Published on September 3rd, 2012 | by CB0
Mother Retrospective Part 1: The Review
EarthBound is a game that many people in the gaming community have probably heard about. Released for the Super Nintendo in 1995, EarthBound is often known for being a unique, fun, and criminally underrated RPG that has become a staple of the average retro gamer’s collection (if they can afford it, anyway). At the time of its release, the West had never really seen a game quite like it: EarthBound was a game that defied the common RPG tropes set by games like Final Fantasy III with its simplistic graphics, lighthearted story and modern game setting. Though it is still speculated as to why, the game is most often remembered for falling under the radar and becoming an underrated classic. Since then, with the help of games like Super Smash Bros. and websites like Starmen.net, the game has come back into the public eye, along with Mother 3, the game’s masterful sequel.
However, many gamers tend to forget the Mother series is in fact a trilogy, and the game that North Americans know to be EarthBound is known as Mother 2 in Japan. Despite the recognition EarthBound receives for being so underappreciated, it could easily be argued that the game’s prequel, Mother, is actually the lesser known game in the series. In recent times few have heard of the game outside of Japan and fewer have beaten it, and even EarthBound fans will sweep its prequel under the rug once in a while. However, this does not mean that the game should be forgotten: though it may seem primitive, Mother is a game worthy of praise, being the Launchpad for it its sequel and a good, enjoyable experience.
Mother opens with the story of a couple- George and Maria- who lived in a small rural American town in the early 1900s. On the same day that a strange shadow blanketed the town, the two disappeared mysteriously: that is, until two months later, when George returned without Maria. He became a hermit and began to study strange things, never speaking of what had happened to him. Eighty years later, his great grandson develops strange powers known as PSI, and must begin a journey to discover his true potential and solve the mystery of what truly happened to his great grandparents years ago.
Mother plays like your standard NES role playing game, with many game elements borrowed from Dragon Quest. Over the course of the adventure, players will form a party of up to three characters at a time to explore with, with each character having a unique place in the party. These characters include Ninten, the hero who is both a tank and a healer: Loid, a nerd who is weak but can use special weapons; Ana, a spiritual girl who has powerful psychic attacks; and Teddy and Pippi, who are both temporary party members who act as hard hitting fighters. Of course, as with many RPGs, you may change these characters’ names at the beginning of the game and it is highly suggested that players do so.
Random battles are a given with this genre, and the enemy encounter rate is pretty high in Mother. In battle, players can bash enemies, use PSI powers, use items, guard, run, or get an enemy description. In addition, there is the Auto option, which lets the game choose fight for you. Luckily, the game’s unique personality and setting keep battles interesting, with enemies ranging from lamps to hippies to giant robots. Fans of EarthBound will be familiar with not getting cash drops at the end of battles: while experience is still gained, money is instead deposited into the player’s bank account by Dad, which can be accessed by using the Cash Card at ATMs. Like many other RPGs of the era, grinding for experience and money will be necessary to progress in the game at times, but gamers will find it to be much less laborious than the grinding in the original Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy due to a debatably more balanced challenge: this comes with the exception of the Duncan’s Factory and Mt. Itoi dungeons, where the game faces quite an unfair difficulty spike. Overall, the gameplay is standard given the genre, but the game’s quirky personality keeps everything interesting.
The graphics in Mother are average at best. Sprites are simple and the world map is a bit bland as far as design goes, but to the game’s credit it often utilizes some bright and interesting colors, most notably in the pink clouds of Magicant. Battle sprites are often well designed and interesting with the exception of a handful of enemies (looking right at you, Barbots, Dust Balls and Watchers), but some players may be disappointed with the entirely black backdrops in fights. The game is also lacking a bit in the music department. Although the game can be credited for its diverse selection of battle music and the creation of some of the series’ most notable tracks, the 8-bit sound quality does not do the songs much justice. It is definitely bearable and fits the mood of the game well, but on its own the music of Mother can’t hold up against that of other classic NES or Famicom track.
Mother began the series tradition of using game elements to make the adventure feel more personal to the player. Along with the previously mentioned game mechanics, many other parts of the game make for a great example of how to invoke good game feel. Like EarthBound and Mother 3, Mother does not use an overworld and instead interlocks towns and areas on one large map. This makes the game feel less like a trek from point A to point B and more akin to the likes of a big road trip. While the game does not provide the same level of detail to towns and areas as EarthBound does (it is a Famicom game after all), Mother does not fail in providing fun and familiar areas to explore. Throughout the game, players will travel through small rural towns, a zoo, a desert, cities, and many other settings that all provide a homey, nostalgic feeling. Players also have a family in game that is always ready to help the heroes out when they need it: inventory full? Younger sister Minnie will hold items that players do not need. Wounded from battle but don’t want to pay for a hotel? Players can travel back home to Mom and have her cook their favorite food to heal the party. Need to save the game? Players can call up Dad and have him record data. Weaponry takes the form of common items such as baseball bats and bottle rockets while fast food and medicine heal the party. All of these elements culminate into what is probably Mother’s biggest strength as a game: despite having a very basic RPG surface, the game remains fun because it feels personal to the player. One of the most prominent themes of the game, which is the interdependence people need to grow as human beings, is not only displayed through the story but also felt through the game’s mechanics. While Mother may be primitive and come off as a lesser game than EarthBound or Mother 3, it is not a game that should remain underappreciated by the retro gaming community. Mother is fun, personal experience that goes recommended for any hardcore retro gamer, RPG fan, and especially fans of EarthBound or Mother 3.Check for Part 2 of this retrospective where I go over the history of Mother 1!