Frog #47: No Tazmily For Old Men (II)

Well, I have an apology to make.

In my previous post, and a few posts ago, I lamented the state of Wess’s characterization. I went on and on about how, after the time-skip, Wess’s disposition didn’t make sense. He barely has a rapport with Lucas; he has resigned himself to the old folks’ home; and he seemingly doesn’t care, or doesn’t remember, the alliance he forged with his fellow Tazmilian rebels three years ago. In short, Wess becomes a shell of his former self off screen, which felt, to me, like the player had been cheated out of witnessing some key character development.

I’d like to retract some of what I said about Wess, though not all. And before I get into it, I want to point out not necessarily a shortcoming of playing Mother 3 frog by frog, but a quirk: my sense of time is augmented.

Let me explain.

When I play Mother 3 frog by frog, my experience with the game’s story becomes elongated in a way. Seconds becomes minutes, and minutes become hours, ad infinitum until months become years, etc., etc., you get the point. Basically, I play Mother 3 for at most once a week, sometimes only once every two weeks, and, if a post is really taking me a long time, sometimes only once a month. While I enjoy playing the game this way for many reasons, it’s easy to forget how affected my experience with the material actually is. For me, twenty minutes of gameplay can be the product of nearly two months of playing. You can see how this would change my perspective on the story and pacing.

Now, when I saw Wess after the time-skip, a few factors were in play. I had recently taken a break from writing about, and playing, Mother 3, but the ending of Chapter 3, and the stakes it involved, were still fresh in my mind. I had spent so much time thinking about the scenarios and characters of the final pre-timeskip chapter; I had built up expectations in my head of how Chapter 4 was going to carry the torch. In short, I went into Chapter 4 with… odd expectations. On one hand, I felt like I was greeting an old friend when I began playing Mother 3 again; it had been so long that I was simply happy to be in Tazmily. On the other hand, I felt like I was meeting an old friend whom I had had been anticipating for quite some time. I had questions. I needed answers. I wanted clarity.

I also, for better or for worse, had caught a full-on EarthBound 64 bug, making me incessantly compare Mother 3 to its could-have-been original version. As I heard tales of a ten-year skip, an ever-evolving town with real character development, and an even larger cast of playable characters, I began looking at Mother 3 for what it was not, instead of what it was. And while I still find EarthBound 64 to be fascinating, and while I still find Mother 3 to be unfortunately lacking some things I find compelling about its original conception, I think my fascination with the Nintendo 64 iteration made me impatient when looking at Mother 3’s presentation of its fourth chapter. I wanted a lot of answers, and I wanted them quick. I wanted to know, for example, what Wess’s larger role might have been, seeing as he was cut as a playable character seemingly late in Mother 3’s GBA development cycle.

For this reason, I was disappointed with my initial meeting with Wess. I didn’t understand why he would act why he did, and I felt that the story had already completely written him out without a fair warning. Wess, despite fan reaction about him seeming to have soured, is a character I’ve found to be interesting because of how flawed he is. There is no question in mind that, in many ways, he is indeed a curmudgeony asshole that deserves a certain amount of comeuppance, but I think that’s what makes his moments of humanity all the more interesting. As I’ve written before, Wess may not be a good man, but he often acts on behalf of Tazmily’s wellbeing.

Admittedly, though, I had completely forgotten about a scene that occurs relatively early in Chapter 4. For a player playing Mother 3 at a normal pace, this scene would likely be encountered anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes into playing Chapter 4, if not even more quickly if a player does not exactly stop to smell the Tazmily gerberas. This is exactly why I wanted to apologize for writing off Wess’s characterization so quickly. Many players and readers might have thought, “Can he not wait, like, five more minutes? Wess is just about to be featured in a cutscene.” But, from my perspective, I was about five frogs into Chapter 4, which equals about two months of play-time. In short, I was growing impatient and forgetting the narrow view that playing in this way affords me.

But so then: here we are. After leaving Osohe Castle and heading south back toward town, a cutscene triggers as soon as Lucas enters town square. In this scene, Wess confronts Fassad, calling him out in public for his bullshit, and pleading that he leaves this simple town and takes his schemes with him. Wess, though he can’t prove it, insists that the lightning strikes must be artificial, and that he knows that somehow Fassad and his cronies are behind them. Fassad fires back with some jokes about Wess’s veins popping, his balding scalp, and his general old man-ness, before two Pigmasks approach from behind and capture Wess in a comically large net. Wess receives little to no sympathy from onlookers.

Now, I still have some gripes with this scene and with Wess’s reaction afterward, but for now let’s look at it for what it is. I actually found this scene to be pretty sad. Lucas just recently met up with Flint, who has either abandoned or never even participated in the rebellion efforts, and now the poor kid sees his only other ally in town being both publicly humiliated and stifled. To argue against myself from my last few posts, where I’ve said that I wished we had more evidence of our Tazmilian friends and their efforts against Fassad, I think this scene does a great job of showing how futile resistance can be when an entire town, and its culture, is already against you. None of the women watching this occur do anything to stand up for Wess. After Wess has been captured, Fassad pulls Lucas aside and threatens him. Wess, with seemingly no other options, tries to confront Fassad where, in theory, he might be most vulnerable: in public. However, Fassad’s grip on the town, and his militaristic influence, squashes Wess’s attempt in an instant.

