Japanese box art
Mother 3 is a 2006 role-playing video game in the Mother series, developed by Brownie Brown and HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo for the Game Boy Advance. The game, intended to be the final entry in the series, was directed by Nobuyuki Inoue, written by series creator Shigesato Itoi, and scored by composer Shogo Sakai. The story follows Lucas, a young boy with psychic abilities, as he attempts to prevent an invading army from destroying the world. The game's themes include human physiology, renewal, moral fungibility, and dualisms such as nature and technology, and feudalism and capitalism.
The game's development spanned twelve years and four consoles, beginning in 1994 for the Super Famicom console and then transitioning to the Nintendo 64 and its 64DD add-on before being cancelled in 2000. Mother 3 restarted development in 2003 for the Game Boy Advance and was finally released in Japan on April 20, 2006.
Mother 3 was a critical and commercial success upon release. Critics generally praised the game's graphics, music, and story, but believed that the gameplay offered few innovations to the role-playing genre. The game was never released outside Japan, though an unofficial English fan translation was released by the Starmen.net internet community in October 2008. On December 17, 2015, the game was released for the Japanese Virtual Console on the Wii U.
Mother 3 is a single-player role playing video game similar to previous games in the Mother series. The player controls a party of playable characters who explore the game's two-dimensional fictional world, primarily shown from a top-down perspective. While navigating the overworld, the player may converse with non-player characters, obtain items, or encounter enemies. Winning battles against enemies awards experience points to the party, which is required for leveling up. Leveling up a character permanently enhances its individual attributes such as maximum hit points (HP), power points (PP), offense, and defense. Weapons, armor, or accessories can be equipped on a character to increase certain attributes. The player can restore their characters' HP and PP or heal various status ailments by visiting hot springs which are placed abundantly in the game world, and the player can save the game by talking to frogs. Currency is introduced in the later half of the game as Dragon Points (DP), earned by winning battles and used to purchase items. The player can deposit or withdraw DP from frogs.
Mother 3 retains the turn-based battle system featured in EarthBound. When the player comes into contact with an enemy in the overworld, the game transitions to a battle screen. Battles are viewed from a first-person perspective, showing the enemies against a distorted, animated background. The player can assign each character in their party to perform an action, such as attacking an enemy or using items to restore HP or PP. Some characters can utilize psychic-based magic abilities referred to as PSI, which includes stronger attacks and healing abilities, and require PP to execute. Like Earthbound, combat uses a "rolling health" system: when one of the player's characters is injured, its HP will gradually "roll" down, similar to an odometer, rather than immediately decremented. This allows a mortally wounded character to perform actions like attacking or healing themselves, as long as the player acts quickly enough. If a character loses all HP, it will become unconscious and cannot participate unless revived by another character. The player loses a battle if all characters become unconscious; the player will then be given the option to continue play from the nearest save point, but with half the DP on their person.
Combat in Mother 3 includes a unique musical combo system not seen in previous Mother games. When one of the player's characters directly attacks an enemy with a weapon, they can repeatedly attack the enemy by pressing the button in time with the beat of the background music, with each enemy possessing a musical theme with different rhythms. Using this system, the player can attack the enemy up to sixteen times in a row. When the correct beat is not apparent, the player can put the enemy to sleep to isolate the beat from the music.
Mother 3's story is told in eight chapters and begins as the Pig Mask Army starts a forest fire and invades Tazmily Village, a small town in the Nowhere Islands. Flint ventures out to protect his friends and family (twin sons Lucas and Claus and wife Hinawa). When Hinawa is found dead, Flint lashes out and is imprisoned. Claus sneaks Flint a tool to escape before disappearing. Flint sets out to find Claus. In chapter two, neophyte thief Duster breaks into a castle to find an egg that keeps the world's secrets. He meets the princess Kumatora, but they are separated when a flood washes them out of the castle. In chapter three, Pig Mask leader Fassad orders the monkey player-character, Salsa, through the desert. Salsa escapes to the forest and futilely fights the Pig Mask Army with Kumatora until Lucas saves them. Lucas and Flint protect the town while Kumatora and Salsa look for Duster. In chapter four, three years have passed, Tazmily has been modernized, and Lucas becomes the game's main protagonist. Lucas learns psychic powers from a superpowered, Cross-Dressing creature known as a Magypsy and recovers the amnesic Duster from life as a bandmate.
