Mother 3

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Mother 3
Deluxe package.jpg
Japanese box art. The logo's wooden and metallic combination is intended to invoke feelings of unease and discomfort.
Developer(s) Nintendo
Brownie Brown
HAL Laboratory
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Director(s) Nobuyuki Inoue
Producer(s) Shinichi Kameoka
Kensuke Tanabe
Keisuke Terasaki
Artist(s) Nobuhiro Imagawa
Writer(s) Shigesato Itoi
Composer(s) Shōgo Sakai
Series Mother
Platform(s) Game Boy Advance
Release date(s)
  • JP April 20, 2006
Genre(s) Role-playing video game
Mode(s) Single-player

Mother 3 (Japanese: マザースリー Hepburn: Mazā Surī?) is a 2006 role-playing video game in the Mother series developed by Brownie Brown and HAL Laboratories and published by Nintendo for the Game Boy Advance. The single-player, turn-based game follows simple role-playing game rules and uses the battle system of its predecessor, EarthBound (Mother 2). The player-character changes across the game's eight chapters, though the story centers around the protagonist (Lucas) and his family against the Pig Mask Army. Apart from the writing of its creator, Shigesato Itoi, the title is known for its extended development and its fan translation.

The game's development spanned nine years and four consoles, beginning in 1994 for the Super Famicom and quickly moving to the Nintendo 64 and its 64DD add-on. Following Mother 2's success in Japan, the team set out to make an unprecedented 3D game that ultimately exceeded the capabilities of the platform and was cancelled in 2000. Work on Mother 3 began anew in 2003 for the Game Boy Advance when Mother 1+2 was announced. The game's themes include human physiology, renewal, moral fungibility, and dualisms such as nature and technology, feudalism and capitalism.

Mother 3 was released on April 20, 2006 in Japan, whereupon it became a bestseller. Famitsu gave it a "Platinum Hall of Fame" score. Reviewers praised its story, graphics, and music, but criticized its 1990s role-playing game mechanics. Despite acclaim as one of the best role-playing games for the console and advocacy from EarthBound's fan community, it did not receive a North American release. A team of fans created a well known, full English fan translation of the game over two years. Itoi has no plans to make Mother 4.

Gameplay[edit]

In a battle sequence, the player may repeatedly attack by pressing a button with the beat of the background music

Unlike the earlier games in the series,[1] Mother 3 is presented in eight chapters with rotating player-characters including the protagonist's "cowboy father", the "family dog", an "inept thief", and "abused money".[2] The chapters end with a boss fight, and the first four chapters are set in a simultaneous time period.[1] Mother 3 begins with naming the members of the player-character's family along with questions of the player's favorite food and "thing",[3] and opens to a "pastoral forest village" soon interrupted by a forest fire and the Pig Mask Army, who impose police state-like conditions on the village.[2] With the fire's outbreak, the father ventures out to protect his family (twin sons Lucas and Claus and wife Hinawa), but the rest of the world is eventually implicated in the plot.[1] They set out to take down the Pig Mask Army.[4] Lucas, the game's hero, does not become prominent until the four chapter. The game features a lighthearted plot, with enemies like "partying ghosts" and "talking rope snakes".[5] Characters from the previous game—such as Mr. Saturn—reappear, and the final chapter is "full of blatant links".[5]

As a single-player,[6] simple role-playing video game, the player has a two buttons: one for starting conversations and checking adjacent objects, and another for running.[2][a] The game updates the turn-based,[5] Dragon Quest-style battle system with a "rhythm-action mechanic", which lets the player take additional turns to attack the enemy by chaining together up to sixteen taps in time with the background music.[2][b] The rhythm fluctuates in later battles.[2] Apart from this rhythm and combo mechanic, the battle system is similar to that of its predecessor.[1][c] There is no need to grind for experience and it has no random battles.[2] The game's graphics are similar to previous games, with psychedelic battle backgrounds and cartoonish art.[1] The player's inventory holds items and equipment, and lets the player see their magic "PSI power" abilities.[5] While Mother 3's music is both similar in tone to its predecessors and completely new, it features similar sound effects.[1]

Development[edit]

The game was designed for the 64DD add-on, shown here as docked beneath the Nintendo 64

