Mother 1+2 (Mother 1) - Reader Retroview  

The Mother You Never Knew
by Strawberry Eggs

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Fairly Hard
15-25 Hours
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   In 1995, North America was introduced to a most unconventional RPG. Instead of a fantasy world, it took place in what looks like the modern United States. Instead of swords and sorcery, the characters battled enemies with baseball bats (or frying pans and yo-yos) and psychic powers. Instead of imps and skeletons, the heroes fought aliens and hippies. It was almost a parody of RPGs of the time. Though it never gained the notoriety of other SNES RPGs, EarthBound has become a cult classic and is considered one of the console's best games. What many people may not know is that in the early 90s, this very game's prequel was almost released in North America. Mother--also known as "EarthBound Zero"--was originally released in Japan in 1989 on the Famicom. Featuring many of the characteristics that its sequel is known and loved for, Mother became a big hit in Japan. Sadly, the English localization of Mother into "EarthBound" (which would've made the SNES Earthbound "EarthBound 2") was abruptly halted despite the fact that the text was fully translated and a few prototypes already having been made. In 2001 both Mother and Mother 2 were released on a single GBA cartridge--Mother 1+2 which also never saw a North American release. It is by this cartridge that I was able to experience this gem of a game.

   Mother's battle system follows the same traditional first-person turn-based style that games such as Dragon Warrior and Phantasy Star have. Encounters are random, unlike the sequel and can be incredibly high depending on the area. The actual battle screen is pretty bland with only a black background with the monster sprites against it and the menu text in white. The monster's image is static as a distinct beeping sound is made upon their attack and the screen wobbles left and right. A character can attack physically with Fight, Guard, use PSI to attack, defend or heal, use any items with Goods, Auto (lets the battle run automatically), Check monsters (characters examines monster's Offense, Defense, and a short, often goofy description), or Run away. A physical attack consist of a distinct beep followed by the flashing of the sprite. Like EarthBound, the Mother equivalent of a critical hit is a SMAAAASH, complete with bright lettering and a satisfying cracking sound. PSI attacks (useable only by Ninten and Ana) involve little more than the screen flashing colors. Battles usually go fairly quickly, but like other early RPGs, if one character attacks a monster that was killed by another character, they'll "hit the air" rather than attack the next monster. I personally found battles to be the least interesting part of the game, unless against a particularly difficult enemy.

Ness Ness's Magicant this isn't.

   Unlike other RPGs of the era, Mother's world map does not have cities, towns and dungeons as separate maps with the town or city looking only a little larger than the character. Instead they are interconnected maps, much like the Pokemon series. Rather than seeing only the first person in the party, all three members walk in a single file. Instead of being able to talk to people (animals, animal skeletons) and checking things by just pressing A, the menu pops up, with the options "Talk" and "Check" among other things. The L button can be used as a shortcut as it both Talks and Checks things and people at the same time. This can however lead to a problem with the Dragon boss later in the game, which needs to be checked and not talked to in order to wake up (the L button "Talks" to it instead of checking it. Much like EarthBound, saving is done on a telephone by talking to Ninten's father and money is sent to an ATM machine rather than directly to the character. Any extra items can be stored with Ninten's sister, but unlike the Escargot Express, this can only be done when Ninten is home. Playing through Mother 1 on the GBA can be a little tricky for someone who understands little to no Japanese even with the help of a translation guide at first, but I got the hang of it fairly quickly.

   The story of Mother is surprisingly complex for a game of its time and is unique even by today's standards. A few paragraphs in the beginning tell the story of a young married couple who went missing in the early 1900s. Two years later the husband George returns, but his wife Maria doesn't. For the rest of his life George studied Psi in his basement, rarely going outside. Eighty years later, George's great-grandson Ninten (who bares a striking resemblance to Ness from EarthBound) finds himself being attack by a lamp and an antique doll, both being controlled by a poltergeist. Inside the doll he finds a music box with a short melody. With this and the diary of his great-grandfather, he goes off into the world to find out that animal are going crazy, cars and trucks are attacking people, and other strange occurrences. At first the story's pacing may be slow, but before long you'll find the mystic world of Magicant, find party members Lloyd (resembles Jeff), Ana (resembles Paula), and Teddy, and discover the secret behind the eight melodies scattered throughout the country. As an added treat to the GBA version, the game's ending has been extended to the one found on the prototype English NES carts which nicely wraps up the story and even ends with a possible connection to EarthBound. The story may not have the depth and character development of modern games, but it's still fairly interesting and is arguably a better narrative than Mother's better-known sequel.

Apparently, no one finds it weird that Ninten Apparently, no one finds it weird that Ninten's dog can walk on his hind legs...

   While the game's visuals are primitive by today's standard, they are some of the NES's best graphics. The palette is rich, background nicely detailed and the character sprites are reminiscent of a Peanuts comic strip. Monster sprites are nicely done, too. The sound effects consist of the beeps and boops found in many NES games, simple but effective. The music is quite catchy and very well composed. The tracks are long enough that they don't become grating after a while. Fans of EarthBound should be delighted to know that several tunes in the sequel originated from the prequel, such as the music for shopping in stores, Paula's theme (appears as the town Youngtown's theme) and the Snow Wood Boarding School theme (appears as the theme for the town Snowman). Anyone who can appreciate 8-bit music will find the tracks enjoyable.

   Like many early RPGs, Mother can be quite difficult at times. Encounter rates are high, monsters hit hard and take little damage, inventory space is limited (though this becomes less of an issue with multiple party members and they have their own inventory) and PP for Psi Healing can be used up quickly, especially in the beginning. The area before the last boss is especially treacherous with monsters that are hard to run away from and only one point to save and heal. Taking time to train characters is key to making it through the game, though some may find this tedious. Certain areas like the Duncan Factory and Rosemary Manor are quite large and easy to get lost in. Trying to figure out what to do next can also be a pain, especially if you don't read Japanese. With some effort though, these things can be overcome. Even with the extra leveling-up, it shouldn't take more than 20 hours to complete.

   EarthBound fans will likely enjoy this game as it possesses much of the spirit and charisma that makes the sequel so appealing (though it isn‘t quite as wacky). I personally think that anyone who isn't turned away by older games will probably enjoy this game with its unique qualities, interesting story, and detailed world. It is sure to put a smile on the face of many people willing and able to play it. Sadly, there is still no sign of an official English release. Though there is the possibility of it showing up on the Wii's Virtual Console and even a rumored upcoming DS Mother collection, for now anyone who wants to play Mother will have to make do with an imported copy of Mother 1+2 and a translated script if they can't read Japanese. It's well worth it in my opinion, EarthBound fan or not.

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