Basically, it’s all hopeless.

Honestly, when looking at this scene, I realize that it was my expectations that were out of proportion. See, the end of Chapter 3 makes you feel like there’s hope, but when you look at the circumstances, our heroes’ victory was mostly a symbolic one. Look at this way: sure, Lucas comes in at the last second and saves the day with the Dragos, but the Pigmasks really only lost one tank that day. And that one tank was destroyed by Kumatora, Salsa, and Wess expending literally all of their resources. I don’t think it’s any surprise that Kumatora is the player’s main offensive output for that battle, but, unless you’ve somehow stocked up on Magic Gelatins, it’s very likely that Kumatora will end that fight with little to no PSI left to use. The group could not have fought and won against another tank without Lucas’s intervention, and even with Lucas’s intervention, there’s still an entire army out there.

Basically, Mother 3‘s transition from Chapter 3 to Chapter 4 tells the player that this ain’t no fairytale. Did you forget, asks Itoi, that the game opened with Hinawa’s death? Did you forget, asks Mother 3, that Claus has still not been found? Yeah, sure, maybe I would have liked some extra scenes or some extra lines of dialogue to make the time-skip a bit more valuable for the actual telling of the story, but I can’t deny that Mother 3 certainly lays the foundation of making Lucas’s circumstances feel hopeless. This scene with Wess, in a way, is pathetic. Is this what all of the plans of our main characters led to? An old man in town square, being laughed at and carried away in a net? What were you thinking? asks Itoi. Did you really think three people and a monkey could overthrow an army?

Through this scene, Mother 3 makes me feel just as naive as the Tazmilians. I end up saying to myself, “Oh yeah, what did I expect? This isn’t EarthBound where four children save the world. This is Mother 3, where no matter how strong the PSI technique a child wields, they can still fall to tragedy. They can still die.” Even this scene’s comical punctuation of Wess being captured in a net fit for a Looney Tune is undercut with Fassad’s threats to Lucas near the end. It appears that, as the screen encloses to black except for a circle around Lucas and Fassad, that Fassad is either whispering his threats to Lucas or perhaps communicating them telepathically, suggesting, like the lightning born from Fassad’s wrath in Chapter 3, that our adversary can wield PSI. But more on that later.

As it stands, this scene is basically exactly what I was hoping for in Chapter 4, I just needed to be a little more patient. I think it’s so sad to see Wess going about this alone, and I think it’s sad, and pathetic, to see him captured in the net as the town looks on. I’ll admit, though, that I still think this scene is a bit convenient for writing Wess out of the story, and I don’t fully buy his statement to Lucas later that he can’t accompany him because Fassad’s soldiers keep too tight a watch. I think I feel this way because the plot hasn’t given me any reason to think Wess would be facing tighter surveillance than Lucas. If anything, they’ve got Wess right where they want him in the nursing home, and, in that regard, I don’t see why the nimble old thief couldn’t escape with Lucas in a hurry, but hey. I’ll take it. I’ve at least gotten to see Wess participate in the action again.

So no, I don’t really 100% buy Wess’s exclusion from the story, as I didn’t 100% buy Flint’s exclusion from the story, as in both cases it seems the characters were quickly swept aside to make room for Lucas… but I can at least accept it now, and I did really enjoy this scene over all. Lucas’s ties to this town are all cut now. His dad is off looking for Claus, and Wess is demoralized in the Old Folks’ home. It’s all up to Lucas and Boney to set things right.

We’ll meet up with Wess again before this post is over, but for now I just want to say that I pity him. Even before the time-skip, Wess didn’t receive much respect from the town, and some might say he didn’t deserve it. His treatment of Duster over the years was horrible, and karma was bound to swing back around to Wess. That said, I still find myself feeling sad as I watch this scene. Wess’s eruption in town square implies that he’s been sitting on these feelings for some time, and Fassad’s casual dealings with the old thief implies that this isn’t the first time this has happened. No matter what Wess does, however, Tazmily stays its course to ruin.

After Wess’s outburst, or perhaps it was after Lucas’s meeting with Flint (I don’t remember, honestly, though it would make sense to follow Flint’s cameo, as this song was originally tied to him) Tazmily’s track changes back to a song we’re familiar with: the half-heartedly upbeat, the trying-but-bittersweet, “Happy Town?” Mother 3’s soundtrack accomplishes many things, and something it manages to consistently achieve are melancholic melodies that are as catchy as they are hopeless. In this moment, hearing “Happy Town?” in Chapter 4 feels like the embittered return of an all-too-familiar seasonal depression. When we first heard this song, we knew Flint’s heart was broken, and that something in Tazmily was irrevocably lost.

Now, we hear this song again, and we remember that the hopelessness did not come today. It has been here for a long time, and there’s truly nowhere left to turn. The track’s title may contain a question mark, but Lucas’s heart knows there’s no need for the punctuation, there’s no question in his mind anymore. Those who still see this town as happy derive the feeling not from their lives, nor from their doings, but from a little box, which is happy only in name.

BEFORE WE MOVE ON: I am writing these concluding few paragraphs on August 15th, about a week after wrapping up the actual writing of this post. I’m adding an addendum to this section because after I made (some) peace with Wess’s characterization, I also encountered an emotionally illuminating tweet from Echoes, a co-founder of Mother Forever whose work and opinions I often cite on my blog. Echoes’ tweet chain can be read here, where he defends Flint’s actions as a now single parent.

