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Mother 3


The final installment for the Mother series arrives, but unfortunately is only a Japanese exclusive!

Thank goodness for the fan translations because I was finally able to use my Gameboy Advance for once. If you know me, I love the Earthbound series and have been dying to play this game for a long time. Since they cancelled the ongoing project, Earthbound 64, I was convinced that there wouldn't be another game in the series.

Created and written by Shigesato Itoi, an essayist, writer, voice actor, short fiction collaborator, fishing fan, Iron Chef Judge and all the coolest things you can think of... Mother 3 is an amazing narrative that delves into the most personal and intimate themes of storytelling that I've ever seen in a video game.

Mother 3 starts in Tazmily Village, a utopian city where humans and nature live in perfect harmony. Out of nowhere, an army of Pig-masked soldiers invade the area and transforms all of the wildlife into mechanical hybrid creatures. This creates a line of destruction and transformation for the worse that changes the lives of all the town's inhabitants. There are eight chapters and you get to control multiple players to navigate their way through this crazy world.

I'll try to condense as much as I can as I played this.

Essentially, you have to play through eight different chapters, so the game itself differs from the first two. Most of the journey you will venture on will require coming across a bunch of different chimeras, ranging from mechanical dragons to hybrid creatures and plants. As you progress throughout the game, the creatures get even crazier . This is all the devious work of Porky and his Pigmask Army. Their hatred and contempt for life in this paradise will be an eminent theme going forward in the game. Likewise, their sole purpose is to track your party down and destroy you.

MOTHER 3 is about the corruption of utopia. The arrival of the Porky and his Army sets off a family tragedy and a chain of events that forever transforms Tazmily village. Over the span of three short years, rapid modernization of the town sends people to work at factories, creates a caste of disposable slaves, and transforms authentic happiness into a manufactured commodity. Tazmily Village suddenly becomes a ghost town and the inhabitants migrate to the glitz and glamorous metropolis of New Pork City.

Those marginalized by or opposed to such radical change are exiled to the town’s margins or struck down by lightning bolts generated from a distant tower of judgement.

MOTHER 3 is the story of a child who matures into adulthood. Lucas, the main protagonist, is forced to grow up too fast in the wake of his mother’s sudden death, his brother’s lingering disappearance, and his father’s ensuing depression.

From Chapter 4 on, you guide Lucas and his friends to overcome enemies and challenges, eventually becoming strong enough to face Fassad and Porky.

Itoi’s vision to use this medium to tell a story that is structured like a play was a genius move that I've never seen in a handheld video game before. The combination of surreal and bizarre humor mixed with the seriousness of the scenes hits home. The fearless reliance of musical motifs or wordless silence to carry the emotional weight of pivotal scenes along with the choice of child-like visuals to convey a narrative steeped in adult matters of grief, loss, and the inevitability of change is something every player or storyteller in their own right can relate to.

MOTHER 3 tells a story about a time and place where nature and people existed in harmony. But in the last chapter, the player learns that the utopian world of Tazmily is and always was a lie, an artificial construction by survivors of a destroyed world who chose to wipe their memories and begin anew. Because they denied their history, neglected to cultivate deep mythologies, and ignored the darker aspects of human nature, Tazmily became an exceedingly fragile society. Its innocence offered no strength against outside influences and Porky’s Pigmask Army was able to destroy it through the use of fear, greed, and violence.

In the end, the utopian vision of Tazmily is just as unsustainable as the shallow grandeur of New Pork City – both exist only as shiny facades that crumble upon closer inspection.

***

It would be easy to portray MOTHER 3 as an indictment against modernization and consumerism. Yet, Itoi meticulously creates a world where people struggle with these huge forces in very human ways. One of the more memorable moments happens in Chapter 3 where Fassad arrives in Tazmily to ask the townspeople if they are happy.

If you notice, everyone responds differently. Some walk away immediately. Others stay for a while and laugh before rejecting his sermon. Still others are genuinely curious, raising their hands when asked if they would like to become more happy. The first to raise her hand, Abbey, is enthusiastic and naïve, believing there can never be too much happiness. Abbott follows his wife in all things, hinting at his own tendencies. Biff has no idea what Fassad is talking about but is eager to take advantage of any opportunity. Isaac, the most hesitant of the bunch, is curious to see if happiness can really be so easy to attain.

It’s a cute, weird, and fascinating scene that illustrates the level of characterization in MOTHER 3. To acknowledge that humans have various and multiple motivations, and to show subtle and contrasting reactions on bit characters the player can ignore without consequence is rare in the medium of video games. If the player chooses to interact with Itoi’s minor creations, he/she will discover that the world of MOTHER 3 is not so black and white, that he/she may empathize with the journeys of each inhabitant with their own circumstance, being caught up in something much greater than themselves.

Finally, MOTHER 3 also resists being a traditional tale about growing up and moving on. In the end, the player doesn’t triumph over evil by being stronger or more powerful than his/her opponent. They win because brother refuses to fight brother. They win because a mother begs her two sons to stop fighting. They win because a father sacrifices himself to protect his son. Much of MOTHER 3 is about a family being torn apart; its conclusion thus comes full circle, reuniting them in a final act of reconciliation, providing closure through familial love.

Interestingly, it is less Lucas’ courage but more his childish innocence, retained through a traumatic journey in adulthood, that proves instrumental to the story’s conclusion. In the last scene, Lucas conveys his will towards the reconstruction of a broken world. While there is no going back to the false paradise of Tazmily and the outcome is not shown as the credits roll, the player is assured that the future, guided by Lucas’ innate kindness and empathy, is a hopeful one.

This is one game I can replay over and over again and it will never get old. I seem to come across a fresh line of dialogue, a subtle musical motif, or a poignant moment that deepens my understanding and love for its story. This quality of depth in Mother 3 is something I look for and treasure in stories, especially ones with interesting things to say about nature, culture, and self.

Itoi said it himself:

For those who have never played MOTHER 3 and probably never will, I hope the piece made some sense and opened your eyes to the potential of video games for telling meaningful stories. For those who are MOTHER 3 fans, thanks for reading – I hope you found something here that enriched your view of the game. I would love to hear about your experiences with the game.

My heartfelt thanks to Shigesato Itoi for crafting such a “strange, funny, and heartrending” tale, and to Clyde “Tomato” Mandelin and the fans at Starmen.net for pouring thousands of hours into developing a masterful fan-translation, without which I would have never experienced the beauty of this utterly unique story.

MOTHER 3 is one of those rare games that is as rewarding to play through as it is to ponder afterwards, and I cannot envision it being told in any other medium, in any other way.