July 27 will mark 30 years since the original Mother came out in Japan on NES. To celebrate, Nintendo is running a Mother-themed Spirit Board event in Smash Bros. Ultimate, torturing fans who have been desperate to see the rest of the series localized in the West.
Smash Ultimate’s Spirit Board is a single-player affair where people can grind for rewards and grow their collection of spirits, each representing some artifact from Nintendo’s video game history. The one dedicated to the Mother games is a hopelessly bittersweet affair, however, because it reminds fans that Mother 3 still hasn’t been localized.
While the sunflowers are a reference to a famous scene from Mother 3, they’ve apparently never been rendered the way they appear in the promotional art before. Meanwhile, the sky and clouds appear to come from Smash’s Tortimer Island stage. None of this probably means anything, but wild speculation like this often happens when it comes to Mother 3.
When Earthbound, known as Mother 2 in Japan, released in North America in 1995 for the SNES, many fans had no idea it was part of a series. The first game wasn’t published outside of Japan for decades, and the third still hasn’t been. Even the most oblivious Earthbound fans realized something was up when Lucas, the protagonist of Mother 3, appeared in 2008’s Smash Bros. Brawl.
Mother 3 had only come out two years earlier in Japan on the Game Boy Advance. If Nintendo was going to feature him in its major crossover fighting game series, surely it would bring the actual source material over at some point as well, either via a port or remaster. And yet, nothing.
“Localize Mother 3” has become such a common refrain among fans, appearing on random signs at wrestling events and on the wishlists for every new Nintendo Direct, that it’s become almost something of a joke, uttered ironically to mask the sincere desperation deep inside players’ hearts.
That’s the only way to read the latest Mother 3 conspiracy theory: partly born of desperation and partly the result of fan brains broken by the fact that the game has still never been rereleased. Others have already poked fun at the attempts to read into the series’ future based on Spirit Board tea leaves.
Most of the responses to the speculation on Twitter have been the same. “Don’t do that,” wrote one person. “Don’t give me hope.”
The EarthBound, or Mother, series took a lengthy hiatus between the releases of Mother 2 and 3, but that didn’t mean Nintendo wasn’t interested in keeping the series going. In fact, at one point, the developer that would eventually create Xenoblade was asked to pitch Nintendo on a sequel to the beloved role-playing game series for GameCube, and created some adorable craft-style concept art for it.
Those images, created in 2003, were shared yesterday on Twitter by artist and developer Yasuyuki Honne, who had worked as a designer at Square during the 90s where he contributed to a number of now classic games like Chrono Trigger and Xenogears. He left with other Square developers to form Monolith Soft in 1999.
Yesterday, inspired by the recent news about an upcoming book collecting interviews with the late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, the designer recalled the time when he first met Iwata and EarthBound director Shigesato Itoi at the offices of Namco, which owned Monolith, in 2003. At the time, Honne was directing the GameCube role-playing game Baten Kaitos, and according to him, Nintendo was toying with the idea of a new EarthBound game.
“With pleasure I did up some visuals and went to Aoyama,” the location of the office, Honne said, according to a translation of his tweets by Kotaku. “Iwata-san was there as well.” Honne showed the two men his concept art, which used felt and cloth to update the game’s simple graphics into something more befitting of the GameCube but still nostalgic and unique. “Itoi-san didn’t seem enthusiastic,” he said. “I thought, ‘that’s strange,’ and kept the conversation going, until Itoi-san suspected something.”
Iwata, playing matchmaker, had apparently set up the meeting without Itoi knowing he was about to be pitched on a sequel.
Honne went on: “Itoi-san: ‘Iwata-kun, you arranged this, didn’t you?’ Everyone went dead silent. Iwata-san made an ‘uh-oh’ face. Eventually the conversation was able to proceed. Itoi-san even seemed interested in the images of 1980s America I was able to evoke in the felt-like art I’d made. I never would have thought these pictures would appear in public. My 2003 summer memories.”
While the game industry has no end of stories about games that might have been, the two pieces of concept art Honne shared on Twitter make this hypothetical especially heartwrenching. The “felt-like” look of the characters and the rest of the world’s tactile aesthetic are remenscient both of the clay-looking character sculptures originally used to promote Earthbound and Nintendo’s recent turn towards textile-inspired design with Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Yoshi’s Wooly World.
