The Mother series, known in the US as Earthbound, is one of the most loved and underutilized properties in all of the video game industry. The first game, Mother or Earthbound Zero, was an NES game that introduced the series’ unique RPG play style and its most unusual sense of humor. The much more famous SNES follow up, Earthbound/Mother 2, continued that tradition and introduced the now-famous character Ness, who has since seen a lot of action on the popular Nintendo series Super Smash Bros. This most recent game, Mother 3, was born as Earthbound 64. The full 3-d title was supposed to herald the Nintendo 64 DD (disk drive). When the N64DD failed, Earthbound 64 was cancelled. The game was retooled, scaled down, and in 2006 it was re-released for the GameBoy Advance, but in Japan only. The reasons for that aren’t clear, but we’ll discuss that later in this article.
Coming of Age (and Spoilers)
Essentially, Mother 3 is a coming of age story circling around a young boy named Lucas, who like Ness, is famous for locking swords with the links of Link, Mario, Kirby, Sonic, and other video game all stars in the Smash Bros. series. Lucas resides in a small village called Tazumili, in the Nowhere Islands. He lives with his mother, Hinawa, his father Flint, his dog Boney, and his older twin brother Claus. Their lives are simple and pure, and the story opens with Hinawa and the twins visiting her father Alec in the mountain region north of the village. Their visit is interrupted by a series of strange events that begin to destroy the fabric of their lives and test their mettle.
Strange men in pig masks begin to appear, as does random shocks of lightening, and hideously reconstructed animals. In the commotion, Hinawa is slain by a wild animal, and the boys are nearly killed in the river. Flint is too late to rescue Hinawa, and the townsfolk help save Lucas and Claus. The scene where he is informed of her death is unlike anything one would expect to see in a video game, especially what at the surface appears to be a children’s game– which this is not. Flint, understandably, is beside himself with grief. He lashes out at the others, grabbing a piece of lumber from another character, and using it to smash a fire and kettle. When others try to stop him, he batters the others. The others, also grief-stricken, help subdue Flint. The amount of emotion conveyed in the words and the minimal 16-bit graphics on a 3-inch screen are vivid, and touch the player as if it were a live action film.
Most of this tragedy is witnessed through Flint’s eyes, as we see his sons cope with the loss of their mother. Lucas spends his days at her grave mourning, while Claus struts around scheming vengeance against the dragons who took his mother from him. The behavior is dangerous, but Flint doesn’t do much to stop him. Once he realizes that Claus is missing, he and his father in law set off to find Claus, but never do. It’s too late, he confronted the dragon that’d been itself mutilated and rebuilt and was mortally wounded doing so. They never find his body.
That brings us back to Lucas. In contrast with his brother, Lucas is much more timid. He is made out by the in-game text to be a spoiled, coddled, crybaby who was too attached to his mother and brother. With them now gone, he finds himself directionless and alone, save for his dog, and his now-distant father. For 3 years of in-game time, Lucas lives like that. Being the sweet boy that he is, he reforms an attachment with the family of dragons that slew his mother and brother. The dragon’s patriarch, which had been mutilated by the strange masked visitors, was slain by Flint. This very subtle clue points to Lucas’ large, forgiving heart. He reenters the game’s story in a scene where he and the dragons intervene and save Kumatora, Duster, and Salsa from the pig men. Those three, a princess, a thief, and a monkey, had been working against the pigs clandestinely in the interim story. This earns them all mutual respect and paves the way to great friendship later.
As the story progresses, Lucas exits the comfort zone of his family and village to venture out and right wrongs that have been becoming more numerous. In the 3 years that had passed, Tazumili Village had changed from a sleepy forest town to a far more modern city with cars, paved roads, brick homes, and televisions. These distractions, the changing and increasingly dangerous world around him, force Lucas out of Tazumili and expedite his growing up.
