Mother 3 Import Hands-On

Also known as EarthBound, the quirky cult-classic modern-day role-playing series hits the Game Boy Advance, only in Japan. Read our first impressions.

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Most role-playing games take place in a fantasy world in peril or in a far-flung science fiction universe in distress, or in some not-so-original combination of the two. The Mother series, known as EarthBound in North America, strays from the norm by taking place in the here and now and focusing on simple folk rather than elves or androids. Of course, Mother has carried its own sci-fi twists, along with plenty of clever humor that has helped the series occupy a warm place in the hearts of many longtime fans of Japanese role-playing games. Now, after about a decade, the latest installment in the Mother series has finally arrived for the Game Boy Advance. Featuring the simple, colorful look and the goofy charm that EarthBound is known for, Mother 3 seems like a fun little role-playing game that's better off for not taking itself seriously.

Remember the Super Nintendo RPG, EarthBound? Well, its sequel has finally arrived, only in Japan.
Remember the Super Nintendo RPG, EarthBound? Well, its sequel has finally arrived, only in Japan.

In Mother 3, you're immediately introduced to a household of characters whom you may rename if you wish: There are the two strapping young lads, Luka and Claus, and their parents, a man's man of a cowboy named Flint and his beautiful, beautiful wife Hinawa. Rounding out this quartet is the family dog, Bonnie. Besides getting to rename your characters, you answer a couple of questions about the heroes of this story, and then you're off to discover the weird world of Mother 3. Things start out normally enough--this family seems to live in a typical suburban household. But things quickly take a surreal turn as you begin experimenting with one of the game's mechanics, a running dash, and find yourself repeatedly smashing into a big, scary-looking, yet entirely docile dinosaur. You take a running charge right into the thing and knock it down, but it gets right back up, ready for more pain. The game lets you walk in any direction, but when you're running, you keep moving automatically until you run into something or hit a button to stop. Apart from that, Mother 3 controls like any number of other role-playing games for the GBA, although its clean visual style and oddball characters seem to set it apart quickly.

This wouldn't be much of a game if all you did was hang around the house tackling dinosaurs (OK, maybe it would be). Sure enough, trouble starts brewing, in the form of what appears to be an alien invasion. These little dudes dressed in yellow basically land in the humble forest near your residence and put the place to the torch. Engulfed in flames, the quaint town of your family suddenly becomes a lot more dangerous. It's time for Flint the cowboy to take care of some business--with Bonnie's help, of course.

This also wouldn't be much of an RPG without a lot of combat. Battle sequences in Mother 3 initially seem a lot like those of other turn-based Japanese-style role-playing games, though you get these weird, psychedelic backgrounds. Your enemies appear in the center of the screen, and you may choose to attack, use items, and more in between rounds. The difference comes in when one of your characters initiates an attack--you'll hear a little musical ditty, and by properly timing button presses, you can chain together multiple attacks in a musical combo of sorts. This is reminiscent of the Mario & Luigi games' timing-based attack system, but the presentation itself is quite different. Expect to face many bizarre enemies, from hotheaded bolts of lightning to shifty mice to irritating paintings. While Mother 3 might take place in something resembling the real world, needless to say it takes some creative liberties.

If Mother 3 never makes it to North American shores, rest assured the Japanese version is relatively import-friendly, as long as you don't mind not knowing what the heck is going on.
If Mother 3 never makes it to North American shores, rest assured the Japanese version is relatively import-friendly, as long as you don't mind not knowing what the heck is going on.

Other aspects of Mother 3 come across as pretty amusing, too. Instead of saving your progress anywhere in the field or at magical saving terminals, you need to talk to a little frog you'll find lurking around many of the game's areas. In the thick of the forest fire, this self-preserving froggie is wise enough to be hiding in a conveniently placed barrel of water. Also, if you're injured, you're just a trip to the hot springs away from recovering back to full.

The game you might know as EarthBound is the Super Nintendo sequel to the original Mother game, which was released for the Famicom back in the late '80s. So Mother 3 is the long-awaited sequel to that game, but unlike with EarthBound, there's no word on a North American version of this game yet. However, considering that Nintendo has successfully brought over games like Electroplankton and Brain Age lately, maybe the possibility of Mother 3 coming stateside isn't too unthinkable. We haven't delved far enough into this RPG to be able to tell you decisively if it's great or not, but its unique premise and style help it to stand out from many other RPGs.

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