Following the commercially successful release of Mother 2 (EarthBound in North America), Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development head and eventual Mother 3 producer Shigeru Miyamoto approved the game's development team to continue into Mother 3. While most team members stayed, some left, and new hires were added. Development began in 1994 for the Super Famicom (Super Nintendo Entertainment System), and went directly into production, skipping the usual prototyping phase due to the team's experience. Series creator Shigesato Itoi wanted to make an unprecedented game similar to a Hollywood film.[7] He expected the game to be ready for release on Nintendo's then-upcoming console in 1996.[8] The team was inspired by Super Mario 64 and felt that they too could creatively flourish by making a 3D world without restrictions. Their early technical specifications exceeded the capabilities and memory limits of the platform. About halfway through development, the team attempted to scale back its large scope and changed its development platform[7] to the 64DD, a Nintendo 64 magneto-optical drive expansion peripheral.[9] Mother 3 was expected to be a launch title for the 1998 Japan-only peripheral,[10] but was converted to a regular Nintendo 64 game[11] when the 64DD flopped.[9] IGN reported the game to be half complete at Nintendo's 1999 Space World trade show.[11] The website was impressed by the Space World demo, particularly by its mine cart scene, and compared the multi-character narrative to the Japan-only Super Famicom RPG Live A Live.[11] Famitsu readers ranked the game as one of their top ten most anticipated towards the end of 1999.[12] In April 2000, IGN estimated the game's development as "safe to assume that the game is nearing its final stages of completion".[13] A North American release of Mother 3 was announced as EarthBound 64,[14] but the game struggled to find a firm release date[15] and was expected to release in Japan before a North American version would be considered.[13] After a period of silence, Nintendo announced that the game would be a 256 megabit cartridge for the Nintendo 64 (similar to Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time) instead of a 64DD game.[11]

Satoru Iwata and Shigeru Miyamoto, Mother 3 producers

Mother producer Satoru Iwata cancelled the game altogether prior to the 2000 Space World,[7] and Itoi announced the cancellation in late August 2000.[16] Iwata and Miyamoto clarified that the franchise was not abandoned but that the game would no longer be developed for the Nintendo 64, and that it was not due to project complications or development hell, but to resources needed for Project Dolphin (the GameCube). They estimated the project to be about 60 percent complete at the time of cancellation—the basics were complete and only programming was left. About 30 percent of the final product was completed. Itoi felt that it would have taken an additional two years to finish properly. Both Iwata and Miyamoto were not on-site through most of the previous year due to other priorities. The two discussed releasing the game on the Game Boy Advance, but realized that it would take "just as much time" with 40 to 50 staff members to make such a game.[7] In retrospect, Iwata wondered out loud in an interview why the game needed to be in 3D when Itoi's "greatest talent lies in words" and thought that the energy poured into making a 3D game might have been a poor choice.[7] He said he felt "genuinely ashamed", and acknowledged that they were both "caught up in the 3D obsession and felt obligated" at the time.[7] Miyamoto was still interested in bringing the game to fruition.[7]

"We're making Mother 3 for the GBA too! Dakota!"[17]
Mother 3 is announced at the end of the 2003 Mother 1+2 commercial

Three years later, in 2003, a Japanese Mother 1+2 television commercial included a slide that announced a future release of Mother 3. While working on the compilation that would port Mother and Mother 2 to the Game Boy Advance,[18] Itoi predicted further pressure to release Mother 3 and decided, based on encouragement and the game's fans, to release the game.[19] Itoi had earlier assumed that restarting the project was impossible, and felt that his final effort to finish the game to be more like a "prayer" than like "vengeance".[17] Other than the graphical changes required for a release on the Advance, the game was to keep its original story.[19] Brownie Brown staff assisted in the game's development, and Itoi worked with them on individual pacing issues.[20] The game was about 60 percent finished by July 2004,[21] and was released on April 20, 2006 in Japan for the Game Boy Advance,[22] whereupon it became a bestseller.[9]

Design[edit]

Flint in an inn setting, as compared between the Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Advance versions

