Frog #48: Into the… Unsettling Preserve

Lately, I’ve been reading Haruki Murakami’s memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. In this book, the acclaimed Japanese writer (who, don’t forget, once collaborated with Shigesato Itoi on a collection of short pieces) muses about running, writing, aging, and just about any other –ing you can think of. It is a book about both motion and stasis, routine and surprise, habit and indulgence. Murakami connects writing and running often, positing that most of what he has learned about writing, he actually learned from running.

One of my favorite things Murakami says in this book is that runners don’t run so that they can live longer; instead, runners run because they want to live life to the fullest. This idea spoke to me, as I sometimes consider myself a runner, and other times have been known to consider myself a writer. I remember a friend of mine once making fun of me for running, for focusing on my health. “I just don’t care about living as long as I possibly can,” he said, as we both smoked cigarettes and sipped on Hamm’s beer. I couldn’t verbalize to him at the time that it wasn’t about living forever, but something else.

I’m starting this frog on this tangent because I often find that my life feels most meaningful, and most fully lived, when I am doing things like going for walks or runs. It may sound simple, but lately I’ve been going on short walks after work, or after dinner, and, for whatever reason, I always feel so alive doing such a simple thing. The more alive I feel, the more likely I am to want to write, and thus writing, running, and walking create among themselves a perpetual motion machine, wherein I am in my zone, so to speak, more often.

I’m also starting this frog on this tangent because all I did today in Mother 3 was go for a walk. Funny how that works.

Yes, Lucas and Boney walked into the Sunshine Forest, though it wasn’t really the Sunshine Forest, anymore. Gone are the days when bats flew down from the trees, and Isaac, or Lighter, could be heard chopping wood somewhere in the distance. Isaac’s house now lies empty, with the lumberjack nowhere in sight, and strange creatures roam the forest floor–Slitherhens, snakes with the head of a chicken, biological chimeras let loose who pack quite a beak.

I really can’t call this area the Sunshine Forest anymore. Perhaps we should call it The Forest of Strange Creatures, or how about, The Forest of the Chimera? No, I don’t think those will do. Maybe An Unsettling Preserve? No matter what we call it, it’s clear this place no longer belongs to Tazmily; this is Pigmask Territory, and if this is the area where Flint has been searching for Claus, then I’d say our favorite cowboy has gotten even braver than before. This place ain’t for the weak of heart.

These tunes aren’t for the weak of heart either. The song that places in here, Unsettling Preserve, is one of Mother 3’s best yet, and I don’t say that lightly. Even before the player has seen a Slitherhen, which visually marks the change that has occurred here, the music does all the talking. Think of any song that has previously played in the Sunshine Forest, or any song that has played in Mother 3 at all, then compare it to this groovy, synthy, slick, weird, sci-fi concoction. This track just screams, “This is not the place it once was.” This track also screams, “Prepare to get your face melted off.”

This song, to me, tells a story. The Pigmask Experiments have begun to run amok; there’s a sense of both wonder and of danger as we see the Sunshine Forest dominated by its new ecology, and the song’s occasionally playful progression recalls the reckless abandon with which the Pigmask Army takes their proverbial shit on the world. When I listen to this song and traverse the forest, I feel like I’m descending into a mad scientist’s flamboyant craze; I’m reminded of Kefka from Final Fantasy VI, and his both silly and threatening theme. Maybe it’s because I (and probably you, too) know what’s coming. Maybe it’s because I know who’s behind these experiments, and who performed them, but still: I’m blown away by this song’s ability to set a scene, to set the tone, to show us that this place, where villagers once gathered en masse to search for two little boys and their mother, is not that place anymore, and likely never will be again. I can think of few video games that have marked a change in setting so potently through music alone.

Of course, it’s not a dark area, it’s not depressing to be here, and the Slitherhens are an amazing Mother-like enemy that are right at home in the series. Honestly, I’ve always felt like Mother 3’s chimeras were the logical progression of Itoi’s creativity, with the first two games in the series having both aliens and real-world enemies, and the third and final game of the series managing to find a combination of those two principles. So, no, I wouldn’t say it’s sad to see the Sunshine Forest like this, but moreso exciting. What with the chimeras and the phenomenal music, the feeling I have is more akin to, “I’m excited to find out what the hell is going on here.”

As far as I can tell so far, the only thing going on here is that the forest has been overrun by snakes. Or by chickens. Or by whatever these things are. Slitherhens appear to be an attempt at creating a basilisk, given that the mythological creature, in many portrayals, has the head of a chicken or bird-like creature, with the body of a serpent. I can already imagine the bumbling Pigmasks telling their chimera scientist to “combine a snake and a bird,” envisioning a creature as terrifying as it is powerful, only for their scientist to take them way too literally and invent this. Either Itoi or his character designer really hit the rooster on the beak with this visual gag. I love it. I admit that I’ve been waiting for the chimeras to show up for quite some time now. They are easily one of my favorite parts of Mother 3.

Tomato and his team chose to translate this enemy as “Slitherhen,” a reference to the Harry Potter house Slytherin, which, of course, also has a narrative association with the basilisk of legend. Given the basilisk’s role in Harry Potter, and the fact that the design of the Slitherhen is likely meant as a humorous interpretation of the creature, Tomato’s translation here is truly a stroke of genius if you ask me. Yes, the chimeras mark an exciting time for Itoi and the Mother 3 team’s creative process, but they mark an equally fun challenge for the fan translation team as well; I promise, some of these names are going to charm your socks off, and it’s clear that Tomato and the team had a fun time coming up with names and ideas. I believe this is another example of the Mother series bringing out the best in people’s creative natures.

