Warning: this noder is part of the cult of Mother and will not be unbiased in this writeup

Platform: Game Boy Advance
Release Date: April 20, 2006 (Japan), October 17, 2008 (English patch)
Developer: HAL Laboratories, Brownie Brown
Publisher: Nintendo

Mother 3 is now playable in the United States, thanks to a patch developed by a team of people associated with starmen.net, the self-proclaimed heart of Mother Internet fandom.

Servo5678's writeup is correct, based on what the game, then in development, was like in 2002; also, he's been fled for years, and I miss him. So I'm going to follow up from when he left off.

A GBA port of the game was indeed announced about a year after Servo's writeup, and was released in Japan in April 2006. Nintendo then proceeded to do the old Mother switcheroo and announce that there was to be no English translation. The English-speaking Mother cult proceeded from seething anger to clever hacking, and a team of translators and coders got together and began translating. They followed suit with what Shigesato Itoi had done with Super Smash Brothers Brawl, starting a blog in August 2007 that followed the game's development process.

The translation was completed and made available as a patch to .gba ROM dumps of Mother 3 game cartridges on October 17, 2008. Those of you who have read my Earthbound review will guess that I immediately downloaded it and began slavishly playing it.

What you are wondering is, is the game able to live up to the high standard Earthbound set? Or is it just hype?

It's not hype.

At every level of detail, the game improves on its predecessors, which I’ll refer to as M&E. Here’s some of what I like:

  • Gameplay

    There are a number of little things that are nice. For example, in Earthbound, the A button brought up the menu, where you could Talk to people or Check objects; you had to use the L button for a generic “interact” button. This is gone, and both A and L cause you to interact. And many more objects actually do something, at the very least a description, rather than just being background. The B button also causes you to dash, which is a much-needed improvement.

    The battle system is both more streamlined and more deeply strategic than in M&E: character balance, spell acquisition, and gadgets are better thought out; the progression of food is smoother and MP-restoring foods are more powerful and common, although condiments are gone; extra party members are common until the entire party is collected. One little feature I love is that by tapping the A button in rhythm with the music, you can chain extra attacks onto your basic attack move; as you progress in the game, the rhythms you’re expected to perform are more complex and harder. However, you can at least double your attack damage with a perfect 16-hit combo, so it’s a skill worth learning.

  • Graphics

    The graphics are a lot better, while completely true to the style of previous games — Shigesato Itoi, the game’s creator and main designer, was a cartoonist before Mother; characters for Earthbound were drawn in pencil and then modeled in clay before being pixelized. There’s a lot more variation in character size and shape, and much more going on in the non-battle world (although the battle screen gets some refinements and animations). A lot more of the exposition is done through fairly detailed animations in the game world. A lot more things have visual representations, in menus, item descriptions, and so forth. It’s more an enormous number of nice touches and just better-made art than a transition to a fancy new graphical engine, and it works very well for Mother’s style. And there are a simply unbelievable number of sprites in the music scenes in this game.

  • Sound

    That brings me to sound; it’s very good. There are lots more high-quality samples, which are used to good effect, both in the overworld and battle. Don’t worry, though: Shogo Sakai, the composer, has not altogether lost the sometimes dreamy, sometimes manically upbeat wave-only songs; he’s just supplanted it with some more traditionally MIDI-y music. Those of you who played Brawl in English no doubt are familiar with several themes from the game. Although there may not be as many truly catchy songs as last time around, it's fine for what it is, and the battle music fits the rhythm technique (very different from the rhythm method) well.

  • Writing

    The writing and plot are very good; Ryuka and Klaus became Lucas and Claus, though Flint and Boney remained with their original names. Duster, the gimpy ninja, Princess Kumatora and Salsa the dancing monkey, and a panoply of interesting side characters and villains round out the cast. Part of the quality of the writing is due to the efforts of the translators, who managed to capture the Japanese such that it still feels like it has the writing style of Earthbound’s translation. The ludicrous monster names and pictures return, and they’re still as funny and ridiculous as ever.

    I don’t want to say much at all about the plot, but it’s definitely up to snuff, and connected with Earthbound’s mysterious ending, and yes, there are Mr. Saturns. The freewheeling, gentle humor and underlying compassion returns, though there is a very dark side to Mother 3. In fact, Itoi has made it clear in interviews that several key plot points and, indeed, the game's final sequences and ending were originally intended to be extremely dark and unusually unafraid to confront themes no yet seen in video games; the fact that these were removed doesn't weaken the game, but makes for some enormously interesting post-game reading and perusing of unused sprites.

Mother 3 is most everything you want it to be. I say most because, of course, these kind of things are never fully up to your impossible expectations; but what’s missing isn’t so much something at fault with Mother 3 as the fact that it didn’t have equivalents for everything I loved about Earthbound. And I’m glad it didn’t. It was a different game, an evolution of the Mother series, and is so well-made that leaves me hopeful about the possibility of Nintendo offering Itoi a fourth game. Because if he makes it, I’ll be able to play it, whether or not Nintendo decides to deign English fans with an official translation.