Mother 3 – GBA Review
Few pregnancies have been as painful and protracted as Mother 3’s. The follow up to Super Nintendo classic Earthbound, a game that won a dedicated following for its cute and funny modern-world styling of the Japanese RPG, was first announced twelve years ago.
Numerous false starts and broken promises later, lead designer Shigesato Itoi finally announced its imminent Japanese release for the Gameboy Advance on his blog in 2005.
As the latest installment to one of Japan’s most beloved RPG series, Mother 3 raced to the top of the preorder charts before enjoying considerable success at retail, a feat that still failed to secure it a Western release. Despite EarthBound’s status as a sacred cow amongst gaming’s cognoscenti, it sold poorly, a performance that scuppered this sequel’s chances for a Western release. Shigeru Miyamoto himself said of the game: “We had high hopes for EarthBound in the US, but it didn’t do well. You might not know this, but there was a ‘Please Make Mother 3′ petition and it got which received 30,000 signatures! After that, we thought, ‘Wow… Earthbound fans are really solid.’”
“Really solid” is understatement when it comes to Mother’s followers, whose dedication often beggars belief. So when Nintendo’s localization producer Nate Bihldorff, confirmed in an interview that the publisher had no plans to take Mother 3 outside of Japan, it was no surprise that a core group of amateur translators sprang into action. Extracting the text files from the Japanese GBA game, the team began the painstaking work of translating the game’s thousands of lines of dialogue before reinserting them using the Earthbound English language font. Finally, on October 17th, over two years after the group began its work, a fully translated ROM was released onto the Internet, freely available for anyone with a digital copy of the game to play via emulator.
The release occupies a grey legal area, dipping its toes into murky litigious water, but the fan localizers’ motives are transparently pure. At start up a message urges players to support Mother 3 by importing official merchandise and, should the game ever receive a Western release, purchasing a legitimate copy at that time.
Of course, motives alone don’t maketh the translation. The process of translating a JRPG is time-consuming, a labour that’s all too often handled poorly by the professionals, so that a group of fans should produce a script of such wit and vim is startling. It’s also something they simply had to get right if they were to do this game, of all titles, justice. You see, Mother 3 is a game that fits the term ‘interactive story’ more comfortably than most. It’s a game made by a storyteller, one who’s chosen to use the vocabulary and tropes of the JRPG to bring his tale to an audience.
As such, the gameplay’s not so much a set of lines to link the drama as a clutch of dots, short interactive hops from cutscene to cutscene, employing what appears to be the most basic form and function of its chosen genre. So that the translation (and indeed the original Japanese dialogue) is of such a high quality is no small mercy. What initially appears to be a straightforward tale told in primary colours soon demonstrates a breadth and depth of quality that few titles many times its budget achieve. Its childlike sprites (unusually Western in appearance for such a Japanese game) communicate comedy and tragedy with unexpected impact, the simple story drawing readers in with a nod and wink before turning on a dime to deliver some of the most affecting scenes yet seen in an RPG.
To begin with you’ll name each member of the central protagonist’s family, from the father down to the dog. It’s a mammoth undertaking if you’re anything like us in thinking that there’s a right and a wrong answer for stuff like this. If that weren’t enough, you then answer a series of questions, the answers to which are then incorporated into the story. These take the form of: “What is your favourite food?” (we put ‘Kedgeree’ because we’re a middle class fisherman) and “What is your favourite thing?” (we put ‘Peace’ because we are also a smug, smug hippy). It’s the simplest of tricks, an obvious way for a game to tailor itself to its player, but it’s still effective so that, when tragedy and triumph befalls your characters later in the game, the customization only serves to heighten emotions.
You can read the rest over at Eurogamer here.