Released in 2006 on the Gameboy Advance, ‘Mother 3’ was never officially released in North America. However, thanks to an excellent fan translation from Tomato, the game has been playable in English since 2009.
Though ‘Mother 3’ is easily the pinnacle of the ‘Mother’ series (known as ‘Earthbound’ in North America), the game’s mechanics haven’t changed much from the Earthbound that many played, and continue to play on the SNES. ‘Mother 3’ is also similar to other RPGs in that you control a character on an overworld, interact with NPCs and items, and battle enemies in a turn-based system.
The same main menu featured in Earthbound is accessible on the overworld by pressing the “Start” button, and pressing “Select” brings up your HP and PP windows. Pushing the right shoulder button shows you a useful map.
However, one change to the controls in the overworld is the ability to run if you press “B” while standing still. This handy little addition completely automates forward movement until your characters hit something; the analog pad controls the direction of the run.
One thing that players familiar with the series might notice is that the battle screen in ‘Mother 3’ is different from Earthbound’s.
The battle screen layout is the same, with only your HP/MP windows, a menu, a dialogue box, and your enemies shown, but the menu has been changed from pure text into pictures. An arrow with a bent tail represents running away, a radio wave stands for PSI/Special Abilities, a chest for items, and a music note for your basic attacks.
Why a music note? To correspond to the game’s unique rhythm-based combo system. The game’s various enemies have different kinds of background music playing while you fight them, so pressing “A” in time with the music’s rhythm will give you a string of combo attacks. ‘Mother 3’ also uses the rolling HP/MP meters that were introduced in ‘Earthbound,’ an element that helps to keep battle strategies fresh.
The other thing that players familiar with Earthbound are likely to notice about this game is that it’s story is quite different from those of ‘Earthbound’ and ‘Earthbound 0.’ ‘Mother 3’ doesn’t focus on a pseudo-America, nor does it even really involve the protection of the world against a monumental threat (at least not until fairly late in the game).
Instead, most of the game’s story involves the interweaving of Lucas’ family trying to overcome tragedy and reunite and the slow change of your home village of Tazmily from a quiet, friendly place to a center of strange and wild evil.
Of course, the humour, twists, and sense of storytelling that many loved in Earthbound is present throughout ‘Mother 3.’ Plus, the ending – especially the final battle – is definitely among the most moving and oddest (in that order) of any video game.
Music and Graphics
The music, sounds, and graphics of ‘Mother 3’ all use the GBA’s abilities to the full. The graphics are still sprite-based and cartoonish rather than realistic, but are clear, rich, and colourful. The game’s music is in a similar style to that of Earthbound, but there are also enough pieces that are completely original and that convey the unique atmosphere, characters, and story of ‘Mother 3.’
Plus, for all true video game music aficianado’s a “Sound Player” is available on the game’s start-up menu, and includes 250 of the game’s songs.
A playthrough of ‘Mother 3’ will likely take 30-40 hours, depending on how dedicated you are to opening all of the game’s chests, finishing all the mini-games and side-quests, and on how much grinding you choose to do. The music-based combo system makes it possible to take on some enemies that may be out of your league, but sometimes you may find that you still need an extra level or two to push through a particularly difficult section or boss.
‘Mother 3’ is a game that tells an enticing and emotionally involved story, that has a unique battle system, and that includes a generous dollop of what can only be described as surrealist Japanese humour.
However, aside from experiencing it all over again, the game offers no incentive for a second play through. The “Sound Player” is fully available from the start, there is only one ending (though superb), and though your party varies throughout the game, you ultimately wind up with the same one no matter what.
Nonetheless, if you haven’t played ‘Mother 3’ yet and are a fan of RPGs, then you should definitely give the game a go.