Itoi thought of the concept behind Mother 3 towards the end of Mother 2's production, a "detective story where the city was the main character".[7] He thought of a hack, small-time, womanizing private investigator who would become engrossed in a big murder case, and the story would unfold from a young female clerk at a flower shop who would slowly recall parts of a story consequential to the plot. Thus, the city would appear to grow. This idea of a "single place changing over time" was central to Mother 3.[7] Unlike previous RPGs, which he saw as "road movies" with little reason to revisit, he wanted the player to see the town gossip grow dynamically.[7] It was enough of a departure from the series that the development team questioned whether fans would consider it part of the series.[7] Itoi intended the game to have 12 chapters with various game mechanics and rotating player-characters.[d] He conceptualized the development as moving 3D puppets before realizing the degree of programming required. As development wore on, Itoi reduced the scope of the chapters until seven or nine were left. The "uncomfortable beauty" of chimera—multiple creatures fused into one—was central to the game and the idea behind the metallic and wooden Mother 3 logo.[7][e] Itoi served less of a manager role and more as a team member and scriptwriter than in previous Mother development cycles. He saw himself as simultaneously making the game he wanted to play and setting traps for the player, and as making a game Nintendo could not.[7]

Itoi chose to use the pixelated style of Mother 2 for the Game Boy Advance Mother 3 because he was uninterested in computer graphics trends.[17] The series' games were written in the hiragana alphabet instead of in kanji (Chinese characters) so as to remain accessible to young children.[20] Itoi described the game world as governed by a "might equals right ... macho" power struggle.[24] The antagonist, Porky, was designed as a "symbol of humankind", complementing Itoi's view of evil on a fungible morality spectrum with "pranks" and "crimes" at its extremes.[23] Itoi compared the way in which the characters realize their psychic powers with menstruation, and added that human physiology was "one of his themes".[25] Players sweat when learning an ability based on Itoi's belief of how physical struggle facilitates growth. He also included characters like the Magypsies and Duster (who has a bad leg) to show the value of having friends with different qualities.[25] Another of his themes was the duality of the seriousness and lightheartedness of games, which is why he added a serious death scene to the first chapter.[26] Itoi's Nintendo 64 version of the ending was darker, "dirtier", and more upsetting, though the final version changed little in concept.[20] Itoi attributed the change in tone to his own growth and the character composition of the new development team. Itoi later reflected on the ending's lesson on the virtue of helping bad people.[20] Itoi felt that the ending's renewal theme reflected his worldview of appreciating our time on Earth in light of the planet's inevitable end.[27] Much of the rest of the script was written after-hours at a local hotel where they would continue their work.[20]

Music[edit]

The game's music was composed by Shogo Sakai. Itoi saw Sakai as competing with Mother 2 composer Keiichi Suzuki for his fans. Itoi had to choose a composer from the development team who understood the series and could work full-time on the project, including other development duties. Thus, he could not choose Suzuki, who was outside the project, or Hirokazu Tanaka, who had become the president of Creatures. Sakai also understood the game's story intimately and named the Magypsies after musical terms. He worked to make the music feel similar to previous entries in the series.[28] The game's soundtrack was released on compact disc on November 2, 2006. Kyle Miller of RPGFan wrote that the game retained the quirkiness of the previous soundtracks in the series despite the change in composers. He found the second half of the album, which included reinterpreted "classics" from the series, to be its strongest.[29]

Release[edit]

The game was developed by Brownie Brown and HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo[6] in Japan on April 20, 2006 for the Game Boy Advance,[22] whereupon it became a bestseller.[9] Prior to its release, the game was in the "top five most wanted games" of Famitsu[30][31] and at the top of the Japanese preordered game charts.[3] At one point leading up to its release, the game's "Love Theme" would play as music on hold for the Japan Post.[31] A limited edition Deluxe Box Set was produced with a special edition Game Boy Micro and Franklin Badge pin.[32][33] The game was marketed in Japan with a television commercial that has Japanese actress Kou Shibasaki on the verge of tears as she explains her feelings about Mother 3. Itoi has said that her performance was unscripted.[20]

Fan translation[edit]

Mother 3 did not receive a North American release[9] on the basis that it would not sell well.[34][f] The American EarthBound fan community, in support of the series, had rallied support via events and petitions for the release over the course of its development. Despite receiving the backing of the wider gaming community, Nintendo did not respond. In turn, the new release became a "rallying point" for the community.[35] 1UP.com wrote that "no other game in the history of time garnered such a rabid demand for translation".[36]

