Mother 3 (Game Boy Advance) review
"By all accounts, Mother 3 is a game that should never have been playable by an English-speaking audience. First you have Nintendo’s outspoken hatred of fans of the Mother/Earthbound series – their refusal to translate Mother 1+2 on the GBA, their refusal to translate Mother 3, their refusal to bring Earthbound to the Wii Virtual Console in America/Europe despite Earthbound ranking #1 in their polls of what games to bring to the VC every single time, their outright mocking of Earthbound fans in t..."
By all accounts, Mother 3 is a game that should never have been playable by an English-speaking audience. First you have Nintendo’s outspoken hatred of fans of the Mother/Earthbound series – their refusal to translate Mother 1+2 on the GBA, their refusal to translate Mother 3, their refusal to bring Earthbound to the Wii Virtual Console in America/Europe despite Earthbound ranking #1 in their polls of what games to bring to the VC every single time, their outright mocking of Earthbound fans in the August 2008 issue of Nintendo Power. Then you have the second hindrance: GBA games aren’t profitable anymore, and haven’t been forever, limiting any chance at a third-party company doing the translation instead. The third: Mother 3 was developed over the course of 14 years, failed to get a release for its original system (the N64) and was barely released on the GBA in 2006. Add in the fact that Mother 3’s code was an impenetrable fortress of crap that would have taken a professional team years to fix (largely because Nintendo had refused to translate it before it even came out and was not meant for release outside Japan), and you have pretty much all the reasons why Mother 3 would never see an English release. Finally, over two years after the GBA release of Mother 3, a dedicated group of romhackers lead by a freelance translator from Funimation released a patch for the ROM that would allow just about anyone to play. Those 14 years were certainly worth it, as Mother 3 delivers the single best JRPG ever made, easily crushing even the only other good JRPG in existence (Suikoden).
Mother 3 is not like other JRPGs, largely due to the man who made it, Shigesato Itoi. Itoi isn’t a game designer – a fact he himself has admitted. Itoi is first an author, then a billion other things (voiceactor, copy editor at a large Japanese newspaper, owner of one of the biggest blogs in Japan). The end result is that Mother 3 is a carefully planned-out and well executed game, just like a good book or news story. Like a book, every single element down to individual words was chosen for a reason, unlike, say, Final Fantasy 7 where the only text that matters is the string of 9’s appearing every time you hit the attack button. There’s an immense amount of attention to detail as well.
Let’s start with the meat of any JRPG – the combat system. Mother 3’s combat screen is very, very simplistic. You have your characters, represented by boxes showing their current HP and PP (Psychic Power). You have the sprite representing the enemy. You have the trippy backgrounds that make their return from Earthbound. This serves three purposes. The first: you’re not meant to be paying attention to the graphics. The second: like a book, the game isn’t going to shove its idea of what your attacks look like down your throat. The third: it doesn’t waste hours forcing you to watch lame attack animations. What you’re meant to be paying attention to during combat are two things: the rolling HP bar and the music. The rolling HP bar works like it did in Earthbound – if a character takes mortal damage (say, from an enemy exploding on you), their HP meter slowly rolls down to 0. This allows you to either end combat or heal the dying character, both of which will stop their HP from rolling down. This can also be used to reduce the damage from enemies with extremely powerful attacks. The music is used for the game’s combo attack system. Each character is capable of hitting up to 16 times with their basic attack, which does roughly three times normal damage. Comboing requires that you pay attention to the music and hit the A button with the beat. Some songs are far harder to combo to than others – but that’s okay, because you’re allowed to wait as long as you’d like between when your character’s attack comes up and when they actually start doing damage, allowing you to find the easiest part of a song to combo to. You can also make it easier to discern the beat by putting enemies to sleep, allowing you to hear their heartbeat, which is when you should be pressing A. This is hard for some people and simple for others – and is in fact nearly impossible if you’re playing it on an emulator due to lag. Fortunately, as the game itself tells you, the combo system is not a necessity – it’s entirely possible to beat the game without ever using it.
Related to the combat system is the other way in which Mother 3’s gameplay departs from the traditional JRPG: there is no grind. The game itself states that as long as you aren’t running away all the time you’ll be able to go through the entire thing without being underlevelled. You’ll still probably die, as there are moments in Mother 3 that are genuinely hard even if you’ve grinded, but it won’t be because you’re underlevelled. You ARE able to grind if you really want to, but it usually isn’t worth it.
As stated before, there’s also an immense amount of attention to detail present in the game world. Every NPC has unique dialog, which can change anywhere from every few minutes to once over the course of the game. There’s also a large amount of signs and other background objects that wouldn’t be readable in any other JRPG but are in Mother 3, often displaying bizarre messages. The best example of this is a sign midway through the game in a field of flowers. Most people would simply pass it by on the way to their next objective, but if you take the time to read it, it says the following:
“In order to read this sign, you had to trample the flowers beneath your feet.
In fact, someone had to trample the flowers to write this sign.
So maybe that person is really the one at fault for tempting others to read
the sign they wrote.”
Another favorite: in one area, there’s a secluded present (Mother 3’s treasure chest) behind a couple of enemies. Opening the present causes the background music to stop suddenly, and for a moment you hear nothing but silence. Then, a jazz melody plays, and the text at the bottom changes to
”You heard a jazz melody.
The jazz melody plays only once in the game, when you open that particular present. Most people would immediately hit A to end it and continue on, never hearing what that present had to offer. If you leave it for a while, it will play through an entire jazz melody lasting a minute or so. There are similar presents all throughout that part of the game with other unique songs in them, just like that one.
The final thing that makes Mother 3 the amazing game that it is would be the huge amount of music it contains, and the neat things it does with it. For instance, in combat, each character’s attacks (including enemies) are represented by a different instrument - everything from a saxophone to an electric guitar to a dog barking. Successfully doing a combo will cause the instrument to play a small solo piece, always going with the background music. Once you have four characters in your party, attacking becomes a soundtrack in and of itself, which I found to be one of the neatest tricks I’ve seen done in any game. There’s also a neat history behind a lot of the music in the game. For instance, take the track Sixteen Melodies. It sounds like one unified track, when in actuality it’s the Eight Melodies from Mother 1 (Earthbound 0) combined with the eight Sound Stone Melodies from Mother 2 (Earthbound) and an entirely new original piece. In Japan, the Eight Melodies from Mother 1 are a piece commonly used to teach beginning piano players. Itoi himself said that he imagined children playing Eight Melodies with one finger, and thus Sixteen Melodies was designed so that it could be played on a piano with one finger.
There’s only one complaint I can imagine anyone making about this game: that it’s too short, which is only partially true. The game was not intended to be rushed through in a single day, which is sadly what most of the Square-Enix addicts in Japan did. If you take the time to actually explore and find all the little things like I mentioned earlier, the game lasts significantly longer. Even if you don’t, the game still lasts as long as you’re not holding down the frameskip button on your emulator and using a macro to repeatedly hit A for you.
Mother 3 is a game that is definitely worth playing, even to people who aren’t into games or who aren’t into JRPGs. There’s only one minor issue – you won’t be able to play it in English on an original cartridge (which are near impossible to find these days except on EBay for $100+). This leaves you with two options: either pick up a GBA for cheap (or a DS for significantly more) and buy a flashcart for it, or play it on an emulator. Either way, it’s still worth it. Final Score: 10/10.
Featured community review by timrod (October 26, 2008)
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