Mother 3

The terms development hell and vaporware are largely synonymous in the entertainment industry, referring to most anything that artists, directors, computer programmers, or whatnot, claim to be producing, only that news and updates on these products are rare, if not nonexistent, leading the masses to wonder if they’re even in development. Nintendo’s 64-bit console received plenty of vaporware titles, among them being a third entry of the Mother franchise, known as EarthBound outside Japan. Accompanying the announcement of the third chapter were screenshots proving its alleged development, although it ultimately saw its cancellation, with many RPG developers having moved on to the Sony PlayStation given the advantages of CDs over cartridges that could sport features such as FMVs, anime cutscenes, and a significant amount of voice acting. News of a forthcoming port of the first two Mother games to the GameBoy Advance years later contained with it the announcement that Mother 3 was seeing its revival on the system, and following another trip through development hell, it actually saw its release. Does it justify its extensive development cycle?

Like its predecessor EarthBound, Mother 3 contains visible enemies in dungeons and occasionally on fields between civilization, and, as with the second installment, sports features to spare players the annoyance of fighting enemies lower in level than the player’s party of up to four characters. Whereas the second Mother title contained an innovative “instant victory” system, its successor has a system of dashing present in the original title for the Famicom but oddly absent in its first sequel, which can launch visible foes into the air and briefly cause them to blink, averting an encounter. Dashing or not, however, if the enemy is more powerful than the player’s party, then the encounter will commence normally, with a blue, red, or green-colored sequence respectively indicating a normal beginning, a surprise attack for the enemy, or a surprise attack for the player.

Mother 3 features a battle system superficially similar to its predecessor’s, although there is an apparent limit of three enemies to face at one time. Each character can attack normally, use PP-consuming PSI powers (with only Lucas and Kumatora able to use them), use a character-specific skill such as one of Duster’s tools or Boney’s ability to sniff enemies to find their weaknesses, defend, or attempt to run away, with this option naturally not working all the time. The third chapter sports a so-called musical battle system where the player can allegedly push the A button in tune with the battle theme to score extra damage against the enemy, although button presses are actually more in sync with an enemy’s heartbeat, audible when it’s sleeping, and since most of the time since enemies will be awake, it’s mostly a crapshoot on whether or not the player can keep up with button presses; this reviewer, however has at times been rarely able to score the maximum of sixteen hits against an enemy without the aid of a heartbeat.

Incongruities aside, battles move at a brisk pace just like in the game’s predecessor, with some features bequeathed from EarthBound such as “rolling HP” where hit points, whenever a character receives damage, doesn’t go down right away but instead gradually decreases, with the potential to get characters back into shape even if they take mortal blow; given this real-time element, however, a pause button would have definitely been welcome. Whenever characters level, their stats naturally increase, although in the case of PSI-using characters, they receive new powers after brief periods of “feeling feverish” during which the player’s party is unable to dash (which is true whenever one character is at zero health). Aside from the inability to pause and the general ambiguity on how to make the most of the “musical battle system,” combat is overall one of the main draws to the game.

The interface is largely decent, with a general good direction on how to advance, easy menus, and the introduction of “save frogs” that allow players a greater freedom of saving their game than in the game’s predecessors, with these amphibians doubling to store and withdraw Dragon Points, the game’s currency earned whenever characters win battles. However, one feature unfortunately retained from previous games is the limit on inventory space, with each character having their own inventory, and a sack into which the player could put limitless items a la the Dragon Quest games would have definitely been welcome. One beneficial addition, however, is maps for various dungeons, a feature that should undoubtedly be mandatory in any RPG. Aside from the limit on inventory space and retention of dated save points, the game interfaces well with the player.

The story is actually pretty good, with all playable characters having a story of some sort, along with some links to EarthBound and good twists and surprises towards the end. The humor, however, is fairly hit-or-miss, but otherwise, the plot helps the game far more than hurts.

Whereas the second Mother’s soundtrack contained much inspiration from various rock-and-roll tracks, the third installment’s music, aside from a track sounding similar to the Adam West Batman theme and one boss theme sampling various classical music pieces, is more original, although there are still some tracks taken from the second game. There are some areas that rely a bit too much on ambience, and the sound effects could have been better, but otherwise, the third installment is fairly easy on the ears.

Mother 3 features a visual style similar to its predecessor, with the third entry ditching the second game’s isometric style in favor of a more traditional top-down style present in most RPGs, although character sprites contain decent animation to the point where they have lips that move during conversations. The battle graphics, however, are still fairly lazy, with psychedelic backgrounds and inanimate enemies, though the monster art is pretty decent. Overall, the third game is easy on the eyes as well, although there are some parts, chiefly the battle visuals, which could have been better.

Finally, the third installment is somewhat longer than its predecessor, taking from twenty to thirty hours to complete, with little in the way of sidequests or replay value. Ultimately, Mother 3, in most aspects, justifies its long trip through development hell, what chiefly with its solid battle system, control, story, and soundtrack, although there are some issues that the developers could have resolved, such as the limited inventory space, lazy battle visuals, and general lack of replayability. Although the third chapter hasn’t seen official release outside Japan, a high-quality fan translation exists to allow players to experience one of the last few gems of the GameBoy Advance’s lifespan.

The Good:
+Quick and painless battle system.
+Great plot.
+Good soundtrack.

The Bad:
-Limited inventory.
-Lazy battle graphics.
-Not much replay value.

The Bottom Line:
A good sequel that deserved release outside Japan.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: GameBoy Advance
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 9/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 6/10
Difficulty: Easy
Playing Time: 20-30 Hours

Overall: 7.5/10

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