting with a lonely person, something not many lonely gamers may ever have many chances to do. We, the players, get to be the instigator, whereas we may not always get to be in real life. We get to cure someone else’s loneliness, even if that someone is a pixellated ghost who isn’t real. Hell, another ghost even says that without Lucas’s visit, today would have been another empty day, leading into an empty tomorrow.

Doesn’t it feel fun to counteract that?

Oh, I probably sound ridiculous. Arguing that one of Mother 3’s accomplishments is that we get to help fictional characters feel less lonely. But I just want to say, again, that even as someone who has some solid friendships, an amazing relationship, and a pretty average rate of social interactions (or at least, I assume), it still feels special to me to visit these ghosts and have them feel a little less alone. Sure, it takes a little bit of imagination to make it feel real, but I’ll always encourage players to say hello to these folks every now and again. Sometimes I think Itoi puts stuff like this in here so that people can see what it feels like to reach out and make somebody’s day.

Or make somebody’s afterlife, I mean.

All right all right, I’ll quit being so mushy. As I’ve said a hundred times, my goal with this blog isn’t to insist that every single thing in Mother 3 is some kind of excellent design decision by Itoi. I just often feel that as I get older, the message of Mother becomes all the more special. I don’t think I would’ve ever made this blog if the Mother series itself hadn’t so consistently encouraged me to put myself out there, to talk to that random person, to be candid and real about who I am. In a way, I want to live like a Mother NPC, in that I just want to say what’s on my mind and share a real part of myself with whoever interacts with me, no matter the circumstances. And I know it sounds silly, but the Mother series, specifically EarthBound, has literally encouraged me to be a kinder person on more than one occasion in life. I think it’s such a shame that Nintendo so consistently scratches its head about what to do with the Mother series when its just such a special, unique, and beautiful IP.

Just let it breathe! Let the players have it! Let the world have it! Make all three games pre-installed on every Nintendo console ever! Come on Reggie!!!

Okay, I can tell I’m losing some people now. Should we head back to Tazmily? Have I doted enough over these lonely ghosts? The last thing I’ll say about this section is that I got a kick out of how often ghosts brought up the three-year timeskip. The entire vibe up here is, “Whoa! We’ve been doing this for three years!!!” That cracks me up. That kills me, if you will.

Oh, and I never did find the ghost who knows about Dolphin Ossicles. It’s possible that I ran into the save frog before encountering them (and I did save at Osohe today, for the record), but if there actually is a Dolphin Ossicle ghost somewhere in here, then I was not able to find them. I’ll also add that I enjoy the Sisyphisean Struggle the Osohe Cook seems to be going through, in that all he wants to do is cook, but it also seems to deeply haunt him.

I feel bad that I took Lucas up to see a bunch of ghosts right after seeing his mother’s grave, which reminds me that we have some backtracking to do. So let’s say farewell to the ghosts for now.

Farewell, my floating friends! May your wine always flow from your mouth to the floor, and may your food pile up beneath you; may the Pigmasks bash but not break your door, and may the end of the party never seek you.


Makin’ My Way Downtown

When looking back on this gameplay session, at first I thought not much of interest happened outside my revisitation to Osohe. Then I realized I was neglecting to write about one of the more significant developments in Tazmily, which has been alluded to through both dialogue and music, but which I have not yet seen with my own eyes.

The Tazmily train, baby.

Though Tazmily has electricity and televisions and refrigerators and Happy Boxes, I’ve always seen the Tazmily train as the town’s most significant mark of technological progress. Maybe it’s because of the track “A Railway in Our Village!”, or maybe it’s because of what a train can symbolize: motion, movement, travel, progress–there is something about trains that will always feel more dramatic than planes and automobiles, in my opinion. A train is a set-piece, a symbol, a powerful thing. Later in the chapter, when Lucas and Boney navigate the railways, a tension hangs in the air: will the train come?

