This review has been a long time coming. I have wanted to play this game for years but it unfortunately was never released in the West. Its predecessor – Earthbound – was the first real JRPG I ever beat from start to finish. Ever since then, this game has been on my todo list. About a month ago, I finally got my repro GBA Mother 3 in the mail, and it was fully translated into English. Below you will find my spoiler-free review of this mature, heartfelt JRPG.
The setting of this game takes places on an island that is seemingly separate from the rest of the world. It starts with our hero Lucas as a young boy playing with his brother, having his favourite food made by his mom! The initial setting really captures the innocence of childhood. Looking at the colourful graphics, you might think this is a kids game – but I don’t think it is – it deals with a lot of heavy subjects like life and death, tragedy, and the coming of age. At the same time, no game has had me laughing as hard as this in years!
The game is broken up into chapters, each one telling a story unto itself, and as you progress, the parts come together for a more complete narrative. While most RPGs have you moving from town to town exploring the world, this game takes a unique approach by showing how the passage of time and new external influences can change and shape a community. While there are many places to explore and visit, the games’ scope is focused on an island and its inhabitants, and as the game progresses, you really see and feel how the game world and its characters develop. This brought a sense of richness and depth uncommonly found that had me exploring the island over and over as I progressed to see just how it was evolving.
Without going into much detail, each of the main characters are interesting and unique, and are each dealing with their own personal and relatable struggles. One thing that I loved about this game is that you actually get to have your trusty dog along for the journey. When playing the original Earthbound, I really wished that I could take my dog along for the whole journey – and in this game, you can!
Gameplay is very tradition JRPG style. You run around a field, pick up treasures, go to stores, upgrade equipment, and fight bosses. It’s in the details that make that makes this game shine however. I remember opening a treasure present only to have it make a funny fart sound – I laughed hard! Instead of resting at the “Inn” you get to take a dip in a wonderful hot tub. And to save your game, you speak to one of seemingly hundreds green frogs, all of whom have quirks of their own – one of them was swallowed by a snake and is in the midst of a life and death battle when you attempt to save!
A unique aspect of the Mother series is that enemies are usually visible on screen so you can choose to run or engage the enemies. In terms of battles, they are turn-based, simple and very reminiscent of Earthbound. If your party member is KOed, your life meter moves briskly down to zero – if you manage to complete the battle before that happens (or heal your party member), your party member lives! To keep the battles from being boring, the developers created a ton of awesome battle themes, and critical hits are determined if you can hit the a button to the proper beat of the song – and you can critical hit an enemy up to 16 times! I loved this addition as it kept me engaged in otherwise fairly standard JRPG battles.
Each of the main characters also has cool skills of their own (e.g., your dog can scan enemies and report on their weaknesses). Apart from this and each characters’ predisposition to either physical or magic attacks, there is little to differentiate the characters within the battlefield. Even armour and weapon selection is sparse, but it somehow works as the game is more about going on an adventure them power-leveling your character to be as strong as possible.
In terms of the graphics, they are beautiful and simple – very reminiscent of Earthbound. Each area also has its own look and feel, populated by hilarious characters and and even stranger enemies! You regularly run into mutated and fused animals – some to hilarious effect! The music is also great from start to finish – and really helps to elevate some of the more emotional moments. And to reiterate, the music is also integrated into the gameplay!
Overall, this is a masterpiece of a game. I don’t hand out 10/10 scores regularly but this game deserves it. It tells an amazing story, has lovely and unique characters, and integrates awesome music into an otherwise bland battle system to make it engaging and fun! I give this game a 10/10. If you play one retro RPG this year – this is the one you should play.
FINAL SCORE: 10/10