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A Critical Look At The Mother Series

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As some of you may know, the Mother series (called Earthbound in the United States) is a trilogy of RPGs written by Shigesato Itoi and developed and published by Nintendo. In Japan, it is critically acclaimed as one of the best series of games ever created, its popularity extends so far as to have one of its more iconic songs, "The Eight Melodies", printed in school music books. Elsewhere in the world, however, poor advertising campaigns and low sales, as well as poor timing on the translation team's part, doomed the series to obscurity. Even so, it has a very large fan following, one that some will call a "cult following", which to me sounds insulting and degrading to the fan community, since it suggests to Nintendo that the desire for the Mother trilogy to be released outside of Japan is just a few people jumping onto a bandwagon.The first game was unique for its time, since before then, the only RPGs involved medieval settings, swords, monsters, and knights, mages, etc. Mother 1 took all of that and threw it away, giving a modern setting, child protagonists, common household weapons, and a much deeper, more emotion driven story. Another surprise from the game was that it was positively huge, with an overworld map that didn't just imply distance, it WAS distance. Never did you go to a "world map" like in Final Fantasy, where you can see towns and caves that you walk into and then things become life sized again, instead, you got a completely life sized world around you. Due to the frequency of random battles, the low EXP gained from enemy defeats, and the strength of the enemies in the overworld, Mother 1 is considered one of the most ridiculously hard RPGs of all time.Mother 2 came along and kept the formula that made Mother 1 great, and introduced new game mechanics. Keeping with a modern setting and teenaged protagonists, as well as an expansive world, it introduced the concept of enemies in the overworld, making it possible to avoid battles altogether, and the Mother series' signature mark: the scrolling health bar. Instead of just losing HP instantly, when you were hit with an attack for say, 50 damage, your life bar would gradually decrease until you had lost the full 50, at about a rate of 2 hp a second. At the beginning of the game, this didn't mean very much, since your health was capped at 30 and most attacks only did one or two damage, but towards the end of the game, when your HP gets up to the 500s and your enemies are hitting you for damage in the 400s, it's a big advantage. Before your HP hits 0, you have the ability to continue fighting, use healing items, or try to flea the battle. It was a very useful game mechanic when you have that gut feeling that you only need to hit that boss one more time before you win, but you don't have any healing items and your health is in questinable territory.Mother 3 didn't really add much to the formula of Mother 2, but it refined the graphics, brought forth an extremely emotionally compelling story, and reintroduced the running mechanic of Mother 1. All other gameplay mechanics stayed exactly the same, including overworld enemies and the ability to avoid fights with weaker enemies by running into them and knocking them out of the way (a change from Mother 2's method, where you just instantly won). Unlike the other Mother games, however, Mother 3 was played through the eyes of a variety of characters before you got your final party, and many of the main characters were adults.Before we critically analyze Mother, we should go over the basic story of the games. There may be spoilers in this post past this point, so if you want to play the games for yourself and find the endings and stories out through playing them, I suggest you turn around now. However, if reading the story first makes you more apt to play the games, then by all means, continue.Mother 1's story starts long before the game begins. In the early 1900s, a boy named George moves into the town of Mothersday, simply looking for a job. He gets a job with the local newspaper, and becomes a very popular boy in the town, regarded for his kindness and hard working personality. He grows up to be one of the most respected members of the community. In this time, he meets a girl named Maria, a sweet young woman who had also found herself becoming universally liked within the town. As time went on, these two were married, and all seemed well. However, one day, a dark shadow descended upon the town, and strange things began to happen. Then, as suddenly as it appeared, the shadow vanished, and life returned to normal, except George and Maria had disappeared. (it is implied that at this point, they had at least one child)Years passed and nothing was heard or seen of them. The town of Mothersday has lost its most charismatic couple, and they would simply have to move on. Then, one day, as mysteriously as he had vanished, George returned. He didn't speak to a soul, and simply went back to his house, where he stayed, doing all sorts of unknown things. No