Of course, every train is accompanied by a train station, where you can find an ever-present attendant, as well as Bronson and Jackie discussing the possibility that a performer at Club Titiboo might be the missing Duster. Bronson and Jackie then greet Lucas kindly, which is nice to see, and depart for their homes where their Happy Boxes and “chow” await. Again, I’d like to point out that Bronson looks forward to “watching” his Happy Box, but it’s still not implied that the boxes contain any programming or channels.”I’m beginning to think that most Tazmilians watch their Happy Boxes just to soak up the alleged benefits. “If I stare into this thing long enough, I’ll become happy.” I mean, look, with the right marketing, someone could probably convince me to buy a, like, Wellness Stone or something, where maybe for every second I hold it, I gain a second of inner peace.

Okay wait. I’m not getting into Happy Boxes again. Back to the plot!

So Bronson and Jackie think a performer, a bass player, at Club Titiboo might be the missing Duster, who has been gone for three years, but they’re hesitant to tell Wess because they don’t want to give the old man false hope. There are a couple things I really like about this scene. Firstly, as I noted above with how the men treat Lucas, it’s nice to talk to two Tazmilians actually discussing something interesting. I mean, sure, it’s just some gossip at the end of the day, but Bronson and Jackie seem excited about the possibility that this could be Duster, and I haven’t really seen a Tazmilian excited about anything other than a Happy Box for a long time.

Next, I enjoyed how Jackie is the one who wants to tell Wess. So far in the story, we’ve seen Jackie as a guy who is generally reluctant to involve himself in things, especially when they involve effort or commitment. Jackie has always seemed most comfortable when seated behind the Yado Inn’s bar; on the other hand, Bronson was typically the more active Tazmilian, breaking the bad news to Flint that night three years ago and even fashioning the cowboy a weapon from the Drago’s fang. Anyway, all I’m saying is that, if you were to have me guess what type of guy Jackie would have become after working in the factory, I wouldn’t have guessed he had something like this in him. I would have assumed that Jackie just wanted to forget the whole thing.

The other detail that sticks out to me is how Bronson anticipates Wess’s reaction and ultimately thinks they shouldn’t tell him, as it will only disappoint the old man. Now, on one hand, this could be the typical Tazmilian ageism we’ve seen since Chapter 1; don’t forget that while the player has seen Wess do some pretty incredible things, the villagers, by and large, have not. Everyone from Bateau to Jonel has always seen Wess as a little too old to actually have a hand in the goingson of the town.

On the other hand, however, I’ve always wondered if this line was meant to further characterize Wess in this time-skip. Maybe Wess’s emotions really have started to take a toll on him. Maybe any hope, especially a false hope, would be too damaging for the master thief to consider. We already know that Wess began to miss Duster when he was gone, but it was too little too late. Maybe Wess has come to regret how he used to treat his son, and filling his head with the possibility of seeing his son again would be too emotionally taxing.

Or maybe Bronson really just doesn’t want to disappoint Wess. Plus, if my memory is correct, I’m pretty sure Wess’s dialogue changes after this scene, and he tells Lucas that he can’t leave the nursing home due to strict surveillance from Fassad, or something, so I’m not trying to force an emotional reading onto Wess’s character. It’s just an interpretation of this scene and the characters that has always interested me.

Now, as I’ve said before, I’m not trying to review Mother 3, but I do think I would personally enjoy scenes like this more if the game had taken it’s time just a bit in Chapter 4. Again, it feels odd to me that three years have gone by, but the story is in such a rush to get back on the rails that I barely have time to let the reality of the situation soak in. Sure, for me, someone playing Frog by Frog, Duster has been absent from the plot for the entire year of 2021, but, for many players, I’m sure Chapters 2 and 3 are completed somewhat quickly and then Chapter 4 is started. All I’m getting at here is that even I, who haven’t seen hide nor hair of Duster in about 7 months, don’t feel like the plot has let it truly sink in that he has even gone missing. Perhaps a better way to organize Chapter 4 would have been for Lucas and Boney to do some smaller “quests” around the town, allowing the player to see New Tazmily function for a few days. Then, once we have become acquainted with the gossiping factory workers, we could learn about Duster’s alleged whereabouts.

Or maybe this idea is dumb. Maybe some players think this scene is about Duster’s whereabouts is perfectly paced, I just feel that, for my tastes, I’ve barely had a chance to experience all of these changes in the town when THE PLOT wants me to get going again.

