Mother 3 is not my favorite game. I experienced it too late in life, and don’t see it through the nostalgia-tinted glasses I apply to my most cherished titles. I have no warm, fuzzy memories of unwrapping the game at Christmas or attempting to play it the backseat of a minivan in the middle of the night.
But I still think it’s the best game I’ve ever played.
Mother 3‘s opening borders on saccharine. You’re asked to name each member of an adorable family, from its cowboy-hat wearing patriarch to the lovable family dog. From there, you’re asked to choose both your favorite food and your “favorite thing.” It’s charming, but it’s also time-consuming, and could easily turn off players unfamiliar with the Mother series.
But before long, the game reveals its true colors, diving headfirst into seriously depressing territory.
It’s impossible to talk about Mother 3 without spoilers, but for the sake of those who haven’t played it, I’ll try to keep those to a minimum. Suffice to say that someone dies, and that death is the very essence of the game.
Plenty of games have killed off their characters, but no title has explored the aftermath on the level of Mother 3. There’s not the occasional snippet of dialogue about your fallen comrade; the pain of loss is the driving force behind everything that happens in the game. You see how characters are effected by the death when it happens, and the way it haunts them years later.
EarthBound was essentially Dragon Quest with a new coat of paint, but Mother 3 has a battle system all its own. Combat is still turn-based, but there are also musical combos that require you to tap buttons in perfect time. Each enemy has their own unique tempo, and you can only discover it by putting them to sleep and listening to the sound of their heartbeat.
It’s fitting that heartbeats are a part of Mother 3‘s mechanics, because the entire game is about matters of the heart. It’s about the indescribable joy of loving someone, and the incredible pain that love can cause. It’s about learning to fix a broken heart, and about how some hearts can never be healed. Most importantly, it’s about the hearts of players themselves.
Much of what happens in Mother 3 is intentionally vague, and everything is open to interpretation. Characters are cloaked in shades of grey, and your impression of the game will be shaped by how you perceive them. “I wanted to make Mother 3 like a mirror,” said the game’s writer, Shigesato Itoi. “One that reflects the heart of the player off of the screen.”
Playing Mother 3 enriched my life in every conceivable way. It made me laugh, made me bawl like a baby, and gave me a deeper understanding of who I am as a person. Mother 3 is a legitimately well-designed game, but it’s also more than a game. It’s pure emotion in cartridge form, and it’ll change you forever if you give it the chance.
There’s a long list of games I’d describe as spectacular. They have battles that made my heart race, characters I fell in love with, and stories that blew them a way.
But none of them can hold a candle to the strange charms of Mother 3.