Mother 2, also known as Earthbound, is easily my favorite RPG of all time. Yes, more than Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, or even Granstream Saga...wait, Granstream Saga? Get out of here, you, I meant to say Dragon Quest.
Anyways, it's very difficult to explain exactly what makes the Mother series special. Being far more familiar with the second game in the series, I'm going to focus on that, though all three have similar traits.
Just telling you how great Mother 2 is won't do a damn thing; unless you have played it, and unless your time in its world was spent several years ago when it was still a hot, and unfortunately mostly ignored product on store shelves, it may be too late for you to bask in its true glory. Just like how me discovering Rush when I was a teenager can't possibly compare to someone hearing 2112 the first day the album was released, all you can really hope to have in regards to Mother 2 is a strong appreciation for what was accomplished. For me, it was the first RPG I ever really sunk my teeth into; it was a game I became practically obsessed with.
Most of my time spent with video games was with the Sega Genesis, but I got a SNES eventually, too. In general, I stuck with action games; the first RPG I ever played was Robotrek on the SNES, a cool little RPG where you built your own robots and used them to fight for you. I never really got into it; it was a bit too hard and slow at the time for me, and although the robot building aspect had appeal, it just never really too hold of me. RPG's quickly became a genre I avoided on purpose; they were those "slow" games. But, then, I was kind of a slow kid, too.
Earthbound changed my mind. The first time I saw it on the shelf at the video store, I couldn't believe it; the box was fucking huge! It had a cool robot looking thing, and even came with a huge game guide. Sure, it was an RPG, but I could handle that - huge box, see? Bigger is better, and I only know that because I have a small penis and an equally unsatisfied wife. Although back then I may have chosen a more age appropriate analogy, hopefully one that had nothing to do with shriveled, useless genitals.
I quickly rented the game and popped it in the Super Nintendo. Here's the thing; right off the bat, Earthbound was hard. This wasn't Mystic Quest, a game that held your hand and told you where your juice box was, Earthbound, underneath it's cheery, big boxed (can't mention that enough) exterior was a big game, and a tough one, too. It took more cues from Dragon Quest than Final Fantasy, and it's bizarre plot points and dialogue were unfamiliar territory for someone not attuned to the RPG. It was almost a satire of RPG's in many ways, with tons of fourth wall breaking humor which constantly poked fun of the genre, and here I was, a nine year old kid who had never really played any RPG's trying to get through it as my first.
Well, I made it all the way to a city called Fourside after a hell of a lot of help from the guide, many, many hours, and a shitload of deaths. And I liked what I saw, but was still incredibly intimidated by it. I put the game down, not to play it again for another year or so. But it stayed with me, haunting my consciousness. Earthbound had become a part of my childhood, and I wasn't even aware of it yet.
First off, a very familiar, American style setting instantly made the game feel familiar. You ate hamburgers to heal, swung at enemies with a baseball bat, and even got to hang out with a caricature of the Blues Brothers. It was this stuff which made me feel so comfortable initially, when all I knew about Japan was that they rode flying Sea Otters and invented gravity. I wouldn't learn about sexy transforming space princesses until a year later when Sailor Moon would come out, and up until this point, that is pretty much the extent of my knowledge about Japan, the country that God forgot.
Another thing was dialogue. Before, and since Earthbound, I have never felt like the world of any RPG has been truly alive, and the NPC's are what made the difference. Even if Final Fantasy games, VI being my favorite, NPC's are mostly useless fodder placed strategically to freely hand out information. None of them feel like their own individual people, because, well, they aren't meant too; it's a game after all, so what would be the utility in fleshing out all these brainless idiots?
Not a lot, but as it turns out, Earthbound is a much better game than it would have otherwise been because of this, not in spite of it. Because you get a feel for most NPC's, because they act like their own people, because they feel like individuals, you actually want to explore the towns along the way and talk to everyone, rather than feeling obligated to do so because you need to trigger the next beat in the story. Some of them are subtle, some of them extreme, but they all have personality. There is a charm there which I haven't experienced in any game since, save for Mother 3 which did the same thing beautifully.
