I really should have played this game a lot sooner than I did. I’ve commonly listed EarthBound as one of, if not my favorite games of all time. It’s hard to believe that my review of EarthBound was only the 2nd review I ever wrote, and yet I did not get around to even playing the equally amazing sequel until 7 years later.
To be honest, I may have just played MOTHER 3 for the first time fairly recently, but I have seen a lets play of it before. Hell I was actually introduced to this series through the lets plays of Chuggaaconroy and NintendoCapriSun, which I just realized were posted over a decade ago. Hell now that I think about it, I think I first saw those LPs almost a decade ago.
Simply seeing the story of MOTHER 3 play out was a life altering experience for me, given that I was an awkward teenager at the time and had just about nothing else other than video games to attach myself to. MOTHER 3, was the first game I’ve played that showed me just how deep and meaningful games can be. Yes, I actually saw a lets play of MOTHER 3 before I did EarthBound, yet STILL did not play it for over almost a decade. And I thought I put off Persona 4 for too long!
Playing MOTHER 3 became one of those things where, the more I put off actually playing it, the more special of an idea it became. I was actually convinced that Nintendo would officially release it like they eventually did for EarthBound Beginnings, but it’s seeming increasingly less likely they will as time passes. So I recently decided to hell with it and played it anyway. And let me just say, as a fully grown adult, the genius of this game shines through even more than it already did before.
What makes this such an interesting game is when you compare its more serious, adult nature to that of EarthBound, a game largely based around childhood innocence and the struggle to hold onto it even when faced with the jarring contrast of adult life. EarthBound was a lighthearted game known for throwing in a few “WHAT THE HELL I THOUGHT THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A KID’S GAME!!!” moments, such as Poo’s Mu training, the brain transplant scene, and the final boss fight against I Can’t Believe It’s Not a Fetus.
MOTHER 3 meanwhile, does away with any misconception that this will be a lighthearted adventure by brutally killing off the main character’s mother within the first few hours. Another way how MOTHER 3 subtlety hints towards a more “adult” experience than its predecessor is that you start the game by naming the main character and his family, like in the previous game, but you play as his father in the game’s first chapter. You experience Hinawa’s tragic death not from Lucas’s point of view, but from Flint’s. From the point of view of the person who is expected to hold everything together and appear powerful and reliable.
Instead, you see Flint lose his composure and violently lash out at the the villagers who were trying to help him. You see him lose control because the illusion of adulthood is a fragile one, and it it shows how grief can be just as crushing towards the tough and manly Clint Eastwood expy as it is to the eight year old crybaby.
MOTHER 3 hits HARD with its emotions, and it’s one of the most REAL feeling games I’ve ever played. Not only are the main story characters endearing, but even the NPCs and the side characters are well written and feel fully realized. In true EarthBound fashion, the writing is top notch and compelling. Every NPC has lines so well written you will want to seek them out, and the story is one of the most flawless I’ve ever encountered.
The greatest tragedy of MOTHER 3 is not even Hinawa’s death or that sad, sad, ending; it’s how closely its world mirrors ours. Japanese games are heavily imbued with traditional conservative values, and even games that most of us love reflect this.
Just look at the Dragon Quest series, a series about legendary strongman descended from powerful lineage saving the world from demons, a species intent solely on oppression and destruction. Notice how the Dragon Quest series has never used the common JRPG trope of evil empires trying to take over the world, and how the vast majority of villains are monsters instead of other humans. Notice the acceptance of monarchy and order. It’s almost as if it’s this way because an imperialist war crime apologist has a major say in the direction of series.
The EarthBound series is directly influenced by Dragon Quest, at least in terms of gameplay and visuals. The first two games were influenced by Dragon Quests II and III, but MOTHER 3 is closer to that of Dragon Quest V, the one where personal family relationships come into play, and the one that is easily the most mature in the series. It is also similar to Dragon Quest IV’s chapter based structure.
I bring this up because, in contrast to the Dragon Quest series’s emphasis on traditional values, MOTHER 3 is one of the most anti-capitalist games I’ve ever played, and it’s the type of game that would make Ben Shapiro piss blood with rage. The game starts out in what is essentially a small anarchist commune with no money, no electricity, and no capitalism. Though the commune is primitive, we see how the citizens treat each other as family and are very close knit. Given that Shigesato Itoi is a known Beatles fan, it’s safe to assume that this setting was influence by the John Lennon song “Imagine.”
Throughout the game, capitalism is introduced, and as the city of Tazmily develops, the people become more distant and selfish with each other and caring only about their own well being. The game’s main villains are basically capitalists and billionaires. They build a giant thunder tower to shoot lightning at the homes of anyone who doesn’t support their product. They artificially create conditions that make people unhappy, and then claim that their unhappiness is because of their refusal to buy their products. I may decide to write a full analysis piece on this game at some other time, but the point is that MOTHER 3 hit me even harder as an adult than it did as a teen, and I can only imagine it becoming more relevant with time
But before I continue on, I need to address one of the more problematic bits of the game, the one that is commonly cited as a potential reason this game still has not been localized. It pertains to a set of side characters that have a major role in the story. While I felt these characters were quite well written, there are two problems I had with their implementation.
CW: Discussion of Transphobia and Anti-Romani prejudice.
