There comes a time when you've waited too long for something. The elderly lady still waiting for her husband to return from World War II is certainly a victim of this. For many of us, recently, the time of waiting was over with the release of Fallout 3 or Fable 2. Being a huge fan of both of these series, I was eternally happy for my fellow gamers, (and still apologetic to you Duke Nukem Forever subscribers), but my fandom came in a smaller form. My fandom had granted me Mother III, the sequel to Earthbound, my favorite RPG on the SNES, and possibly favorite game of all time.
Mother 3 was quite unlike what I was expecting. Having the rocky history of being a planned title for the Nintendo 64, this game was delayed considerably, and thought to have been canceled all-together. Years later, it was announced that production for Mother 3 would resume, and my fanboy alarm hit an all-time high.
Mother 3 surprised me in a lot of ways, in the sense that it changed so many things, without making the changes hurt. There was a lot to like about Earthbound, and Mother 3 adjusted these things in a way that wouldn't alienate the fans at all. The game still has a lot of the wacky humor and bright colors, but still manages to hit a lot of emotional chords. The game blends serious and silly with such a deft hand that you never feel your mood terribly taxed, at least, not enough to put the game away for being too depressing.
The story, unlike it's predecessor, manages to cover a whole series of characters and events instead of just a single protagonist, like Earthbound does. By the end of the day, this storytelling style improves vastly on Earthbound's, because it leaves the player with a clearer picture of all that went on, and how it happened. A very, very well done game, all in all.
A lot of the game's history with quirky situations still shines through, I'd even dare suggest to a stronger degree at some times. Some of the plot devices are down-right silly, demanding even the most absurd of situations from you. To point out just one, out of context, is that the game's magical-fairy equivalent are beings that live in inanimate objects like rocks or seashells. They're also drag-queens... That's right, you didn't hear me wrong, they're actually cross-dressing men. Very foppish, super fabulous~ men.
I would explain in more depth about the story, but I could not do so without some spoilers. In short, though, the story is centered around the progression of the protagonist's home-town, and how it evolves and grows during the length of the story, and how that affects the characters and the events that arise throughout the game. To say anything else would be spoiling something.
A lot of my complaints about the game mechanics of old are gone, making me feel like they were addressed personally by the game developers. The HP slot system makes a triumphant return, allowing the user more time for those last minute kills and last minute heals. Adding to that, the game also added a combo system, which enables the user to add hits per turn, set to a background pulse of the battle theme, depending on which of the 70+ battle themes the battle calls for.
Dum dum, dum-dum-dum, dum dum-dum-dum-dum, dum, dum, etc.
My only footnote for the combo system is there's no tutorial for it. The way I learned was by watching online videos and guessing where the beats belonged, then testing in-battle. The game gives you no mention of how it's done, whether it's tempo-based or anything. So, if you can, pick it up on your first few battles, as it's necessary to win battles later on in the game.
As well as the issue of slowness, there's been a dash feature that's been added to the game. It's a toggle-to-start dash feature that stops if you run into anything or anyone head-on, it's a much appreciated tool that makes traveling, especially long distances, less irritating.
Overall, the gameplay went out of it's way to fix most of the problems, and kept what was great to it's own devices, vastly improving the play experience.
The battle system, especially with the inclusion of the combo system, and multiple battle themes, makes several changes to the enemy-on-backdrop battle style that really appeals to the modern gamer in me. It takes a formula that's worked, fixed it to make it work better, then shipped it out to the audience at large. With the HP slots, the combo system, and the many, many goofy statuses and effects of skills, the game really goes the distance with an old style to make it new and improved, in all senses of the expression.
Along with that, the game keeps you on your toes by pitting you against the usual cast of oddballs and what'cha-ma-call-its. From animal-machine hybrids, to animal-animal hybrids, to portly soldier armed to the teeth and laser-weaponry and pig masks.
Music and sound this time around have gone forward leaps and strides. So much so that I'm actually disappointed that this game didn't make it to another system because the game is so very music-centric, and the GBA was only capable of Mono.
Despite the hardware limitations, though, the game boasts a 251-track in-game sound test that encompasses a song for every mood, occasion, and thought. Surprisingly, unlike the conversion from Mother to Earthbound (Mother 2), a lot of original music was created for Mother 3. This soundtrack is extensive and enjoyable, and certainly meets the minimum requirements I have for a game.
The graphics are exactly what you'd expect of both a Mother series game and a GBA title. If you have a thing for bright colors and exaggerated expressions, then you'll have a thing for the style of this game. Everything is vibrant and colorful, very bright, and is sort of the high-def neon version of early 32-bit RPGs.
The in-battle animations are basically copy-pasted from Earthbound, lots of psychedelic color waves and patterns. In-game icons and descriptions are simple, small, and iconic, and do their job showing the relevant information while leaving the space uncluttered. I was very impressed with how they adjusted the battle menus to accommodate the smaller screen size and lower resolution.
Otherwise, this game does a little bit to accommodate the old Earthbound fans. Including but not limited to some references to the RPG of old, and some familiar faces showing up, as well as some old school Earthbound music popping up from time to time.
Despite the intense praise I've given it, this game still takes one giant leap toward perfection, and two tiny steps back. The game is pretty unforgiving. The difficulty curve is pretty spastic, and is very inconsiderate toward the player. Often times, you'll be leveraged into a position where you only have one party member, and you'll find yourself facing enemies that can deal you quite a bit of damage. If the one fight doesn't cripple you, any fight where the enemies outnumber you, even if it's only 2 to 1, will. The game is challenging enough when the parties are matched. If they're not, prepare to burn through a lot of healing items.
Also, Mother 3 occasionally jumped the fridge when it came to humor. Even literally. It seems so natural in some points, and so very, very forced in others. Especially at certain points, like the one shown in the image. It's like they were trying just a little too hard to match humor with the preceding games.
Also, some of the attention to detail, even the little things that were silly but fun about the old games, feels missing. It's like it was close, near perfect, but not exactly spot on. In the end, it takes away from the experience. Or, at least, the experience for an old Earthbound / Mother series fan.
Let me re-iterate this, just in case it didn't sink in. This game is difficult. If you ever find yourself solo, you're pretty screwed. Might as well die and respawn at the save point, because you're not very likely to survive more than three battles. Also, never, ever go into a boss battle unless you're fully prepared for a hard fight. None of the bosses are easy.
Buy It. This game is a jewel, and highly recommended for anyone who likes old-school RPGs, music games, or the Earthbound / Mother series. Just be prepared to repeat a lot of battles, load a lot of save files, and pray to anyone or anything that none of your party members die.