Mother 3

Is this game really short or what? I’m not done yet, but I know there’s eight chapters, and I’m on chapter 7. Based on the circumstances, I would guess that I’m more than halfway done with chapter 7 as well…I’m about to try and pull the fifth needle out, and my last save is clocked at 11:37. So what’s the deal? I mean, I don’t mind, but am I in for a crazy surprise when chapter 8 is like half of the game’s length or something?

I’ll post the review here when it’s ready. (also coming soon: a review of FF4: The After Years. I finished the game like a month ago, but it sucks so bad that I’m having trouble caring enough to edit the review properly.)

EDIT: Review’s up.

The creator of the Earthbound series (known as Mother in Japan), Shigesato Itoi, says he believes that over half of a game’s story is assigned meaning by the player. I really don’t agree with this; in fact, the meaning I tried to assign to the story of Mother 3 - the Game Boy Advance sequel to Earthbound that never made it to the U.S - was completely ruined by the contents of the story. I fault the game for this, as it seemed to tell a story about one thing and then dropped it for something completely superficial at the end. So, I assigned a new meaning to the game: A poor climax can ruin a story - that’s what Mother 3 is now about to me.

You might read that and think “No way! The end of a story is just one part; it doesn’t ruin the story!” This might be true in a story that has no depth. But, before you sit back, smug and confident that I’m wrong, humour me by listening to a couple of alternate endings I wrote to popular pieces of literature:

In 1984 by George Orwell, Winston Smith uses his cunning to make an escape from the Ministry of Love, finds some cool weapons like a laser and a rocket launcher. He then busts his girlfriend out of captivity and tears down the established government in a blaze of sheer manliness that one could only see in a first-person shooter or testosterone-laden action film like The Fast and the Furious.

In Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, George and Lenny escape Curley and the mob of workers, do some odd jobs, and eventually meet up with Candy again. They then purchase their dream farm and live out their dream in peace for the rest of their days. Curley made his peace with Lenny and continued life without the need to satiate his anger with violent retribution. They all lived happily ever after.

If you’ve read these novels, you would know that these endings are not only stupid, but they complete trivialize their stories as pieces of meaningful literature. I am indeed asserting that Mother 3 alluded to a significant theme, and completely blew it at the end.

Mother 3 opens with a heavy focus on a family: Flint and Hinawa, the husband and wife; and Claus and Lucas, the young twin brothers. They live in the simple, peaceful village of Tazmily. In Tazmily, there is very little excess; there is no frivolous technology, nor is there much technology to make life easier. Houses are made of simple wood, and there is no money - not even a barter economy. Instead, people simply live and work to help each other out. It’s very idyllic and utopian in its simplicity.

Tragedy befalls the family one night when Hinawa and the boys are coming back home to the village through a forest. They don’t get back in a timely manner, and to make matters worse, on that rainy night that they’re to arrive, the forest catches fire. Flint and the other townspeople work on saving the villagers, putting out the fire, and finding Hinawa and the boys. What they find instead is a strange army of men in pig masks with strange metal machines they have never seen before. These people are using the machines to modify plants and animals with machinery, or even other animals. In any case, after fending them off, Flint eventually finds the boys…but Hinawa is gone forever.

After this event, life begins to slowly change for Tazmily. Nevermind the local flora and fauna being altered, but lightning begins to strike things sporadically at any given moment, and a peddler by the name of Fassad comes to assure the people of Tazmily that they can be happy if they just take one of his Happy Boxes. The people of Tazmily are reluctant at first, but eventually take the Happy Boxes into their homes. The city then begins to modernize into a materialistic society.

Do you see what this is hinting at? Even the logo of Mother 3 has the words constructed of an odd mixture of wood and metal, implying an uncomfortable, unnaturalization of something that was once untainted. Excuse me if this sounds a bit punk rock or conspiracy theorist, but in the modern world, we are brainwashed to think that we won’t be happy unless we have things - better products, better technology, easier lives; in other words, material wealth. Why do we think that? Because commercials and advertisements tell us. We buy name brands because they’re the names we see the most often. We watch the most popular movies and play the most popular video games. How did they get so popular before they were even released? Hype and advertisement. All of these things skew what truly brings a sense of happiness and fulfillment in life. Being a materialist myself, I won’t argue that material wealth can bring happiness, but there is a line that has to be drawn. To put it in a succinct, corny manner, materials can’t bring someone “true happiness”.