Anyway, then Bronson and Jackie concur that a hot dinner and some Happy Box watching are in order, so they depart from the train station, leaving Lucas alone. It was good seeing these two again. Bronson was one of my favorite minor characters in Chapter 1, and Jackie always interested n=me in that he had apparent flaws from pretty early on in the game. Even when thinking about Bronson’s hamfisted delivery of good news and bad news, I remember that none of the Tazmilians was ever perfect, but they were good. Or at least they tried to be.

In my actual playthrough, I decided to head to Osohe Castle after this, so not much more actually happened (outside of a visit to Hinawa’s grave, which we’ll get to). That said, there were a few NPCs around the train station who said some interesting stuff.

Firstly, there was a Man in a suit talking about Leder. Most players will probably notice that the train station takes up most of the northern field that used to be mostly empty. The main attraction to this area, in fact, used to be Leder and his bell tower. Nowadays, however, Leder is nowhere to be found.

I’ve always felt like this interaction with the man is a bit strange, but maybe it has something to do with how the line was translated or originally written. For one, we have, again, a random NPC who seems to know things about Tazmilian history. Something tells me that the Pigmask Army briefed these people on random Tazmily facts just so they could blend in more easily, but I actually don’t remember if the story addresses this or not. Next, I’ve never known what this NPC means by, “Anyway, he was actually so tall that he didn’t stand out or seem out of place at all.”

I’ve never understood if this is sarcasm? Or if the man is acknowledging that Leder was an integral part of Tazmily? This all does beg the question, though: where the hell is Leder?

There is also a woman who tells Lucas that magic butterflies can be found along the railroad tracks, as well as someone who tells Lucas that he heard Lucas is a crybaby… only for him to disagree and tell Lucas that he appears to be a perfectly brave boy. I really like the design of the magic butterfly NPC–she just doesn’t seem like an NPC design that I’ve seen as much in Mother games, and I also like that someone is nice to Lucas for once! And it’s not even a real Tazmilian. Surprise, surprise.

But now, here’s where I’m gonna get a little kooky. See, I remembered these NPCs. I remembered that this had happened. When I sat down to write this frog, I knew I wanted to open with Osohe, then backtrack to cover the conversation with Bronson and Jackie. I figured I’d wrap up the frog after that, and it would be a pretty short post.

But aren’t I forgetting something? Can anyone think of it?

It’s Flint! Flint! I forgot that I had an entire interaction, an entire scene, with Flint during this session of gameplay. And why would I have forgotten such a thing? Is it maybe because, right now in Mother 3, I am Lucas? Perhaps Mother 3 is focalizing my experience through Lucas more accurately, more intimately, than I thought, to the point where I’m now blocking out my memories of my absent father?

Sure, maybe I just forgot, but maybe I didn’t. Maybe I’m now seeing thing as Lucas, hearing things as Lucas, and truly living as Lucas. Maybe it’s too painful to watch Flint take off over and over into the wilderness, looking for a boy who will never be found, when there is a boy at home who needs a father. Maybe I’ve been to quick to judge these Happy Box Homes and their checked out, dead-to-the-world residents, when it is in fact Lucas’s home, my home, that has estrangement issues. Maybe Abbot and Abbey actually chat, actually talk, while staring into their Happy Boxes. Maybe the other families in town gather around the glowing, warbling things and still spend time together at the end of the day. Maybe they wake up and eat breakfast. Maybe they don’t let anyone wake up to an empty house.

That would be more than Lucas and his father do, it seems.

The Cat’s in the Cradle (Or: The Death of Flint)

Oh, boy. I’m in a predicament.

See, Flint has always been one of my favorite characters to write about in Mother 3. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but I think some of the thematic accomplishments of Chapter 1, with Flint as our main protagonist, are truly astounding and stand as some of Itoi’s best work as a writer. It makes sense when you look at Mother 3’s history. Flint seems to be one of the earliest characters conceived for Mother 3, and he is certainly the character from EarthBound 64 of whom the most images exist. As such, Chapter 1 of both Mother 3 and EarthBound 64 features Flint as the main character. It would follow, then, that the writing about him, and the writing for that early chapter, would feel so refined and polished–Itoi has likely revised it many times. In fact, Itoi himself said in an interview about EarthBound 64 that Chapters 1 and 2 “flow so well” for this very reason.

