It was whispered of only in legend; a long-forgotten series of analysis pieces on various video game characters that once resided on this website — so ancient, it saw the time of the Inquirer. Tidings of its returns have been muttered, yet never come to pass… until this day. For this is the day that the Character Column, your foremost place for overly extensive dissection of martyrs, maniacs, and mob enemies, has returned for Season 2!

The retroactively-titled first season of this Column ended unceremoniously just over two years ago, after months of weekly thinkpieces on similar topics burnt me out big time. But fret not, loyal readers — I promise that this second go around will offer more words, more variety, more insight, and just a higher amount of quality in general. And if you disagree… please don’t sue me, I can’t afford a lawyer.

What inspired the sudden yet triumphant return of these essays? Well, I recently replayed Mother 3 — which, in case you didn’t know, is probably the greatest thing to ever exist. Shigesato Itoi’s masterpiece is filled with an artfulness of writing and game design that few — if any — have been able to match, equally tender, humorous, and devastating. And after I finished my good, long cry session at the end, I felt compelled to return to the ol’ CC format to discuss one of the series’ most compelling characters. And while there’s a whole boatload I could discuss in detail (Ness, Lucas, Dr. Andonuts, Hinawa, Flint, Duster, the Rope Snake…), I knew there was one that stood out among the throng — not because I love him with all my soul, no. In fact, there are few characters I detest more (in a good way) than the heinous Porky Minch. Ness’ nefarious next-door neighbor is no mere meanie — he might be my favorite villain in the entire medium. Why’s that? Let me explain:

Warning! Gigante spoilers for both EarthBound and Mother 3 to follow! If you haven’t played those games — go do that! Right now!

From neighbor to nightmare

Porky — localized as “Pokey” in EarthBound, though he’s referred to by his intended name in Super Smash Bros. Brawl — begins EarthBound by pestering local policemen and abandoning his brother Picky by a mysterious meteorite. After begging for Ness’ help in finding Picky (who turns out to be much more mature and even-keeled than his portly brother), the trio hear the legendary prophecy of heroic future non-bee Buzz Buzz, who foretells of Ness and three others vanquishing the evil Giygas. Upon hearing of this, Porky remarks that he hopes he’s not one of the chosen ones, because he’s “not into that kind of thing at all.” Between this and his non-confrontational actions in battle, the game effectively paints Porky as a bothersome wuss, nagging others to do dirty work while he cowers in the corner.

But there’s a sympathetic edge early on too — when Porky and Picky return home, their father Aloysius gives them a tongue lashing for their actions. This is one of the most famous localization changes in the game: in the original Japanese Mother 2, it’s implied that his father is instead spanking them, adding an underlying suggestion of parental abuse. Between this and the pair’s mother, Lardna, having a rather dismissive attitude about the ordeal (“nice guys finish last… that’s the story of our lives”), it’s pretty clear that the Minches are not exactly a happy family. For the moment all of this isn’t super relevant, but keep it in mind for later.

You’d expect Porky to remain in Onett for the rest of the game, but he instead proves to be the most consistent — and persistent — antagonist in Ness’ journey. He assists the Happy Happy cultists in kidnapping Paula, becomes a wealthy consultant to Fourside businessman Monotoli, and escapes in a helicopter to far away places. Even when he’s not physically present, in the latter parts of the game you seen the signs of Porky’s presence — crashed vehicles and prints that show he’s ahead of you. And he never stops to fight, instead playing the dupe and then running away.

But there is one appearance by Porky that’s aberrant — in Magicant, a physical yet surreal manifestation of Ness’s inner thoughts and feelings, he appears and says this:

  • Ness, you’re so lucky… I envy you. … I have no luck.
    But, Ness… well, okay…
    Let’s be friends forever, all right?

Since Magicant is a realm purely within Ness’ head, it’s more an expression of his desire to get along with Porky than the opposite. But much like his parental situation, put a pin in it.

You don’t lay eyes on Porky again until you reach the very end. In one of the most iconic final boss battles ever, Porky shows up as Giygas’ aide, bemusedly taunting the party as they engage in a battle against the enigmatically horrific foe. Whether he’s a righthand man to Giygas, a gleeful manipulator of an “all-mighty idiot,” or just another person corrupted by the swirling eldritch redness is unclear. However, it is worth noting that the Phase Distorter (the machine used to time travel) destroys living beings, and his skin during the battle is a sickly blue sheen, possibly suggesting that — whether physically or metaphorically — Porky has lost his humanity. Either way, he continues his modus operandi by fleeing at the end, promising that he and Ness will meet again, and asking “so now which one of us do you think is the cool guy?!” And then, post-credits, Picky delivers his brother’s parting taunt: “Come and get me, loser! Spankety, spankety, spankety!”