This is something that is paralleled for Lucas in his appearance in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, particularly in The Subspace Emissary. In that game, Lucas is also initially depicted as a meek, frightened boy. He is terrified of the ‘coming storm’ that consumes the world around him. In Mother 3, that is the coming of the modern world, and of the Pig King. In Subspace Emissary, it is the coming of the Subspace Army. His inaction in Subspace Emissary leads to the capture of Ness, and forces Lucas to grow up by seeking redemption in aiding the Pokemon Trainer.
Another common theme here is intrinsic to Lucas’ abilities. Many ‘wunderkind’ characters are somehow ‘chosen by fate’ and therefore are given amazing inherent power. Sometimes these powers are handed to them, but a lot of times, as in this case, Lucas has to work hard continually to increase his power and ability. In his case, he has ‘PSI’ powers, or ‘PK.’ These psychokinetic abilities allow him to cast spells as mage characters would in traditional RPG’s.
Many pieces of modern media, and especially new media, depict characters or the very narrative itself in righteous rejection of modernity. Whether that be by casting a pall over technology or over its effect on people, modernization is generally made to seem more like the loss of something rather than the progress of something. This is definitely the case in the Earthbound series and definitely in this game. As stated, the beginning of this game starts out with everyone in blissful ignorance and purity. Their lives are simple and sweet, and they want for nothing. It is the coming of those who are imbued with technology that disrupts that flow, tears the lives of the characters apart, and causes the literal end of the world.
This is done with less intensity in the previous game. In Earthbound, the game opens in a more conventional world. Ness simply lives in a small town called Onett. As the game progresses and he gets closer and closer to the villains he has to destroy, he goes into larger and larger cities. The only forays into more ‘backwater’ areas are usually to meet new allies, such as Poo or the Mr. Saturns. The same is true in Mother 3. From these odd people, Ness and Lucas garner more strength and knowledge that allows them to continue to battle the forces of modernity.
This modernity is crystallized when the player reaches the final chapter, and arrives in the newly constructed megalopolis known as New Pork City. This large city is an icon the growing technology that has encroached upon the Nowhere Islands, but which has a fatal flaw. It’s ugly, and boorish, and a lot of the artifacts and buildings there are either facades, or meaningless to those who reside there. They have meaning to the city’s creator, but not to the citizens within. They cite repeatedly that the city allows them incredible freedom, to live outside of the rules and responsibilities of others. While this sounds good, it becomes clear that this is merely a front for laziness, as these lambs are being gathered for a purpose, like toys, by some terrible puppet master.
The Pig King
The architect of this move toward modernization and laziness is no stranger to the players of the series. Pokey ‘Porky’ Minch, is a character from Earthbound/Mother 2, who teased Ness and was ultimately lost in that game when he used a time machine to transverse space, time, and dimension at will. Pokey was lazy, slothful, arrogant, cowardly, and even more of a coddled crybaby than Lucas. In many respects, he was the anti-Ness.
Using that time machine, Porky has spent countless millennia since then moving back and forth through time. Now, his body is unnaturally aged and twisted. He resides in a canister inside of a machine. His mind still has the maturity of a child, the needs of a child, but has created a hideous intelligence with a level of madness matched only by his immense ego. He is as much a ruined as the world he inhabits. He has used that intelligence and the resources available to one who can transverse time and space to build a massive army to do his bidding. He seeks to control the world– or to destroy it. He doesn’t care which. If all the world is destroyed and he is the last person alive, then he has outlived all those who dislike him. Despite his behavior, that ultimately, is what he wants– the adoration of all. In his humble, domestic beginnings in Earthbound, he was the quintessential spoiled child. At the end of Mother 3, as a despotic overlord of a massive empire, twisted and made foul by age and technology, avarice and selfishness, he still is the quintessential spoiled child. That is perhaps the most frightening aspect of Pokey Minch. What better title for someone who exemplifies sloth, gluttony, and selfishness than ‘The Pig King’?