I can revisit Flint’s initial arc–from the Night of the Funeral to the showdown with the Drago–again and again and get something new out of it every time. I think Itoi says beautiful, tragic, realistic things about fatherhood, masculinity, strength, failure, and love, all in Chapter 1. I’ll always see Chapter 1 as one of Mother 3’s highlights and greatest successes. Even as I believe Mother 3 explores more interesting scenarios, characters, and settings as the game progresses, few of them, for me, get my blood pumping quite like Chapter 1’s rollercoaster ride. Similarly, while I love what can be inferred about the character arcs of our main protagonists–Lucas, Duster, and Kumatora–I still feel that Flint’s early arc is some of the most emotionally resonant and potent content in the entire game. We see Flint rise, fall, rise, and fall again, all in the span of about a day and a half.

So why, then, am I dreading writing about Flint today? Shoudn’t I be happy to see this character again? Shouldn’t I be interested to see where the plot takes him?

Well, that’s the unfortunate thing. The plot doesn’t really do much with Flint from this point onward–not until the end of the game, at least. It’s no secret to many Mother 3 fans that Flint was originally intended to have a much larger role in both EarthBound 64 and earlier versions of Mother 3. In EathBound 64’s trailer, we see Flint in a cutscene that, in Mother 3, features Kumatora in his place. However, Flint was not just planned to appear in this scene in the Nintendo 64 version, but in the GBA version as well, as fans have found unused sprites of Flint suggesting his involvement in both this scene and others.

In short, it seems that Flint’s role degraded over time, from potential party member in Chapters 4 and 5, to intermittent supporting character throughout the game, to the small role we see him inhabit in the final version. Itoi mentions that someone working on the GBA Mother 3 suggested that, as a parent, Flint would realistically never stop looking for his lost child, so, at least at some point in development, Itoi decided for that to be Flint’s tragic storyline. Relegated from the main plot and into an unseen side story, where he hunts for Claus endlessly and bears his trauma on his own. The last thing I’ll mention here is that Flint nearly had a more recurring, cameo-esque role in Mother 3, appearing from time to time (likely while following Claus’s trail) and offering unique lines of dialogue. Personally, I’m sad this was cut as well, seeing as the closest thing we get to this is Flint’s appearance in Chapter 8, literally at the game’s final moments. I also feel that, in the link I’ve provided, Flint’s dialogue provides some decent, subtle characterization. He seems tired, slow, and worn down, but also hopeful, kind, and attentive to his son. This Flint makes more sense to me, but analyzing Flint too much is a dangerous game, which I’ll get into more in a moment.

So, what does this mean for Flint? Before I get critical of how he was “written out” of the story, I’ll point out some of the things I like about it. Thus far in Chapter 4, we haven’t seen Flint, but we’ve definitely heard mention of him. While the comments have ranged from kind to critical, Flint is still on many Tazmilians’ minds, as they either ask Lucas where Flint is, or tell Lucas to tell his father that it’s time to hang up his spurs and quit searching. I like how Flint’s form of resistance is not giving up. The divide between Flint and the villagers didn’t begin when Fassad came to town; for Flint, nothing has been the same since Hinawa died. Since then, everyone in Tazmily has had opinions on how Flint should act and how Fint should feel, but few people, other than Lighter, Duster, Wess, and Alec, have truly reached out to Flint and tried to help him. While I might not like how Flint’s character is written, I still think it has a lot of merit in the story. It’s a way for Flint to keep going, to not give up, to not lose himself in Tazmily’s changes.