As for some examples, one of my favorite lines in the entire game is a subtle one, but it tells a bigger story. In Threed, a town subject to an unfortunate zombie invasion, a man in a circus tent talks about how he ran away from the Zombies. "I even left my wife and kids behind. That's how scary the zombies were." It's so brief that most people will skip right by it, but every time I replay the game, it makes me laugh my ass off. In two lines, we find out that this man has a family living somewhere in town, and that he is such a coward that he was willing to literally give up their lives just to save his own skin. It's silly, and meant to be funny; and it is. But it is one of many varying examples of how the people are portrayed throughout the game. They are caricatures, but they have a basis in reality. Everybody has met someone in the world of Earthbound, somewhere, in real life. All the game is really doing is taking little tidbits of reality, especially when it comes to people, and amplifying them to a degree where, while they feel extreme, you can still see the connecting threads between the exaggerated fantasy of the game, and the general absurdity of people in real life.
Shigesato Itoi, the games' creator, wanted to created a world that was "not quite a road map", one where stopping in each new town was just not an event created to distribute a new piece of armor, or stay at a hotel. He wanted to create places where players could spend a lot of time, places they wanted to visit, and experience. While he wasn't able to fully realize his goal, he did a pretty damn fine job of doing just that while still keeping the game on track, heading toward a final conclusion. Interconnected areas without an overworld map was one of the finest choices here in my opinion; while the world seems much smaller, there is an intimacy in it that simply opening it up into a vast wasteland with nothing to do between each major location simple couldn't bring. The game is largely cohesive, and this adds to the immersion factor.
These seem like small points compared to the main picture; an incredibly simple, almost initially laughable plot brought together with loveable characters, bizarre enemies, strange and fantastic locations, and a surprisingly sinister, psychological story underneath the surface and set in motion by a pretty compelling antagonist.
Porky, known as Pokey in the English translation, is one of the finest villains ever crafted in a video game. He has a fairly simple motivation, he makes you hate his guts, but underneath all that is heartbreaking character study which is further explored in Mother 3. Porky, quite simply, is a lonely, frustrated, jealous, mean spirited, messed up kid. He craves power in his life because he is so utterly powerless; being overweight he is often made fun of and ostracized, and the only one who will even tolerate him, the protagonist Ness, he may actually consider his only friend - despite trying to thwart his quest at every possible opportunity due to his complete inability to hold a real friendship.
I have actually had friends like Porky. You give them the time of day, mostly out of sympathy, and because you are the only one who can stand to spend five minutes with them, they abuse you at any given opportunity due to the problems they face in their own lives. When you confront them or just plain walk away, they backpedal until you are both in the same place you were before it happened. It is a friendship based only on guilt and bad feelings, and is destructive for both parties for as long as it lasts. While you kind of feel sorry for them when it's all over, part of you is just glad you got out of the situation, and makes you want to see them pay for their actions.
Without getting into too many details, Porky is a character who seldom pays for anything he does; his own lack of accountability and inherent cowardice make it impossible for him to do so. When the going gets tough, when there is no one around to protect him, he takes the easy way out. When he finally does get his come uppence in some form or another, most players aren't too happy with the end result. It kind of tears you both ways because, while he is a bastard of a villain who does some truly sickening things, it's really hard not too feel pity for him. He is the Gollum from Lord of the Rings, in that way; a disgusting creature that is probably better off dead, but that few would have the heart to kill.
Giygas, the main, alien enemy of the game, almost takes a back seat compared to Porky. Being the ultimate evil, he is actually pretty terrifying, and one of the most bizarre and disturbing boss fights you will see in a sixteen bit RPG. But his influence is mostly hands off; you deal with Porky for the better half of the game, and thus, he is the true antagonist due to this constant interaction.
The subtle humor which takes many pot shots at every day life mixed with the other things I described are just a few things that make this one of the best games of all time, and my favorite RPG in existence. I just wanted to share my own thoughts on exactly why the Mother series is so great, and why you should all stop reading this and go donate a few thousand dollars to my PayPal account so I can finally purchase a legitimate copy of my own.
So, like, go do that now.
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