The Mother series, or Earthbound series to Americans, has a very large cult following. Only two of the three games have been released in the United States, and we were lucky to even get one of these two. The first game in the series, “Mother” or “Earthbound Beginnings” in the US, was only released officially in 2015 around the time of E3. Released in 1989 in Japan, Mother tells the story of three children named Ninten, Ana, and Loid, and an adult named Teddy who go on an adventure to find and stop the cause of all of the strange happenings that are prevalent around their world. This game was the start of quite possibly the biggest cult trilogy of games of all time, but how has it aged?
Let’s start with the graphics. The graphics of Mother are 8-bit, as it’s an NES/Famicom game. The world of the game has detail, but not too terribly much. This is understandable, since the game is very big and it’s impressive that they were able to put a game of this size on an NES cartridge. The character models are as undetailed as the world, as the characters run around with blank expressions on their face and wear basic clothing. The enemy models, however, show how powerful the Famicom was. The enemy models more than make up for the blankness of the characters, as they are very detailed and look great for a 1989 game. The graphics are what you’d expect for the NES, but the enemy models excel.
The gameplay of Mother is easily the worst part of the game. There are almost no early RPGs that hold up very well, and while I consider this to be the best of the big three Famicom RPGs along with Final Fantasy I and Dragon Quest I, it still has a ton of flaws. One of the biggest issues with the gameplay is the super high random encounter rate. It’s possible to enter a battle, finish the battle, take one step, and enter another battle. It gets very obnoxious and annoying throughout the game. Another issue is that in multi enemy battles, if you set all of your party members to attack the same enemy, but the enemy gets defeated before all of your party members attack, their attacks don’t transfer over to the other enemies. Instead of this, the attack is wasted. Outside of battles, the gameplay is very archaic. In order to do any actions besides walking, you have to bring up a menu, and then select your command from that menu. This makes the game a lot slower than it could be. Along with all of these problems, the difficulty spikes of the game can ruin the experience. If you want to get anywhere in this game, you will have to grind, a lot. Some of the enemies are very overpowered, too. The final area of the game, Mount Itoi, named after series creator Shigesato Itoi, is one of the hardest parts of any game I’ve ever experienced. Instead of fighting everybody here, every time I play through the game I just run away from everybody here. The gameplay has some major flaws, but honestly that’s expected from early RPGs.
The controls of this game are what’s expected from an early RPG. They’re a bit clunky, but the addition of a run button is nice. Overall, the controls are normal, but haven’t aged well.
The music is easily the best part of Mother. There are so many great tracks, with “Paradise Line”, “Fallin’ Love”, and “Hippie Battle” being my favorites. The soundtrack is rock music, on an NES! Mother’s soundtrack might be my favorite soundtrack for any video game ever, and that’s saying something.
Mother has great music, but the gameplay ages the game tremendously. I cannot recommend this game, unless you’re super curious and want to experience the first game in the Mother series. If you ARE, in fact, that curious, then I recommend Clyde Mandelin’s translation of the GBA version of Mother. In this translation, he includes an easy mode, which makes the game much more playable. This GBA version also fixed the encounter rate issue I mentioned earlier. Overall, Mother has not aged well, but like Pokemon, the GBA version is still worth checking out.