one could ever get him to tell them where he had been, or what had happened to Maria. He spent the rest of his life by himself, doing research.Almost a century passed. Mothersday grew as a town, into a small but busy city. The game starts here, where we meet a boy named Ninten, about 11 or 12 years old, living on the outskirts of town with his mother and his two sisters. His father is a hard working man who almost never has time to come home, and is only met through telephone calls. While he had enjoyed a relatively peaceful life, he had always had a gift for psionic powers, referred to as PSI. This gift was not uncommon, as many people exhibited the natural ability to use it, and some others were able to learn it, but for the most part, it was a rarity. One day, however, strange things began to reoccur in the city of Mothersday. Ninten's family is plagued by a poltergeist, and Ninten proves his bravery by fighting the evil entity in his house and driving it out. Among the possessed items in his house was a doll, passed down through his family to his younger sister. In the fight, a music box was revealed inside the doll, which played a short tune when investigated. Ninten's father calls, and upon being informed of what happened, he tells Ninten the story of his great grandfather George, who researched PSI and left a notebook. He then tells Ninten that he believes it is up to Ninten to right the wrongs of the past and to save the world from a threat that has been looming for almost a century.Ninten's travels take him all over his region, from the nighboring town of Thanksgiving to the far off city of Valentine, and through this adventure, he meets the friends that will help him save the world, Loid, Ana, and Teddy. He also learns about the tuen the doll played, and finds out that it is part of a set of eight melodies that make up a lullaby that his great grandmother Maria sang. His adventure finally takes him to the Holy Lolly mountain, where he discovers the underwater laboratory of his great grandfather, and meets a robot designed by him to protect Ninten and his friends, named EVE. The lab is destroyed after EVE's awakening, and soon after, EVE confronts a large robot named R7038XX. EVE protects the children from the extremely powerful robot, but is destroyed in the fight. The seventh of the the eight melodies is the last message the robot gives the children. At the top of Holy Lolly mountain lies a grave marker, where George is buried. His last action before his death was apparently to leave a PSI message here for his great grandson, telling him the story of his life. He and his wife were abducted by an alien race and taken across the universe to their home world, and were charged with raising one of their orphaned kind. This alien child, named Gigue, was now the threat facing their world, sent on a mission to destroy mankind to recover their alien technology of PSI. George researched this phenomenon while on the alien planet, and used it to return home. Before George finally faded from this world, he sang the final part of the eight melodies to Ninten.Ninten and his friends had to use the eight melodies to defeat Gigue, who could still remember the care and love he was given by his human adoptive parents, and eventually left Earth, unable to destroy the species of people who raised him and showed him love. He swore revenge to Ninten and took off, back to his home planet.Mother 2 takes place around 10 years in the future, and begins in another part of America, now referred to as Eagleland. The story opens with a boy named Ness, who starts a fantastic journey on the level of Ninten's one night after a meteor crashes close to his house. A strange insect comes from the meteor, claiming that he has traveled through time and came back to the past to warn of the devistation in the future caused by Gigue, the Universal Cosmic Destroyer. Ness embarks on a journey to gain the power of the Earth itself, to defend it from a threat that already exists among them. His neighbor, Porky Minch, however, to avoid the dangers of being a hero, proves to himself that he is not a chosen one by becoming a villain, and begins to succumb to the psychic mind control of Gigue. As the game progresses to the final fight, we learn that it was the complete opposite, and Porky instead used Gigue to confront Ness. We learn that Gigue, in his effort to feel no remorse for his actions against humanity had driven himself to insanity, and now knew nothing but hate. He had trained himself so hard and increased his PSI so much that it destroyed his body, and now Gigue's consciousness was all that remained, a consciousness so powerful that when left to its own design formed a completely separate universe of hatred in its immediate vicinity.Once again, however, through showing love, Gigue was defeated, and Porky escaped using a time machine, so that he could avoid the reprocussions of trying to kill his neighbor. The final message recieved from Porky is a taunt to Ness, daring him to go out and get Porky.Mother 3 is set an undetermined amount of time in the future, but it can be reasonbly assumed to be hundreds of years. The