Personally, I was very thankful to encounter this chain of tweets and their defense of Flint. I was, and am, lucky to have both of my parents in the picture, so I think I tended to focus on any potential negative interpretations of Flint and his actions. Nearly any villager who talked about Flint mentioned his indefatigable search for Claus, or that they hadn’t seen him in a while. While my chagrin with Flint had more to do with how the story handled him, and my own wonderings of what his search entailed (I mean, every day for three years has some connotations), and I by no means ever said he was abusive, which is some of the fan culture that Echoes is pushing back against, I also did not exactly do much in the way of apologetics or defenses of Flint, and now I see that, really, Flint makes more sense than I gave him, and the game, credit for. From the start of the game, Flint is regarded by other villagers as reckless and emotional, as more likely to follow his heart than his head, and when you look at Flint after the timeskip… well, it actually makes so much sense. It may not be fully logical to continue scouring the Sunshine Forest for Claus, but it’s what Flint’s heart is set on. As the number of chimeras grows in the forest, it isn’t even safe for Flint to be out there alone, but he’s always been reckless, hasn’t he? After more reflection, I think my interpretation of Flint had been tied up, so much, in the bond I formed with the character in Chapter 1, instead of who the man actually is.

I still wish the cut content was included, and I still wish we had at least one scene or flashback of Lucas and Flint’s time together during or after the timeskip, but I can’t ignore that for as much as I wish there were more positive scenes of Flint, there aren’t exactly negative scenes either. Flint is just presented honestly, and Flint is a broken man. We cannot apply logic to someone whose heart is effectively drowned.

I hope this doesn’t make me seem wishy-washy in terms of my opinions on Mother 3. Mostly, I just like to challenge my own opinions whenever I get the chance, as well as respond to fan opinions and interpretations, and I feel that Echoes’ tweets showed me a new perspective on the character and the story. I, like others, had focused on Nippolyte’s sentiment that Flint is always off searching for Claus, but I hadn’t focused on the same interaction, where Nippolyte adds that Lucas is Flint’s saving grace. I was so ready to accept that Lucas and Flint had been living separate lives, instead of seeing them as two damaged family members, doing their best to continue living life after such a tragedy.

Anyway, that’s about all I have to add, here. Again, I personally still wish we at least had more content of Flint. For such a solidly written character in the game’s early chapters, I dislike how so much of his post-timeskip characterization is left to conjecture and speculation. Sure, I can’t fully assume he and Lucas never see each other, but I’m also not given much reason to believe they do (consistently, anyway). Things like seeing Lucas wake up in the house alone, while having flashbacks of Hinawa; then reading Boney’s line, “Can I take you for a walk, Lucas?”; then noting how no one in the village ever sees Flint, then seeing Flint having already left the grave by the time Lucas’s reminiscing is over… to me, these things show at least a divide between Lucas and Flint that I wish we had a bit more insight into. But really it makes sense, as adding some interpretive ambiguity is often Itoi’s approach to writing characters.

Don’t worry–we aren’t going down this rabbithole again. I just wanted to say: my interpretation of Flint has changed, slightly! And in typical Mother fashion, listening to others has made me more empathetic at the end of the day, which was probably the point all along.

A Million Tazmilians VIII: Who’s Tryna Hit the Club?

Well, what else is going on in town? If you want to see all the dialogue at this point in the game, you need to check up on the Tazmilians pretty regularly, as some of their lines change after the Wess scene, more change after you visit Wess in the Old Folks’ Home, and some change after both of these instances. I’m not going to go through everyone in this section, not because I’m tiring out from doing these, but because many of the NPCs just tell Lucas how to get to Club Titiboo. Some of them do this more interestingly than others. For example, Abbot and Abbey.

Now, I’ve written about Abbot and Abbey a lot on the blog, mostly because I find their dynamic unique and interesting for discussing some aspects of Mother 3. Basically, Abbot and Abbey are a would-be happy couple, approaching life with a relative carefree innocence before the time-skip. After the time-skip, however, and even around the time when Happy Boxes first entered the village, I’ve noticed subtle ways that Mother 3 communicates how these two are not as close as they might appear. I guess I’ve found their dynamic so much fun to dissect because it gives us ways to talk about how the Tazmilian family unit has become estranged even when the family members themselves haven’t been separated or otherwise attacked (e.g., Lucas’s family, Wess and Duster, Dona’s discontent in Chapter 3, Nichol running the store while his father is at work, etc.).

Anyway, last time we ran into these two I noted how, though they have a Happy Home with Happy Boxes and Happy Refrigerators and who knows what other Happy Items, the two characters are rarely situated in the same section as one another. This might seem like a forced observation, but remember that, early in the game, Abbot and Abbey could rarely be found apart, and their dialogue in a given scene often built off of what each of them had to say about a particular scenario. In short, you couldn’t really talk to Abbot without also talking to Abbey. They experienced things together and explained them together. They were usually found standing right next to each other.

In the case of this visit, we have Abbot on one side of the room, remarking on how he loves to visit Club Titiboo. Abbot likely works in the factory along with many of the other men, and going to Club Titiboo, from what I can ascertain so far, seems to be a casual tradition among the workers. You go there to listen to the music, have some drinks, and not-so-secretly side-eye some waitresses–all in a day’s work. Note that Abbot’s line is, “I often go to Cub Titiboo, too.” (Emphasis mine).