Image credit goes to FALCON, from the EarthBound 64 Discord Server

In that regard, I like Flint’s endless search for Claus. It’s a personal goal, an act of resistance, something that he will never stop doing on account of his undying love for his lost son and his commitment to do what he believes is right. I get it. I’m there. I’m here for you, Flint. When we consider how emotional Flint can be, how deeply he can feel things, it also makes sense that the weight in Flint’s heart is probably unbearable. Don’t forget that Claus took Flint’s knife into the mountains. Don’t forget that, had Flint not been locked up in jail, he might’ve had time to stop Claus. Don’t forget, also, that Flint and Alec were just barely too late, and had even recovered Claus’s shoe. Imagine being a parent and having to live with all of these maybes, these almosts, these things that could have meant the survival of your son. Your life would become a living hell. And as the adults of Tazmily–Flint’s friends and cohorts–dropped off one at a time to Fassad’s empty promises, I’m sure that only solidified Flint’s goals even more resolutely in his mind: if the town is going to shit, then there’s only one thing he can control, and that’s the dedication of possibly finding his son. A search that, in many ways, is likely a hunt for closure above everything else.

I just wish the game itself handled this plot point better, because much of what I’ve just written, while not full on head canon, isn’t exactly meaningfully explored in Mother 3. Even in the scene I’m about to discuss, Flint’s rapport with Lucas is so oddly aloof, so oddly casual, that it comes off as a throwaway scene. And while I don’t doubt that Flint and Lucas would have communication issues given what happened to their family, again, that is a lovely idea to explore as a head canon and even a reasonable assumption given some of the game’s later lines and situations (Chapter 8, and Tanetane Island), but I wish there was more of it in the game’s actual text. As it stands, Flint’s amazing characterization in Chapter 1 is mostly abandoned in the post-timeskip world. He’s a shell of his former self, both textually and metatextually. He contributes almost nothing from this point forward.

And look, before you say anything, I’m not asking for, like, scenes of Flint lying around in a depressive state. I’m not asking for more overt dialogue where Flint and Lucas talk directly and specifically about what happened to their family. I’m not saying Flint’s character is mishandled because we don’t see him in some justifiably dark place. We could go back and forth on how Flint is mishandled in the post-timeskip world, and we could find justifications in the plot if we wanted to. Why should Flint act “normally,” why should Flint act as I expect him to, when he has been through so much?

Well, to me, it goes back to the issues I have with Wess, post-timeskip. It comes back to an issue of set-ups and payoffs, of who we were told a character was in Chapters 1 through 3, versus who a character becomes after a timeskip in Chapters 4 through 8. As it stands, I just wish that Flint’s minimization in the plot had a better justification, or exploration, in the writing itself. Because to me, it doesn’t seem like Flint would look for Claus for three years straight in the same forests around Tazmily without changing his plan. And I’m not saying that’s what I want–I’m trying to make an informed guess based on what we know about the character. And look, I understand the forest and surrounding land is bigger than what we get to explore, but if we propose that Flint has searched every single day, or even if he took weekends off, you’d think at a certain point he would start to broaden the horizons of his search. This is why I think it’s too bad that the whole intermittent cameo idea for Flint didn’t make it into the final game. It would make sense that as Lucas and the gang hunted down needles, so, too, would Flint hunt for Claus, with both parties following similar trails to reach a similar, shocking conclusion…

Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m starting to hear the sound of redundancy. I told you it would be hard for me to talk about Flint! To me, Flint’s fate is one of Mother 3’s greatest rabbit holes, whereby looking at the plans and the scrapped ideas, you can speculate in a number of ways how the game might have manifested and explored this excellent character. Unfortunately, when it comes down to it, Flint is both rejected complexity because of the plot’s abandonment of him, and compartmentalized as complex, seeing as his unexplored trauma from Chapter 1 allows for a wide array of interpretations of his character. By this I mean, sure, I can hem and haw about Itoi’s mishandling of Flint all day long, but someone could just as easily say, “What if Flint was never thinking straight after Chapter 1? What if those events permanently broke him? What if he looked for Claus for three years straight not because it was the most sane idea, but because it was all that he could comprehend? What if Flint, simply, had nothing left to give?” And I can’t really argue with that. If that is to be Flint’s fate, then so it goes. And to be fair to Itoi, I don’t think that’s a bad ending to the character. As I’ll say for the last time, now, I just wish there was more.

Flint’s characterization post timeskip.

