Mother/Earthbound Beginnings/Earthbound Zero
When people talk about the Mother series, generally, they instantly think of Earthbound, which was known as Mother 2 in Japan, and, until recently, was the only game in the Mother trilogy to be localized to the States.
Earthbound is an absolute gem. Definitely deserving of a spot on the List, but I’m here to talk about the first game in the series: Mother.
The first thing I want to talk about is the director on the Mother series: Shigesato Itoi, who, until Mother, was not a game designer at all. In fact, he was a fairly popular copywriter, essayist, lyricist, and actor before delving into game design. Around the time Itoi pitched Mother to Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo was focusing on “upping their game”, so to speak. Games in the recent past that were directed by celebrities were typically garbage, and Miyamoto wanted no part of Itoi’s Mother, expecting just another celebrity who wanted to say, “yeah, I make video games too”. Itoi was devastated that his pitch fell through, but after sleeping on it, Miyamoto decided to give Itoi a shot with his quirky RPG, Mother.
Mother was first released in Japan in 1989, and a few years later, work on localization was nearly complete for the English version of Mother. Unfortunately, the plans to release Mother in English fell though around 1991, as Nintendo put all of their efforts into making their new Super Nintendo the biggest, bestest thing.
Strangely enough, somehow, the prototype for the English localized version of Mother found its way to the internet where it was purchased, and eventually worked on by Demiforce, a popular fan-translation team who had been working on a fan-translation of the Japanese version of Mother at the time. After some hard work, Demiforce was able to release a working ROM of the prototype to the public, titled: Earthbound Zero.
Though another version of Mother would receive a fan-translation, the official English localization of Mother would not come until June 14th, 2015, when Nintendo finally released their English version of Mother on the Wii U eShop, titled Earthbound Beginnings, which is… Identical to the Earthbound Zero version… Almost like they’ve been sitting on it for 25 years or so… Hmm…
So after all of this history and the localization struggle… Is the first Mother any good? Personally, I love it. The game is flawed as all hell, but I love it.
When you first start Mother, you’re greeted with a text scroll to set the mood and the story. In the early 1900s, a man and his wife, George and Maria, mysteriously went missing from their home. Two years later, George returns, just as mysteriously as he had vanished, but seemed a changed man, dedicating all of his time to this strange study. Maria, on the other hand, never returned. 80 years pass, and we’re put in the shoes of Mother’s hero, Ninten (real clever Itoi). Though, as is true with Earthbound, you can name your four heroes, and Ninten’s favorite food whatever you like.
Mother, much like Earthbound, puts you in the shoes of a boy with a baseball cap, psychokinetic powers, and a penchant for beating stray dogs with a baseball bat until they become “quiet”. After a strange poltergeist sweeps through Ninten’s house, Dad calls and tells Ninten that PSI, the aforementioned psychokinesis, runs in the family, and that Ninten must go on a journey to hone his powers. Seems like ever since the poltergeist event, people and animals all over the world have been losing their minds, and other machines have been coming to life as well. So Ninten heads into the small town of Podunk (okay, actually, this one is pretty clever) to see what the hubbub is.
After clearing up the troubles with Podunk, Ninten finds his way into the seemingly magical realm of Magicant, where he meets with Queen Mary, who has been plagued with nightmares, and gives Ninten our actual objective: find the 8 melodies to the song she forgot so she can hear it again. And so, the real quest begins.
As far as gameplay goes, Mother is your classic NES RPG. You’ve got your turn based battles complete with attacking, guarding, using PSI or item, and that’s pretty much it as far as the battle system goes. It’s basic, but it gets the job done. Aside from Magicant, Mother doesn’t take place in a fantasy realm like other RPGs of the time. Instead, it takes place in a 1980s fictional America. Instead of fighting goblins, you’ll face off with stray dogs, hippies, and psycho cars and trucks. While there are slight sci-fi overtones with the PSI and the various robots and UFOs you’ll encounter, you’ll find that Mother mostly takes place in this charming, familiar setting.