In his final scenes, Pokey saves himself from a final defeat from Lucas and his friends by crawling inside a capsule created by his scientists. The capsule renders him immune to any attacks from the outside. It also renders the outside immune to any attacks from him, effectively sealing him inside it forever. Pokey, the scientist tells Lucas, will now live out all eternity inside it, protected and safe. This particular hell is perhaps an appropriate one, as the scientist points out that maybe this isolation is what Pokey really wanted all along.
Transvestites from Another Dimension
This game is profound, in so many ways. It’s predecessor enjoys cult status in the United States. A release of this title in North America and Europe would represent tremendous sales volume for Nintendo. Why, then, would Nintendo hesitate to release it in these territories?
In every Nintendo RPG, it seems there must be some kind of ‘sages’ that you must assist in clicking off a specific number of tasks. In the Zelda series, you’re usually releasing their power so that they can once again fight evil. This game is no different. The sages in the game, however, are all ageless, stubley, flamboyant, mincing drag queens called Magypsies. The Magypsies are wise men from the ‘previous world.’ According to the game’s apocrypha, the Nowhere Islands are populated by people who escaped and forgot about a previous world which destroyed itself, but was remade in this smaller, purer form. Pokey is antagonizing these people because they attempted to escape. He brings his army in from outside of this, to help spurn an end to it.
The Magypsies are all apparently male, though the game says they have no gender. They have stuble, beards, and shave, but wear fancy women’s clothing, speak flamboyantly, and lounge in their posh shell-shaped homes reminiscent of (I Dream of) Genie’s bottle. This is probably reason # 1 why Nintendo hasn’t brought the game over. It famously backpedaled on the Mario series character Birdo, who is a male character that believes itself to be female. The Magypsies behavior and style are not without push back within their own world. Other characters, like Alec, Kumatora, Flint, and Lucas all express anxiety around them.
The notion of having gender bending characters in a game that might be, at least in part, marketed to children, is not palatable for the company. There are other instances in the game like this as well. In an underwater stage, characters replenish their oxygen by kissing mustached mermen. The kissing isn’t subtle, either. It’s a full on smooch with appropriate sound effects, that flashes out to a pink screen during the transfer. afterward, the four recipient characters blush. This type of comedy and situation would bring humor to a Japanese audience, but unfortunately, Western audiences might be more uncomfortable with it. It is a shame that such a wonderful game would be weighed down, not by this unusual choice by the creators, but by the intolerance and ignorance of a potential audience. Though this website does not condone piracy, fan translations of this game have made it available to English-speaking audiences, jumping the gun on Nintendo’s foot dragging.
One of the final themes in this game, one that is especially important to the closing, is the theme of brotherhood and familial love. Claus was not murdered or lost, as previously thought. He, like many other creatures in the game, were found by the Pig King’s forces and mutilated with technology and genetics. Claus was made into ‘the Mask Man,’ one of the chief minions of the Pig King. The Masked Man, being Lucas’ brother, was also imbued with his special powers. This enabled him to work against Lucas and his friends, ultimately down to the final scenes, where the two brothers fight a final duel.
The duel is short. Lucas, the player, largely just protects himself from Claus’ attacks, while the memories and examples of Hinawa and Flint bring Claus’ consciousness back to the surface. He begins to falter, and soon he is unable to lift arms against his brother. With his last act, he hurls a terrible attack at Lucas, which thanks to a certain token, flings back toward Claus, ending his torment and taking his life. In the end, the power of their love was stronger than Pokey, stronger than their own PSI powers, stronger than technology, stronger than fate. Their family was made whole again, and with Claus’ passing, Lucas was able to fulfill his destiny, quite literally destroying the world so that it might be reborn.
Humor, Adventure, and Nintendo
This game is an amazing blend of humor, adventure, and touching emotional drama. This is classic Nintendo at its absolute best. Its isolation in the Japanese territory is a shame. It should be promptly translated and released, perhaps over the upcoming Nintendo DS Ware download service, in the North American and European territories. This unique, intriguing, entertaining, and moving story just makes waiting for the next installation of the Earthbound series all the more tantalizing. Kudos to series creator Shigesato Itoi for an amazing piece of concept.