Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Chronologically, this is actually the first game in the trilogy, and the last one I played. It's not all that important (a fanboy just died in indignation) as they're generally unrelated, minus a few character crossover, cheeky winks with one another and the occasional moment being made all the more relevant with a greater series knowledge, but they inform each other in different ways regardless.
This series barely made it to the West, save for its second installment making it as far as the U.S under the name Earthbound (rather confusingly, this was also the tentative title for the original Mother, thus the NES original has gained the moniker Earthbound Zero in fan circles) in the States and generally not going on to do as well as the creators would've hoped. Thus, outside of Japan, the Mother games have been dependent on fan translations as the only way to enjoy'em away from their native tongue. Oddly, the original Mother was slated for a Western release, going as far as to get a full localization, but by the time it was ready, Nintendo felt its window of opportunity had closed as a result of it being a very late NES/Famicom title and their focus on the new SNES/Super Famicom, setting a dubious precedent for the series, as Mother 2 came quite late into the SNES' life, and Mother 3 made the GBA in 2006, just as the DS was truly picking up momentum. The cartridge of Mother/Earthbound-Zero went unreleased, outside of high-priced auctions of the prototypes.
Spawned from the very fertile mind of Shigesato Itoi, Mother sees you navigate child hero Ninten, hailing from a humble rural U.S background of Podunk, and being tasked with staving off the invasion of Giygas, the alien entity once adopted by your grandparents, and to do so, Ninten and cohorts must traverse the lands encountering all shades of danger-in the guise of malevolent, sentient trucks, lamps and spacemen- pursuing barres of your grandmother's long-forgotten melody, in the hope of it halting Earth's demise. Then, THEN, there's the alter-realm, where you must defeat a laxidasical dragon, and have the option of drafting in a small army of masochistic birdmen to aid you in your quest. You following? I'll avoid spoilers (well, anymore), but you get there comfortably.
The gameplay is very much early/8-bit RPG, in as much as it offers just enough plot, which happens to be good, fortunately, to justify the seemingly endless grinding. The battle system baits that of early Dragon Quest titles, so it's involving, if not completely original. Yes, it's hard, very, very hard, sometimes bafflingly so, where random battles will require more effort than some bosses, but it serves as sufficient carrot for the overarching narrative, which is the main draw here, like all of the Mother series, really.
Many ponder why an 8-bit RPG that requires so much work to get the fullest from it, can still retain such a rabid following, some 20 years after its release. Many will point to how it shuns the RPG tropes such as a standard medieval approach and buckles, in favour of something more modern and fun. I think this has its influence, of course, but I think its true art is its capacity to do that, and turn around to present far more (getting a bit Edge magazine here) emotionally engaging than it has any 'right' to be. Surprisingly affecting, actually. Especially so, considering its technical limitations, and the fact that titles with virtually infinite times its processing power seldom manage to resonate so deeply with the gaming masses for two days, never mind the two decades Mother's been pulling it off.