Review by Jerrynsteph4eva

Reviewed: 05/16/11

The patient gamer will be rewarded in this amazing game.

Like many others who happened upon Mother, I first heard of it through it's sequel: Mother 2, also known in the US as Earthbound. Upon searching online for information on the quirky SNES title, I happened upon Mother (aka Earthbound Zero) and learned that this epic game was the prequel to Earthbound. Unfortunately for me, I noted it as an interesting piece of information and delegated it to the back of my mind next to the previous year's Algebra. Skip ahead many years to a much older me who's craving some Earthbound. However, the dusty memory of Mother comes back to mind. Taking a deep breath (and blowing off the dust), I decided to play through this game.

First things first, I'd like to mention that contrary to popular misconception, this is not a 8-bit version of the SNES title Earthbound nor are the characters the same (though their appearance is strikingly close at times), though Earthbound later reused a lot of content from Mother. With that aside, let's start the review.

The game itself is a refreshing change to the formulatic fantasy RPGs that are so common. Rather than follow a group of sword-wielding, magic using middle earth denizens who chop down orcs and trolls for their king, we follow group living in the 1980s United States, hitting hippies, cars and animals with bats, frying pans and slingshots and gulping down hamburgers, paying for it by withdrawing money fm your ATM. Instead of the typical top down view of the world, you view your surroundings from an angle, giving you a new perspective rarely seen from games in this era. Also, say goodbye to the world map: Mother doesn't have one, rather, has trails that lead from town to town. Overall, the gameplay itself isn't very different from similar RPGs on the console, but the mere atmosphere change is enough to make this game unique and fun to play through.

The story is actually really good, but unfortunately, is only served in bits and pieces (just enough to keep you playing to learn more) until near the end of the game when they pile a ton of things onto you (some predictable and some leaving you with your mouth open going 'Ohh...'). The game starts with the enigmatic story of George and Maria, the average 1900s couple who disappeared for several years. George then mysteriously reappeared and remained to himself, studying his time away. We then skip forward 80 years and meet young Ninten (not Ness), who's hanging out at home when the lamp suddenly comes to life. After beating several lamps and a doll down (and finding part of a mysterious song in the doll), we talk to our father who mentions that our great grandfather studied PSI (psychic powers) and that he's sending us off into the world to expand our powers. From there, we're given an enigmatic journal and sent into the giant world to explore. Unfortunately, it doesn't really explain what happened or where to go, you're just sent to explore, learning bits and pieces as you continue to explore for more of the story and more hidden parts of the eight part melody. However, that's one thing NES RPG games (as well as RPGs in general) are known for that carried over from their table-top relatives: exploration. This game is no different, with lots of towns and open areas to explore for items and story related artifacts.

For those of you who've played the Dragon Warrior games, you'll find this game's system almost an exact copy. For those of you who haven't, let me explain. Rather than have the "One button does all" system from Final Fantasy, you're treated to a menu every time you press the A button, with options that include "Talk", "Examine", "Goods", etc. While this system does have the potential to give you deeper gameplay (by allowing you to do several options on an item/person/etc), in Mother's case, it's simply a useless step that makes you take a second longer to do something (it's quite aggravating to try and talk to someone, only to have them move slightly while the menu was open and have the game reply "Who are you talking to?").

Another feature Mother shares with Dragon Warrior is the large amount of leveling against random monsters in order to advance to the next town or buy the new weapon that's available in town (I wouldn't have been surprised if a character in Mother described you as the long lost descendant of Erdrick). In fact, I noticed several times in the game I would level to the point of completely overpowering the enemy, knocking them away effortlessly only to move to the next town and find myself underleveled. Unlike the later sequels, Mother relies on the old "walk a few steps and get attacked" random encounter system. While this is fine and dandy, the encounter rate is a bit too high (I once found myself fighting three battles in three steps) and you'll find that the end of the game is completely unbalanced (the enemies around the final boss were tougher than the boss itself). Still, at no point during this game did I ever want to put it down and stop (though grinding my way to the next town was a tad monotonous) and the refreshing atmosphere made me want to explore the "modern" atmosphere of Mother. In fact, though most of this game is grinding, I had quite a lot of fun with this RPG.

One of the things about Mother that makes it so much fun is the humor. The game has quite a bit of humor in it that will keep you laughing, even through the many frustrating battles. For example, I went to the doctor and refused his services. Instead of saying something a normal doctor would (like "well, I'd get that checked out as soon as you can" or something), he told me "OK fine, die then. I'll call the mortician". Another instance is fighting hippies, who attempt to trick you into believing your mother is calling you. The game is full of humorous people and events, though the game can be serious when it needs to be.

The graphics are one of Mother's shortcomings. For an NES game, I'd say they're pretty average at best. The characters are somewhat average, showing signs of small detail but they feel somewhat lacking. The battle graphics are pretty good, but the worlds are somewhat bland (usually using only one color to denote terrain). They may be pretty bland, but if you're concerned about graphics, I wouldn't suggest any NES game frankly.

One of Mother's strongest points (besides the story) is its music. The sound effects are somewhat stale and consist of bleeps and bloops, but the music is very well written (especially for an NES game). As soon as I walked out into the world and heard "Polyanna (I believe in you)" I found myself humming along to the catchy beat (and later in the day, having it stuck in my head). The music is catchy and matches their situations perfectly.

Overall, this game is mainly for the patient. If you're an Earthbound fan who wants a game just like it, I'd try Mother out (though you may not like it as it plays more like an NES RPG). If you're not one for leveling every time you get somewhere new, you might want to avoid this one. However, if you're patient enough to withstand constant random battles and grinding, you'll be heavily rewarded with a great story, amazing music and fun, refreshingly unique atmospheres and gameplay. While this may as well be a future version of Dragon Quest, you'll find it's differences enough to differentiate it from DQ and other games. This is one game that you'll your patience will be rewarded and you'll want to come back to it again and again.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Earth Bound (US, 12/31/98)

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