Well, I’m sure I’ll talk about Flint again at some point (or maybe I won’t, considering he barely shows up!), but if you’d like a more balanced take on Flint’s fate aside from my rambling, check out the responses to this Twitter thread where some Mother fans interpret and expand upon Flint’s absence. One of my favorite interpretations comes from @MentalOtaku, who points out that the flowers at Hinawa’s grave are always different, showing that Flint is always closer than we think, perpetually leaving flowers, searching for Claus, leaving flowers, searching for Claus… over and over, portraying the tragedy of his situation. @Watchman_5 notes that maybe Flint is meant to be this way–the cool, calm, courageous character who players are first acquainted with completely shuts down, leading him to handle the situation in the only way he can understand. And lastly, @caorsi expands on this idea, writing that “It’s sad to see such a man go through so much and yet becomes a shell of his former self. It’s heartbreaking cause when we do play as him he is the normal strong silent type. Inside he’s just a simple farmer who loved his wife and kids.”

As shown here, Flint’s characterization works for many players and still impacts them emotionally, so, in this regard, I’m happy. I’m happy that I made that tweet, and I’m happy to have received some different perspectives on Flint’s characterization and what is accomplished through it. And again, I can see what the final game is going for, the effect it has; throughout all Mother games, Itoi consistently favors leaving many details about characters ambiguous so that the player can fill in the blanks and form a more personal connection with the story. That said, Mother 3 is not the same as its predecessors, neither in the type of story it tells, nor in the presentation and depth of that story. So for me, it’s still tough to let go of Flint, to leave his characterization as just the tip of the iceberg, or as up to my imagination. I became invested in him after Chapter 1, and, because the Mother series is so good at putting the player into a character’s shoes, I also feel like I shared an experience with Flint. Mother 3 doesn’t exactly set itself up as a game where important details are going to be left ambiguous, at least not after its narrative-heavy opening chapter. But does it ultimately make for better storytelling to leave things unsaid, to leave the stones unturned? Maybe, maybe not.

Anyway, one thing is for certain: had Flint remained a main party member, Mother 3’s story would have more easily revolved around just one family, but as it stands, Mother 3 is able to explore found family, through the societal rejects of Lucas, Boney, Kumatora, and Duster. I still love this, and I’m excited to write about it, but I’ll never stop wishing for what could have been. The occasional Flint cameo idea just feels so perfect to me–it feels too good, too right, too fitting for the character, for it to have been cut from the game so needlessly. However, as EarthBound 64 historian Echoes points out in that same Twitter thread, both Itoi and his team cut content from Mother 3 seemingly on a whim–so much so, and so often, that Itoi appears to have forgotten the team cut Wess as a party member late in development.

Looking at things this way, it seems Flint’s minimization in the plot may have just been decided on because. When a Gameboy Advance game is in development for three years, and when that three years exists under the umbrella of the development hell that EarthBound 64 went through… Well, as Echoes points out, a development cycle like this can muddle the creative process. Itoi is notoriously hardworking and creative, just as much as he is notorious for changing his mind and wanting to rework things as soon as new inspiration strikes. As it stands, he most likely just changed his plans for Flint after talking things over with his development team. When reading this interview, it would appear that Itoi was specifically worried about Flint’s search for Claus feeling too drawn out, but a member of his staff assured him that a parent would search for a lost child every single day. Here’s the answer in full, which Itoi provided after being asked about debates surrounding the game’s scenario work:

SI: When we speak about Mother 3, it’s about the main character’s father Flint who was always searching for his only child who had gone missing, but I was a bit worried that ‘wouldn’t this keep dragging on forever?’. So, when I talked with a staff member, he also just had a child at that time, and he said ‘If he were a father, I think normally he would search for them every day’. So then I thought to myself again ‘so that’s the correct thing for a human. I’m just a game creator after all’ (laughs). Flint became a father who continued searching for his child all time.

However, this still wouldn’t answer why the Flint cameos were cut. It seems that Itoi was a bit worried about what to do with Flint and whether or not it was realistic for him to be searching for Claus for the entire game. Yet, seeing that these worries were assuaged, why would he (or the team) cut the content that depicts Flint searching for Claus incrementally throughout the story? Why warm up to the searching, only to cut the scenes and dialogue where Flint’s doing the searching? Doesn’t this seem odd?