Within just the scope of EarthBound, Porky’s escalation from lousy neighbor to manipulator-of-all-evil is almost humorous. EarthBound is very much concerned with childhood and the world through a child’s eyes, and seeing the local jerk neighbor as a malevolent evil is something relatable and funny. His craven streak is pronounced, and certain subtler elements — his rough family and his unique relationship to Ness — are present but not necessarily expounded upon. Were he merely confined to this entry, he would probably be a memorable antagonist with some interesting wrinkles, but nothing iconic.

Then, there’s the next game.

Pain, pain, go away

While his presence isn’t confirmed until the very last leg, Porky’s influence is felt from the very beginning of Mother 3. He commands the Pigmask army to take over the Nowhere Islands via a mix of subterfuge and force. His forces twist the islands’ wildlife into chimeras and other mutated creatures, purely for the sake of making them cooler or more appealing. They introduce “happy boxes” and dalliances of modern life like currency into the Arcadian community of Tazmily Village, slowly turning the populace from simple townsfolk to mind-numbed laborers and unquestioning citizens.

Porky’s presence, like a specter, hangs over every villainous deed; every attempt to snatch the Egg of Light, smite the populace with lightning, or pull the seven needles has his mark on it, showcasing a need for dominance and possession. The game describes the island as his personal toy box several times, showing his apathy and neglect of the wills and rights of living things. And his actions have inadvertently caused the death of Hinawa, and all the terrible familial tragedy that ensues So by the time Lucas and co. are invited to New Pork City, the player feels a bitter enmity towards the petulant despot that far exceeds the nonexistent screen time he’s had. All of the game’s misdeeds can be traced back to him; in place of Giygas, Porky has become the root of all evil — an emblem of humanity’s sins towards nature and each other.

Yet there’s another quality to Porky’s presence, one of nostalgia and fondness for Ness. His personal room in the Thunder Tower contain a number of EarthBound references, including an item called the Friend’s Yo-yo (who used yo-yo’s again?), which is safeguarded personally by a killer robot. In the New Pork City theater, a reel of Ness’ adventure plays out on screen (hand-selected by Porky, according to an employee). While it could be (and probably is) an unhealthy fixation, it combined with his Magicant appearance and his final farewell in EB (“now which one of us do you think is the cool guy”, asked with almost an air of extreme sensitivity) shows that he does on some level care about Ness, and wants him to be his friend, yet it was not meant to be — whether it was because of Giygas’s influence or Porky’s innate selfishness, I can’t say. But I think both come into play.

Climbing the Empire Pork Building, the tyrant taunts the party as they try to find the 100th floor, jeering their every attempt and making them indulge in his selfish antics. But by the time he’s finally reached, at the very top, the player is stunned to realize that Porky is not the mere child he once was — instead, he’s a wizened and withered figure, delivering his childish barbs between raspy coughs. His time travel has caused his body to rapidly age, yet his behavior is still that of an immature brat. After another small series of happenings, the party finally confronts him deep below the earth, as they race to find the final needle and awaken the Dark Dragon before Porky’s most prized asset, the Masked Man — who is actually Lucas’ twin brother Claus, mechanized and corrupted beyond recognition.

The battle with Porky is telling in many respects. From his inhuman consideration of Claus:

  • “Huh? That monster’s name is Claus? Its name was Claus? That almost sounds like a person’s name! But now it’s my robot. Not even a fragment of life remains inside it. It’s Master Porky’s slave robot! It does whatever I say! It acts on my will alone. It’s my double. It doesn’t know anything about who you are.”

To his apparent immortality:

  • “Let me fill you in on something. No matter how much you attack me, I’ll never die. Even if I somehow wind up beaten, I’ll never die. Bet you didn’t know that, did you?”

