An NES RPG Classic Held Captive in Japan
Many gamers are familiar with Earthbound (Mother 2 in Japan) thanks to Super Smash Bros. and numerous top video game lists, but few are aware that it has an NES prequel called Mother. Mother, also referred to as Earthbound Zero, was nearly released in the U.S., but Nintendo abandoned the project at the last minute after the game had been fully translated. It's a shame, because its unique setting probably would have impressed fans of 8-bit RPGs.
Like other RPGs of the NES era, Mother features a small band of protagonists, but the world they inhabit is significantly different than the worlds of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Instead of opting for a traditional fantasy realm or going the sci-fi route like Phantasy Star, Mother features a unique take on the modern world.
A person might normally assume that a modern world setting is too mundane for an RPG, but it's actually a refreshing change of pace. Instead of riding chocobos and battling behemoths, Mother has players fighting retro hippies, angry farmers, and street signs.
Another feature unique to Mother is that there's no world map to traverse; instead, the world is interconnected, and you can reach each area by walking, train, or teleportation. Like other RPGs from the late '80s and early '90s, enemies don't appear on the field, so the game's numerous random battles shouldn't be a surprise to players. Mother's random battles are frequent and are often brutal, so spending time leveling up your characters is necessary to make it through the adventure.
One frustrating aspect of the battles in Mother is that when you receive new party members, they all start at level 1, so it is difficult to level up your characters without them dying. This makes travelling to old areas necessary, so fortunately, the developers included teleportation items and spells.
While Mother's battles will feel archaic to most gamers who haven't played NES RPGs, there are reasons to go back and experience it. One of them is Mother's quirky game world. During your journey, you'll travel through bustling cities with hospitals, concert halls, offices, department stores, and restaurants. That in itself doesn't sound very exciting, but there is a certain charm to be had in walking into a department store and buying a baseball bat to use as a weapon, or buying bread crumbs that can mark your trail when lost in a dungeon.
Throughout your journey, you will experience unusual events such as travelling to another dimension, using a submarine to enter an underground factory where you can recruit a powerful robot, and you'll even rescue a nerd from a trash can at a local school. The goal of the game is similar to Earthbound, where you collect eight sound stones to gain access to a new realm for the purpose of defeating an alien invader who has been kidnapping humans. Much of the journey is fun, but unfortunately there isn't much guidance on where to go at times, so using a walkthrough is highly recommended.
The sequel is an improvement over Mother in nearly every way, but you might want to check out the game that started it all. Fans of Super Smash Bros. Melee will enjoy being able to hear the music that plays during the Onett stage that is actually from Mother -- not its sequel. Mother's originality is a refreshing change from your average RPG setting, but because of its difficultly both in battles, and finding out where you are supposed to go next, I recommend it for hardcore Mother fans only.