Okay okay okay! I’m so sorry! This is why you absoutely cannot get me started on Flint. I can’t help myself!

Back to the plot!

Lucas heads north to the Sunset Cemetary, where it turns out that Nippolyte has been a resistor of the Happy Box craze as well. Just like at Lucas’s house, Nippolyte’s shack has an onlooker, who remarks on how many times lightning has struck this exact spot. I think it’s kind of hilarious that, for these Tazmilian NPCS, the lightning strikes are just, like, a funny thing to observe. To them, everything is like a TV show.

It’s also good to see Nippolyte again. As far as NPC designs go, he’s one of my favorites in the game. We don’t have as much of an emotional connection with him or anything, but when you play Frog by Frog, sometimes you forget how little you actually see some characters. I haven’t seen Nippolyte in months! I’m always happy to run into this connoisseur of shovels.

Lucas and Boney then walk up the hill that leads to Hinawa’s grave, where they see Flint offering flowers to his beloved wife. So much has happened on this little hill. It was only three years ago that poor little Lucas, fighitng back tears, revealed that Claus ran off into the mountains. It was only three years ago that Bateau wondered what sunflowers symbolized.

Even though Flint’s role in the story is unfortunately diminished from this point forward, running into him up here is still an impactful moment for me. How many times have I read the dialogue option “Flint is always offering flowers” when checking up on Hinawa’s grave? I think that is one of my favorite details about this cowboy. He’s not necessarily a loose cannon, capable of lashing out at any time. He’s not just a tough guy who says very little and carries a big stick. I think Flint feels deeply, and that’s why, though I don’t love the decision from a narrative perspective, he becomes so irreparably broken after the events of Chapter 1. Here we have a simple sheep farmer, who was waiting for his wife and kids to come home. Here we have a good man who lost everything.

Except he didn’t lose quite everything. His surviving son and loyal dog are right in front of him, after all, and, to be honest, I’m not sure how to parse the conversation surrounding Lucas and Flint’s relationship. The unused cameo dialogue from Chapter 4 implies a more active Flint, a father who asks where Lucas is going and offers his support. Another unused sprite of Flint dodging a train suggests that Flint may have accompanied the player in Chapter 4, though we don’t get any suggestion of that here here. In this scene, Flint suggests Lucas talks to his mother, which triggers a flashback of Hinawa, the boys, and Boney playing in the yard. When Lucas returns to his present mind at the conclusion of the flashback, Flint is gone.

Man, even after all this time, and after all these years, Mother 3 can still hit me with emotions. I went through a time where I thought much of Mother 3 was overblown: Hinawa’s death, Claus’s fate, the destruction of the family. Sometimes I asked myself, “Was this too easy? Does Mother 3 just go out of its way to be sentimental for sentimentality’s sake?” I had gotten so tired of the endless articles, clamoring for Mother 3 to be released in the states, describing the game as a horrendously dark affair that will break all players’ hearts. It had gotten to the point where I’d hear Smash players talking about Lucas and how he comes from such a “depressing” game. I started to wonder about Mother 3’s emotional center, and it just pandered to our emotions by (pardon my directness) shoving a dead mother in our face every couple hours of gameplay.

But when I watch little scenes like this, it’s the details that sell it for me. I love how the scene opens with just Hinawa and Boney; I love how Boney happily barks and interacts with the boys when they walk into frame; I love seeing the boys kneel down to their beloved pup, ready to play with him; I love Hinawa, soaking everything up and laughing the day away. Nowadays, I’ve become to appreciate not just the emotion in Mother 3, but the characterization. You can tell that these characters have lived in Itoi’s mind for a long time. You can tell that for him, and for us, they can become real. Moments like this remind me that the emotional parts of Mother 3 are built upon a strong foundation of seen and unseen backstory. Moments like this remind that the emotional parts of Mother 3 truly are not just pandering, seeing as how dark the game can become. If anything, moments like this are life rafts. Breaths of fresh air. Reminders that, for a while there, I had taken Mother 3’s emotional center for granted.

