Mother 3 - Staff Retroview  

Does Your Mother Know?
by Mike Moehnke

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20-40 Hours
+ Very much the sequel to Earthbound
+ Incredible sound quality for the system
+ Unusual and interesting (though crazy) story
+ Fast-paced, engaging combat
- Low-level enemies no longer yield automatic experience
- Combo hits are hard to manage
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   Earthbound went a long time without a sequel. Mother 3 was seemingly in development from not long after Mother 2 was released in 1994 until it finally saw the light of day in 2006, which probably sets some kind of record. What makes this incredibly long development cycle even more unusual is how very similarly Earthbound and Mother 3 play, leaving no doubt whatsoever that they are related. Nintendo had given up on the Game Boy Advance market by that time, and at any rate probably had no good memories of the franchise after overestimating demand for Earthbound, so one of the finest RPGs on the system was denied an official English translation. Nevertheless, there are myriad ways to enjoy the game despite its lack of a localization.

   In many ways Mother 3 is like the haphazard twin of Earthbound, almost as if they had been developed concurrently. Combat in particular is nearly identical, with visible enemies on the screen that like to join together with others nearby. Turn-based combat is fairly standard, with the twist of the rolling HP meter retained from Earthbound. This ingredient makes player characters lose or gain HP in battle gradually, as if an analog clock was having its time changed, instead of the effect being instant. This facet of the game makes for a very interesting experience, as it is possible to heal characters after they have suffered fatal damage, but before that damage has finished ticking down. Such a quality turns Mother's combat into an intoxicating race with the countdown clock at times, as the player tries to finish an enemy as quickly as possible to minimize damage.

   The only big change in Mother 3's combat is the combo system. It is possible to land additional hits on enemies if one can properly pace presses of the A button to a rhythm. The rhythm varies depending upon the opponent, however, and can only be learned by investigating this outside of battle. A handy guide book keeps a record of every enemy that can be used for practice, and remembering the results of these practice sessions will be vital for landing long combo strings. Combo attacks are not essential to progress, however, since their power decreases as the sequence continues and the initial strike is far stronger than any that come afterward.

   Also new to Mother 3 is dashing. Aside from simply moving faster, dashing will knock a few things over in order to progress, and smack low-powered enemies out of the way. Unfortunately the excellent characteristic of Earthbound that rewarded powerful players with instant victories, complete with the expected rewards, for confronting much weaker enemies is absent. Weak adversaries can be knocked out of the way while running, but the player gets nothing unless they are actually fought. This is still an excellent thing, because it means the player can smash straight through enemies that are not worthwhile to fight, but it is a retreat from the sublime of its predecessor.

Don Don't you know you gotta shock the monkey, shock the monkey tonight!

   Mother 3's story does not initially seem connected to its predecessor, despite the looks of the games being so similar. It takes place on the Nowhere Islands, and uses a chapter system that allows for a bit of variety in the playable characters. Lucas is the hero of the game, but he does not take center stage until the fourth chapter. What begins as a forest fire run wild that threatens to claim Lucas's family turns out to be a harbinger of nastier things. It is revealed that a group of men wearing piggy suits is trying to upset the pristine order of the Nowhere Islands in search of something that has world-changing abilities. The goofiness of the plot is constant, with talking rope snakes, villains slipping on banana peels, incredibly aggressive crickets, partying ghosts, and a toilet dungeon all serving to lighten the mood. Characters from the previous game like Mr. Saturn do make appearances as Mother 3 goes on, further tying the two together, and the final chapter is full of blatant links.

   For the most part Mother 3's inventory is effective. A quick touch of the Select button in battle will keep item effects visible, new equipment's potential adjustments to characters can be seen prior to purchase, shop menus are quick to navigate, and magic (also known as PSI power) is efficient in explanation and use. The one major flaw also afflicted the game's predecessor, but somehow the limit on items that can be held is unchanged. Each character's inventory fills quickly, especially since equipment is also taking up space. Coupled this with the tendency of enemies to leave items behind and it becomes annoying. Escargot Express, the service that allowed items to be stored at any time in Earthbound, has been replaced by a guy sometimes standing around who will do the same duty, but is in fixed locations and thus much less accessible. Item management is not a constant concern once four characters are in the party, but its annoying nature still drags the overall fine interaction down a bit.

Those bats deserve what they get for wandering around dazed & confused all the time. Those bats deserve what they get for wandering around dazed & confused all the time.

   It is in the visuals department that Mother 3 and Earthbound share the most, for every sprite looks like it could have come directly from the previous game. That does not mean Mother 3 lazily grabbed images wholesale from its predecessor, because almost every visual is newly constructed; they simply share the same sensibility. Though Mother 3's incredibly accurate continuation of Mother 2's visuals does not push the Game Boy Advance very hard, that in no way means it is unpleasant to look at. The incredible variety of psychedelic backgrounds on display, along with the numerous new opponents and sprites to behold, prohibits this from being considered a piece of cheap shovelware.

   Mother 3's audio is nothing less than stunning, particularly considering the Game Boy Advance's handicaps in that regard. Where so many games on the system had low audio quality, the synthesizers here often sound almost like real instruments. The incredible variety of music to be found here ensures that something for every listener is present, from Wagner-esque to Chuck Berry outtakes. The compositions of Shogo Sakai are never less than interesting, and usually catchy enough to warrant standing around to soak up the tunes. The sound effects are superb also, capturing what they are intended to evoke excellently.

   Mother 3 is not an easy game, but in a seeming acknowledgment of its potential difficulty, the penalties for death are almost nonexistent. If killed, the player is able to restart from the last save point with full health and all progress retained. The only penalty is a loss of half the current cash, but since the frogs that serve as save points also store the DP that is the game's currency, this meager penalty is easy to avoid. The game takes about twenty-five hours to complete, though that time could probably be stretched a bit if desired.

   By 2006, Nintendo had lost interest in games that required a lot of translation work for the Game Boy Advance. Despite the pleas of Mother fans, that stance has not changed in the years since, and this game is unlikely to ever receive an official localization unless it is remade far into the future. Thanks to the dedication of fans around the world, the game has been fully translated into English, making an import quite easy. For one of the top RPGs on the Game Boy Advance, and almost certainly the best one to never cross the Pacific, a little extra work will be rewarded fully.

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