This is what Mother 3 spends half of the game establishing. This theme is pretty sound right up until the end of the game, where it’s all shrugged off for some random throwbacks to Earthbound, the game’s predecessor, and a final tear-jerking climax. Yes, the climax was powerful emotionally, and I totally almost cried. No, it was not a good ending. It had absolutely NOTHING to do with what the rest of the game was about, so while everything wound up peachy keen at the end, the climax was a huge waste of potential.

This is the problem with leaving it up to the audience to assign definitive meaning to the majority of a story; if you do that, you’re not really telling a story ABOUT anything. You’re just throwing out a bunch of words and symbols, and inviting your viewer to desperately pick it up and weave it into something. Maybe this is preferable to a lot of people; the Mother series has a very strong cult following, and its fans tend to really love everything about it. I, however, just don’t get it. If you have something to say, tell me a story about it. If you have many things to say, tell me many stories. I’m not interested in a story that bombards me with many points and meets me halfway on all of them; if I was, I’d write my own damn story.

Anyways, other than that, the game itself is pretty standard. It’s presented in 2D isometric view, and it contains standard turn-based RPG combat. There is a twist though, and that’s the musical battle system. When attacking with a physical attack, a player can press the “A” button on the downbeat of a song for up to sixteen consecutive hits. This, however, is a huge gimmick, because the damage scales down too heavily after the first 4-6 hits for it to matter if you keep going. More importantly, the way damage is dealt to your characters in Mother 3 makes it a bad idea to do the full sixteen hits, even if you can do it with ease. You see, when a character suffers damage, it isn’t all dealt immediately; their HP slowly rolls down, slot-machine style. So, if a character gets hit for an attack that would kill them, you have time to use an item and heal them if you’re quick enough to do it before their HP drops to 0. As such, it’s usually a bad idea to take advantage of the musical combat, as it makes normal attacks last exponentially longer than they would if you just hit the enemy once. Overall, though, the combat isn’t bad, though it is a bit grindey.

A poor climax can ruin a story. Can it ruin a game? I’m still not sure of that yet; it didn’t in this case, after all. Mother 3 wasn’t unenjoyable to play by any means. It had a good mix of drama and humour, it never flitted drastically between dire seriousness and ridiculous humour quite like Earthbound did, and to top it off, it was really short (I finished it in about seventeen hours). I would probably recommend it to anyone who was a fan of the Earthbound games, as well.

Still, I can’t shake the immense feeling of disappointment I suffered when I saw how the game came to an end. After playing Mother 3, I’m convinced that I’m just not a fan of Mr. Itoi’s storytelling. Being asked to give a story my own meaning means that it will never give me a new perspective. Instead, I’ll always base things off of my own experience, I’ll never learn anything, and I’ll never grow as a person from them. And what’s the fun of that? When did that become the goal, the true beauty of storytelling?

Chapter 7 is the longest chapter in the game, and even at the fifth needle you still have a bit to go. Chapter 8 isn’t QUITE as long, but it’s still longer than the other 6.

My final save was clocked at just under 19 hours, but I admit I took my time in the game and savored it. 15-20 hours is pretty decent and common for a GBA/DS RPG, and is the right length for Mother 3, I think.

Yeah, Mother 3 is pretty short. Chapter 7 and 8 are the longest chapters in the game, but I think you’re almost done with chapter 7 (You’ve already gone to the island with the mushrooms?). That being said, chapter 8 is wonderful and has one of my favorite dungeons in an rpg.

Just as I said, I’m pretty sure I’m at the very end of the goings-on in that island.

Double post! Finished the game. Review either be up in a few hours or tomorrow afternoon. But, the super abridged version is:

A big buildup to something that didn’t materialize, and the musical combat is really superfluous. I haven’t decided if I liked the game or not yet.

I had a somewhat similar feeling – I think I mentioned something to that effect in an earlier thread around the time the translation patch came out. The first few chapters build up this very ominous feeling that is never quite fully explored. There’s a few signs that the life of the village becomes more discordant (like the scene at the nursing home), but it never really goes far enough to let you feel the difference from the early scenes.

I pretty much agree with that, although I think it was mostly fine until the end. The very end of Mother 3 really pissed me off.

Anyways, review’s up!

I do agree with you that it’s unfortunate that M3 dropped the whole “technology ruining society” at the end, but I don’t think it was the main theme of the game and as a result I don’t think it completely ruined the ending. I felt that a much bigger theme was that of perservering in what you think is right even when the odds and the world are against you. I felt that the maor reason that Fassad and the pigmasks introduced technology was to break the strong bonds between the townsfolk and get them to side with Porky.