In chapter five, Lucas, Duster, and Kumatora recover the egg and meet a Masked Man. In chapter seven, separated from Duster and Kumatora, Lucas and his dog, Boney, learn about the seven Needles kept by seven Magypsies that quell a sleeping dragon underneath the earth. A prophecy foretold that a "chosen one" would come to pull the Needles and wake the dragon and determine the fate of the world. Racing the Masked Man in search of these Needles, Lucas battles through a laboratory of chimeras, reunites with Kumatora and Duster, and meets Mr. Saturn. In chapter eight, Pig King Master Porky invites Lucas and his cohorts to New Pork City, where Tazmily residents have relocated. Lucas learns that the islands are protected by the dragon, that the egg contains the destructive mindsets of the outside world, that Porky is after the needles and its subsequent power, and that both Porky's Masked Man and Lucas have each pulled three of the seven Needles. Lucas and his cohorts fight Porky and reunite with Flint. As they prepare to pull the final Needle, Lucas's party is hurt by the Masked Man, who is revealed as Claus. A disembodied voice attempts to talk to Claus and Flint sacrifices himself in the battle. The boys fight and Claus kills himself. Lucas pulls the final Needle and in the pitch black epilogue, the player is assured that the characters have survived. In the final frame, the Mother 3 logo is shown without its metal, as restored to nature.
Mother 3 began development in 1994 as a game for the Super Famicom with Shigeru Miyamoto and Satoru Iwata as producers. The team mostly consisted of members involved in the development of EarthBound. Inspired by the Nintendo 64 launch title Super Mario 64, the development team transitioned from the Super Famicom to the newer console believing that they could also creatively flourish by making a 3D world without technical restrictions. However, their early specifications exceeded the capabilities and memory limits of the console; halfway through development the team scaled back its large scope and changed the platform to the 64DD, a Nintendo 64 expansion peripheral that was later released only in Japan in 1999. Mother 3 was expected to be a launch title for the peripheral, but development shifted back to the Nintendo 64 after the 64DD was considered a commercial failure. A demo of Mother 3 was showcased at the 1999 Nintendo Space World trade show. The game was expected to be released in North America under the title EarthBound 64, and the game was also stated to be released on a 256-megabit cartridge, similar to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. IGN reacted favorably to the demo and compared the multi-character narrative to the Japan-only Super Famicom RPG Live A Live, and Famitsu readers ranked the game as one of their top ten most anticipated towards the end of 1999.
Shigesato Itoi announced in late August 2000 that Mother 3 was cancelled following a number of delays. Iwata and Miyamoto clarified in an interview that resources had been moved to the development of the GameCube, the next Nintendo console. Itoi stated that an additional two years would have been required to finish the game, which was 30% complete at the time of cancellation. Iwata stated retrospectively that the focus on 3D graphics made the project overly complex. Miyamoto also stated that the Mother franchise was not abandoned and that he was still interested in bringing the game to fruition.
Mother 3 was later announced in 2003 to have restarted development for the Game Boy Advance handheld console in a Japanese commercial for Mother 1+2. Itoi had earlier assumed that restarting the project was impossible but later decided to continue following encouragement from the Mother fanbase. Nintendo subsidiary Brownie Brown developed the game, with input from Itoi. While the graphics were changed from 3D to 2D, the game's original story was not altered. Mother 3 was about 60% complete by July 2004, and was released on April 20, 2006 in Japan.
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". 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. 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. It was enough of a departure from the series that the development team questioned whether fans would consider it part of the series. Itoi intended the game to have 12 chapters with various game mechanics and rotating player-characters.[a] 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.[b] 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.
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. The series' games were written in the hiragana alphabet instead of in kanji (Chinese characters) so as to remain accessible to young children. Itoi described the game world as governed by a "might equals right ... macho" power struggle. 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. Itoi compared the way in which the characters realize their psychic powers with menstruation, and added that human physiology was "one of his themes". 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.
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. Itoi's Nintendo 64 version of the ending was darker, "dirtier", and more upsetting, though the final version changed little in concept. 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. 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. Much of the rest of the script was written after-hours at a local hotel where they would continue their work.
Shogo Sakai, a video game composer whose previous works include music for Kirby Air Ride and Super Smash Bros. Melee, composed Mother 3's soundtrack. Shigesato Itoi stated that Sakai was chosen for the role given his deep understanding of the game's story and the EarthBound series in general, in addition to the fact that EarthBound composers Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka were both unavailable. Sakai worked to make the music feel similar to previous entries in the series. The Mother 3 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.
Mother 3 was released in Japan on April 20, 2006, whereupon it became a bestseller. Prior to its release, the game was in the "top five most wanted games" of Famitsu and at the top of the Japanese preordered game charts. At one point leading up to its release, the game's "Love Theme" would play as music on hold for the Japan Post. A limited edition Deluxe Box Set was produced with a special edition Game Boy Micro and Franklin Badge pin. The game was marketed in Japan with a television commercial that has Japanese actress Kō Shibasaki on the verge of tears as she explains her feelings about Mother 3. Itoi has said that her performance was unscripted.
Mother 3 did not receive an official release outside Japan. On October 17, 2008, Starmen.net released a fan translation patch that, when applied on a copy of the Mother 3 ROM image, translates all the game's text into English. Reid Young, co-founder of Starmen.net, stated that when they realized Nintendo was not going to localize Mother 3, they decided to undertake the task, for themselves and for fans of the game. The translation team consisted of around a dozen individuals, including project lead Clyde "Tomato" Mandelin, a professional Japanese-to-English translator. The project took two years and thousands of work-hours to complete; it was estimated that the theoretical freelance cost of the translation was $30,000.
