The Mother series has a complicated history in the West. Can the recent EarthBound releases fix that?

Mother 3 Farm
Mother 3 Farm (Image credit: @Super Eyepatch Wolf on YouTube)

Like many of you, my first introduction to the EarthBound series (or Mother as it's called in Japan) was through Super Smash Bros. I used to play this N64 game repeatedly on Saturday mornings with friends. Of all of the fighters in the first game's roster, the boy with a striped shirt and baseball cap was the one none of us knew. But once we looked into the game Ness came from, we all became obsessed.

That's why it hit us so hard when we realized we'd missed the boat on EarthBound's SNES release and why Mother 3 failing to release outside of Japan a few years later left us with a gaping hole. In a nutshell, the relationship fans outside of Japan have with Mother 3 is one of longing.

Ahem... open your history books to chapter 1

Earthbound Street (Image credit: iMore)

"Mother: the most beautiful word on the lips of mankind." —Kahil Gibran

The first Smash game released in 1999 on N64, and by that point, Mother 1 and 2 had both already released in Japan to rousing success — the first on NES in 1989 and the second on SNES in 1994. Then, the non-Japanese version of Mother 2, EarthBound, launched on SNES for western audiences in 1995. However, it sold poorly, which is why many of us hadn't heard of it by the time the first Smash released.

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GameRelease DatePlatform
Mother 11989 (JP)NES
Mother 21994 (JP)SNES
EarthBound1995 (US)SNES
Super Smash Bros.1999 (WW)N64
Mother 1 + 22003 (JP)GBA
Mother 32006 (JP)GBA
Super Smash Bros. Brawl2008 (WW)Wii
Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U2014 (WW)Wii/3DS
EarthBound/EarthBound Beginnings2015 (WW)Wii U Virtual Console
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate2018 (WW)Switch

After many of us previously-uninitiated westerners learned of this series' existence after falling in love with Ness' Smash moves, the price for the EarthBound cartridge and packaging went up and became hard to find. That's why when the third and final entry in the series, Mother 3, released solely in Japan in 2006, many of us felt unfulfilled and still do to this day.

In the 90s and early 2000s, what would become known as Mother 3 was originally in development for the Nintendo 64DD under the name EarthBound 64. The 64DD was to be an accessory that attached to the N64 and provided a magnetic floppy disk drive, but it was never fully realized, probably partially because the N64 was a commercial failure. Development for Mother 3 was supposedly well underway, but the project was scrapped along with the N64 accessory.

At this point, people assumed the Mother series was done, but that wasn't the case. In 2003, Mother 1 and 2 were ported to Game Boy Advance in Japan only, which reinvigorated fans. Later that year, it was revealed that Mother 3 would be put into development once again. The 3D visuals for the 64DD were dropped in favor of 2D visuals to fit the Game Boy Advance, but the story remained the same. When Mother 3 released in Japan in 2006, it was a massive hit, scoring 35/40 from Famitsu marking it as a "Platinum Hall of Fame" score, and selling over 200,000 copies its first week.

Ness And Lucas Smash (Image credit: iMore)

Western fans watched and waited for the game to be announced, but to our eternal anguish, it never happened. This pain was driven even further when Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the third game in the series, released for the Wii in 2008 and included the blonde-haired Lucas from Mother 3. He's since appeared in the two Smash games, including the most recent entry, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. This being the case, most people outside of Japan only really know Lucas and Ness as being playable Smash characters.

But then fate smiled on those of us who happened to own the failed Wii U. In 2015, Mother 1, called EarthBound Beginnings in the West, came to the Wii U Virtual Console, along with EarthBound. Many of us jumped at the chance to play the first game. We hoped that Mother 3 would follow suit, but it never did. Nintendo has never given a reason why.

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Over the years, some folks have attempted to rectify this by unofficially translating Mother 3 to English. However, no official release has ever dropped outside of Japan — well, with one notable and extremely limited exception. Former Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé revealed that he was given a localized version of Mother 3, but it was never released to audiences at large.

So when EarthBound and EarthBound Beginnings landed on Nintendo Switch Online in mid-February it was a big deal. As many of us know, Nintendo isn't the best when it comes to game preservation so many figured we'd never see these games on a current-gen console.