EarthBound originally came out in Japan in 1994, where it was called Mother 2. While Nintendo did eventually make a sequel in 2006 called Mother 3, it was released for the Game Boy Advance rather than the GameCube, and to this day has never been officially released for audiences outside of Japan. We’ll never know if the potential collaboration would have yielded another cult classic or a dud, but with only three games in the Mother series and nothing new in over a decade, I would have been content either way.
YouTuber Boundary Break’s latest video digs into the fan favorite Mother 3. Hidden in this game is some surprisingly weird bathrooms containing things players could never see or know.
Most rooms in Mother 3 have their own map attached to the room that the player enters. But the bathrooms work differently. They all share one map, allowing Boundary Break’s Shesez to move between them using his tweaked copy of the game.
In these bathrooms, he found character sprites the player would never normally be able to see. The developers even went so far as to make sure a character sprite you see entering a bathroom is actually in that bathroom, even though players wouldn’t actually know that sprite was in there.
Another bathroom containing a creature was originally supposed to hold a large amount of toilet paper instead. Shesez found this original room by breaking out of bounds of the creature’s room, where next door he found art the player can’t normally see.
The full video contains more secrets from Mother 3 beyond the bathrooms, including unused characters, a full explanation for how the mirrors work and other little tidbits of unseen artwork and sprites.
Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime announced last week that he is retiring in order to spend time with his family and friends, but it is entirely possible he just got tired of answering questions about Mother 3.
In 2006, Mother 3, the long-awaited sequel to Nintendo’s cult classic RPG EarthBound, was released on the Game Boy Advance to great acclaim for its emotional storytelling. I happened to be in Tokyo the day it came out and bought a copy with a guy I’d just met, future Kotaku video producer Tim Rogers. He is fluent in Japanese and enjoyed it. I just stared at a cartridge of a game that runs in a language I barely understand.
I was only a couple of years into covering video games full time. I worked for MTV News, where the brand recognition and potential to get info onto the MTV television station opened got me just about any interview I wanted. Early on, I was regularly chatting with Nintendo’s fairly new rising executive star, Reggie Fils-Aime, and Mother 3 turned out to be a worthwhile thing to bring up in interviews. It was never the main thing I wanted to know about, but it was too interesting a topic to pass up.
Consider that by 2006 Nintendo was heavily promoting the Nintendo DS, and GBA games were unlikely to get much of a push in the U.S., especially ones that were sequels to a series like Mother that hadn’t had a new entry since the mid-90s. Consider also that EarthBound fandom outside Japan was passionate, but small; the series was yet to achieve its current widely-beloved status. Mother 3 was supposed to be great, though, so maybe it’d come to the States? I figured Reggie would know.
The game has such a strong online following that a group of committed fans have vowed to produce their own translated version of the game if Nintendo won’t. Fils-Aime has never played the game, but he knows about the translation project. He said the “Mother” series (known as “Earthbound” when “Mother 2″ was released in the U.S.) is important to Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s president, who worked on the series years ago as a developer. “It certainly is a franchise near and dear to his heart, and it’s something I’m trying to get smart on to understand whether or not there is an opportunity here. But certainly I’ve seen the success in Japan. That hasn’t gone unnoticed. And it’s certainly something we’re looking at.”
Fils-Aime: From Nintendo’s perspective, we have always looked at titles, case by case, and launched them in the appropriate markets. For example, I’m still being bombarded by Mother fans who are asking for that title to be translated to English and launched here in the U.S.
In October 2008, the Mother fans who’d promised to release a fan translation did just that. Their work is widely considered to be one of the best fan translations of any game. I don’t recall if Fils-Aime and I spoke about Mother 3 that year, but we returned to the topic in 2009:
Totilo: We used to talk about Mother 3. And then I stopped asking you about it after a while.
Fils-Aime: I’m a big Mother fan. I have to set the record straight on this topic, because I have seen all of the hate comments. I’m a big Mother fan. Huge Mother fan. I would love to see Mother localized in our market. In fact, I’ve talked to [Nintendo president] Mr. Iwata about it because this is a game he has some history with. [pauses] But it is not on our announcement schedule. [laughs]
Totilo: How can that be? [laughs]
Fils-Aime: I am a fan of a lot of different products that aren’t on our announcement schedule.
