“Strange, funny, and heartrending.“
This was the slogan for a little game known as Mother 3, released exclusively in Japan on April 20, 2006 as the third installment in the Mother franchise. I don’t even know where to begin with this game other than by saying it’s simply one of a kind. No other game comes close to it in terms of fusing comical whimsicality and numbing poignancy, in an incredibly simple package. I’ve raved similar praises for Earthbound, this game’s predecessor, and I’ll probably continue to do the same here. Shigesato Itoi is truly a unique visionary when it comes to crafting his tales and creating his worlds, and the translation project, birthed on Starmen.net, deserves some huge props too. Without either of them, an entire Western audience would have been completely left in the dark.
The game begins in the idyllic Tazmily Village located on the Nowhere Islands. It houses a very close-knit community of people, including our hero Lucas, his twin brother Claus, his mother Hinawa, his father Flint, and his dog Boney. These are the default names and like Earthbound, you can name the characters to your liking at the start of the game. Most people, I imagine, would name the characters after their own family. The lives of all the islanders are simple ones. They know nothing of violence, crime, or even the need for currency. Tazmily Village is, for all intents and purposes, a utopia.
The next few paragraphs are a synopsis of the game’s 1st Chapter. There are spoilers.
Of course, good things can never last forever it seems. In the game’s first chapter, out of eight, the serene calm that graced the islands is shattered when a mysterious band of soldiers known as the Pigmasks shows up to destroy the peace. They first set fire to the forest and let loose their monstrous chimera experiments, in which they fuse animals with each other and machine parts. Of these is the Mecha-Drago, a savage version of the normally friendly Drago. On its rampage, it kills Lucas’s mother as she buys time to let her sons escape. We never get to see this happen, but the way the news is revealed to Lucas’s dad (and ultimately the player) has got to be one of the most devastating and heartbreaking scenes in any video game. I can only imagine what the scene is like if you had put your family’s names in, or if you were a mother playing the game.
The once gentle Flint, a man of few words, is thrown into a rage and attacks everyone who tries to console him. Unfortuantely, in order to control him, Lighter is forced to knock him out and throw him in jail, causing Flint to miss his own wife’s funeral. Lucas’s brother Claus recklessly goes after the Mecha-Drago after the funeral to avenge his mother, and Flint goes after him to the mountains. Flint finds the Mecha-Drago, but not hide nor hair of his son. He then spends the next three years devoting his life to fruitlessly searching for his lost son. With that, with Lucas’s family in smithereens, the 1st Chapter of Mother 3 ends. If that’s not enough to get you emotionally invested in the story, I’m not sure what will.
After a three-year skip, we get into the real meat of the story. An interesting narrative method I enjoy in this game is how subsequent chapters focus on other characters which converge at a later time. The next two chapters occur around the same time, but from different perspectives. One is from the limping thief apprentice Duster who is tasked with checking up on a treasure in Osohe Castle. The other is from an enslaved monkey named Salsa who possesses an electrocution collar and is cruelly pushed around by an official of the Pigmasks named Fassad. As time progresses, Fassad deceives the villagers into accepting modern habits like TV’s and the use of money, essentially corrupting the once immaculate lifestyle enjoyed on the islands.
While it’s not revealed until a fair way into the game, the main objective is for Lucas to pull the 7 Needles that are dispersed around the Nowhere Islands, similar to collecting the 8 Melodies from previous games. This happens to be where Lucas’s Up Smash in Brawl comes from, too. These Needles guard a sleeping dragon that can either recreate or destroy the world depending on the heart of the puller. From then on, it’s a race against the mysterious Masked Man, who is also after the Needles, and ultimately a clash between one with a good virtuous heart and one with an evil corrupt heart.
Since this is a JRPG, Lucas has a party to help him on his quest! Second to the group is the aforementioned Duster who utilizes secret thief arts to debuff enemies and inflict status ailments. Next is the pink-haired tomboy Kumatora who, like Lucas, is taught how to use PSI (psychic powered magic). Finally, we have Boney! Seriously, it’s Lucas’s dog who’s the final party member. His usefulness lies in his speed to use items like the Shield Snatcher in battle first and Sniff out the opponent’s weakness.
The combat system is heavily reminiscent of the one from Earthbound, utilizing a first-person view but this time with little character sprites above each info box. The scrolling HP counter and the onscreen enemy sprites also make their return. The biggest innovation that’s introduced here is the concept of a rhythm-based combo system. There is a huge number of battle themes in this game, many with rhythmic variations, too. The general idea is to tap the A button to each beat and each successful tap will add an additional hit, with a max of 16. This can boost a regular attack to about three times its normal strength. It also adds an additional level of interaction by getting the player really involved and feeling the music (which is fantastic).