On the other hand, we have Abbey, standing in the kitchen like she was earlier, admiring her Happy Home. When approached by Lucas, her dialogue reads, “I often… want to go to Club Titiboo, too.” Not quite the same, is it?

Personally, I loved the difference between these lines for a few reasons. Firstly, they show us a difference between villagers of certain labor classes. Men are allowed to visit Club Titiboo, but women are not, at least not as often or as easily as the men. A venue for music, socializing, and whatever else is relegated to factory workers or those with easy access to the train, which of course only runs at certain times of the day. Secondly, we see Abbot and Abbey’s usually synchronized dynamic more visibly disrupted; hearing that her husband goes to Club Titiboo, and having once done nearly everything together with him, Abbey is ready to say that she also loves going to Club Titiboo… but she can’t. She has likely never gone. She has wanted to go, sure, but the pause says everything. She’s never been, and Abbot has probably never invited her.

Now, this might seem like a small interaction to focus on, but I love it because of how it reveals that, despite the Happiness of her home, Abbey, and perhaps other Tazmilians, is still capable of wanting things that can’t be bought. Her line here is one of the first lines in Chapter 4 to show that, yes, many Tazmilians are under Fassad’s influence, but the influence may not be as all encompassing as we may have assumed–at least, it can’t account for every desire. And I don’t want to read into the line too much, but also recall that, right off the bat, Abbot was obsessed with his Happy Box, frantically speculating about its functions and letting it consume him almost immediately. While I’m sure Abbey also loves her Happy Box and her Happy Home, I love the suggestion in this line that she also still wants something else, something that Abbot may have forgotten about within the last three years. She wants a new experience, she wants to have some fun, she wants to accompany Abbot, her husband and best friend, to a club. It’s a small desire, sure, but to me it speaks volumes. So many subtle things in Chapter 4 point to a potential division in Abbot and Abbey’s relationship that is far wider than the fifteen feet that now so regularly separates them. Of course, I don’t have to point out that countless plants and flourishing flowers no longer feature in this home, either. The only sign of growth is a small bush, visibly outside the window.

It’s a shame, really. More than ever, Tazmilians just don’t have much to say. And sure, early on in the game, as in during the Forest Fire, many characters said similar things, pushing Flint along to where the plot needed him to go. But now, in Chapter 4, more Tazmilians than ever remark on the plot, offering little other than vague directions for Lucas. And I’m not pointing this out as a sour point; personally, I think it’s intentional. I think Itoi wants to communicate that the Tazmilians overall are having fewer unique thoughts, experiencing fewer subtle developments in character, and interacting less vividly with their everyday lives. Look no further than Nana for evidence of this. It seemed to have been so long since anyone actually talked to her that she literally talked the hours of the day away. People in Tazmily no longer engage. No longer step up. No longer live.

One of my favorite examples of this is how the gossiping women have lost all of their skepticism and now parrot the opinions of Fassad. Other than one strange remark where Jill warns Lucas, “There’s no telling what’s going to happen next, so be careful,” Lisa, Brenda, and Jill seem to have devolved into puppets of Fassad’s ideologies. Brenda claims that old people should just stay in the old folks’ home, while Jill remarks on the “nerve” of old man Wess, as Lisa flatly recommends that Lucas procure a Happy Box. And look, when it comes down to it, Tazmily never had all that much respect for Wess in the first place, but it’s still defeating to these once active and inquisitive minds react with such little depth. If any of their sprites were just replaced with Fassad’s, I wouldn’t even question it.

The gossiping women’s dialogue also changes slightly when revising them later, except for Lisa, who seems deadset on telling Lucas over and over he should consider getting a Happy Box (though I suspect her dialogue gets a bit frozen because it also changes if you have a Dolphin Ossicle in your inventory, which I sold to be certain her dialogue hadn’t updated). Notably, when propositioned about Club Titiboo or the Duster lookalike (this is what I assume Lucas is doing right now invisibly) Brenda reminds Lucas that, “You do know he’s the one who stole all Butch’s money, right?” I assume she could also be talking about Wess here, but either way, she doesn’t feel great about the thieves.

Hmmm…

I like this line because it confirms to us that Fassad has successfully spun the confrontation three years ago to his own benefit. Yes, we had seen Fassad conveniently insert himself into the argument after Flint tried to calm things down, but there wasn’t necessarily an indication that public opinion had swayed so easily. My assumption is that most Tazmilians remained skeptical of Wess and Duster until Fassad’s prophecies of lightning and strange creatures gradually became true. It follows, then, that in the modern mythos of Tazmily, Wess and Duster’s names are permanently tainted.

However, just as in Abbey’s suggestion of desire outside Happy Boxes, there was a small ray of hope among my interactions in town square, though it didn’t come from any of the women. In fact, it came from a character who, pre-timeskip, had almost nothing to do with the plot, other than the occasional cute line. As it turns out, the skepticism and cunning of the gossiping women seems to have passed to the young Alle.

One of the first observations I made about Chapter 4 was that young Alle had joined the gossping women in town square as one of Fassad’s audience members. At first, I saw this as deeply depressing, assuming that Fassad’s influence had seeped into the minds of children as well. Alle, who once loudly and freely spoke her mind like any other enthusiastic child, was going to be quickly and easily corrupted, or so I assumed.

