There’s a saying that goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago; the second-best time is now.” Likewise, the best time to bring an Earthbound/Mother trilogy to a Nintendo console was 15 years ago; the second-best time is now.
Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking. The cry to localize Mother 3 is so overdone. Nintendo wants nothing to do with the Earthbound franchise anymore. Even Reggie Fils-Aime is sick of hearing about it. And as of this week, it’s been 15 years since this conversation began. What more could possibly be said?
Well, hear me out for a minute.
For the uninitiated, the franchise Mother (known as Earthbound outside of Japan) is a quirky RPG with a cult following in which you play as kids who save the world. It breaks a lot of conventions in the best ways possible, has a memorable cast of characters and catchy music, and every line of dialogue is extraordinarily well-crafted.
Mother 3 is, as the name suggests the third game in the series; it released in 2006 for the Game Boy Advance, but, despite being a bestseller, never released in the west. Once it became apparent that the game wasn’t leaving Japan, some dedicated fans came together to create an unofficial translation so English speakers could enjoy it.
Despite this, the dream of an official localization of the game never quite died. The first game in the series (Mother/Earthbound Beginnings) initially did not release outside of Japan either, but it ended up coming to the west for the very first time 26 years later in 2015 via the Wii U Virtual Console, completely out of nowhere.
This, of course, gave fans a ridiculous amount of hope that Nintendo still cared enough about the franchise to localize Mother 3 as well. Earthbound’s inclusion on the SNES Classic was another glimmer of hope.
What’s stopping Mother 3 from getting an official release in the west? There are two theories: poor sales, and controversial content within the game.
It’s no secret that Earthbound, the only game of the three that initially released outside of Japan, didn’t sell very well. The marketing portrayed the game as too juvenile during a time when fans wanted mature JRPGs, like Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy.
But Nintendo did eventually release Earthbound Beginnings outside of Japan. Furthermore, the company has been known to bring back poor-selling series like Metroid and seemingly “dead” franchises like Kid Icarus. It proves they’re willing to take risks with these smaller IPs.
The far more likely reason why we haven’t seen an official release is the controversial content in the game itself.
For example, in Mother 3, there is a group of non-human characters called “Magypsies” who have no apparent gender but have masculine bodies and portray themselves in a feminine manner. The characters are good and likable, but their name and the fact that they are considered non-human are both troublesome points. There’s also a drug trip in the game, which Nintendo of America would likely want to steer clear from.
Earthbound has its fair share of controversies, too. There’s a not-so-subtle cult that practices a religion called Happy Happism, wears pointy hoods, and views the color blue as superior to all other colors. There are corrupt police officers in one of the towns who aren’t above attacking children. The game is a giant parody of America, and it doesn’t attempt to hide it. The world is called Eagleland, for crying out loud.
None of this stopped Earthbound from seeing a modern release on the SNES classic in 2017 in addition to the Wii U and 3DS Virtual Consoles. With some minor changes to Mother 3 to make it not hurtful to marginalized groups, why can’t that game be localized as well? I think most fans would rather some changes to the offensive aspects of the game than have it never see the light of day again.
The majority of the game isn’t controversial. After all, there’s a reason why it has such a cult following so many years later. And a lot of the other controversial themes in the game are relatively tame by today’s standards.
If the game were to be released today, the right team would show great care to preserve the charm of the original content that is so beloved to the fanbase.
Fans have even suggested bringing in Toby Fox, whose own game Undertale was inspired by Mother, to help release modern versions of the games. He is a master at writing humorous game dialogue, can compose beautiful soundtracks, and has even directly worked with Nintendo on games several times recently. It would be a match made in heaven.
Why bring all of this up again now? This week marks the 15-year anniversary of Mother 3’s release in Japan, so of course, fans are holding onto a sliver of hope that the game gets even a tenth of the attention Mario got for his anniversary.
Interestingly, neither Earthbound Beginnings nor Earthbound appear on their respective Nintendo Switch Online classic game libraries; they are two of the only high-profile first-party games missing from this service. Why haven’t they been added? Could they have been held back because of a future release in a trilogy collection?
The pipe dream has been exacerbated by the fact that Reggie Fils-Aime, former Nintendo of America president, took to Twitter last week to mention Mother 3 two nights in a row. Over the course of his career as president, he had been notoriously asked by fans to localize the game.
This time, he stirred things up by referencing the unofficial English translation, which is something that is a bit surprising coming from someone who used to hold Nintendo of America’s highest position.
Does this mean it’s time to start getting hyped? Is Mother 3 finally going to be localized? Are the signs really pointing towards a trilogy release on Switch?
The odds of any of this meaning anything are remarkably low. The simple fact of the matter is that Nintendo just can’t be bothered with it. The rumors pop up time and time again, but the company seems to be happy to place the games in the hands of the fans nowadays.
It’s a shame, though. Even though the franchise wasn’t terribly popular in the west, interest in the games has been growing. The cult following seems to be getting bigger. Many casual Nintendo fans now recognize Ness and even Lucas, the protagonist of Mother 3, from Super Smash Bros.
The fan translation for Mother 3 is out there if you really want to experience the game in English, but an official Switch trilogy would give the series the attention it deserves.
The games have clear strengths and hold up to today’s standards. Many of the themes are timeless and remain relevant, especially now. They teach important lessons in friendship, optimism, and love, all viewed through a youthful lens.
I genuinely believe it would be worth reviving the games in 2021, even if they don’t become instant bestsellers. Release them to celebrate games as an art, if nothing else. Nintendo can surely afford it, and they might even be surprised to see how much interest is actually out there.
Even though most people recognize that a revival to the series and an official Mother 3 localization may never happen, there’s something magical about the dream refusing to die. There are even lyrics from a song in the game’s soundtrack that go, “I believe a dream can still come true,” and honestly, that’s incredibly descriptive of the fanbase.
The fact that Reggie can get Mother 3 trending on Twitter 15 years after it released in a different country shows the fans’ love for the games and that they will never stop dreaming of what could someday be.