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Tomorrow is the 15th anniversary of Mother 3's Japanese release.

NecrosaroIII

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Tomorrow is the fifteen anniversary of a game that is very important to me. Mother 3 was released on April 20th, 2006 after a highly complicated development cycle that spanned off and on from 1994 across three systems. The brain child of Shigesato Itoi, a copywriter from Japan that has become famous for his work in advertising, voice acting and judging Iron Chef, Mother 3 would eventually come out on the Gameboy Advance. On the eve of its anniversary, let’s take a look at this cult hit’s history.

Part One – The Development of Mother 3​

I was 7 years old when I first was introduced to the Mother series. My father and I were browsing a Spiegel catalog and came across an ad for the EarthBound (the English version of Mother 2). Its weird box art had immediately caught our attention. We got our copy of the game in the summer of 1995 and it quickly became one of my favorite games. I learned how to read playing EarthBound and reading its packed-in player’s guide. I was at an impressionable age at the time; EarthBound would have a profound impact on my sense of humor, taste in aesthetics, and design sense.

A few years after EarthBound came out, news of a sequel started coming. At the time, I was a Nintendo Power subscriber. A March 1997 article detailed the development of EarthBound 64. Originally slated to be released on the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive, EarthBound 64 was ambitious. What is striking about these early articles is just how much of EarthBound 64 survived into the final released game. Lucas is shown to be the protagonist already. Many characters such as Duster, Salsa, the Pigmask army, and the band DCMC all make early appearances. Even the main setting of Tazmily Village was shown off. Sure their designs would radically change over time, but the basics are still there. It is clear from a fundamental level that the story of Mother 3 GBA and EarthBound 64 are relatively the same.

Source: Starmen.net. An early version of protagonist Lucas and his twin brother Claus
Sadly EarthBound 64 was too ambitious. After the N64 DD bombed hard in Japan, EarthBound 64 was left in a precarious position. The developers switched gears to try to save the project, working it so that the game could play on the base Nintendo 64 but it was a struggle. Nintendo would continue to show off Mother 64 at its annual SpaceWorld expo, including releasing a trailer for the game, it was continuously pushed back. Then in August 2000, the game was formally canceled. Shigesato Itoi, knowing that fans would be disappointed, posted a letter on his Hobonichi Itoi Shinbun website discussing the cancellation (translation courtesy of Starmen.net). He would also later have a roundtable discussion with himself, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Satoru Iwata. What it boils down to is that the team was too inexperienced with 3D game development, the vision was too ambitious, and after abandoning the N64 DD technological limitations were too severe.

I was furious at the news that Earthbound 64 was canceled. In my impetulant youth, I swore off Nintendo. I blamed Gamecube’s imminent release for EarthBound 64’s failure. Starmen.net, which was the online center for the fandom at the time, wrote a petition to save the project. But nothing ever came of it. Mother as a franchise lived on solely through Super Smash Bros for a time.

In 2003, a GameBoy Advance port of Mother 1+2 was announced for Japan. While that was exciting enough for series fans, there was an odd message at the end of the commercial for the game. Written in the font Mr. Saturn characters talk in-game with was “We’re making Mother 3 for the GBA ! Dakota!”. Fans were stunned. It felt unreal. Bizarrely enough, there were no further details given. No elaboration. That was the only information given for over two years. Shigesato Itoi was asked about the project from time to time but all he would say is that the game was in development, but to forget about it for now. He would later say that the reason information was much more restricted when the GameBoy Advance version was in development was because he did not want to disappoint fans.

In November 2005, Mother 3 was officially announced by Nintendo. Still, no screenshots were given. Just a red splash page. In January 2006, Shigesato Itoi announced Mother 3 would be released on April 20th, 2006. The game was now close enough to being finished that he felt confident enough it would be released. A promotional page went up on Hobonichi Itoi Shinbun where each day an additional piece of information would be revealed about the game, such as a reveal of Lucas’ new design, or the main theme song of the game. Starmen.net made an English version of the page for western fans that can still be found here. It became apparent that Mother 3 would have the story of EarthBound 64, but redesigned to have a graphics style closer to EarthBound.

