As part of this month’s cover story, “Golden,” we’re dedicating the Retro Spotlight feature to highlight a game that made a significant impact in the year it was released. Our first game was released ten years ago, but you’re probably going to have a difficult time seeing it on many game of the year lists from 2006.
Mother 3 first released on April 20, 2006 for the Game Boy Advance in Japan and never anywhere else. Its late release on the GBA, like its predecessor on the Famicom, meant that localization efforts would have been wasted as the market moved onto the Nintendo DS. While the Mother series has gained quite the following, with Mother eventually seeing rerelease on the Wii U Virtual Console, Mother 3 has yet to leave Japan.
One of the game’s main characters, Lucas, was added to Super Smash Bros. Brawl in 2008 on the Nintendo Wii. His addition raised awareness of Mother 3’s existence, as EarthBund (Mother 2) protagonist Ness’ inclusion in the Super Smash Bros. series had suddenly influenced an entirely new generation of players to seek out EarthBound.
As with all games in the Mother series, Mother 3 is a JRPG set in the modern era. It focuses on the journey of Lucas, a boy with psychic abilities, as he and those he meets travel the lands of Tazmily to stop the destruction of the world by an evil army of pig mask-wearing soldiers and their leader. The game follows the story of EarthBound, with the possibility of taking place in an alternate timeline.
It retains the same mechanics as the game before it, which cleverly allowed the player to actively engage or avoid combat altogether on the overworld map. The player will see enemies on the map and can choose to avoid combat, assuming the enemy is unable to catch up with the player. When the player reaches a certain level above that of a random enemy, the player can engage in battle with immediate victory. Battles play out in a somewhat first-person viewpoint. The enemy or enemies are displayed in the background and we don’t see the party characters actually engage in battle. The game brings back the rolling health meter once again, allowing players the chance to stay alive should they be able to defeat the enemy before a received hit causes the health counter to reach zero.
New to Mother 3 is a rhythm-based attack system that grants bonus hits for every consecutive hit struck on the beat of the background music. This mechanic can be used to string together a combo of up to sixteen hits, potentially causing a significant amount of damage when used effectively. At times, the beat of the music is not always apparent, to which the player can put the enemy to sleep to isolate the beat.
While the game has not received an official localization or release outside of Japan, fan site starmen.net has released a translation of the game that can be downloaded and patched into a ROM of the game. The game was released on December 17, 2015 for the Wii U Virtual Console in Japan, but in no other region at the time of this writing. Those eager to play the game can and should try the translation of the game, but it is recommended by those who translated the game that you seek out and purchase some original merchandise to support the game and its creators.
Where its predecessor focused on the weird and psychological, Mother 3 focuses on love. Its central theme is love and the power behind it, as well as what happens when you contradict love and how destructive hate can be. Once again, the game is written by series’ creator Shigesato Itoi, and masterfully blends storytelling into the game that rivals the finest literature. The game carries you through every emotion on the spectrum and leaves an impact like a gut punch from a wrecking ball. Amidst the depth of emotion lies a story of corruption and greed, and what happens when capitalism finds its way into a small town. It’s one of many subthemes in the game’s story that continues to add layers to the power of the game’s writing.
Development of the game ran for twelve years, beginning first on the Super Famicom after the release of Mother 2 and into the Nintendo 64DD. The game was shown off at Space World in 1999, a trade show that Nintendo used to hold to highlight its games in development. A lot of what was shown in the gameplay footage at the show ended up in the eventual release, but it was not without its worried days in development. The project crumbled during the days leading toward the GameCube, and was announced to be cancelled in 2000. Satoru Iwata, the late President of Nintendo then president at HAL Laboratory, cited 3D development as a major source of delay in the game’s development and a significant cause for the game’s eventual cancellation. It was not until years later, when a rerelease of both Mother 1 & 2 were announced for the GBA that Itoi announced the revival of Mother 3 on the platform as well.
It is, sadly, the last game in the Mother series that Itoi or Nintendo have planned. Itoi has been very vocal about not wanting to ruin the games or the franchise by adding more to them. He’s compared the idea of creating a new game to a great artist releasing their fourth or fifth album, and how no one really loves those albums as much as the first few. Additionally, Itoi quite poetically has stated that the real Mother 4 is us living and that we are Mother 4.
Mother 3 remains “strange, funny, and heartrending,” a decade later, leaving us changed for having played it.