The first of which is that the name of the group these characters belong to contains an anti-Romani slur in the name. Given that I didn’t even know this term was a slur until a few years ago, and a lot of us heard it used in a fucking Disney movie, I think it’s safe to assume that Itoi didn’t know it was a slur either, and this is something that could be fixed in an official localization.
The second factor is a bit more complicated, but still easily resolved. The characters I’m referring to are a group of sorcerers who dress and act in very stereotypical feminine manners, but have masculine appearances. Some have interpreted these characters as a transphobic caricature, and use this as an excuse to fear monger about how feminist SJWs will throw a fit if this game is localized, so it’s clearly their fault.
If you couldn’t tell, I’m a feminist SJW myself, and I’m also trans. With this in mind, I can easily determine that this is clearly projection on their parts. They interpreted these characters as an anti trans stereotype, because they view the existence of trans people as a big joke in and of itself.
I literally know people who are like these characters, and unlike the fuckboys who throw tantrums over being asked to not say slurs on Reddit, I respect them and support them. And I would give a lot of credit to Itoi for including a positive portrayal of a heavily stigmatized group of people with little exposure if it weren’t for one thing… they have inconsistent pronoun usage.
It’s quite clear that Itoi wanted to include these characters just to give representation to a group of people that aren’t always represented, similarly to how Tony in EarthBound represented gay men, or how Duster in this very game represents disabled people, but that he didn’t know shit about trans culture. The game claimed that these characters are “neither man nor woman,” yet randomly alternates between using male or female pronouns.
Once again, this is something that can be easily fixed in an official localization if Nintendo wasn’t too chickenshit to do so. Then again, I suppose it’s tough to rely on the people who banned trans flags from Smash Bros Ultimate to do anything right for LGBT people.
One also needs to give credit to MOTHER 3 for its top notch presentation. Similarly to the previous two games, MOTHER 3’s graphics aren’t particularly impressive in an technical sense, but they are in an artistic sense. There is a lot of expression and emotion put into each of the animations that most games don’t have, and a lot of attention to detail. The sound effects are also brilliantly used and make every action feel all the more real and impactful, and there are over 200 songs in a game that is relatively short by RPG standards.
Going through this game, I was surprised at the number of tracks that are only used in one brief scene, yet damn near every track is made with intense care or passion. I don’t think there is a single track in this game that I dislike, and it’s even more impressive since this soundtrack was composed entirely by one person. I’m going to have enough Amazing VGM candidates from this game to last a century.
Even the fan translation for this game is of the quality of an official localization, going through the effort to change the Octopus Statues and Kokoshi Dolls to their EarthBound equivalent, translating the unused “Memo” feature, and adding an additional hard mode as a reward for finding every back-sprite.
As for the gameplay, it’s an improvement over EarthBound as well. The game’s balance is significantly better, and there is more thought and strategy required in the late game bosses, in addition to the fact that there are significantly less overpowered exploits. There are a lot of unique areas to explore, and the game is excellent at rewarding exploration. It also helps that movement is quicker given that you now have a dash command.
There are only a few issues that I have with the gameplay, and one of them is more the fault of emulation than the original release. MOTHER 3 has a unique feature where you can score additional attacks by tapping the button to the beat of the music, and as you go through the game, some battle themes will be made in erratic time signatures that are harder to master than others, while others will change up the music.
The problem is that, due to there being no official English release, most English speaking players will be playing this game through emulation, which means having to put up with slight input lag. This makes it immensely harder to practice combos considering you need to have split second timing on the button presses, which is a lot harder when there is a less than a second delay working against you. Thankfully, it is still possible to get the hang of the easier songs, and it it won’t make the game any more difficult if you can’t.
The other complaint isn’t a major flaw but more of a baffling omission. With the newly added dash function, you can automatically kill weak enemies on the overworld, but unlike in EarthBound, you no longer gain any experience from them. The idea that one would remove one of the best features of the previous game is almost as baffling as the fact that this mechanic isn’t used in more games.
I have often listed EarthBound as my favorite game of all time, but the truth is that it is actually tied with MOTHER 3. I absolutely adore both of these games, but for different reasons. EarthBound, I love because of its child-like purity and the feelings of nostalgia it invokes. Despite the fact that I first experienced MOTHER 3 when I was still a young teen, it means even more to me as an adult than it did back then, and it meant A LOT to me as a teen.
I think the greatest irony of MOTHER 3 is that it isn’t particularly original or revolutionary. I find that the reviews where I express the most lavish praise for games are ones that do things I haven’t seen before, and make me feel things I didn’t think could be felt. While there was one point where MOTHER 3 met this description to me, it is its surprising lack of originality that is so poignant to me after I’ve experienced stuff like NieR Automata, Euphoria, Saya no Uta, LISA: The Painful, Persona 3, Undertale, and Totono.
The term “classic” is thrown around fairly often when it comes to games. The game industry has not been around as long as film or writing, and there’s no way that we know for sure whether a lot of our favorites will hold up just as well two hundred years from now as they do right now, and we don’t know if there will ever be a point where games stop being viewed as children’s toys and are given as assignments in schools.
As much as I love the above games, I can’t imagine any of them being given to school children in the future as assignments (and given the content of some of them, that’s probably for the best). MOTHER 3 is one of the few games I’ve played where I can picture it not only being held up as a masterwork of fiction, but feel that this is how it SHOULD be treated. MOTHER 3 is as close to perfect as a game can get, and is one of the few genuine “classics” that I am aware of. Localization or not, this game is a must experience.
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