Since childhood, videogames from the adventure and RPG categories have been my favorites; Secret of Mana, A Link to the Past, and Final Fantasy 6 were (and still are) masterpieces. However different those games are, they certainly have one thing in common–they don’t take place in the modern era. So I was quite surprised when previews of Earthbound were featured in an issue of Nintendo Power in the mid-1990s, because it was a role-playing game actually set in the 1990s. Further facilitating the game’s unique aesthetic, Earthbound had purposely unsophisticated visuals which created an aura of bright and upbeat innocence. The youthful appeal of Earthbound was not something that I expected from SuperNintendo RPGs of the time.
Earthbound featured four teenagers who joined forces in order to stop an alien from taking over the world (so at least teenagers are good for something). Clearly a contemporary game, the player can order pizza, sit through blues concerts, use bats and frying pans as weapons, and shop at local department stores. Also a strange game, everything from mushrooms to taxis attack the party, and at one point, zombies must be trapped inside of a circus tent in order to progress the plot (which sounds like an entire season of The Walking Dead). While none of the 4 main characters in Earthbound are given much, if any, personality, the player gets to experience a joyous, roller coaster ride of emotion. I have always felt a sense of melancholy accomplishment when I’ve beaten this game. I’ll spare you from another 10 pages of praise dedicated to the amazing soundtrack of this game. Go give Earthbound a try if you never have.
Several years ago, I found out that Earthbound was actually the second in a series of three video games (proving that the internet is good for more than just porn). The first game, Mother, was released for Japan’s Famicom Disk System (the Japanese equivalent of the NES) in 1989. That game was never released outside of Japan until last year when it was made available on the Wii U virtual console under the title, Earthbound Beginnings. My awesome girlfriend got me a Wii U for Christmas and downloading Mother was one of the first things I did. While it is certainly a good game with its own charm, Earthbound is superior in every way. The creator of the series, Shigesato Itoi, had definitely created something interesting with the first game, but he was truly able to improve and expand his ideas with the upgraded capabilities of the Super Nintendo. Not something that happens very often, the sequel was better than the original, but that’s not the end of this story.
Mother 3 was released in Japan for the Game Boy Advance in 2006. While I have never played the game, I have watched an entire “Let’s Play” series on YouTube. Though not quite the same as playing it, at least I had the pleasure of experiencing the game. In my opinion, this game is the best in the series. Sticking to the simplistic style that made the previous two games work so well, Shigesato Itoi wrote a story for Mother 3 filled with dramatic and emotional moments. While there were improvements to the fighting system and dialogue, the development team definitely focused more effort on character development and plot than anything else, and the result was an outstanding video game. Although there are happy and funny moments throughout the game, many situations and plot twists are extremely disturbing and tragic. Mother 3 tells not one of the happiest stories, but it is certainly one of the best stories that I have ever experienced.
Why the hell should you care about Mother 3 if much of the story is sad? Because I think that gamers, regardless of our favorite genre of videogame, like a good story. There are countless first-person shooters and platformers on the market, but it’s nice to take a break from non-stop action every once in a while and play something with depth. I’m not judging anyone who other types of games; I love Mega Man as much as the next person, but those games are not so well-known because of their plots.
I certainly would have played through this game dozens of times if I had the chance, but Mother 3 has never been released outside of Japan. Once it was apparent that Nintendo of America had no plans to localize Mother 3, a group of fans translated the game into English and released the file on the internet for others to download. The translation-patch can be used with an emulator, so anyone who doesn’t know the Japanese language, but wants to play the game, can do so. But why did a handful of people dedicate the enormous amount of time it took to translate this game? It could have earned them a scary cease-and-desist letter from Nintendo. The reason is that fans of the franchise are passionate, and Mother 3 has met with universal praise and acclaim from critics in the videogame industry who have had the opportunity to play it. There are numerous forums, articles, web-pages and videos dedicated to Mother 3, so it’s really no surprise that over 100,000 individuals downloaded the translation-patch within a week of its release.