At the time, I had made a deal with Tristan, my co-editor on this site, to pick up Kingdom Hearts 2 which was about to be released. I was just a poor college student at the time, so I couldn’t afford many games. But each passing day, I got more and more excited for Mother 3. Not long before release, I bailed on Kingdom Hearts 3 and pre-ordered Mother 3 from Playasia. My one regret is that I did not buy the Deluxe version, which included a special GameBoy Micro, Franklin Badge, and special pouch.


My copy of Mother 3 arrived a few weeks after the release. I decided to take it slow going through the game. I would limit myself to just one hour a day. I had waited way too long for this game to just devour it over the course of a few days. While Mother 3 is very different from Mother 1 and 2 in many regards, it was exactly what I had wanted it to be. Every once in a while, a game comes out that is everything you had hoped it would be. Mother 3 is one of those titles.

Interlude – Is Mother 3 Even Any Good?​

Mother 3 is a complex game for me to evaluate because I have been following its development since I was a young child. I had certain fears bout the game when I first played it. Would it be able to live up to its hype? My fears were quickly lifted. The story is much more personal than EarthBound. The entirety of the story focuses on a family on a small island literally in the middle of Nowhere. Events play out over the span of 4 years, as the inhabitants of the island are seduced by technology and modern luxuries introduced to them by the mysterious Pig Mask Army. The leader of the Pig Masks childishly plays with the inhabitants of the island like toys, turning the local wildlife into hybrid chimeras as means of being “cooler”. This sets up the island for an unprecedented tragedy.

The game is divided into 8 chapters of varying length. I would argue that the first three chapters are more of an extended introduction. Events truly begin in Chapter 4, where players take control of Lucas as he and his friends attempt to recover an artifact known as the Hummingbird Egg, and repel the Pig Masks. The story culminates in an astounding climax that is both pure fan service for long-time fans of the franchise and utterly heartbreaking. The ending stuck with me so much that I once painted the final scene in the game, which is hanging in my living room.

The soundtrack is phenomenal. While the composers of Mother 1 and 2 did not return, newcomer Shogo Sakai created one of the best soundtracks in gaming history. I would argue that Mother 1 and 2 had better battle themes, Mother 3 has the best soundtrack overall. Many of the area themes and cutscene music wonderfully capture the whimsical tenderness developers were aiming for. The only knock on the soundtrack that I can think of is that playback is limited by the GBA’s lackluster soundchip. However, hackers have managed to exact the music from the ROM file. Uncompressed, these songs all sound amazing.


Gameplay is fairly typical of the area. Battles are first-person and turn-based. Developers included a key system that is quite engaging. If players tap the A button to the rhythm of the battle theme, they can create combos to deal more damage. Initially, there is no guide, so players have to guess what the rhythm is. Eventually, players gain access to a skill that hypnotizes enemies, allowing you to hear their heartbeat, which is a drumbeat for players to follow along with.

Part Two – Waiting for an English Release​

In April 2006, expectations were that Mother 3 would eventually come out in the United States. I imported Mother 3 not out of fear of the game not coming to America, but rather out of impatience. Many fans opted to wait for what was viewed as an inevitable English release. It was assumed the translation would come out in 2007. A year between Japanese and English releases was fairly typical in those days. But then E3 2006 came and went with no news of an English release was revealed. Fans soon began to give up hope.

Many groups had begun fan translations as early as the game’s initial release. Many of these groups were doing it for practice, or because it was such a high-profile game. For whatever reason, these projects all fell by the wayside, probably due to the complexity of the project. After a year of no updates from Nintendo, when it became evident that Mother 3 was not going to be getting an English release, Starmen.net threw its hat into the ring. A new section of the website opened up called “Do-It-Yourself-Devotion”. On that page, Starmen.net co-founder Reid Young laid it out plainly for Nintendo. Their contacts within Nintendo’s localization department had told them that the game was not going to be released. Reid goes on to say that they’ve gone out of their way to never step on Nintendo’s toes. They’ve never profited from the site. They’ve never distributed ROMs and they’ve even gone out of their way to show fans out to buy legitimate copies. But Mother 3 was just too big for the community to ignore.