But perhaps more striking than all that is a surprisingly dire fatalism — and a sensitivity:

  • “If the dragon wakes up, it might end up destroying everything and extinguishing all life. Even so, ahaha aha ahahahahahaha!! I am more than prepared for that possibility.”
  • “I’ve gone through time and space so many times I haven’t aged like a normal person. Who knows, I might be 1000 years old, or even 10,000 years old. But despite that, I’m still the same kid at heart! Is that funny? It is, isn’t it? Does it make you laugh? *cough* *wheeze* Are you laughing at me?!”
  • “My slave… my lifeless son will pull the final Needles for me. And, the moment he does, the Dragon should awaken and do as I want. At which time, I assume you fools will turn into garbage or dust or something and finally disappear for good. Ahahaha… I’ll admit, that is kind of sad. But I would be crushed under the weight of boredom if it were any other way. *wheeze* *wheeze* *wheeze* *gasp* *gasp* *gasp* *gasp* Do you understand now? Do you understand the sadness Master Porky bears, now that he is god-like? Ahahaha aha ahahahaha. *cough* *cough* *cough* *cough* *cough*

After being roughed up, Porky chides Lucas once more, and retreats into an “Absolutely-Safe Capsule” — a pod that cannot damage or be damaged no matter what, yet is also impossible to open. Dr. Andonuts comes by in that moment to state that because of this, he’ll never harm anybody again, and simply live forever in isolation. He states that… perhaps this is what Porky wanted all along, and wonders if it’s better this way. He asks you if that’s a wrong feeling to have. You can answer either way. No matter what, Porky will laugh at you within the capsule, safe — and alone — for all eternity. The game takes this horrible monster, responsible for unimaginable sorrow… and urges you to sympathize.

Recall Porky’s rough home situation and consider his primary motivations in Mother 3. More than a world where everything bends to his whims, what he really seems to want is an escape from pain — a world where, as supreme ruler, nobody hurts him anymore. In a sense, he really is a child, desperately wanting the hurt to go away, and selfishly considering only his own desires in doing so. Think of how he’s having Claus — a now emotionless being — pull the needles, and therefore create a world not of evil, but nothingness. Porky doesn’t seek a total dictatorship; he wants pure apathy, because lack of existence would be preferable to pain — a pain caused by his poor childhood, an apparent rejection by Ness, and his own loss in EarthBound. It would almost be tragic, if he weren’t so vile.

All of this is emblemized in one quote:

  • With my eternal life, I will see the world through to its end. Until everyone who won’t like me is gone.

The embodiment of all evil

And yet, we must ask, how does Porky get so far? How does he get to the point of becoming the scion of evil, of possessing an entire army? He’s never shown to be particularly intelligent, strong, or charismatic. His attitude is sneering and egotistical, and his wealth and possessions seem to come about due to either petty cunning (such as stealing Monotoli’s helicopter) or some off-screen trickery. The only thing Porky seems to really possess is an unending ambition.

And that, to me, is what makes Porky so real and so terrible. History’s greatest monsters are rarely those who are the most wise, the most charming, or the most powerful. They are simply those who have a ruthlessness and drive to quash any possible dissidents under a steel boot. They’re not the cunning masterminds and shrewd strategists of dramatic works — they’re the sensitive bullies who throw tantrums. And while Porky may not give off the merciless aura of a dictator, it’s evident that he will stop at nothing to achieve his desires, no matter how greedy, petty, or wicked they are. His appetite can never be satiated: he will always be seeking to quench his boredom, his avarice, and most of all — his loneliness.

I’ve written before (and within this very piece) of how EarthBound relates to childhood. Ninten, Ness, and Lucas all feel like paragons of the positive aspects of youth — creativity, courage, malleability, earnesty, and friendship. Porky, in turn, feels like a symbol of all the bad parts of juvenility — self-indulgence, fear, longing, ignorance, and immaturity. And it’s because he’s rooted in this dichotomy, and in a strange sort of realism, that it makes him all too human: loathsome, hideous, and yet understandable. And that makes him far more frightening than any cosmic horror or omnicidal wretch.

Thanks for reading the first edition of the Character Column’s second season! This first write up was a bit of a doozy, so thanks for reading ‘til the end of it. Tune in next time, when we’ll be doing a CC first: talking about a character I don’t like in a bad way. See you then!

“Ness, let’s be friends again. Please answer me. I promise to be good. …uh…okay… (walks away slowly) Hah! I lied! See you, sucker!” – Porky, EarthBound

 

Rating: 5
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Written by Ben Fruzzetti

Gamer, writer and devourer of pasta. Whenever not letting his daydreams run out of control, he can be found writing for Nintendo Wire, playing old JRPGs, or reading sci-fi and fantasy novels and comics.

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  1. pirateprince says:

    Thanks for writing this great piece! Mother 3 is an unforgettable game for so many reasons but this reminded me of how comfortable it was to show gray areas, the nuance and strange sad beauty of human struggle. To show this much sensitivity and characterization for an antagonist character that would be incredibly easy to demonize is a mark of the unparalleled humanity on display in Itoi’s work. Though I hope and pray for another game in the Mother series, I’m grateful for the miracle of the ones we do have.

    Rating: 5
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