Totilo: What did Mr. Iwata say when you started badgering him about Mother 3?
Fils-Aime: [laughs] It was a fun conversation.
In the years that followed, enough people bugged Fils-Aime about Mother 3 that Nintendo made a joke about it as part of the kick-off for their E3 2014 media showcase. There was a journalist asking Reggie about Mother 3. There was Reggie frying them with a fireball. There was also a bit with laser beams coming out of his eyes.
I interviewed Fils-Aime at E3 2014, so of course I asked him about it. In fact, I didn’t even have to say the words “Mother” and “3”. I simply mentioned how there was one game mentioned in the digital showcase that was then shown, so surely anything else they joked about might be real, too, right?
Totilo: You guys did make a joke about Star Fox in the [Nintendo digital event] and then Miyamoto showed up with a Star Fox game…
Fils-Aime: Don’t go there!
Fils-Aime: Don’t go there!
Totilo: You did make a joke about it. [laughs]
Fils-Aime: Where are my glasses? My beam-blocking glasses. Because I’m going to go into beam mode here.
Totilo: “Yes, so how am I not supposed to ask you about ….”
Fils-Aime: “My laser eyes will blow you away. Look, again, I think this is an example that demonstrates we’re constantly listening. We’re hearing what the fans say. And we thought it was great to bring back the very first Mother, Earthbound Beginnings here in the market. It’s been out for sale and doing quite well in the eShop. Again, we’ll never say never, but there’s nothing to announce right now.”
Totilo: “Of course not. But Earthbound, when that came out about a year ago [Note from Stephen: whoops, make that two years ago!] on Virtual Console, did you guys have an expectation about how that would do? Did that exceed expectations and perhaps influence the decision to release this one?”
Fils-Aime: “The Mother/Earthbound series is quite niche. And so for us it’s constantly thinking about the investment and then return for a game like that. There is quite a bit of localization to be done and we just need to make sure that volumetrically there’s enough volume to offset that investment.”
Totilo: “Is it safe to assume that you guys are pretty happy with how Earthbound was received last year and that helped motivate and get Mother 1 out?”
Fils-Aime: “That’s exactly right. “
I was never the only person asking about Mother 3. Back in 2009, Kotaku features Chris Kohler, then at Wired, took his shot:
Kohler: Finally, when is Mother 3 coming out?
Fils-Aime: Mother 3. OK, Chris. So I have seen all the hate mail and all of the stories that say that Reggie is deliberately holding back Mother 3. Nothing is further from the truth. I would love to see Mother 3 here in the U.S. market. But it’s not a title that we’re working on, not a title that we’ve announced. Personally, that disappoints me, but as we look at what’s important for DS or for Wii, we’ve got other priorities right now.
Fils-Aime: We hear all of the comments, Chris. We hear all of the comments.
Part of what’s propelled these questions for so long is that Nintendo has just never been able to explain why the game wasn’t coming to the U.S. Was the cost of translation too prohibitive to justify on a Game Boy Advance game long after that platform had come and gone? Was the problem that fan translations had satiated desire for the game? There were theories that there could be legal issues with the music or that some of the game’s content might not translate well to America. We don’t know.
In June of 2017, I sat with Fils-Aime again to talk about a range of topics. I published a large chunk of that interview on Kotaku, but here’s a bit that didn’t make it in. It was playful. We were out of time. We’d already covered lots of other stuff.
Of course, I also thought some reverse psychology might merit a better answer. Nope!
Totilo: Chris Kohler wanted me to ask about Mother 3, but I’m not going to.
Fils-Aime: Good! How is Chris?
And again in October of 2017, right as our interview was winding down, I threw it what to this date is my most recent question about Mother 3:
Totilo: Do you want me to ask you about Mother 3?
Fils-Aime: No. Do you want the eye-beams coming out?
And that’s it for now. Of course, there will soon be a new president of Nintendo of America, Doug Bowser. Aside from all the Switch stuff, I wonder what else I should ask him about…