story begins on a set of islands, called Nowhere Islands. Here, a small but tight knit community lives and works together in a rural and seemingly perfect society. The first character we play as is a boy named Lucas, shy, reserved, and sort of a crybaby, he grows throughout the game to be a hero. We meet his mother, Hinawa, his grandfather Alec, and his twin brother, Claus. The story starts off happy enough, but takes a turn for the worse. A strange army begins to invade the Nowhere Islands, and they begin to modify the local fauna and even the flora to make them dangerous. These pink clad soldiers wearing masks that resemble pigs begin to appear more and more frequently, and unfortunately for the family we have only just met, they will soon have a run in with some of the aforementioned modified Fauna.Meanwhile, we meet the twins' father, Flint. His first major task is to go out and help evacuate the forest, which has recently caught fire due to the blundering of what will later be revealed to be called "The Pig Mask Army". After assuring that his best friend's son is ok, Flint realizes that his family isn't home yet either. He returns to the forest during a rainstorm, which has put the fire out, and gathers the locals to help search. After having his own run in with a half robotic caribou, Flint discovers that his children are safe, but his wife has been killed, found with a Drago's fang pierced through her heart. The game has only barely begun, and the tragedy starts.The story fully takes off in Chapter 5, after all the set-up has been cleared out, and a few years have passed since the death of Hinawa. Lucas has grown considerably, both physically and emotionally. At the end of Chapter 5, the party of Lucas, Duster, Kumatora, and Lucas' dog, Boney, is separated, and Lucas finds himself in a field of sunflowers that his mother frequented when she was alive. He follows a vision of her back to Tazmilly village, which at this point in time has become very modern looking, due to the influence of the Pig Mask Army. Chapter 7 begins, and Lucas learns that he is now in competition with the mysterious masked leader of the Pig Mask Army, the Masked Man. Both of them aim for a common goal: to pull the seven needles sealing away the Dark Dragon, and whoever pulls the most will have their desires granted by the dragon. At the game's climax, it is revealed that the world has ended years before the game started, and the people living on Nowhere Islands are the last people left alive on the planet. It is also revealed that Porky Minch is the true leader of the Pig Mask Army, having abused time travel to the point that his body had aged far beyond his mind, and he had achieved a conditional immortality. He then reveals that the Masked Man is Lucas' missing brother, Claus, and that he has also been controlling him. Porky attacks Lucas and his party from a mechanical bed modeled after a spider, and is defeated. He seals himself in the Absolutely Safe Capsule, which he requested to be developed to keep him safe from attack, and also from the end of the world that he planned to bring about by using the Dark Dragon. Lucas and his friends rush to the area where the final needle is, and confront the Masked Man, who was awaiting orders from Porky to pull the needle. He strikes down Lucas' teammates with a lightning blast, and engages his brother in one on one combat.The game ends with Claus coming to his senses, remembering who he is, and killing himself by forcing Lucas to reflect his lightning back at him. Lucas pulls the final needle, and the final cutscene shows the Nowhere Islands being destroyed by the Dark Dragon's awakening.Throughout all of these games, there are very heavy instances of symbolism and fun general trivia. Among these are:At the beginning of Mother 2, Buzz Buzz comes from a future devastated by Gigue. He comes back in time to find the heroes mentioned in his time that were able to beat Gigue once before, and claims Ness is this hero. It's impossible, however, that Ness could be the hero in Buzz Buzz's time, since Buzz Buzz had to come back just to tell Ness he was the hero. Buzz Buzz was actually looking for Ninten and his friends, who had beaten Gigue before, which is commonly believed and almost completely confirmed to have happened 10 years before the events of Mother 2 (You fight Gigue 10 years in the past when you fight him in Mother 2)Buzz Buzz also predicts the situation of the world in Mother 3 (Nowhere Islands excluded) by saying that "In the future, all is devistation." If you think about it, since Porky never would have joined Gigue's side, Buzz Buzz is actually the cause of the end of the world.In Mother 3, there are a set of seven people called the Magypsies. They are the guardians of the 7 needles and their lives are tied to the pulling of the needles. They each have very interesting names, as outlined in an interview with Shigesato Itoi, the series creator.Interviewer: There's quite a mysterious ring to the Magypsy names, like Ionia and Phrygia.Itoi: That was Shogo Sakai's doing. Apparently they're special musical terms.Interviewer: Is that true for all of the Magypsies?Itoi: Even Mixolydia.Interviewer: Really?Itoi: Think of it as Mr. Sakai's own play on words. Apparently, people who know a lot about music find that naming scheme intriguing.Locria’s naming here is special because among the musical modes, the Locrian mode is the odd one out; it is based on the ‘diminished’ scale and sounds very unstable and dissonant when played, which relates to Locria’s character as being an unstable character which caused dissonance among Tazmilians. Aeolia and Ionia, named after the most well-used standard modes, also seem to be the most important Magypsies. Although each of the modes has its own 'mood', there doesn't seem to be much of a correlation between the mode's feel and each Magypsies' character. A few fans have noticed that the Mixolydian mode, which has been said to give music a 'dreamy' feel, correlates well to Mixolydia, who was first seen by Lucas and co. under the influence of mind-altering mushrooms.Each Magypsy also has its own color which corresponds to the color of the rainbow. Their color is also the color of their house. They are: * Aeolia: Red * Phrygia: Orange * Lydia: Yellow * Ionia: Green * Mixolydia: Blue * Locria: Indigo * Doria: VioletOnce again, Locria’s color is significant because Indigo is considered a spectral color (what's a spectral color? if you displayed an indigo shirt, you wouldn’t be able to say specifically “That’s an indigo shirt” because you can’t differentiate between blue and indigo without having a reference). Indigo is often considered a not-color of the rainbow because of this, and is sometimes dropped from the rainbow. This is interesting because Locria ‘dropped out’ of the Magypsies for something else.The seven Magypsies, Aeolia, Ionia, Phrygia, Lydia, Locria, Mixolydia, and Doria are all also named after Greek city states, most of them located next to Persia. Mixolydia is possibly named after Mysidia, since she asks you to simply call her "Missy". Phrygia, the one who always sleeps, also wears a cap, most likely a sleep cap, but more significantly, a "Phrygian cap", which was most commonly worn by priestly classes in Phrygia (the place). This cap has often been used in politics to symbolize liberty.Mother 3 is a huge Biblical allegory, with Lucas (name coming from "Lucius" - The Light) saving the world after pulling the seven needles (breaking the seven seals) which were guarded by the Magypsies (who were always accompanied by saxophone music [The seven trumpets]) and in turn, awakening the Dark Dragon (Satan) after fighting with the complete antithesis of himself.In Mother 3, there are things called Happy Boxes that you deliver to the people when you play as a monkey named Salsa. Happy Boxes are televisions. You might think this is obvious, but a deeper look at exactly what the Happy Boxes do to people, and then at what today's television does to people will help this become quite clear. Happy Boxes are put in place by the Pig Mask Army to induce a state of mind control on the people of Tazmilly Village. Notice how this mind control is achieved: the little box does nothing but display some pretty colors and lights. It doesn't take much to keep people entertained, right? Let's look at our TVs now. What do they do for us? We watch half-baked sitcoms and laugh at jokes we probably wouldn't laugh at if it weren't for the prepackaged laugh-track encouraging us to laugh with it. Some of us might watch the news, but even then, it's just a corporately biased news broadcast, only telling us what someone with very fat pockets wants us to know, and exactly how they want us to know it. These little flashing colors are the visual representation of no real information - like the people of Tazmilly, we are being entertained with pretty lights and funky colors while the world is altered around us by people who, quite honestly, have no idea what they're doing.And while it isn't trivia directly involving the game's story, why Mother 3 hasn't been released to the west ties in quite well with this: it's a satire. Of course, Mother 1 and 2 were parodies of western life, especially in the United States, but they were lighthearted about it. You would have to be looking really hard to find these kinds of implications in those two games. Mother 3, however, came right out and yelled it at you. You name it, if it exists as a social problem here in the United States, Mother 3 addressed it. Treatment of elders? Animal abuse? Homosexuality/transgenderism? The implications of an organized military? Yeah, got ya covered. Of course, let me be the first to say that the majority of the population of the US is too stupid to even begin to be able to read between the lines regarding these matters, but even so, given Nintendo of America's stance on trying to maintain a more innocent appearance, considering releasing such a game, especially when it had such a dark story to begin with pretty much goes against their style.Long story short, the Mother series is art. It can be taken any way you want to and critically analyzed. I could go on about it for days upon days, but for the sake of readers, I'll take it easy.

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