When Mother 3 was released in 2006, I was barely playing video games anymore. A lack of time and money kept me away from the hobby during most of college, outside of occasionally checking this site to learn about any particularly interesting news. I was mostly reading it out of nostalgia, without any intention to play or purchase anything myself. Without even a TV in my tiny Japanese dorm room and my old Game Boy Advance still in America, my gaming was limited to the occasional round of Hot Shots Golf while drinking with friends. However, reading about Mother 3 at that time broke down all my resistance. Seeing its beautiful sprites awoke my long-dormant inner third-grader, who promptly threw a temper tantrum, disgusted that I had lived in Japan for nearly a year without having played any video games. I asked my family to send my GBA as soon as possible, and when it got here, I rushed to get a copy of Mother 3.
While I’m still not entirely sure if returning to this time-consuming hobby was actually a good decision, I do want to write a little about the game that brought me back and how it compares to Mother 2 (EarthBound).
(Please note that the text below the jump describes the gameplay and narrative structure of Mother 3 in general terms without spoiling specific details.)
[[image:cg_mother3.gif:Welcome, English-speaking world!:center:0]]
I’ve played through both Mother 2 and Mother 3 twice since then. After reflecting on both, I think that while Mother 2 has a more innovative concept, Mother 3 is a much stronger game. Mother 2 deconstructs the typical JRPG, and by the time it’s over, the elements that make up the genre are reduced to a beautiful, chaotic mess. Mother 3 takes that chaos and reassembles it into an incredibly polished game. If Mother 2 exposes the limits and weaknesses of the genre, Mother 3 emphasizes its strengths.
Mother 2 is an incredibly experimental game that exposes the framework of JRPGs. There is a dungeon complete with its own meta-commentary about RPG dungeon design. The last boss is defeated when you, the player, pray for his defeat. The logic of cause and effect falls apart, revealing the artificial nature of narrative form in RPGs; for example, a major member of your party suddenly appears for no logical reason after you eat some magic cake. Another major party member joins when you pray for help, and it seems like he joins simply because the narrative could not proceed without him. Instead of hiding the most artificial aspects of JPRGs, Mother 2 brings them to the forefront. The man behind the curtain steps onstage and shows you all his tricks.
By comparison, Mother 3’s innovations and design choices are devoted to presenting a narrative. The man behind the curtain may peek out occasionally to smile at the player, but for the most part, Mother 3 is focused on telling a story. Its chapter-based design slowly introduces the cast in a way similar to Dragon Quest IV, creating a game that is linear and focused on character development. Instead of countless towns full of generic NPCs, the world of Mother 3 contains a limited number of characters who slowly change as the game progresses. While certainly quirky, the story unfolds considerably more logically than its predecessor. Like Mother 2, this game’s final battle is surprising and creative, but Mother 3’s endgame innovates in a way that ties the narrative together rather than ripping the conventions of the genre to pieces. Nearly all of the game’s mysteries are explained in full by the time it ends.
This is not to say that Mother 3 takes itself completely seriously. For example, if you try to go down a road that does not advance the story during the game’s opening, the narrator informs you that it’s impossible to go any further in that direction, or you might step on an ant blocking your path, making a joke of the absurd story-based travel restrictions common to RPGs. The dialogue is full of humor, even during some of the game’s most serious moments; tragic sacrifices, too, are punctuated with a joke. However, for the most part, the comedy in the game takes place within a fairly cogent narrative, operating within JRPG conventions.
Both games are impressive takes on the genre. One takes it apart; the other puts it back together. While both are personal favorites, Mother 3’s focused narrative and comparatively traditional anatomy should appeal to a far wider audience than just those who can jive to Mother 2’s aggressive experimentalism.