The project included translating, writing, and revising about 1,000 pages of the game script in addition to extensive ROM hacking and testing to ensure that the game properly and correctly displays the translated text. The translation included minor deviations from the original, such as localization of place-names and puns. Few dramatic changes were made, but some characters and locations were renamed. For example, the character "Yokuba", loosely derived from yokubō (欲望?, "greed"), was renamed "Fassad", loosely derived from the French word façade and, incidentally, the Arabic word fasād (فساد, "corruption"). The ROM hacking entailed assembly-level changes to the game code to support features such as variable width fonts.
The team reported that "the highest levels" of Nintendo of America knew about their project, though they did not intervene. The localization team planned to end the project if Nintendo were to make an announcement about the future of the game. They acknowledged that the legality of the localization was unclear since the final translation required use of an emulator. The localization patch was downloaded over 100,000 times in the first week following its release. 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. 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". The Verge cited the two-year fan translation of Mother 3 as proof of the fan base's dedication, and Jenni Lada of TechnologyTell called it "undoubtably one of the best known fan translations in existence", with active retranslations into other languages.
Mother 3 sold around 200,000 copies in its first week of sales in Japan. It was one of Japan's top 20 bestselling games for the first half of 2006, and received a "Platinum Hall of Fame" score of 35/40 from Japanese reviewer Weekly Famitsu. It ended the year with over 368,000 copies sold, the 36th highest of the year in Japan. Jenni Lada of TechnologyTell called it the "perfect" Game Boy Advance role-playing game. Reviewers praised its story (even though the game was only available in Japanese) and graphics, and lamented its 1990s role-playing game mechanics. Critics also complimented its music.
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. 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. 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. 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". He compared the chapter approach with the method of Dragon Quest IV. Parkin wrote that the script allowed for the somewhat "heavy-handed" juxtaposition of "nature and technology, feudalism and capitalism, individuals and community", and that what he first considers a name customization "trick" becomes useful later in the game. 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. Lada of TechnologyTell said Mother 3 was surprisingly "darker" than its forbears.
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". He described the cutscenes' animations as "bespoke", rare for 16-bit role-playing games, and of greater dramatic impact. RPGamer's Jordan Jackson wrote that the visuals are typical of the series and fit the game's mood, and the website's Mike Moehnke criticized the inventory limits carried over from the previous game. Green of NGC said the game mechanics were "depressingly basic" against more advanced role-playing games. 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. Kotaku's Richard Eisenbeis praised the system, and GameSpot's Greg Kasavin compared it with that of the Mario & Luigi series. Jackson wrote that the music was "just as catchy as previous games" despite being "almost completely new". Moehnke agreed, calling it "nothing less than stunning". He noted overtones of Wagner and Chuck Berry. Jackson said that the game was somewhat easier than the rest of the series and somewhat shorter, at about 30 hours in length. Both RPGamer reviewers noted that Mother 3 has few penalties for death. Jackson reflected that while the game is humorous and grows in enjoyment, it has some somber moments as well. 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. 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".
Multiple critics wrote that Mother 3 was one of the best role-playing games for the Game Boy Advance. GamePro's Jeremy Signor listed it among his "best unreleased Japanese role-playing games" for its script and attention to detail. Video game journalist Tim Rogers posited that Mother 3 was "the closest games have yet come to literature".
The 2008 fighting game Super Smash Bros. Brawl features Mother 3 protagonist Lucas as a playable character alongside Ness, a perennial Smash Bros. series character and the protagonist of EarthBound (Mother 2). Their move sets are similar, both based on psychic powers. Official Nintendo Magazine's Thomas East thought that both characters should be dropped from future Smash Bros. games, adding that Lucas was too similar to Ness. Both characters returned in the sequel, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, where Ness is in the main game and Lucas is available as optional downloadable content.
Nintendo is often criticized for Mother 3's lack of an international release. IGN referred to the Mother series as "neglected" in regards to EarthBound being (at the time) the only game to be released outside Japan. Bob Mackey of 1UP.com wrote of Mother 3 that "no other game in the history of time garnered such a rabid demand for translation," and Chris Plante of UGO Networks wrote that the lack of an official Mother 3 English localization was one of 2008's "worst heartbreaks". Frank Caron of Ars Technica said that the fan translation's "massive undertaking ... stands as a massive success" and that "one cannot even begin to fathom why Nintendo wouldn't see fit to release the game in the West."
Itoi has stated that he does not have any plans to create a fourth Mother title.
Notes and references
- This revolving player-character mechanic was first attempted in Mother 2.
- 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. The chimeras theme informed the game's original subtitle: "Forest of the Chimeras", which eventually became "The End of the Pig King" before the game was cancelled. The final release had no subtitle because Itoi did not want to lead the player's interpretation.
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