Mother 3 review
Nothing that a human being creates can ever be truly perfect. Humans are by our very nature imperfect animals. We live. We die. We fight. We love. Our time in this world is merely a glimmer of a firefly’s light in the infinite, cold chaos of existence. To fill the emptiness we as a species feel this latent urge to create. To forge the bonds of friendship and family. To fuel the fiery coals of war. To exercise our brains to try to understand the mysteries of phenomena around us. To craft works of art that portray the human condition in all its selfish, fearful, angry, sad, joyful, humorous, optimistic, loving glory.
One of these works of art is called …
Mother 3 is the sequel to the SNES role-playing game Mother 2, known as EarthBound outside of Japan. This third installment was released on the Game Boy Advance in 2006 on Japanese shelves after spending years in production limbo following a scrapped stint on the Nintendo 64. It was produced by Nintendo and developed HAL Laboratories (of Kirby fame) and Brownie Brown (currently assisting Nintendo as 1-UP Studios). Creator Shigesato Itoi brought this trilogy of RPGs to its conclusion that, while only having been officially released in the Land of the Rising Sun, has received an avid cult following resulting from a thorough fan translation into English. This review is based upon my experience with this unofficial fan translation.
Mother 3 begins in a remote island chain called the Nowhere Islands where the denizens of the small town of Tazmily Village live peaceful lives devoid of tragedy and pain. Here, a rugged, tacit man named Flint and his adoring wife Hinawa raise twin sons: the red-headed and brave Claus and his timid, blonde brother Lucas. Their lives and the lives of the extended cast of villagers is thrown into chaos when a mysterious army of soldiers in pig masks invades the area. From the very beginning, these characters are thrust into intense drama. People are killed. Families are ruined. Crazed biological experiments pervert Tazmily’s understanding of the world. Everyone is pushed to their limits to try to make order in the sudden turbulence tearing apart their quaint, tight-knit town.
Years later, the Pigmasks set up shop all over the Nowhere Islands. Tazmily Village begins to grow and modernize as Lucas sets of on a journey that will involve many of the other main characters (Boney, Lucas’s pet dog, Kumatora, a bratty girl with immense psychic powers, Duster, a master thief with a limp and Salsa, a dancing monkey). The party’s quest will lead them all over the Nowhere Islands. From the treacherous heights of Mt. Oriander to the deep caves below Murasaki Forest to the mind-numbing lunacy of Tanetane Island. Their goal: to remove the Seven Needles hidden in secret locations throughout the islands. Depending on who pulls them from the ground, a deific force will awaken that will either purge the world of evil or destroy it entirely.
With a summary of the premise like that, I’m probably making Mother 3 sound like a pretty dire, serious game. But really, it’s anything but that. The writing is spectacular in how random, offbeat and just plain bonkers every bit of dialogue, NPC chat bubbles, signs and battle text all blend together to create a game world with such a superb sense of humor. This goes beyond breaking the fourth wall or referencing EarthBound. You save your game by chatting with frogs. Salsa the monkey’s main skill is “apologizing profusely”. You acquire a quest item called “Encouraging Words” which you must employ on a demotivated boulder to give it the encouragement to move. A recurring enemy takes so much damage that he will eventually require a translator after his mouth is replaced by horns. You are whisked toward Saturn Village on a coffee table. An inanimate doorknob shadows the main characters throughout the entire story of the game, including the end credits.
Moving to the game play, Mother 3’s turn based battles build upon those of EarthBound and add a little more meat to your grinding. This time around, while a party member attacks an enemy, the player can press the A button in rhythm to the foe’s “heartbeat” to perform powerful combo attacks. This “heartbeat” varies among enemy types. You can hear the rhythm by putting a target to sleep (where applicable). Beyond that, individual party members have more tricks up their sleeves to help out in combat this time.
Charaters like Lucas and Kumatora have PK powers, basically being psychic blasts of fire, ice, lightning, love, and more that will deal elemental damage or inflict status effects (such as crying uncontrollably, paralysis, feeling strange, nausea, sleep or numbness). Others like Salsa and Duster can use special abilities to lower enemy offense or defense, turn enemies backwards, make enemies laugh or stick enemies to walls with staples. Others status debuffs include fleas, forgetfulness and jealousy.
Another feature retained from EarthBound is the health ticker. You see, when you take a hit, that chunk of HP isn’t chopped off all at once. When a party member takes damage, their health ticks down one by one until all the damage is dealt while the battle continues. One trick is to Defend. That way, the counter will tick slower which may save a character from being killed. Another trick is to bum rush the final baddy while your health is subtracting. If you’re lucky enough to finish the battle, the ticker will stop diminishing before all the damage is given, reducing the hurt taken to your party. It’s a cool system that lends turn-based battles a unique pace.
The visuals of Mother 3 contain more colorful and lively sprites and backgrounds than the previous installments. Characters have more animation in their movements and expressions. The world map is packed with detail yet never feels cluttered or confusing. Architecture is more organic. Battle effects really hammer home how painful the attacks feel. The soundtrack knows exactly the right notes to hit: an imposing march for the Pigmask Army song and a sweet melody for the Love Theme.
Another serious improvement from EarthBound is clarity in progression. Back when Ness and the gang were traveling from city to city to bring an end to Giygas, the next destination wasn’t always clear. You’d have to pay a specific NPC to give you a hint. In Mother 3, the next destination is designated clearly by the events of the story. The RPG format has been streamlined from the top down.
To say much further would be tip-toeing dangerously close to spoiler territory. You see, I’ve been moved emotionally by the story of a game before. This has been the only video game that has ever brought me to tears. Absolute tears. The drama in the lives of Lucas and his family, while depicted by scrolling text and cartoon sprites, struck a chord with me that few works of fiction ever have. The finale in particular is a sequence so touching that I doubt I will ever forget. I’ve played through games with deep themes and heartfelt moments. Just nothing to the degree of unbridled humanity as Mother 3.
The story of Mother 3 echoes within me. At its core, it’s a tale of loss and tragedy but also of togetherness and hope. It’s also an RPG with a much improved combat system, fantastic writing, great art direction and wonderful sound. Like any great game of this genre, there’s a wide world packed with people to talk to and far corners to explore. Like any great Nintendo game, there’s a sense of energy and creativity bursting at the seams. Will we ever see an official release of this game outside of Japan? Perhaps. Even if EarthBound 2 never sees the light of day, I will still be more than satisfied with my experience in the fan translation of Mother 3.