Best of ND 2014! Mother: Then, Now, and Beyond

Robin reviews the Mother series so far, and takes a look forward at what’s coming next.

By Robin Wilde. Posted 01/02/2015 21:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

This story was selected as one of our best from 2014. It was originally published on June 4, during Issue 7: Lost in Translation.

Shigesato Itoi’s games have a strange relationship with their fans. Despite the series being in its 25th year with only three games released, the Mother series inspires devotion and excitement whenever any whisper of it reaches their ears.

Starting in 1989 with Mother for the Famicom, the series established itself as one of the less serious RPGs around. With an irreverent look at American culture and its contemporary setting, Itoi set his game apart from the other adventures at the time and captured quite a following. The game was translated for English-speaking audiences but was deemed not viable enough for release on NES.

EarthBound followed in 1995 but after a disastrous ad campaign with the slogan “This Game Stinks,” lacklustre sales caused it never to be released outside Japan or the USA. It attracted a small but dedicated fanbase, but never reached a massive audience.

After a long wait (approaching two decades), EarthBound was finally re-released for Wii U last year, allowing European and Australian gamers to play it for the first time as well. The release was the end result of years of petitions, forum activity, and general griping on the part of fans which, unusually for gaming, turned out to be successful.

This fan pressure (increased by the inclusion of Ness in the Super Smash Bros. games, which led players to find out where he came from) grew to such a degree for EarthBound that Nintendo eventually gave a response. However, hopes that EarthBound’s release might be a precursor to further series activity– localisation of the first and third games in the series perhaps, or a new game entirely– were dashed after first weeks, then months passed without any further announcements.

Forget 4, we'll settle for 3

Mother 3 was a high-quality game which showed off its long development time and platform shift from the Nintendo 64 to Game Boy Advance. Following Lucas, a farm boy living in an idyllic, moneyless society, the game tells a story of a society brought down by a corrupt entity and outside invaders from another world. For all the excellent storytelling and gripping emotional moments, fans would have to be content with picking up a Japanese dictionary or playing the (admittedly high quality) fan translations of Mother and Mother 3 instead.

The Mother 3 fan translation was a strange beast, born out of frustration when it became obvious that the Game Boy Advance swansong would not be translated into English. Professional translator Clyde Mandelin and his team set to work, eventually releasing the first complete edition of their patch in 2008.

The English translation is highly regarded and has seen hundreds of thousands of downloads, but despite this obvious appeal (and Mandelin’s personal offer of all translated material for no cost), Nintendo has yet to respond to fan requests for an official release. It’s indicative, though, of the level of support for Mother 3 long after its release.

This hasn’t slowed the enthusiasm for the series, though, and due this winter is an entirely new, fan-made Mother game, creatively titled Mother 4. Taking up the mantle of the series from its original creator, who once said, “If there were a fourth game, I’d want to be the player,” a dedicated group of players have spent some five years and hundreds of man-hours developing the new title. It will require a lot of work to live up to the vintage established by the series since 1989, and expectations are high, so it would be in the team’s best interests not to disappoint.

Starting in the “idealized vintage” town of Belring, Mother 4 follows the travails of Travis, a young boy very similar in appearance and style to Ness and Lucas, as he travels the world and encounters a group calling themselves the Modern Men. Few other details have been released on the story, but it seems a safe bet the game will involve quirky music and locations, strange enemies, and children with psychic powers.

Some have raised the prospect of legal action over the fangame but the team believe Itoi’s wishes and the fact that the game will not be sold for profit should protect them from Cease and Desist orders. Mother 4 is set to be released this winter.

So that’s Mother, Nintendo’s forgotten series. Despite relatively high sales on Virtual Console and a dedicated fanbase, the company throws them nary a bone. Still, for anyone who hasn’t played them, the devotion shown by those who have should serve as an incentive– because it’s never good to overlook the little guys.

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