Mother’s story is more setting-driven than story driven. Much like the 8 melodies you must find, the story is broken up into moment-by-moment events and happenings. You’ll quell a zombie uprising to save a girl, find out what’s making the animals insane at the Zoo, delve into a haunted house, and much more as you hunt down the melodies. But at the end, the melodies make an entire song, much how each event in Mother eventually creates a wonderful world and story. Mother’s unique and quirky enemies and adventures are not for everyone, sure, but I’d suggest everyone to at least give it a shot. The lighthearted adventures of Ninten and his friends are quite like a group of kids who are having a pretend adventure in the park behind their house, just making up fun events and scenarios as they go along. Not only that, but much of the dialogue is quirky, witty, and left me chuckling for days on end. Mother creates a wonderful nostalgia for your childhood, and, at least I can personally say, left a very special place in my heart.
Now, though it tells a wonderful story and portrays a wonderful adventure, Mother is not without it’s flaws. The first thing you’ll probably be aware of when you start playing is the balancing. Mother will kick your ass over and over again, and if you’re adverse to grinding, you’ll NEVER MAKE IT in Mother. First few steps out of your home, and you’ll be getting stomped by hippies and this
asshole dude named Wally over and over until you grind up your level enough, and make enough cash for better equipment.
Once you feel comfortable with the area between your home and Podunk, it’s time to tackle the zombie uprising… Who are all incredibly powerful and kick your ass… Time to grind. Okay, zombies are taken care of, let’s check out the Zoo… Now the elephants and tigers are wrecking you… Back to grinding the cemetery. And this is what you’ll have to deal with with EVERY SINGLE AREA. Luckily, you’re never too terribly far from a place to recover your health (oftentimes for free), but all the grinding up your levels is incredibly tedious.
Speaking of which, each character (with one exception) that joins your party starts at level 1. Oh yeah. That means that when you’re fighting enemies with your level 15ish character and you get the new guy, the enemies in and around that area are going to one-shot him, and he won’t gain any experience if he’s dead, which means… Time to go back to previous areas and grind… AGAIN. Do you see a theme here? And finally, as far as balancing goes, they didn’t even bother playtesting the last section of the game as they were running out of time. And the last section of Mother is notoriously and ball-bustingly difficult, with many enemies possessing one-shot kill abilities and resistances to your best moves. Luckily, near the end, you start getting some really powerful PSI abilities as well that can sometimes balance out the bullshit-factor.
Mother, like Earthbound, gives you that “fun” inventory management system, where each character can only carry a maximum of 8 items, which, as far as I’m concerned, is not nearly enough for an RPG. Many RPGs have unlimited inventory space, and Mother’s many many items have nowhere to go, much of the time. Luckily, you can store anything you don’t need anymore in your home, but I often had an inventory full of useless things because I thought at some point they’d all be important key items I’d need to advance the story. If Ninten has an item that only Lloyd can use, but Lloyd’s inventory is full, you have to first move something from Lloyd’s inventory to Ana’s before Ninten can hand Lloyd the item. Why can’t we just perform an even swap?
Another minor irritation is that the game doesn’t tell you what any of the PSI abilities actually do, aside from telling you they’re offensive, healing, or assist type. You’ll need to delve into an FAQ or something to figure it out.
With all of these flaws, though, Mother is still a fantastic game, and has one of the best soundtracks on the NES, in my opinion. In fact, all of the amazing tunes throughout Mother will be stuck in your head for a long time after completion.
The Bottom Line
- Great story, world, and dialogue.
- Fantastic soundtrack.
- Brilliant, quirky, and unconventional, especially for its time.
- The constant need to grind, due to the imbalance of enemy difficulty.
- Clunky inventory management and menus.
- The lack of telling you what’s important, as far as PSI and key-items go.
Final Score: 8/10
Mother is not for everyone, for sure, but I personally love it. It’s more of a 9/10 for me, but if you’re gonna review games, you gotta be a critic. If you liked Earthbound, I think you’ll really enjoy Mother, as much of the story is told in the same way, through events, not so much through dialogue. Mother is about the adventure itself, and knowing that at the end of it all, you can go always home to your Mother, and everything will be alright.