Mother, a.k.a. Earthbound
by: Shigesato Itoi (director)
by: Dragon Quest,
Three games, but they're incredibly fondly-remembered.
Hard to say. As is sometimes the case with works of utter genius, they prove
difficult to draw from. The early DS game Contact
seems to draw inspiration from it in both art style and humor.
game system of the Mother series is
lifted, almost entirely, from Dragon
Quest. Even in the days when the series began back on Nintendo's 8-bit Famicom,
this was something of a throwback. While the story of the first game is good,
it's not until the second game where the play of the game began to branch out.
among JRPGs, and superior to most CRPGs, the Mother games are well-written and engaging far beyond the call of
duty. Where many JRPGs are content to throw together a bunch of musical terms,
a war between "light" and "darkness," elves and catgirls
for party members and a whole lotta grinding for experience, the Mother games provide instead an astonishingly
witty and erudite set of references, and yet the game doesn't throw them around
haphazardly (as does, say, Xenogears).
Many articles on the series make it a point to mention that they are games that
take place "in the present day" instead of in a fantasy or sci-fi
setting. This quality isn't as unique as it used to be, but the game still
succeeds because of its near total lack of JRPG "quirks."
do I mean by that? Okay. The series
doesn't have any of these things: anime character art, spiky-haired
protagonists, emo drama binges or moony amnesiaics. Instead of trying to
impress players with "dark fantasy" that reads like a teenager's
poetry journal, the mood of the Mother
games is generally light and silly.
Yet, it can turn on a dime to cosmic horror
(end of Mother 2) or genuine anguish
(an important event early in Mother 3,
and its final scenes). Done falsely, the games could have turned out as
tone-deaf as JRPGs often are, but instead the juxtaposition of the humor and
the grief makes each somehow more effective.
Mother 3 (Screenshot courtesy http://mother3.fobby.net/)
move to discussion of the game's play mechanics, one of the things that the
game does fairly well is in its handling of status conditions. Most games are
content to offer poisoning and leave it at that, but Mother 2 offers such bizarre ailments as mushroomizing (messes up
controls & produces confusion in battle), possession by spirits (an
invisible ghost opponent is added to fights who attacks random party members --
but can be harmed and even killed by enemy area attacks, curing the condition)
and the dreaded diamondizing (sort of like a super-death; many means of character
revival won't work on a character who's been diamondized).
of the more gimmicky aspects of Mother 2
and 3's battle system is the
"rolling HP counter." The party's HP totals are represented on-screen
as numbers on an odometer-like readout. Losing hit points from attacks results
in the wheels spinning and counting down to the new value.
However, a character
doesn't feel the effect of running out of hit points until the number reaches
its destination. So, a character who has "taken mortal damage,"
sending his dials on a trip to zero, can be saved by hitting him with a healing
spell before the numbers get there.
The important element here is that the
numbers count down in real
time, regardless of message speed or paging frequency. It's a gimmick,
but it does help to bring an aspect of panicky urgency to fights with strong
opponents, which the Mother games
have plenty of.
Mother 3 contains a new combat gimmick
of its own, its much-discussed "sound battles." The previous games in
the series would use different background music for different types of enemies.
Mother 2 had rather a large number of
these battle themes, and Mother 3 has
even more, which is all the more impressive because the music affects battle.
background track has an unplayed "beat" track. If, after an attack,
the player hits a button just in time with that beat, he does additional
damage, and if he keeps it going he can do damage much in excess of the
This is innocent enough, except that the battle music in the Mother series is sometimes a bizarre and
stuttering thing that sometimes doesn't agree with your petty hu-man conceptions of
music. The website Cruise Elroy did a detailed examination of some of Mother
3's battle themes and found them to be almost hilariously tricky.