By the end of the game you could tell that most of the townspeople had lost that bond and while they generally still liked Lucas, they weren’t really going to help him out (Leader and the DCMC are exceptions.) This is what made the Empire Pork Building such a great dungeon for me. Lucas and the others were constantly having to face frightening, difficult and even demeaning challenges just for the enjoyment of Porky. They didn’t know how much higher they had to go and they had Porky taunting them the whole way.

To sum up, the game constantly throws out these awful and seemingly hopeless situation for Lucas and the others to overcome, and while technology destroying the town’s relationship is one of the ordeals that Lucas had to deal with, it wasn’t the main theme of the game. (Sorry if any of this is unclear. I just got through with midterms and I’m having a bit of trouble organizing my thoughts.)

I dunno…I think the whole “overcoming all odds to do cool stuff” theme is such an easy theme to tack on to about 99% of all RPGs, that I don’t even acknowledge it unless I think that it’s done well, or established from the beginning. Examples:

  • It’s established from the beginning in games like Skies of Arcadia, where characters like Vyse and Aika have that confident, can-do attitude. You’re read for that from the outset. On the other hand, we have Mother 3, which is a game that presents Lucas as a timid person, even described as a crybaby by a few people in the game. Not to mention, the game switches perspectives so much in the first half that I don’t even feel like most of the game is really about Lucas to begin with.

  • It’s done well in games like Legend of Mana, where you go around and find people with these problems they’re rutted in, and you show them a different perspective through your actions. There really isn’t anything at all like this in Mother 3; the ‘power of love and determination’ crap just comes in right at the end to steal the show.

I know that most RPGs do have that theme of overcoming impossible odds, but it just seems so much more dramatic in Mother 3. Lucas has to deal with a lot more shit than at least 90% of RPG main characters and he does this while he’s still a child. Additionally by the end of the game most rpgs parties have a lot of people backing them up. Lucas has the DCMC and Leder. That’s it. Everyone else either doesn’t know what he’s involved in, doesn’t want to get involved, or are actively trying to stop him. I think him being portrayed as timid is intentional as it shows his inner strength that he’s able to overcome his timidity to face these things. So while it does take awhile for Lucas to take over as the main I think that when he does the game does a good job of showing his strength of character.

Yeah, but then you could say the same thing about Earthbound, EB0, the Lunar games, Grandia 1 and 3, Skies of Arcadia, most Tales games, Wild ARMS 4…I mean, where does the “he’s just a kid” argument in a video game end? Where do you draw the line? It would be more believable if a game ever made it seem like it was traumatic for them, but they never do, and Mother 3 is no exception.

I generally agree with your point, and I also felt the game had wasted a lot of the story’s potential. I don’t think the final chapter in the city was really that interesting, and the really tall guy’s “revelations” all seemed really pointless. I think part of the reason has to do with the fact that, ultimately, there is not much for you to explore in the game, unlike Earthbound, which had many more different cities and locations.

However, I think your review ignores the fact that the game does have a lot of brilliant touches. It is true that the buildup goes nowhere, but it is still very good buildup. The end of Chapter 1 is very dark and tragic, whereas Chapter 6 is lovely visual poetry. Generally, all the parts of the game that recall the connection to Hinawa are very touching.

You also didn’t mention the game’s truly bizarre aspect. The mushroom scene is gloriously demented, especially if you take the time to read the mailboxes. Then there’s the fact that you learn about your quest from a bunch of geriatric old men in fancy lingerie, who preen effeminately and have a hilariously woozy musical theme. Just that one throwaway gag where your guys have to do a disco dance to open the sealed door is hysterically funny. In general, the humour is quite sharp, weirder and darker than in Earthbound. I think the game has much more “dire seriousness” than Earthbound, though perhaps it is less schizophrenic in the sense that it has fewer lighter moments.

You’re definitely right. I think I might come back to this review in a few days or so, after I’ve gotten over how upset I was. I don’t regret anything that I’ve written, but I have definitely neglected to talk about what was definitely fun about the game.

I still think the final battle sequence is one of the more emotional things I’ve seen in an game.

The ending that follows the touching bit can go to hell, though. It’s true that there was a lot of build-up for a lot of nothing, but the build-up was certainly enjoyable. As SK says, the game had a lot of really great, strange, and bizarre moments. As cheesy as it sounds, sometimes it’s not about the destination so much as the journey, and Mother 3 was definitely a fun ride.

The main Mother 3 Love Theme that keeps popping up in the game is unforgettable too, especially the version of it from the aforementioned final battle sequence.