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MOTHER 3 – the Mother of Cult Games

MOTHER 3 Family Photo

MOTHER 3 is known for being one of the all-time great RPGs in terms of its execution, humor, and deep emotional themes like grief and modernization. It’s also known for being one of the games that fans most want to be localized in North America, even going so far as to create a detailed, intricate fan translation, despite being constantly denied by Nintendo.

But 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the North American release of its predecessor, EarthBound, or, as it was originally known, MOTHER 2. And recent events in Japan have kept the game in the public eye, meaning hope is not completely lost for a western release. So now is a great time to catch up on everything MOTHER 3 so you can be in-the-know if/when that happens!

MOTHER 3 as Part of a Series

As the number at the end would suggest, MOTHER 3 is the third entry in the MOTHER series. But outside of Japan, that franchise is better known as EarthBound, even though the order of the games has been changed around a little bit.

The first MOTHER game was released in 1989 for the Nintendo Famicom, known as the Nintendo Entertainment System outside of Japan. It was developed by Ape and published by Nintendo. The team originally intended to localize it in English, but ended up deciding to translate MOTHER 2 instead.

The prototype was found by fans and released on the internet as EarthBound Zero. In 2015 it was officially released in English as EarthBound Beginnings for the Wii U Virtual Console.

MOTHER 2 came out in 1994 for the Super Famicom (aka Super Nintendo Entertainment System) in Japan, and was the only game for a long time to be officially translated into English. It was released in North America as EarthBound in 1995. Sales were mediocre in the west, despite Nintendo spending $2 million in advertising, and they ended up not releasing it in Europe or elsewhere.

In 2003, both MOTHER and MOTHER 2/EarthBound were released in Japan on a single cartridge for the Game Boy Advance called MOTHER 1 + 2. The advertising for it is where Nintendo announced that, after starts and stops that will be discussed below, they would also be releasing MOTHER 3.

MOTHER 3 GameBoy Advance

MOTHER 3 Plot

On the fictional Nowhere Islands, Lucas and his family are on a trip to visit his grandfather. But the town they’re in is invaded by strange forces known as the Pig Mask (or Pigmask, in the fan translation) Army. When the Pig Mask Army creates a forest fire, it spells disaster for Lucas’s family, particularly his brother, Claus, and, of course, his mother.

Years pass and Lucas starts to get older and hone his latent psychic abilities. He becomes friends with a former princess (Kumatora) and a thief turned musician (Duster). They start to learn about the secrets in the world and a prophecy that says a “chosen one” will come and awaken a dragon by pulling out its Needles who will determine the fate of the world.

The team goes off to learn more about this prophecy and how it might be fulfilled, and maybe they’ll also learn more about what really happened to Lucas’s family along the way.

If this plot seems strange, on the nose, or too stereotypical for an RPG to you, your instinct is correct! One of the things that the MOTHER/EarthBound series is best known for is self-parody. MOTHER 3 utilizes as many RPG tropes as it can to make loving fun of them and make the game’s more serious theme, the trauma of losing your mother, go down more easily.

Lucas, Claus, Kumatora, Duster, and All of the Other MOTHER 3 Characters

Lucas

Lucas
The main protagonist of MOTHER 3. He’s introverted and has the reputation of being a crybaby, but becomes braver over the course of the game. Spends a lot of time at his mother’s grave after she dies.

Claus

Claus
Lucas’s twin brother. He runs away to try to avenge their mother, and then can’t be found… but will probably come back and have a part to play by the end of the game.

Kumatora

Kumatora
The princess of Osohe Castle. She’s a tomboy but she’s beautiful, and she’s very helpful in battle as she is the first member of the party who attains psychic abilities.

Duster

Duster
A thief-in-training who is attempting to use his skills to steal a mysterious object from Osohe Castle. He loses his memory early on in the game, though, and then becomes a musician in the band DCMC.

Flint

FlintLucas and Claus’s father. He is only playable in Chapter One of MOTHER 3. He’s a solid party member both in and out of battle, but sometimes his emotions get the best of him. Those emotions cause him to fall apart after his wife dies.

Hinawa

Hinawa
Lucas and Claus’s mother, and Flint’s wife. She is killed early on in the game, but everyone in the town visits her grave regularly.

Fassad

Fassad
A temporary party member and greedy man who controls Salsa, the monkey, though torture. He has solid attacks in battle, but is more useful when he (inadvertently) provides Salsa to the party, who has the ability to open dance-activated doors.