Several months following the release and after receiving confirmation that Nintendo was uninterested in an official English localization, a fan translation project was announced at EarthBound community site Starmen.net.[35] It was led by Clyde "Tomato" Mandelin, a professional game translator.[37] A group of around a dozen individuals translated the game from Japanese to English in a process that took two years and thousands of work-hours.[35] The team chose to not alter the game aside for adding a new intro screen, which meant not adding their names to the credits. The localization included two elements: hacking the game data (ROM) and translating the scripted dialogue. The ROM hacking entailed assembly-level changes to the game code. Some of the technical changes included "variable width fonts", graphics hacks, and custom software.[35] About 1,000 pages of text were translated. They estimated the theoretical freelance cost of the translation at $30,000.[35]

The team reported that "the highest levels" of Nintendo of America knew about their project, though they did not intervene.[35] The localization team planned to end the project if Nintendo were to make an announcement about the future of the game.[35] They acknowledged that the legality of the localization was unclear[38][39] since the final translation required use of an emulator.[40] The localization patch was finished in October 2008,[40][41] and was downloaded over 100,000 times in its first week.[37] Along with the translation, the team announced the Mother 3 Handbook, an English player's guide for the game that had been in development since June 2008.[39] Wired reported the full-color, 200-page player's guide to be akin to a professional strategy guide, with quality "on par with ... Prima Games and BradyGames".[42] The Verge cited the two-year fan translation of Mother 3 as proof of the fan base's dedication,[43] and Jenni Lada of TechnologyTell called it "undoubtably one of the best known fan translations in existence", with active retranslations into other languages.[44]

Reception[edit]

Reception
Review scores
Publication Score
Eurogamer 7/10[2]
Famitsu 35/40[45]
NGC Magazine 77/100[6]
RPGamer 4/5[1][5]

Mother 3 sold around 200,000 copies in its first week of sales in Japan.[46] It was one of Japan's top 20 bestselling games for the first half of 2006,[9] and received a "Platinum Hall of Fame" score of 35/40 from Japanese reviewer Weekly Famitsu.[45] Jenni Lada of TechnologyTell called it the "perfect" Game Boy Advance role-playing game.[4] Reviewers praised its story (even though the game was only available in Japanese[6]) and graphics, and lamented its 1990s role-playing game mechanics.[2][3][6][45] Critics also complimented its music.[1][5][47]

Famitsu's reviewers noted the level of detail from the game's direction, accessibility and wit of the story, unconventional art style, and conventional game mechanics. They considered the timed battles to be both useful and difficult.[45] Eurogamer's Simon Parkin detailed the 12-year development, the series' legacy as both "one of Japan's most beloved" and the video game cognoscenti's "sacred cow", and the endurance of its fan community.[3] He was impressed by the quality of the fan translation, and described Itoi as a "storyteller" who chose the Japanese role-playing game medium to tell his story.[3] Parkin noted how the "excellent" script unfurled from a "straightforward tale" into "breadth and depth of quality that few titles many times its budget achieve" with "affecting scenes" and "unexpected impact".[3] He compared the chapter approach with the method of Dragon Quest IV.[2] Parkin wrote that the script allowed for the somewhat "heavy-handed" juxtaposition of "nature and technology, feudalism and capitalism, individuals and community",[2] and that what he first considers a name customization "trick" becomes useful later in the game.[3] NGC Magazine's Mark Green wrote that the game felt like Mother 2.5 in its look and feel, which he did not consider negative, albeit somewhat antiquated.[6] Lada of TechnologyTell said Mother 3 was surprisingly "darker" than its forbears.[4]

Few pregnancies have been as painful and protracted as Mother 3's.

Simon Parkin of Eurogamer, Mother 3 review, 2008[3]