This scene is a simple image of happiness and innocence, but as the story of Mother 3 goes farther and farther from these memories, they have all that much stronger of an impact. When I first played Mother 3, I was around the age that Lucas is in Chapter 4, though probably a couple years older. Because of this, and because of why I liked RPGs back then, I often put myself in Lucas’s shoes–I inserted myself as the main character. Though as I get older, I try to pay attention to all the small ways Lucas is characterized, and his memories always leave me feeling so bad for him. The world around him looks more and more different every day, and all he has to hold on to are these fleeting memories of his mother and his brother, which, realistically, are probably becoming foggier each day. Lucas was a little boy back then. Childhood memories fade. In fact, an unspoken divide between Lucas and Flint is probably Flint’s stronger memories. It’s only natural that Lucas, as he gets older, is going to remember less and less about when he was such a little boy. But for Flint, he’ll likely never forget all the little moments he spent with his sons, with his wife.

But let’s get back to the present.

Now, I don’t need everything spelled out for me in stories. I really don’t. I know my ranting and raving about Flint’s emotional state might make it sound like I want to know every little thing, but at the end of the day, I’m okay doing guess work when it comes to a plot. I love formulating and finding theories.

That said, I think the reason I don’t love the handling of Lucas and Flint’s relationship isn’t because we don’t receive enough information about their dynamic, but because we don’t really receive any information about their dynamic. Mother fans on Twitter would tell you that Flint is being a bad and aloof father, and that he’s neglecting Lucas. Personally, I kind of like this interpretation, in the sense that Lucas and Claus were twins, so maybe even looking at Lucas is incredibly difficult for Flint. Maybe since losing Claus and Hinawa, Flint has truly been totally and utterfly lost, a shell of his former self, to the point where he can’t even be a father to his surviving son. There is a line of dialogue in Chapter 8 that implies Lucas may have grown bitter toward his father.

Or maybe not! Maybe Lucas and Flint have a great relationship. Maybe they have gotten through their grief together. Maybe Lucas, Flint, and Boney have been the best family unit they can manage to be (I doubt it, but maybe). Now, I’m sure if we asked Itoi, he would tell us that these details were ultimatey left out because he wanted it to all be in the imagination of the player, and I get that, I just don’t think it works as well in a story like Mother 3. In EarthBound, I’m okay with the main cast lacking some characterization because the world is so alive. In Mother 3, I feel a little lost when suddenly I’m shut out from the emotions of a major character. For better or for worse, I feel like Flint and Lucas’s relationship is lacking in payoff for what was a great setup. A family is broken; a twin disappears; how does a family function after that? We don’t really get a clear answer. You’d think that Flint and Lucas’s relationship would at least factor in to the plot majorly at one point, but it never really does. They become separate characters on separate missions, but, as it goes, maybe that’s the point.

And look: I’m not asking for a lot here. I’m asking for a line or two. I’m asking for a cutscene of Lucas and Flint tendng sheep together. I’m asking for an NPC saying something like, “You and your dad don’t even talk anymore, do you? Maybe a Happy Box would help!” I’m asking for anything here, and I feel like there’s just so little to grab on to. Dammit! I should have listened to Jonathon, a member of the Earthound 64 discord. He warned me how futile it is to speculate about Flint’s character, post timeskip. Everything just gets too tangled up.

Though perhaps all the information we need is already here. Lucas and Boney are the only surviving family members from that fateful night–The Night of the Funeral. Maybe Claus, Hinawa, and Flint died three years ago. Flint now lives as a ghost, retracing the same steps over and over, looking for a little boy he knows, or doesn’t know, he’ll never find. We can’t forget that Chapter 4 opens with such a powerful image: Lucas waking up alone, in an absolutely empty house.

So that’s the interpretation I’m going with. I don’t love Mother 3’s handling of Flint’s character, but I can appreciate how the game tells these significant parts of its story nonverbally. Lucas and Boney are the only “surviving” members of the family after that night. That’s why Flint did not remain a party member in this version of Mother 3. In a way, he was killed off. He lost everything. He died inside.

And on that note, I guess it’s fitting that we end the day with an Osohe frog. Tazmily may be hustling and bustling, but for Lucas and Boney, it’s nothing more than a ghost town.

A father.

(“Do you need something?” asks the Frog.

And Lucas sits, and thinks, and realizes he needs so much.)

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