However, Alle ends up voicing one of the most direct confrontations to Fassad we’ve heard so far. “They’re not above using violence against senior citizens, I see,” Alle says with an oddly mature coldness. I thought this line was awesome, and I loved it as a decision to characterize Alle. As it stands, the children of Tazmily seem a bit split in terms of influence. Nichol and Richie, the children of Thomas and Lisa, seem uncritical of the changes in town, as Richie exclaims the beauty that has blossomed in just three years, and Nichol dutifully mans the family bazaar. This makes sense when considering that Thomas has always been a bit of a buffoon, and Lisa stands loyal to Fassad on the regular. However, seeing Alle react with a critical eye shows that Nana and Lucas, it turns out, aren’t the only kids in town with their wits still about them.

Personally, I think Alle wields this skepticism because she grew up in a household with Scamp. She would have been young during their time together, nearly a toddler, but she watched Scamp’s health decline during her formative years, and she likely also saw Tazmily do very little to help out the poor old-timer. At the very worst, she may have even seen Scamp deny housing in the Old Man’s Paradise, preferring to live out his days in his family’s home; or who knows, maybe Pusher used Scamp’s death as a way to promote the construction Old Man’s Paradise, promising better living conditions for senior citizens. Whatever her connection was to Scamp, Alle saw him age, saw him die, saw his bed become empty and his parakeet become lonely. This experience, I believe, is what informs Alle’s line at this moment. She doesn’t like seeing how Wess was treated, and she remarks on it with the suggestion of budding maturity. She’s still goofy and childish, as is shown when later she fawns to Lucas about DCMC (though she has never actually heard their music), but she shows a surprisingly sharp insight that we can only assume is informed by her family life and formative experiences as a kid, watching Scamp’s decline and eventual passing.

Personally, I’ve always felt that Scamp was yet another of Mother 3’s cut threads from EarthBound 64, as Scamp once featured in his own headline in EarthBound 64’s Tazmily Times, but I won’t speculate about this at length because I know very little about it. All I’ll say is that Scamp, despite being a pretty unique character in the first three chapters, doesn’t actually contribute much to the plot or even in passing dialogue. I speculated early on in the blog that whatever Scamp’s role might have been in EarthBound 64 was mostly diminished to a role similar to the Grandpa from The Grapes of Wrath. In the famous Steinbeck novel, the Grandpa character is vivid, callous, and practically leaps off the page, but his role in the book, ultimately, is to die, symbolizing that the Joad family is heading into a new age and new style of survival. It is not a place for those of the previous generation; it is, literally, no country for old men.

I believe Alle’s line here is a holdover, or at least a suggestion, of what went on behind the scenes in Scamp’s household. And no, we don’t see much more of it (Ed and Nan are pretty mum in regards to Scamp), but if Scamp died so that Alle could be characterized with a subtle sympathy for the elderly, then I think he died for a noble cause. I’m all for subtlety, and I love it manifesting in such a small but memorable character.

As I said, most of the Tazmilians remark on Club Titiboo or Duster for the rest of this stretch. Dona, another wife of a factory worker, expresses interest in going to the club, but once again we see that it is a reward reserved for factory workers: in this town, to have fun, to have a social life, to see live music and knock back a few bevs, you need to work in the factory. Paul puts it plainly to Lucas when he suggests the boy could get a job there pretty easily if he really wants to get in.

At least Bob has lightened up a bit from his previous remarks. Under the assumption that Lucas has asked about the Duster lookalike, Bob responds with probably my favorite comedic line of Chapter 4 thus far, at least of those spoken by a Tazmilian: “Oh, I play the bass, too, you know. Wait. No I don’t. I play the fool. All the time.”

Depending on how you choose to read it, this line can either be funny or sad. Maybe it’s Bob, messing around with Lucas, channeling some of that bourbon-swigging cowboy who used to tell stories and jokes into the late hours of the night (or early hours of the morning) at Jackie’s bar. Or, maybe it’s meant to be Bob getting down on himself, actually thinking for a moment that he can play the bass, only to remember that he holds a low opinion of himself. Personally, I think it’s the first option and Itoi just wanted Bob to say something funny, but, as I’ve discussed before, I like keeping my eye on Bob. He’s a generic-seeming NPC who truly holds some unique and tragic quirks. I can’t help but wonder when I talk to Bob if there is a bitterness in him that maybe he doesn’t even recognize. He was, you’ll remember, one of the first and most easily swayed of Fassad’s tricks.

Another Tazmilian sad sack is Jackie, who has, after work at the factory, decided to go to work again at the now Hotel Yado. Now, while some people out there with a grindset mindset probably see no problem in Jackie going to work after work, especially seeing as he’s a girl boss with his own business,I think it’s too bad that Tazmily’s most deflated-looking man won’t let himself catch a true break. Even worse, he tells Lucas outright that he doesn’t want him coming around the hotel, which is much ruder than anyone was earlier. Betsy didn’t seem to care that Lucas was hanging around at the hotel, but it’s apparently too much for Jackie.