Why Mother 3 never came to the West

So what kept Mother 3 from coming to the West anyway? It likely had to do with tone and timing. While Mother 3 is charming, unique, and at times ridiculous there are some things in the Japanese version that likely wouldn't have been received well in 2006.

Connor McDonald of GameRant put together a well-thought-out list of reasons why Mother 3 would be controversial to many audiences. For one thing, the game is dark and sometimes addresses themes like drugs and alcohol. Another big thing is the representation of the Magypsies. While the name itself uses a derogatory term for Romani people, they can also be seen as transphobic or homophobic stereotypes since they're seen wearing dresses, sporting facial hair, and are othered by the game.

As McDonald said, "some of these elements could be removed from the game with relative ease, but the removal of other parts would necessitate new sprite artwork and animations." Former Game Informer editor Imran Khan seemed to confirm this on a ResetEra thread where he stated that, "it was full steam ahead for a while but upon re-evaluation there were aspects of the game that weren't going to go without controversy."

Would Nintendo be willing to make this many changes on a game series that historically hasn't done well outside of Japan? It would be a lot of work on a gamble.

What makes Mother 3 good anyway?

Mother 3 Trex (Image credit: @Super Eyepatch Wolf on YouTube)

I haven't played Mother 3, but I have watched unofficial translation playthroughs. It's one of the most emotional and, at times, one of the darkest video games ever made. But it's done so beautifully and with such a perfect 16-bit art style that it's worth the rollercoaster.

The visuals might be retro, but they manage to portray a wide range of emotions in a very raw and meaningful way.

The story centers around Lucas, a shy younger twin who lives with his charismatic brother and loving parents. Everything feels so cozy and safe at first, but then players learn that wild animals have been whipped into a frenzy and strange ships start appearing in the sky. Things go downhill from here. You then go through the world collecting party members who assist you on your journey, and the game's lore expands as you travel.

On top of that, the game goes through such a huge range of situations from serious to hilariously absurd. There are even moments where the game breaks the fourth wall in ways that are both funny and unsettling. The visuals might be retro, but they manage to portray a wide range of emotions in a very raw and meaningful way. As YouTuber Super Eyepatch Wolf said, "that's the thing about Mother 3's world, it is fucking weird. It's filled with all these bizarre little moments that run the gambit from surreal to just hilarious." Mother 3 is a masterpiece and it's an absolute shame that it hasn't released outside of Japan yet.

Of course, with EarthBound Beginnings and EarthBound having released on Nintendo Switch Online this February, it gives us some hope that Nintendo might actually be paying attention to our interest in the series. But considering that Mother 3 was a Game Boy Advance game and there currently isn't a Game Boy Advance emulator on Switch, it's hard to say if the company will ever bring it to us. If it did release, it would undoubtedly be one of the best games on Nintendo Switch.

There is a dedicated fanbase even if the game hasn't been able to release outside of Japan yet. Back when Reggie was still the Nintendo of America President he was often asked about Mother 3 coming to the West. In fact, Reggie is quoted as saying, "I thought I was going to make it a day at E3 without being asked about Mother 3."

The lack of a localize Mother 3 hasn't stopped fans from falling in love with the game, making fan art for it, or even holding up signs at sporting events demanding its localization. Just this last Valentine's Day, Curiomatic on YouTube released a beautifully animated 3D reimagining for a Mother 3 that included iconic scenes from the game.

It's not just fans either; many game developers have cited Mother 3 as huge influences on their projects. Developer Toby Fox said on Twitter, for example, that Undertale wouldn't exist without Mother 3. "If I hadn't played it, I never would have created the Toriel battle, or, well, any of the other boss battles in the game," Fox wrote. "It also probably influenced how I try to re-use motifs in my songs, now that I think about it..." Essentially, if you're playing a 2D RPG with dark themes, it's likely it was influenced by Mother 3.

Mother 3 on Switch: To be or not to be, that is the question

Those of us outside of Japan have a complicated history with the Mother or EarthBound series. Most of us were introduced to Ness and Lucas via the Super Smash Bros. series and have fallen in love with the charming RPG games they come from. For many of us, it's that white whale on the horizon forever out of reach, but the one thing we can't stop thinking about. It's a meme, but it's also a real want from Nintendo gamers.

Rebecca Spear
Gaming Editor

Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend.