Review by Exodist
Reviewed: 06/28/06 | Updated: 12/07/10
The best RPG on the Game Boy Advance.
Before I begin the review, yes I will admit it straight away: Earthbound is my favourite game ever. However I can say this is an honest review, and the game is definitely what I say. I had very high expectations for the game, but more than anything, I was excited to be playing the new Mother game. Being such a huge fan of the series, I wasn't worried whether it was going to deliver or not, I just wanted to play it. Even more exciting was playing it in Japanese. Although I've studied it a little bit recently, back in 2006 (wow, the game came out that long ago? I even remember playing through it for the first time), I had no knowledge of the language and its truly something to experience. All I can say is, whatever it is it doesn't matter, but try playing and beating a game in Japanese, there's nothing quite like it (that said everyone on Gamefaqs was sharing hints and tips, storylines etc, so there was definitely a sense of community in it. However as I am sure many of you now know, a fan translation has been released. This revised edition of my original review is from a new perspective: playing the game fully in English.
The story in the game is absolutely phenomenal. At heart, the story isn't complex or full of twists and surprises, but its a story that tells a lot in a short amount of time, and one that manages to convey a lot of themes with ease. The entire game was written by Mother creator Shigesato Itoi so props off to him for his wonderful work. First, I'll go into the details of the actual events in the game. The story is pretty interesting in that for the first few chapters that the game is split up into, the story is told in a non-linear way. Although at first this doesn't seem entirely suitable for an RPG (switching characters and what not) it actually works quite well. The game is set on Nowhere Island, a peaceful and unadvanced civilization. The story begins with a family: Lucas (the protagonist we see the most of), Claus, his brother, Hinawa, his mother, and Flint, his father (the protagonist for Chapter One). The kids, along with Hinawa are staying at her fathers. On the way back home however, disaster strikes the town of Tazmily. Strange men dressed as pigs attack the forest, upsetting the creatures. There is panic, and well, the town and people of Tazmily will never be the same again.
You see, its hard to write about the story because its pretty big, changing a lot. There is a main goal later on in the game, whilst the first few chapters introduce the setting and characters. Its an amazing story which will take you on a massive journey, but sadly the spoilers start kicking in from the off so I can't really detail much. However the best part of the game is the different themes it explores. Its good because they're not exactly in your face either. The town of Tazmily goes through transformation and its up to you to explore it, and if you do, you'll see things you wouldn't otherwise see, things designed to cause an emotional response by the player. In fact, Mother 3 sets out to do this and it definitely succeeds. If the game wants you to laugh, you probably will, its a very funny game. However if it wants to make you sad, and even angry (Chapter Three anyone?) it will. The game has a lot to say, so its definitely worth experiencing it all, taking your time and digesting what the story has to offer. It goes beyond the simple storyline (which is decent in its own right), providing players with a huge, emotional experience that takes particular attention to appreciate. Its not one to rush through certainly.
The gameplay in the game is a very standard RPG affair. That said, its also perfectly tuned. The game is split up into eight different chapters, changing your narrative perspective for the first few before finally settling on Lucas from Chapter 4 on. The gameplay is well designed for the first few. Since you change characters a lot, the difficulty curve, although getting a little harder as you go, is more in the strategic side. You won't really need to grind much at all in Chapter 1, although Chapter 2 is quite big and requires a bit of work, chapter 3 isn't too bad either. Even though the game is an RPG, it doesn't quite require loads of grind to do these chapters which is good since you don't have to make so much of a commitment to these characters who you're only going to use for a little while, and it pays off because this narrative technique is a really interesting one. When you do reach chapter 4 however, the game does start to get challenging. The encounters aren't too bad, but the difficulty is mostly in the bosses. Its a little better this time around, unlike Earthbound, there are frequent save points in dungeons because they're now frogs, not the telephone. There are hot springs dotted here and there also (where it makes sense, though) which restore your HP and PP. The bosses are all quite challenging and you will have to grind a bit to beat some of them, but generally the game relies on the right strategy. It never gets too hard and its never grind heavy either, meaning you will almost always be moving through the game, rather than stuck in the same place for a long time.
All the other RPG conventions are added too. You finally start earning money you can buy things with, although this feature isn't particularly prominent in the game at all. Instead, there is a large emphasis on the items you find, either in the field (there are plenty), or enemy drops. They frequently drop useful battle items, handy for bosses (bombs and stuff), along with good food to help heal with characters who don't have PP abilities. The battle system in the game is mostly the same as Earthbound but tweaked a bit. Remember that rolling HP counter? In Earthbound, when a character is hit, the damage they receive is counted down, meaning if you're quick you can heal them and stop them from dying, even if they have say, 100HP and take 200HP damage. However, it went pretty quick so although handy, it was on occasion. In Mother 3, its much slower, but not too slow either, making a nice balance, allowing you to sometimes take risks and sacrifice a near death or two to get a few more hits in. A rhythm system has also been added but this is an odd one. I won't lie, I played the English version on an emulator as most people will (I have an actual Japanese copy, though). I'm not sure of all the details, but basically this makes it harder to combo. However, the idea is, pressing the button to the beat of the battle music lets you combo your enemy. Fortunately, its the type of system that does help when you use it, but the extra attacks aren't too powerful, meaning you can still comfortably play the game without mastering this feature. Its a nice addition which keeps battles more lively, rather than just tapping a button (now you tap it in time!), a bit like the judgement ring in Shadow Hearts but, well, completely different and not as in-depth.
The battle, apart from this, is very basic. Your characters all have different abilites. They can use these, either costing nothing because its a technique, or costing PP if they're a PSI user. They can also use items they're carrying (each character is limited, so its wise to place healing items on those who don't use PSI, etc), and guard, and that is pretty much it. The game has trippy backgrounds, small boxes at the bottom for characters, and enemy art in the middle. Its simple but still effective. It could be much better but it just works perfectly, the difficulty and challenge is just right, and the design of the game means it flows very well. There are basically no side-quests or anything like that, making it a particularly narrative driven game, just like Earthbound. However it isn't an RPG-lite either, it still plays very much like an RPG. It just feels almost like it has been streamlined at the same time, but in every positive way possible. It suits the fact the game is for a portable handheld, made to perfection.
The graphics and music in the game are wonderful. The graphics go for the cartoon, but very bright and gorgeous look. The environments are very well made and still particularly detailed. The animation is good although pretty much non-existant inside of battle. There, you don't see your characters (well I think, maybe you see a little bit, I honestly can't remember) but are provided with a static image of your enemy. Its not particularly fancy, nothing like those weird Golden Sun battle environments, but its colourful and detailed, doing the job well. The music is also very good. There are a lot of familiar Earthbound tunes, with the rest also sounding distinctly like Mother. They're recognisable as being part of the game, there are loads of tracks, and they're chosen to perfection. Good stuff.
Although Mother 3 does nothing radical in its gameplay, its how well the game is made that makes it so great. The story is extremely deep and emotionally provocative, the gameplay remains simple for its handheld console but perfectly balanced, and the graphics and music do their job nicely. Overall it makes a complete package that, during its 25 hour or so run, will leave a lasting impression on the player. Its not for everyone, particularly those who want to get into a game and have fast paced, mindless fun. However for any RPG fan, those who like their games to have a message, should check this out. I can't think of anything that comes this close on the Gameboy Advance, and whilst other games may do something different, this takes the standard formula of the old console based RPG, and perfects it.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Mother 3 (JP, 04/20/06)
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