This is actually a great example of something I meant to touch on more earlier. Basically, it’s this: yes, Fassad subdued Wess, publicly, with force, but the true strength of Fassad’s plan is his social control. Whether it’s a Happy Box or a #1 Public Enemy, Fassad has most Tazmilian minds under his thumb. People don’t want to seem too close to Lucas because it will damage their reputation; if it doesn’t damage their reputation with one another, then it might damage their rapport with Fassad. Basically, people like Lucas, Wess, Nana, and Flint are pariahs now. When Jackie sees Lucas in his hotel, he sees it as a threat to his business. (Though he does still offer his thoughts on the Duster situation).

And look: I’m not saying I have no sympathy for Jackie. From his perspective, Tazmily has changed rapidly over night, requiring him to no longer be a kindly, inoffensive innkeeper, but a businessman with customers and clients. If Fassad is making a big deal about Lucas, then Lucas is a threat to both the Hotel Yado and Jackie’s social standing. It seems with each passing moment, Chapter 4 shows us more and more how Lucas does not have many places to turn, nor many allies left.

Which is basically where we’re left with our blonde-haired protagonist as the gameplay session winds down. I’m still going to doubleback and write more about Wess before this post is over, but I just think it’s worth pointing out how things are going for Lucas right now. It’s not like anyone is outright rejecting or abandoning him, and people still talk to him, even leading him in the right direction to investigate the situation with Duster, but no one, other than Nana, is his friend. I mean, you can count Flint, Wess, and Alec…. but also, can you really? Flint is off chasing a phantom, and Wess and Alec are locked up in the Old Man’s Paradise.

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to feel like Lucas’s only choice is to get outta town…

Okay, one last observation before moving on (you know I can’t help myself with this stuff). I think a Tazmilian who encapsulates the change in the town in a more subtle, disappointing way is Bronson. Think back to Chapter 1. Who was Bronson? A man of action, of resourcefulness. Bronson broke the news of Hinawa’s death to Flint, and though his rhetorical methods were a bit emotionally underdeveloped, Bronson was still the one to stand up when the going got rough. He also fashioned the Drago Fang Spear that allowed Flint to even damage the beast in the first place. He knew Flint sought vengeance. You don’t make a weapon for no reason. There was something raw and unspoken in that act.

That’s why it’s too bad to see Bronson so… sterilized, now. His home still has some semblance of a blacksmith’s, with its more modern furnace and contraptions, but the man himself is a mostly sedentery, Happy Box husk. Not that this is his fault; working at the factory probably saps all of his energy for the day, leaving little time for extra projects or any smithing passion projects. I’m sure the only reason Jackie is able to maintain his grindset mindset with a second job is because he slacks off at the factory. Does Jackie really strike you as employee of the month?

Anyway, I’m probably being too hard on Bronson. Who am I to judge a man who’s just trying to unwind after work with some chow and TV? Maybe I’m really not with the times after all…

I need to assure myself of my youth! This seems like a good time to swing back around to Wess and Alec.

Return to the Old Man’s Paradise

So, even though it breaks the post’s chronology a bit, I decided to wait to write about my return to the Old Man’s Paradise until after talking about the other Tazmilians. I partly wanted the opportunity to expound on Wess if I needed to, and I partly felt it was only fair to give the old men some space. It’s not like they have much in this hell hole.

First on the list of our revisitations is Wess, who tells Lucas that he really embarrassed himself earlier. It’s too bad to see Wess feeling down on himself this way, seeing as standing up to Fassad in public is a truly brave act. However, Lucas puts some wind back in Wess’s sails when he shares information about the Duster doppelganger, to which Wess reacts with a cautious hope. He tells Lucas that he can’t join him in his search for Duster, but asks that he sends any news by pigeon–the old way of sending mail. I see this inclusion of the dove as a reminder, a symbol, that Wess represents Old Tazmily. Don’t forget Bateau mentioning that no one uses the birds for mail, anymore.

Okay, so… how do we feel about this? I’ve gone back and forth on how I feel about Wess’s inclusion in the story during Chapter 4, but here we are, finally, at the moment where the game writes him out (for a while, anyway). I understand that the point of Chapter 4 is for Lucas to be alone, with only Boney at his side. I understand that having Wess join Lucas on the journey might have been a bit awkward and unnecessary, given what the game is going for at this point. But do you accept how this scene plays out? Do you like how Wess’s role in the story is diminished?

(I’m being serious, by the way. Write to me or tweet at me and let me know.)

Well, here’s my final stance on this, for now: I still don’t love how Wess is written out of the story from a perspective of verisimilitude, as I don’t believe he would be so afraid of Fassad and his cronies, nor do I believe he would be incapable of escaping town with Lucas (especially seeing as how the story has presented Wess’s abilities thus far). So far in the story, Wess has been an independent, stalwart figure, and I think, on some level, I’m always going to feel that Wess was shooed out of the story in favor of expediency in the plot. I know this is a hill I’ve seemingly chosen to die on during these last few posts, but it’s just how I feel. The Wess that I feel was set up in Chapter 2 and 3 would be motivated to hear that Lucas is ready for action, for adventure. But I digress.