Eurogamer's Parkin wrote that the "childlike" and "unusually Western" graphics were similar to EarthBound's in "flat pastel textures devoid of shading" as juxtaposed with background art that "fizzes with life and character".[3] He described the cutscenes' animations as "bespoke", rare for 16-bit role-playing games, and of greater dramatic impact.[2] RPGamer's Jordan Jackson wrote that the visuals are typical of the series and fit the game's mood,[1] and the website's Mike Moehnke criticized the inventory limits carried over from the previous game.[5] Green of NGC said the game mechanics were "depressingly basic" against more advanced role-playing games.[6] Eurogamer's Parkin felt that the role-playing game elements were less interesting and added that Mother 3 had few standout selling points other than its attention to detail and "only systemic innovation": the rhythm-based battle system.[2] Kotaku's Richard Eisenbeis praised the system,[22] and GameSpot's Greg Kasavin compared it with that of the Mario & Luigi series.[48] Jackson wrote that the music was "just as catchy as previous games" despite being "almost completely new".[1] Moehnke agreed, calling it "nothing less than stunning".[5] He noted overtones of Wagner and Chuck Berry.[5] Jackson said that the game was somewhat easier than the rest of the series and somewhat shorter, at about 30 hours in length.[1] Both RPGamer reviewers noted that Mother 3 has few penalties for death.[1][5] Jackson reflected that while the game is humorous and grows in enjoyment, it has some somber moments as well.[1] Eisenbeis of Kotaku cited "the importance of mothers" as a key theme about which the game revolves, which he preferred to the mid-game "slapstick insanity" and final plot twist.[22] Parkin wrote that the game was filled with "memorable moments", including a character who criticizes the player "for not giggling at puns", frogs with progressively silly costumes that save the game, a "reconstructed mecha caribou" battle, a bad haiku, and the "campfire scene", and that while the game's simpleness could have lent towards "raw stupidity", instead it was "elegant in its simplicity".[2]

Legacy[edit]

Multiple critics wrote that Mother 3 was one of the best role-playing games for the Game Boy Advance.[4][5][49] GamePro's Jeremy Signor listed it among his "best unreleased Japanese role-playing games" for its script and attention to detail.[50] Video game journalist Tim Rogers posited that Mother 3 was "the closest games have yet come to literature".[51]

The game's main character, Lucas, was chosen for the Super Smash Bros. Brawl ensemble. His psychic power move set was similar to Ness's, who appeared alongside Lucas and in previous versions of the game.[52][53] Official Nintendo Magazine's Thomas East recommended that both characters be excluded in the future, and added that Lucas was too similar to Ness.[54]

IGN later described the series as neglected in North America by Nintendo for not receiving any title of the Mother series other than EarthBound.[14] In retrospect, 1UP.com's Jeremy Parish blamed "the pragmatism of business" for the lack of an official localization, as he claimed that Nintendo had moved on to the Nintendo DS and no longer wished to support a game for the Game Boy Advance.[55][g] Nevertheless, 1UP.com wrote of Mother 3 that "no other game in the history of time garnered such a rabid demand for translation".[36] Frank Caron of Ars Technica said that the fan translation's "massive undertaking ... stands as a massive success", that it realized the dreams of many gamers including his own, and that "one cannot even begin to fathom" why Nintendo would not release their own English localization.[41] Chris Plante of UGO Networks wrote that the lack of an official Mother 3 English localization was one of 2008's "worst heartbreaks".[56] On the occasion of EarthBound's 2013 Virtual Console rerelease, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime[h] added that the event had no effect on whether Mother 3 would see a similar rerelease.[58] Around the time of the game's release, Itoi stated that he had "no plans to make Mother 4",[46] a claim he has made repeatedly.[59][60]

Notes and references[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ The latter is new to the series.[5]
  2. ^ When the correct rhythm is not apparent, the player can put the enemy to sleep to isolate the rhythm from the background music.[2] And subsequent, chained hits decrease in power.[5]
  3. ^ Other battle system changes include a limit to three enemies at once.[1] Mother 3 retains the "rolling HP meter" of EarthBound (where health ticks down like an odometer such that players can outrun the meter to heal before dying) but removes the feature where experience is automatically awarded before battles against much weaker foes.[5]
  4. ^ This revolving player-character mechanic was first attempted in Mother 2.[7]
  5. ^ The Mother 3 logo was made from a fusion of metal and trees, which Itoi interpreted as the discomfort of two materials that were impossible to fuse.[7] The chimeras theme informed the game's original subtitle: "Forest of the Chimeras",[7] which eventually became "The End of the Pig King" before the game was cancelled.[11] The final release had no subtitle because Itoi did not want to lead the player's interpretation.[23]
  6. ^ Digital Trends wrote that the game's emphasis on "magical transgender gurus" might have also affected the decision.[34]
  7. ^ Parish wrote that the original Mother's localization had a similar fate when stuck between two console generations.[55]
  8. ^ Fils-Aime is a self-professed fan of the series.[57]
References
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