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Mother 3

System: Game Boy Advance
Release Date: 2006
Published By: Nintendo
Reviewed by: Darien

Mother 3 is the long-awaited sequel to the classic SNES RPG "Earthbound." The game was never released in North America, and, at this point, likely never will be, but there's a very good fan translation available here -- this review is based on version 1.0 of this translation, and I'll be reviewing translation as well as game.

The most striking thing about Mother 3 as far as I'm concerned is how little the setting and the mood seems to have in common with its predecessors. Whereas Earthbound was a zany, high-spirited romp through a modern world loosely modeled after America, Mother 3 is dark and gloomy and serious and takes place on a small island with a more subdued amount of modernity. It retains the absurdist bent that featured in Earthbound, but treats it more philosophically, asking some pretty heavy questions about identity and existence and what it means to live forever. You know, the same shit RPGs always deal with, and usually via long, heavy-handed dialogue scenes that tell you over and over again until they're really sure you understand how deep they are. Mother 3, I'm pleased to say, has more trust in its audience than that, and is willing to be more subtle, which helps the economy of exposition something fierce.

Gameplay is very similar to what it was in Earthbound, with only a few minor tweaks; there's a terribly complicated rhythm-game "combo" system in combat that the game is balanced around the player ignoring completely; this was a good balancing decision, since it's honestly kind of a pain in the ass, and, if you're playing the game in emulation (which you almost definitely are if you're playing the English version), doesn't even work correctly. The mobs are comical just like they are in Earthbound, though there are very few repeats, and the final boss fight is pretty bullshit just like it is in Earthbound, though at least it isn't as obscure -- you'll probably actually figure this one out without having to look it up.

As you'd expect if you've played Earthbound, the game has a lot of humour in it, and the translation team has done a pretty good job of retaining that in translation. In addition, they didn't sanitise it at all, so all the edges will be left on the more risqué bits -- most notably the downright disturbing scene with Lucas and one of the Magypsies in the hot spring, which I wouldn't dream of spoiling for you.

Since that sounds like a decent segue, let's talk about the translation. I don't read Japanese, so I'm taking Tomato's word for it when he says that they kept it as close to the original as was possible; as such, don't expect me to have any comments on the subject of accuracy. I can, however, comment on how the script reads in English. It's really quite good -- much better even than some official translations I've played. Most of the dialogue flows very naturally, and they've done an excellent job of keeping the humour and the subtleties intact. The technical aspects of the translation are quite strong, especially considering that it was done entirely as a ROM hack and without the source code available; there are still a few oddities (particularly articles appearing where they shouldn't be in combat text), but in general very well done.

If you enjoyed Earthbound, I can heartily recommend giving Mother 3 a whirl; you'll probably like it. If you didn't like Earthbound, though, you're probably not going to like this one either. It's pretty simplistic and almost totally linear, but it's a lot talkier than Earthbound, if you're in to that sort of thing. The plot is also a great fake-out -- it makes you think it's going to be some banal garbage about the evils of modern society and especially money and more especially television, but it's not, really, and the interesting surreality of the final "chapter" does a lot to redeem the paint-by-numbers cynical pastiche of hippie nonsense the early game makes you think you're getting.

Not available from Amazon.com


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