Of course, these Slitherhens are only the beginning of the chimeras we’ll see throughout the rest of the game, but I’d posit they’re as good of an introduction as one could hope. I suppose we saw some chimeric creatures in Chapter 1, with the Flying Mouse and the cybernetic Drago and Caribou, but these are clearly on a different level. I’m also happy that the Slitherhens fight to the “More Troublesome Guys” track, as choosing one of the game’s sillier themes, I think, would have been a bad move. This song always feel like it has just the right amount of intensity and immediacy, and just the right amount of uncertainty, almost as if the protagonists, or the enemy themselves, are growing weary from all the fighting. The chimeras, don’t forget, are all tragic reconstructions, to a certain extent. For as funny as they look, there will always be a certain sadness and desperation to them. I think this song communicates that feeling well.

Honestly, I almost forgot to check on things out here, and I’m glad I did. I love (almost) all parts of Mother 3 equally, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I have a special affinity for the portions of the game where you play as just Lucas and Boney. I love walking around as these two. For some reason, it always brings me right back to the first time I ever played the game, and I have an additional special fondness because Chapter 4 was when my fateful YouTube playthrough began to attract more viewers. It’s an exciting time in the plot itself, and it was an exciting time in my actual life, as a 12 year old kid trying to get attention on YouTube. I can remember staying up until 4 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, playing all the way through to Chapter 5 just to gain as much footage as possible.

Other than the Slitherhens, who I enjoyed fighting quite a bit and decided to train on for a short time, the only other attraction of the day is Isaac’s house, which, as I already said, has been abandoned, but not without featuring some modernized upgrades. The once log cabin now features both stone and shingle, with a nice rooftop and a pair of windows. Not exactly a far cry from the cabin, but an upgrade nonetheless.

The inside is where we find a more aggressive overhaul. Isaac’s cabin was once pretty homely, with wood-paneled everything and a kind of coziness that AirBnb guests would kill for. Now, like many Tazmilian homes, most of the personality is gone, and if you just showed me this room and asked me to tell you whose house it is, I truly wouldn’t know. I also think it’s notable that Isaac’s house, being that it’s located in the middle of the forest, used to have a mark of hospitality: the endless supply of antidotes in the middle of the room. Now, no such hospitality exists.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that Isaac’s house has become unrecognizable, as the lumberjack himself was one of Fassad’s first loyalists. Just as Isaac has disappeared, so, too, has his home lost its defining characteristics. But that doesn’t answer the question: where is Isaac? Has he gone off in search of mushrooms again? Has he become a double agent for Fassad? Has he taken up the pink helmet and become a Pigmask?

Only time will tell.

Well, say that I’m simply waxing poetic, but Isaac’s empty house is (almost) as disturbing as the Slitherhen-infested forest. Honestly, I love how the forest has become overrun with Pigmask creations; it’s essentially in the same state as Tazmily itself, just that Tazmily has the semblance of civilization. Both, in their own way, are at the absolute whims of the Pigmasks. Both, in their own way, have spun entirely out of control. Sure, there aren’t Flying Mice and Slitherhens squirming around the town square, but is Fassad not practically omnipresent? Are there not Pigmasks stationed all over town? Seems a bit unsettling, if you ask me. Perhaps the game’s original subtitle, Forest of the Chimera (or Forest of the Strange Creatures) can help us understand the relationship between Tazmily’s surrounding environment and state of the town itself. As the forests surrounding Tazmily became more and more infested with chimeras, soldiers, and strange UFOs, the state of the town declines as well. I guess what I’m getting at is: the visual of chimeras infesting the Sunshine Forest is also a useful allusion for understanding the current state of Tazmily. They may not appear to be the same, but there are more similarities, and dualities, than you might think. (wink wink nudge nudge to Fassad).

I’m not brushed up enough on EarthBound 64 this week, so I don’t want to start conjecturing anything about the game. All I’ll remind you of, again, is that it seems EarthBound 64’s plot would have had more of a slow-burn, as opposed to the fiery explosion that starts off Mother 3. In fact, at some points of development, it was going to be Isaac himself who stumbled upon evidence of strange occurrences out in the Sunshine Forest. From a UFO, to crop circles, Isaac, who would have been exercising in and around the forest, was going to be a character located at ground zero when it came to some of the game’s odd discoveries. Maybe in EarthBound 64, people would have been reluctant to believe Isaac, placing him at odds with the others later in the game when the truth came out. Maybe Isaac would feel a bit slighted by his fellow townspeople, developing, then, a stronger bond with the town’s oppressors. Maybe Isaac wouldn’t have understood that people like Linda worried about him.

Unfortunate, then, that he’d vanish one day.

Well, I don’t have much else to say about Mother 3 today. It was nice to take a walk. It helped me feel alive. I suppose I’ll continue exploring the Forest of Chimeras for as long the game allows me, but I can’t remember if the game has any invisible walls–or should I say, ants at my feet–at this point. I intend to walk all the way to Alec’s house, but we’ll see how far I make it. Three years ago, an abandoned Pigmask journal said all of these animals were boring, and they’d need to be made cooler. Now it’s on us to be the judge of just how much cooler, exactly, the world is now.

My advice to everyone is to take a walk today, if you are able. And if not, try to sit outside for a few moments, or at the very least crack open your window. Our planet may not be being invaded by Pigmasks, but we aren’t so great to it, either. We should enjoy it while we can. Some say the clock of our planet is ticking, and others may feel the urge to ensure that the Earth survives as long as possible. I wonder, though, if we’re already to the point where it’s not a question of how much time we have with our planet, but a matter of how we choose to spend it.

I’d say environmental speculation is always a good time to pack it in for the day. I’ll see you all next time.

Take care.

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