Speaking of music, newcomer Shogo Sakai was drafted to put together the game’s massive score, with around 200 tracks. Since the game relies so heavily on music, both for its emotive cutscenes and the battle system, I can only imagine what kind of pressure he was under. However, he did an amazing job because Mother 3 has a fantastic soundtrack that’s quite a departure from Earthbound’s unconventional soundscape. Personally, I think that’s a good since music from that game was a bit hard to swallow at times. While the music in Mother 3 is much more conventional and easy to like, there are still some nods of approval to its predecessor. Some great tracks include: “Strong One” (all of the battle themes actually), “Love Theme” (the game’s main theme), and “A Railway in Our Village?” (and all village themes for that matter). If it weren’t for the GBA’s ugly sound card, I’d say this soundtrack was perfect.
What game does this to people, though? It paints such a happy-go-lucky atmosphere at the beginning, only to be followed up with tragedy after tragedy and then a bunch of comedic bits in between. This is one of the interesting dichotomies that Mother 3 plays around with. The battle between the two fundamental pillars of entertainment: comedy and tragedy. The game makes sure that one doesn’t exist for too long or that the two an inextricably intertwined. For example, soon after the funeral, we have Lucas’s grandfather Alec making bad puns and constantly farting. Such random non sequiturs act as unpredictable mental jerks to kind of keep you on your toes, putting you in a state of unease yet at the same time in a comfortable environment. I can understand how some might think this ruins the mood at times, but I think it’s a product of the self-aware charm that we’ve come to love from the series. Life isn’t a static comedy or tragedy but an unpredictable mixture of the two, after all.
Mother 3 retains all of the zaniness from its predecessors and even goes further with the creativity. Every single enemy you’ll encounter will be a memorable one, from the sentient flora (Naughty Mushrooms) to the hybridized fauna (Horsantula) to endless variants of Pigmasks. There’s also plenty of animated inanimate objects like the Men’s Room Sign, Jealous Bass, or even the Bright Smile. There are all sorts of little details that really bring out the personality of the game. Each save frog asks you to send his regards to the next frog you meet, which creates a nice feeling of camaraderie around the entire world of the game. There are even item presents that serve no purpose another than to play a short beat or send off a firework. Who could forget the metal monkeys that you can fight for literally a “good experience?” Or how about the chance to ride a green train, in which the game tells you after that you “felt the joy of riding a green train.” It’s little things like these that make us stop and think about what the world could be like if we approached it with that level of appreciation.
As mentioned before, there’s a constant struggle between good and evil that occurs throughout the game. Not only does this happen between the two factions gunning for the 7 Needles, but I think there’s conflict within everyone’s hearts too. Who decides what the right thing is to do and are the lines between the two always so clear? It’s a difficult question that’s left up in the air even after the end of the game. Maybe there’s always a little bit of good and evil in all of us. This idea is amplified through the convergence of technology and nature, such as the chimera or the modernization of Tazmily Village. I think the stereotypical view of a utopia involves flying cars and lots of chrome, but Mother 3 seems to imply that our utopia involves regressing back to nature. In this sense, we’re doomed to never achieve utopia, but we can still happily live out our lives in a happy medium, between utopia (good) and dystopia (evil). If you take a look at the cover art, the wooden/metal logo basically screams the message at your face. But at the end of the game, the logo is transformed to completely wood with the iconic Blue Marble “O.”
If you couldn’t tell by my ranting and raving, I love love LOVE this game, and I don’t think anything I say could possibly do it justice. It’s one of those things that simply must be experienced to be appreciated. However, unlike Earthbound, there is no legal way to play Mother 3. So I’ll urge you to either get an emulator and play the game with the English translation patch (easily found through Google), or watch a Let’s Play of it (I’ve watched chuggaaconroy’s once and NintendoCapriSun’s four times).
This is the title of the eighth and final chapter of Mother 3. “All things may come to an end”? “All things and all time will be reborn?” Or maybe “all things and all life will always find a way?”
As cliché as it may sound, Mother 3 is one of those games that can literally change your life. If there’s any game that can make you appreciate your family (or maybe even life in general) more, it’s Mother 3. If Nintendo doesn’t believe that a game like this could sell internationally, then I think there’s something inherently wrong with the world because more people NEED to know about this game. Like I’ve said about Earthbound, Mother 3 is a game that really just goes above and beyond being just a game. Sure, it’s fun as hell and it does everything a good game should, but there’s so much more to it than that. Luckily, the game found a way to spread its message, and I sincerely think the world is a better place because of Mother 3.