If you're talking about great games that never made it to the west, it would be criminal and morally wrong not to mention Shigesato Itoi's masterpiece Mother 3. I don't use the terms "criminal and morally wrong" and "masterpiece" lightly or for hyperbolic effect. I do think this game should be displayed in the Smithsonian as a work of art and I believe that not mentioning it in discussions about great games that never made it to the west does make you an inherently evil person who probably didn't cry when watching the end of Grave of the Fireflies. Like seriously man. What the hell? Are you made of stone or something? Those poor kids.
Ok, that was all hyperbole, but I really do love this game and it really disappoints me to tears to think of all the people didn't get to play it here in the west. For the people who have never heard of this game, Mother 3 is the GBA sequel to the game us westerny-types know as Earthbound, a SNES cult classic and another wonderful game. It's a JRPG and like the two Mother games before it, it differs from most RPGs in that it takes place in a much more modern setting than your regular medieval affair. Baseball bats and sticks replace swords, psychic powers replace spells, Giant piles of vomit replace dragons, etc.
That's not what's important right now though. Whats important is me gushing about how much this game means to me. I'm happy about just every aspect of this game. The visual style of the game is very simple and cartoony, but is filled with bright colors and the kind of interesting character designs you just want to doodle in the margins of all your important papers. The music is catchy and dips into all different styles and genres. The gameplay mixes up the JRPG formuula by throwing in a cool rhythm element. But among all these things, the aspect of Mother 3 that really makes it special for me and puts it ahead of most modern games is the writing and the story.
Oh ho ho the writing and story...
Never has a game made me cry at the tearing apart of a loving family and then had me fight a man in a barrel little more than an hour later. This is what makes the Mother series special. The game has a goofball sense of humor with nonsensical dialogue and some of the strangest enemies you will ever see, yet it still manages to explore the concepts of family, loss of innocence, and the struggle between nature and technology in really deep and meaningful ways. Yet even with these stark contrasts, everything seems to flow together. The pacing is so well done that nothing ever feels awkward or forced. This expert writing has a lot to do with Shigesato Itoi's input. He had to bug programmers to make sure that certain lines had just the right timing to make the scenes truly emotional and human.
My guess as to the reason Itoi brings a unique voice that isn't seen in most games is that he isn't very connected to the game industry. While he is only known here in the west as the creator of the Mother games, in Japan, Itoi is a well-known copywriter and the author of several books. He isn't a game writer, he is simply a writer that has worked on a few games. The same can be said for the music in the first two Mother games which is fondly remembered by all who played them. The classic songs in those games are composed by Keiichi Suzuki, a member of the Japanese band The Moonriders, who had never worked on a game score and never did afterwords. It really makes me think of how many great things could come if artists in one medium would try their hand at another. It's proved beneficial for Studio Ghibli doing the art in the gorgeous Ni No Kuni. My mind races at the possibilities. Rappers writing musicals. Movie directors drawing comics. The world would be a better place if there were more artists like Shigesato Itoi.
I have digressed a bit though. Mother 3 is a wonderful game full of wonderful things that just happened to stay in its native country. And to be honest? I'm not surprised that it never made it to the west. Nintendo of America saw the poor sales of Earthbound and saw that Mother 3 wouldn't be any more marketable to the average american. It's a damn shame because it would have been really special for the few people who would have discovered it, but I'm no more surprised by NOA's decision than I would be by any television network's decision to cancel an extremely well-written, critical darling that nobody was tuning in to watch. All is not lost though! Some extremely devoted fans managed to translate Mother 3 in it's entirety in English and it is available somewhere in the vast wild west of the internet. I know that it's piracy but at this time, it's the only way to experience this truly unique game that really needs to be experienced. So if you're cool with that, go to it! You won't regret it!