Now, with all that said, I want to add that I do love this scene with Wess, and I ultimately feel that it characterizes him well and works perfectly fine as a momentary goodbye to the thief. After Wess’s public humiliation, you can tell that he’s feeling demoralized and foolish–a stark change from the typically fiery old man we’ve come to know. However, as soon as Wess catches wind that there’s a Duster look-a-like potentially close by, we see a hope, and a softness, in this old curmudgeon that we haven’t seen so far in the story, except for a glimpse in Chapter 2. In short, a character has changed–Wess’s character has developed. The possibility that his son is still alive serves, in a way, as a catalyst for Wess’s change of heart. You can practically feel his demeanor change in just this scene alone. Though I’m reading text on a screen, spoken from an old man made of pixels, I feel like I’m there in the room, witnessing a rough exterior break down, just the slightest bit.

The reason I’m putting so much emphasis on this is because I can cry all I want about verisimilitude, and whether or not I like what the story does with Wess, but I think my opinion on Wess’s role in the story is, probably, wrong, or at least too one-sided. We are clearly seeing a developed, different Wess in this scene. He (tragically) calls Duster “my moron,” showing the suggestion of a father somewhere in there, but it’s a parental instinct that is likely buried in shame, remorse, and emotional ignorance. I know it has been literally a year since we’ve talked about fatherhood in this game, as well as Itoi’s own complicated life as a parent, but I think Itoi channels something special through characters like Flint and Wess. They are not perfect fathers, especially Wess, but that does not mean they are void of emotion or desire. I’m sure somewhere inside, Wess wants to be a father to Duster, or at least a friend to him, but behind the years of emotional and physical abuse through the intense thief training, he may see that role as impossible, or too late, to even try to attain. Sing along, now: the cat’s in the cradle, and the silver spoon…

One moment that has stuck with me throughout this Mother 3 journey is the conversation between Flint and Lighter in Chapter 1, where Lighter urges Flint to not lose himself in his emotions, and to put his fatherly role first for the good of his sons. Lighter, you may remember, adds that it’s tough bein’ a man–a line that, I feel, captures something Itoi is going for in this game. In the Nintendo Dream interview, Itoi points out how the world of Mother 3 is under the influence of a certain machismo energy: “It’s because the world in the game is so macho. The good guys in the game are strong and they fight. The same goes for the bad guys. So in other words, it’s set up so that might equals right. “Power is Beautiful.”‘ And while Itoi posits that Mother 3’s response, if not solution, to this is the existence of the Magicantians, I can’t help but feel that this “macho world” is also a product of Itoi exploring some facets of fatherhood and of the relationship between emotion and masculinity. And again, as always, I’m not saying this was Itoi’s literal goal in writing Mother 3, but something from his own consciousness that may have seeped in.

I’ve gone over it in this blog before, but Itoi both had an absent father, and was, at times, absent from his own daughter’s life; Itoi experience as a child, and his reaction to the John Lennon song “Mother,” serves as part of the inspiration for the series being named as such. With Mother 3 containing some of the most emotional writing in the series, I think it’s no surprise that the themes of fatherhood and toxic masculinity become a part of this game’s intertextual coding. You can’t talk about Mother without talking about fathers, and you especially can’t talk about Mother 3 without exploring the void left in our main characters’ lives after the loss of a mother. I’m not sure what the game is saying about fatherhood to be honest, as I feel that Flint and Wess’s diminishment in the plot weakens the prevalence of the theme itself, but I do think it’s fascinating to take a trope of the series–the absent father, supporting the main character over the phone, yet with a loving charisma nonetheless–and seeing it play out in a more tangible way. We know Flint is capable of love, and we know, or can speculate, that maybe Wess is, too, but it seems the both literally and emotionally absent payphones of the previous games were not totally replaced by save frogs, after all. We have two readily unavailable fathers right in front of us, and we are witnessing their plot assassination in real time.

When I think of that information, and I look at the shame Wess feels in this scene, I can’t help but wonder what real life emotion has slipped into the game’s script, complicating the relationships between fathers and their sons. Both Flint and Wess, I think, know what they probably should do: in Flint’s case, he should spend more time with Lucas, paying attention to the son he has left; and in Wess’s case, he should use his remaining years to do right by Duster, and to ask for forgiveness and make amends in their relationship. However, neither of these men can, or will, do either of these things, because of… why? In Flint’s case, I think he feels irrevocably bound to what he sees as his failure as a father and a husband; Claus and Hinawa both having died (from Flint’s perspective) is a constant reminder of what he couldn’t do. In a “macho world” where Might is Right, Flint likely feels like a failure in every single way; he wasn’t strong enough, fast enough, or wise enough to save his wife and son. In Wess’s case, I think he feels irreparably bound to his flawed ways; I think there’s a part of Wess that loves Duster, but at this point, all these years later, he doesn’t really believe himself capable of changing.

And look: I’m not really trying to make this the amateur psychology hour, so I probably won’t speculate anymore on these characters. I especially don’t think Itoi sat down when writing the character of Wess, or the character of Flint, with these ideas in mind. I just think it’s interesting to look at the fathers in this game and how their children take after them. Look at Thomas’s children, who have embraced this new world as blindly as their father has; or look at Fuel, who is the helpful son of a helpful father. Then look at Lucas, who is as lost and alone in the world as Flint; then look at Duster, who is for the first time in his life being appreciated for his talents (but more on this later).

ANYWAY, all of this is just to say that: characters in Mother games sure do have some daddy issues. Maybe we can pick up this discussion again in Chapter 8, when a new father enters the ring.

The last thing I’ll point out about this interaction with Wess is charmingly thief-like he is. Convinced that Fassad and his cronies are on the look-out for him, he speaks only in a whisper. I don’t know why, but I just loved that detail.