It was announced that Tomato, the online alias of Clyde Mandalin, the other co-founder of Starmen.net and a professional translator for Funimation, would take be in charge of translating the script. A few other members were also announced, such as legendary hackers Gideon Zhi and Neo Demiforce, but eventually, they would have to drop out of the project. Eventually, the project settled into a collaboration between Tomato and a programmer going by the name Jeffman, with various contributions by others.

Tomato detailed progress on the fan translation through 2007 and 2008 on his blog. The project was very strenuous both men involved, both putting in over 1000 hours of work in order to make it happen. In order for the translation to be possible, changes had to be made at the assembly level since there was not enough memory available to fit the English text. Without documentation from the original developers, this is a grueling task but still they pressed through every challenge.

The entire time development of the fan translation was underway, the team worked under the assumption that Nintendo would shut it down at any moment. The fan translation was a very high-profile project in gaming circles but it exists within a legal gray zone. Emulation and sharing ROMs (copy versions of the game’s data) are viewed as piracy, however, translation patches are not. Nintendo never issued a cease-and-desist to Starmen.net. In fact, employees within the company would give words of encouragement in private.

Tanetane Island – A drug fuelled nightmare
The fan translation of Mother 3 was released in October 2008. It received much acclaim from fans who had been eagerly awaiting the patch. Clyde, who was a role model of mine in college, had been respectful to the text of the game. His deep love of EarthBound meant that he was able to capture subtle nuances and connections that perhaps a less familiar translator would have missed. Perhaps the only large change that was made was the re-naming of a character named Yokuba to Fassad. Otherwise, the text is a work of love.

In the years since the fan translation released, fans have continued to demand an official release. For years, it would be commonplace for gaming journalists to ask former Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime when Mother 3 would be released. In essence, it has become a punchline that Nintendo themselves have even joked about. At E3 2014, Robot Chicken produced a sketch for Nintendo in which a journalist was burned by a fire flower for asking where Mother 3 was. Just the other day Reggie posted the following tweet:



Will Mother 3 eventually be localized officially? Never say never. In 2015, Nintendo released Mother 1 as EarthBound Beginnings on the Wii U Virtual console. It was the first time in 26 years that the game was available in an official capacity in English. However, the situation is between Mother 1 and Mother 3. Mother 1 was translated back in 1989 but was canceled last minute so that Nintendo could shift focus to the SNES. The company had been sitting on a nearly completed project. It would not take much effort to upload that work to the Virtual console. According to Starmen.net’s contacts at Nintendo, Mother 3’s localization has never begun. Nintendo would have to start from the ground up, which may be deemed a waste of time and money for a niche title by more business-minded folks.

To this day, Nintendo has never officially said why it will not localize Mother 3. Logically the timing seems to be the biggest issue. Mother 3 was released in early 2006. The Nintendo DS had already been out for almost a year and a half by that point. Perhaps if development had been shifted to the DS, we would have seen a stateside release? Some have speculated that characters called the Magypsies were a key issue. They are magical non-gendered characters that some say are gay stereotypes. That explanation has never sat right with me. Nintendo has never shied away from redesigning characters to suit regional sensibilities.

Does Mother 3 really need an official release? I would absolutely love to play Mother 3 in English on official hardware. Plus as polished as the fan translation is, there were a few minor bugs that the team was not able to overcome which are not game-breaking but are distracting. Still, I am not certain that a Nintendo-produced localization would capture the subtlety of the fan translation. Clyde Mandelin’s familiarity with the Mother series and their localizations aided him in his work on Mother 3, making sure that it was both loyal to the original Japanese script, but faithful to EarthBound’s localization.

 

Synless

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Somehow we got shitty Fire Emblem translated and not this.... who the fuck asked for Fire Emblem over Mother 3? No one, but Nintendo is going to Nintendo.
 
