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[Comments] (2) Mother 3: Oh yeah. The fan translation came out when I was in London. This weekend I loaded it onto my DS and played it. Except playing it on my DS didn't work too well, despite me having bought a doohickey specifically so I could play the Mother 3 translation on the DS. So I'm playing it through Mednafen. (Note: Mednafen may cause drowsiness. Use only as directed.) I'd say I'm halfway done; below my spoilerish thoughts.

There are many reasons why there will never be an official translation of this game, but upon playing it the main one that jumps out is that it's pretty offensive by Western standards. In Earthbound, the Japanese technique of jumbling together random stereotypes about America resulted in the charming Colbertian nation-state of Eagleland. In Mother 3 it results in a "generic minority" character who embodies different racial stereotypes simultaneously. There's also a central-casting "greedy Arab" character. And the, uh, fairies, who make Tingle look like Cary Grant. I appreciate that Japan is a different country where the mere fact that homosexuals exist is considered hilarious, but the past is also another country, and that doesn't excuse the past. So: grow up, Japan.

If you can get past that, there's a great game here. It's basically a text adventure with sprite graphics: a linear plot with lots of places to explore and people to talk to. The writing and game design is as good as Earthbound. There's less all-out wackiness but the places fit together better and there are lots of great changes to the environment over time, and variations on themes. Example: your game is saved by talking to frogs, which is a) awesome, and b) implemented by scattering thematically appropriate frogs throughout the game: ghost frogs, frogs in tiny cars, old frogs in wheelchairs, floating frogs dangling from balloons, etc. It's cute and funny.

The plot is interesting--this is the only Mother game to actually be about someone's mother. As with the game design, the plot fits together a lot better than Earthbound's plot. But there's something wrong. It's not that an RPG with cute sprites can't tell a dark story--that's bathos, and it's delicious. It's that the Mother 3 story mixes different kinds of darkness.

There's the darkness of the death of a loved one and of being compelled to work on an evil project and of having your home town invaded by aliens. And there's this goofy rock-video darkness where people are being enslaved by their television sets and corrupted not by the love of money but the existence of money. They don't fit together. You could tell one story or the other with cute RPG sprites but it's asking a little bit much for cute RPG sprites to glue them together. (And for good measure there's also the pro forma high-fantasy darkness of Prophecy Fulfilled and Are You Pure Of Heart which is just an excuse for Collect A Bunch Of Similar Things, which I find very tiresome but Earthbound had the same thing.) The old text adventure "The Legend Lives!" has a lot of these same problems, but its television scene does a better job, I think.

So, Mother 3 makes visible in retrospect some problems with Earthbound. Earthbound's huge sprawling map alienated you from what was going on in the game world. Mother 3 takes you through a series of persistent changes to the world, which forces you to invest emotionally in what's happening. Except for the thing at the very end, which loses its punch if described rather than played, Earthbound has the emotional depth of a sitcom episode. Mother 3 starts off by breaking your heart, and manages to break your heart two or three more times before it gets really goofy and rock-video-ey.

The best thing about Earthbound was the feeling of subjunctive nostalgia you got wandering around Eagleland, a replica of an American/Japanese culture that never existed. Mother 3 yields this poignancy, which I also find in the Miyazaki films with European-looking settings. I almost said Mother 3 "nails" this poignancy, but there's all that offensive stuff that won't play in real America, so I deny Mother 3 the prestigious verb "to nail".

If my opinion about any of this changes by the time I finish the game I'll post a follow-up. All in all, a great game made available through an amazing translation effort.

Update: see follow-up entry.


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