And now for the grand finale (these posts are really getting long, aren’t they?). After talking to Wess, I visited Alec again, and was surprised to hear he has been having dreams involving Leder. Leder, the twenty-foot bell ringer who we still haven’t seen in this post-timeskip world. Where has he gone? Why is Alec dreaming of him? What does it all mean?

Well, though I’m sure most readers of my blog know the full story of Mother 3, I like to write about things mostly in chronological order, so I’m not going to spend too much time on this. It’s sort of a if you know, you know situation, so instead I’d like to point out that I think it’s cool how we receive not so much a foreshadowing of Leder’s fate, but a reminder of him. If a player hadn’t already noticed Leder was gone, this is another opportunity to realize it. What need would the Pigmasks have to remove him from town?

I also like how it’s Alec who seems to be having dreams of Leder. Alec, like Wess, was always much sharper, and much more capable, than most Tazmilians were likely ready to give him credit for. Never forget that it was Alec who accompanied Flint out to find the Mecha Drago. Few characters in the plot thus far have done something as dangerous or as ballsy as that. Alec easily might have died. Because of this, it’s both cool and sad to me that Alec is cooped up in here having strange dreams of Leder. It’s cool in the sense that I know Alec is perceptive, so he probably senses the deeper importance that Leder has over the fate of the town and everyone’s lives. It’s sad in the sense that Alec has been reduced to this. Dozing off in this room. Doing little other than having the occasional dream, and having no one to tell that dream to. I know I’ve said this before, but I think it was my strong bond with my own grandfather that always makes me so sad to see Alec in these conditions. He doesn’t deserve this. He should be at home, on his land, with his animals. Not set in a cage.

And that’s about all I have to say for the day. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out Mother 3’s infamous flower sign, which is located outside of the Prayer Sanctuary. The sign, surrounded by flowers, chides the player for coming to read it, as it means the flowers have been stepped on. The creator of the sign then posits that it’s really their fault for making the sign in the first place. Then, to top off the interaction, the sign, like the other one nearby, reminds us to throw away our trash in the trash can, a conclusion to the textual bit that always makes me laugh. This gag, of course, feels right at home in the Mother series and serves as yet another reminder that, in Chapter 4, Mother 3 has really hit its stride in the writing department. This sign also always makes me think of the work of Toby Fox, these days. Not just for his work on Undertale and Deltarune, but just for his overall wit and charm. I feel like he traveled back in time to put this sign into the game.

Examining Mother 3 Frog by Frog has also started to teach me how a game like this is written. It’s not so much written sentence to sentence, ala novels or poems, but in a way that’s more liquid. Perhaps Itoi’s own words are having an influence on me, but Mother 3 does really feel like a sandbox– not in the way that Minecraft is a sandbox game, but in the sense that it’s less about the linear experience, and more about what surprise, or player-created moment, can appear one second or the next. Video game writing almost starts to feel dioramic when observed through the lens of Mother… but I don’t have anything else to say about that for now. Maybe in fifteen frogs I’ll circle back around to this concept.

I suppose I should also mention that I chose to save at the frog in the Prayer Sanctuary, as I intend to explore the Sunshine Forest a bit next time. I know that’s not where I’m supposed to go right now, but my return to Tazmily wouldn’t feel complete without checking it out. Hopefully I haven’t missed out on any dialogue by waiting so long to return here. If I have, please write to me and let me know. I don’t think there are any NPCs to find out here at this point in the game, but you never know.

Oh, did I mention I encountered the semi-rare Old Man in the Osohe Hot Spring? There really always is another surprise around the corner in Mother 3.

In the spirit of due diligence, I’ll also mention the scientist NPC who waits outside the prayer sanctuary. He, like some of the other villagers, is suspicious of the persistent lightning strikes happening around town. I don’t have much to add in regards to this NPC; I just think it’s fun that he exists. Maybe there is an entire separate detective story going on in the background of Mother 3, where this one scientist, perhaps even originally planted by the Pigmasks, decides to investigate what’s going on. Maybe he’s always one step behind Lucas, following a trail and unearthing a secret he’s never imagined. Maybe just out of view, just a beat behind the protagonists, there is a Hollywood Science Fiction Drama unraveling, where this man witnesses the expose of a great conspiracy, changing his life forever…

Or maybe, like the woman inside the prayer sanctuary, he sees Tazmilians as simple and uncivilized. You can really never know with these new NPCs. I’m still getting used to them, personally.

Okay, and now we’re really done for the day. Wheesh! I’ve gotta start reeling these things in a bit… Maybe I should say a prayer for myself while I’m in the prayer sanctuary. Actually, last time we were here, I think we had Salsa, Kumatora, and Wess in our party, though I could be wrong. In any event, we’re back today, and I’m saying a prayer for Wess, Alec, and everyone cooped up in Old Man’s Paradise. Those folks could use some hope.

Well, if everything goes well, I hope to see everyone back here for another frog post very soon. Trust me, I know my rate of posting has slowed quite a bit since beginning Chapter 4, but I think it’s worth it. And if you’re worried that I’m never going to finish the blog, don’t be. There’s a frog right here, and if you’ve been following the blog for a while, you know what that means.

Nothing’s so bad when there’s a frog around. Everything is in its right place. Everything is working out just fine.

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