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Spukc

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bit overated imo
played the snes game didn't like it at all. So many better rpg's on snes.
played the mother 3 on my gba. Prefered that one a lot. Still stopped playing don't like the style. Same goes for undertale..
Just meh
 

AJUMP23

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To this day I am fucking pissed that this was never realized on the N64. Look at these fucking screenshots, all these years later it looks like heaven

I hate God


I remember looking at this in Nintendo Power and thinking how awesome it looks. A travesty we never got to play it.
 

Jeeves

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Best game ever created and it's not even close.

OP touched on most everything I would have said. My history with the game is kind of similar.

I'm so glad I've never been shy about emulation. I was a huge fan of EarthBound and Mother 1, both of which I first played in emulation in the early 2000s. Funny story, EarthBound's big box actually repelled me from it the only time I saw it in the wild at a rental store, because I thought it was a console bundle and I had no reason to rent a console I already owned. But it's a good thing I didn't play it back then, because I didn't understand RPGs at the time.

By the time I was a fan of the series, EarthBound 64 was already dead and buried, and the GBA version was about to be announced. And I followed news of that game like a hawk. When it released I played the ROM out of impatience, but I would only allow myself to play the first few minutes of the game. What a magical first few minutes of a game it is, but I digress.

You could not know my excitement when Lucas was announced as a new challenger in Brawl. That was shortly after I completed my first full playthrough of the game with an item name translation hack and a printout of a rough translation of the necessary script. Even playing the game in such a state, the writing was enough to make me laugh and cry.

Naturally I followed the fan translation blog closely. Huge respect to Tomato and Jeffman and the team for sticking it out and even getting down and dirty with the code to bring the project to life. I do think that thanks to Tomato's unique position, even an official localization would not have been more thorough and lovingly accurate.

God, that battle system! Love the rhythm combos' simple addition to the familiar formula. I had a blast practicing combos in the battle log. Once I even wore two different headphones with the ROM and the GBA cart playing at the same time and simultaneously got perfect combos on two different battle themes, just as a silly challenge for myself. I want to shout out the rolling HP odometers, too. I know EarthBound did that too, but they roll more slowly in this game, giving it room to actually be part of your decision-making in battle.

Don't get me started on the music. Fuck. Every single song is a banger. I'm gonna stop myself there before I write a whole paper about just the music.

Gaming peaked in 2006.
 

Kokoloko85

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Ah Nintendo....
I have Mother 3 translated on my modded 3DS. No idea why Nintendo doesnt release it, pretty sure they can afford a translation.
Hate it when amazing games don’t get translated and ported to the west.... Im looking at you Shining Force 3 part 2 and 3.....

And yes the N64 Mother game would of been amazing.
Earthbound Snes is one of my favourite games and hits a special feeling
 

BlakeofT

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I'd love it if this got released on Switch, but I think we all know that everyone will melt down when the price tag is $40.
 

Bakkus

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Nice thread. But the N64 version of Mother being cancelled was a blessing in disguise. The GBA version with spritework still holds up to this day The visuals of that game does absolutely not.

We have an easily accesible fan translation of the game too which you can even get on a GBA cart.
 

Rodolink

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one of the greatest games ever! a 10/10 for me.
problem with localizing it imo is that is a mature script with themes like coping with death, sexism, etc and jokes that would've been hard to adap at the time. Game would've to be released for mature Audiences in the west. Although we are getting closer i think one day we will see an official release.
 

NecrosaroIII

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Nice thread. But the N64 version of Mother being cancelled was a blessing in disguise. The GBA version with spritework still holds up to this day The visuals of that game does absolutely not.

We have an easily accesible fan translation of the game too which you can even get on a GBA cart.

I don't disagree. The GBA version is a masterpiece. I DO think the N64 version wouldn't have been as good, but I also think it would have been more influential.
 

Velius

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I think if EarthBound 64 came out, it would have been heralded as one of the great games ever made.... but it also would have been known as having aged poorly.
I just don't agree with that. Even today I think it looks beautiful. But I realize I might be looking through some seriously thick nostalgia glasses