Ionia

Ionia
A friendly Magypsy who tells Lucas about the Needles and teaches him how to use psychic abilities.

MOTHER 3 and Its Rocky Development

Nothing Wrong Here
MOTHER 3
is a critically acclaimed and publicly beloved game, but it almost didn’t exist! Development for the game switched between three (and a half) different consoles, and at one point was even canceled.

The development team started designing it for the Super Famicom/SNES, just like it’s predecessor. But, inspired by Super Mario 64, they decided to switch over to the Nintendo 64 so they could make their entire world in 3D.

But MOTHER 3 quickly exceeded the Nintendo 64’s capabilities. The initial solution was to make it for the 64DD (the “half console” mentioned above) for which it was supposed to be a launch game. But the 64DD was an immediate and severe commercial flop, and development shifted back to the Nintendo 64.

Nintendo was confident enough in MOTHER 3 to showcase a demo of it at the 1999 Nintendo Space World trade show, and they even planned a North American release which would have been titled EarthBound 64. Both actions increased hype for the game, and Famitsu readers ranked it as one of their top ten most anticipated at the end of that year.

By mid-2000, though, it was clear that the game was in some trouble. It had suffered several delays, and they still had the enormous scope and memory size of the world in 3D to contend with.

In late August of that year, the producers announced that development on MOTHER 3 had been indefinitely paused to shift resources to the creation of the upcoming “Project Dolphin,” the codename for the GameCube. And, for a while, that was that.

But the fanbase for MOTHER was insistent, and other entries in the series continued to do well. Finally, in 2003, during an advertisement for the MOTHER 1 + 2 compilation game on the Game Boy Advance, Nintendo announced that they had restarted development of MOTHER 3 for the same platform!

Development switched over to Nintendo subsidiary Brownie Brown (with input from the original creators) and, although the world switched from being 3D to being 2D, nothing about the actual story was changed.

Finally, in April 2006, MOTHER 3 was released for the Game Boy Advance in Japan.

MOTHER 3 Fan Translation.

After the MOTHER 2/EarthBound flop in North America, Nintendo was in no rush to localize MOTHER 3 in English. Technically, it still hasn’t happened. But the series still managed to get a cult following and a surprising number of English-speakers have managed to play it. How? Through “one of the best-known fan translations in existence.”

MOTHER 3 Fan Translation
Led by professional Japanese-to-English translator Clyde “Tomato” Mandelin, a group of fans online undertook the task of making a patch to localize it themselves. There were about a dozen individuals on the team who volunteered thousands of hours of work over the course of two years to complete it. The freelance value of the work has been estimated at $30,000.

In addition to the actual translation work (involving over 1,000 pages of the game script) contributors also helped with extensive ROM hacking and testing to ensure the game played properly with the translated text.

Project leads acknowledged that the legality of the translation was “unclear,” particularly since it required an emulator to play. They said that the “highest levels” of Nintendo of America knew about the project, but did nothing. They also claimed that they would have immediately ended work on it if an official localization was announced or if they had received a cease and desist.

In October 2008, the patch was released on Starmen.net. Within a week, it would be downloaded over 100,000 times.

Alongside the patch, they also announced the MOTHER 3 Handbook, a fan-made, 200-page, full color strategy guide that Wired said was on-par with any professionally made guide out there.

MOTHER 3 for the Nintendo Switch?

The short answer to the question “will MOTHER 3 be released in North America for the Nintendo Switch?” is that we don’t yet know for sure, but there are hints that it is still possible.

On April 30th of this year, series creator Shigesato Itoi and his company, Hobonichi, released a video announcement of the Hobonichi MOTHER Project, an ongoing project that includes things like publishing a book that contains the lines of dialogue from all three MOTHER games. And in the video that announced it, they said there will be more MOTHER news to come soon.

There’s no guarantee that the promised news is a port to the Switch. So far it’s just been a series of new merchandise releases, re-releases of old sought after items, and art exhibitions.

However, between the fandom’s loud and regular request for an officially localized version of MOTHER 3, Mandelin offering up his fan translation to Nintendo, and the fact that 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the original EarthBound release in North America, things are looking better for a potential port and localization than they have in a long time!

The future of MOTHER 3 is still unknown. But with such a dedicated fan community and an important anniversary this year, it feels more likely than ever that we’ll finally get MOTHER 3 on the Switch. But no matter what, it’s good to know that there’s an excellent alternative provided by some truly ingenious people, and that there’s still more potential for this incredible game.

SHIGESATO ITOI/Nintendo
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