It is hard to see the screen sometimes when your eyes are full of tears. Even the fine resolution of the Gameboy Micro cannot penetrate when you dare not shed them for fear of attracting undue attention on the train. It’s true, I could have finished Mother 3 in another place, a more private place where I could weep and wail and ruin the circuit boards, but I am a man of tradition, and braved another ending aboard public transport. Mother 3, my sweet, wonderful Mother 3. In the same way that Wander and the Colossus wordlessly convinced us to empathize with uncanny monstrosities, and Leisure Suit Larry gave us boners, the Mother series is revolutionary in its seamless, perfect fusion of video games with love.
I realize that I am the only person I know who has played this game in its entirety, and hope that I can choose my words carefully enough to let you in on the big secret without revealing all of its little ones. If you know the game Earthbound for the SNES, this is its successor. Like so many great Japanese games, this one was never released outside of Japan. And why? Because people are stupid and selfish, just like the game illustrates through its antagonists, and their influence on a naive populace (who until now had never heard of theft, jealousy, or even money). Had Nintendo actually heeded the message of producer Shigesato Itoi, they would have released the game in every international market, and profits be damned – the game is too important as a cultural phenomenon to worry about the bottom line, and needs to exist out there like libraries, post offices, statues of mayors, used CD stores and other entities that exist not for profit, but for our collective well-being.
The game plays like a normal RPG, namely the Dragon Quests. You fight via battle menu, level up and get stronger with enough victories, gain special items and spells and explore a rich world, talking to all the inhabitants who are capable of speech. You also eat hallucinogenic mushrooms. So what makes this series so special that an independent non-profit group would localize it and release a patch on the internet which you can get here and patch into a ROM that you can get here and play on an emulator that you can get here? It’s love, and you know it is. Real love.
Besides the cosmetic alterations to traditional digital role-playing, exchanging swords for yo-yos, potions for pizza, and airships for, well… you’ll see, the Mother world is a reflection of us and our society in a way that no Arthurian mock-up or dystopian wasteland could ever be. It’s cute, it’s exasperating, and it’s completely absurd – just like us.
While the Earthbound world was a parody of modern life, Mother 3’s is an illusion of utopia and a story about what happens when that illusion breaks down. The painful realities of life in a seemingly perfect world are compounded by the realization that it wasn’t even perfect to begin with. Happiness becomes even more transient a commodity, and death becomes that much more appealing in the face of loss and loneliness. So it’s not just a mere plot point that these characters fight the way they do. Their quest is one of justice just as much as it is revenge, just as much as it is desperation.
There are a lot of hollow expressions in Japanese like “do your best,” and “believe in yourself,” and even “thank you,” is pretty fucking tired when you think about it. But the game was expertly written by a man who embodies the spirit of living, meaningful language, copywriter Shigesato Itoi. And he doesn’t fuck around. When you’re playing, you can tell when a coward who’s too full of shit to actually lend any support says, “hang in there,” and when someone says it with conviction and genuine faith in your ability to carry out the quest. Each character you speak to doesn’t just fill you with quest notes – they have personalities, and they’re personalities that you’ve probably encountered in your own life, for better or worse.
Mother 3’s tagline: “Welcome to MOTHER 3 World” is more than just a opener. It is an invitation to step inside and enjoy it as your own home for awhile. It is very easy to jump into a game like this with that leetpwnzorz questing mentality and blaze through, level grind, fight bosses and open up new areas so you can beat the game quickly. And that’s certainly a playable avenue – you can do that. But this is a role-playing game, and one of the last, perhaps (If you say Final Fantasy XIII is a role-playing game, you might as well say Contra is, too). You should really play that role to the hilt, because everyone else in the Nowhere Islands is certainly playing theirs. Talk to all those weirdos who hang out at the hotel. Go visit grandpa in the creepy old folks’ home. Did that little girl just fart? As a living part of this world, if all you do is fight to the finish, your experience and ultimately your role there will be seriously diminished. You won’t really know what or who it is you are trying to save. And save them you may, little hero, but to them you’ll be like some anonymous esper that swoops in during the night and leaves money on everyone’s dressers in the morning. So unless your mother’s a total whore, it really pays to stop and smell the sunflowers. There’s a hell of a lot more to do in MOTHER 3 World than beat a last boss, and once you do, you’ll have to say good-bye to it forever. Or at least until you get the urge again to weep like a child who just got fierce punched in the face by Santa Claus. So stick around, have some shitburgers (or whatever you named your favorite food), and check in on your mother every once in a while. Tell her I said hi.