When asked about the absence of a Mother 3 localization in the U.S., the C.O.O. of Nintendo of America Reggie Fils Aime, stated that the Mother series had a niche fan-base and the company had to consider a return on investment. While I (vaguely) understand how money works, it doesn’t sound like the most genuine answer. There are many other possible reasons why Nintendo of America may not want to localize the game: there’s plenty of death, verbal abuse, animal abuse, gender-bending, drug-induced hallucinations, and even a butt. Though most of those things are readily available on television, it is certainly plausible that N.O.A. would not want to face any potential backlash from angry, overly-sensitive parents. The team responsible for the fan-translation offered it to Nintendo for free if the company agreed to release the game in the U.S, but the company has not even acknowledged the offer as far as I know.
Considering 2016 marks the 10 year anniversary of Mother 3’s initial release, fans were speculating that Nintendo would announce the localization of the game at this year’s E3 convention. Rumors were spreading that alleged insiders knew that Nintendo planned on releasing Mother 3 on the virtual console and the announcement would be made at the videogame expo. I paid close attention to Nintendo at E3 this year, constantly checking my phone to read the latest news. My eyes were glued to the internet for three entire days awaiting an announcement. E3 came and went, however, with no announcement regarding Mother 3.
Nintendo of America, I understand your apprehension. There’s a lot of questionable and edgy content in Mother 3, and there’s a possibility that you won’t get the money back that you invest into translating the game. I would argue, however, that you chance losing money on anything that you release. Reggie may call us Mother fans niche, but Ness and Lucas have been featured in the massively successful Smash Bros. games and I have yet to attend a nerd-based convention where I don’t see a Ness and/or Lucas cosplay–plenty of people are aware of the Mother franchise. After Earthbound Beginnings was released, it achieved the #1 spot on virtual console sales-charts for a time in both the U.S. and Europe. Not only would every fan of Earthbound buy this game, but fans of Smash Bros. would likely buy it too, simply because it co-stars one of the fighting game’s characters.
aybe Nintendo of America is apprehensive to localize Mother 3 because the translation-patch has been downloaded by so many people. Maybe the company doesn’t want to invest the time and money into Mother 3 because fans have taken it upon themselves to apply the patch to physical copies of the game and sell them as functional GBA cartridges. Though I don’t own one, I assume that they are legitimate (as far as legitimacy can go in dealing with piracy) and actually work. Of course, I’m only speculating. I’d like to think that were Nintendo to officially release this game, those that have played unofficial versions would still buy it. Considering Mother 3’s passionate fan-base, I’m comfortable assuming that it would be a SMAAAASH!! hit.
Do I really think that my writing is going to change the minds of anyone working at Nintendo of America? Hell no. I don’t know if anyone other than myself and the Editor-in-Chief at Geekade will even read this (and Kris only reads it because he gets paid the big bucks). I’m just so passionate about my feelings towards the Mother series, and so upset that, once again, N.O.A.’s stance on Mother 3 is “no comment at this time,” that I needed to do something therapeutic (instead of punching babies–people frown on that, apparently).
For those of you who refuse to illegally download Mother 3 or watch others play it, you may be happy to know that a Mother 4 game is in the works, though it’s entirely fan-made. After the release of Mother 3, Shigesato Itoi gave his blessing to anyone that wanted to make a fourth game because he will not do so. The people who are making Mother 4 have been working on it since 2008, solely in their spare time and for free. There is no release date yet; the development team will make an announcement once they feel that the game is perfect. In the meantime, they have a website with pictures, footage and music from the game showcasing the progress that they have made. Every time the development team posts an update, there’s an outpouring of love from fans who patiently wait for its release. I suppose that those of us who are looking forward to Mother 4 are so patient because we know that it is (almost definitely) going to be released at some point.
Regarding Mother 3, we all wait with no updates on the status of a U.S. release date. I sincerely hope we fans don’t have to wait until the game’s 20th anniversary before an announcement. Unfortunately, the fuzzy pickle is in Nintendo’s court. Regardless, I will continue communicating my love for the franchise, and hopefully inspire others to love Mother too.