Saturday, 5 January 2013

NES Game Review: MOTHER

Alyxx Reviews


I was a child once, like all of us are or have been at some point. And... I don't remember why or when, but I recall sitting outside. It was late, way past bedtime and my mom was probably calling for me to come inside. I was looking at the sky. There wasn't a single cloud on the sky and I could easily see the stars. I remember... looking up at them and just feeling a deep and profound sense of wonder and awe, not to mention feeling so immensely curious about what was out there. As a child, the world felt so big, so full of wonders and magic. It seemed like with your friends, when we were playing and lost in our fantasy worlds, we could accomplish anything. Even save the world if we had to. These emotions are feelings I have long forgotten now. I am now 24 years old, I have long since quit school and I am now far into the world of adults, with all the worries and problems and responsobility that entails. I feel these emotions belong to another world, another reality. And I believed for the longest time it wasn't possible to return to it.

That was until I played Mother, also known as EarthBound Zero to western fans of the game. When I played Mother, all these emotions came back to me, like memories I thought I had lost. They... flooded me, and shocked my mind and for once in the longest time, I felt like a child again. Again the world felt big and full of wonders, again I could feel how powerful your imagination can be. Again, I felt like I could accomplish anything, even... saving the world.

How do you review something like that? How do your review anything that has such an amazing effect on you? How can you even begin to review something that more or less changes your life and makes you feel like no other game ever has? Well, I might as well start with the reason why I became interested in the series to begin with.

Mother is very centered around music, and I've always been a huge music lover. Music is as important to me as air, food or sex. It's something I cannot live without. Hell, even the name Mother is allegedly inspired by a John Lennon song of the same name. Before I knew much about the games, I pretty much knew that Earthbound was a popular RPG on the SNES that had become somewhat of a cult classic. I played Earthbound a few times but found it hard to get into, it was too weird, too childish and just all around not my kind of game. Then... I heard Eight Melodies. Not the ones from Earthbound, mind you, but the ones from Mother, the first game. And the melodies... did something to me. Something I never thought music was capable of without associating it with something. They made me cry. I cried and cried. And every time I hear the Eight Melodies from Mother, I cry. I didn't even know why. I had never heard them before, nor had I ever played any of the games. Then... I realized why. The Eight Melodies reminded me of what I had lost for so long, my childhood. Just the Eight Melodies alone brought back all these feelings I felt as a child. It was an overload to my brain and still is. The greatest feeling they make me feel is love. Not the shallow kind of love you feel when you're in love with someone. But the kind of love a mother feels for her child, and the kind of immense and immeasurable love a child feels for his mother. Not sexual, not perverted, but pure. Pure as light itself. It was that kind of love I felt when I heard it. And the Eight Melodies from Mother was the reason I wanted to play Mother, not any of the sequels. And while playing, whenever I got stuck, whenever I was in peril, whenever I felt afraid and willing to quit the whole thing, I went into my inventory, picked up the Ocarina I got in Magicant, and I played the melodies I had gathered so far. Just hearing them, just 3-4 of them, gave me the strength to carry on because I wanted so badly to complete the song by getting all the melodies.

But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. You are probably wondering what Mother is and what it's about. Well, Mother actually spans several years and several decades. It begins in the early 1900's, when George and Maria are abducted by an alien species. Among them, Maria becomes the mother to one of the aliens, Giegue (known as Giygas in the sequel) and raises him as her own. George on the other hand studies the aliens and learns about their greatest weapon PSI, which is basically a form of telekinesis. He takes what he's learned about this back to Earth, angering the aliens. It is unknown what happens to Maria but basically, in 1989 Giegue has launched a full-scale alien invasion on Earth as revenge for humans aquiring the PSI weapon. You play as Ninten, a descendant of George who posesses such PSI powers and one day things are a little... weird. Inanimate objects become animated, animals go crazy, people go crazy or turn into zombies, strange alien creatures appear and to put it short, everything is going to hell. You use your grandfather's diary to enter a strange realm known as Magicant where you meet Queen Mary, who in reality is Giegue's mother Maria, who instructs you to find Eight Melodies on Earth that she has forgotten. Aided by some friends you meet along the way, including the prodigy Loid who always gets picked on for his intelligence, the sweet and loving Ana who despite her weak appearance as a young girl posesses incredibly strong offensive PSI powers, and the gang leader Teddy who is handy with a knife, you set out on a great journey to collect the Eight Melodies from different strange sources and to stop the alien invasion. In the end, none of your weapons can stop Giegue. He is too powerful for that. You realize the only thing that can stop him are the Eight Melodies that you have to sing to him with all your heart, as these Eight Melodies are the lullaby Maria used to sing to Giegue while raising him. In the end, these melodies remind Giegue of the love and comfort he felt from Maria and convinces him to retreat.

Needless to say, Mother's plot buried deep into my soul, it got under my skin in a way no other game ever has. I literally could barely sleep for days while playing this game, and I think the reason it resonates so deeply with me is because it awakens my maternal instinct and during the whole game, I played for the simple reason of giving Giegue the love he deserved. I wanted him to feel love again. It felt a bit like adopting a lost child who had forgotten what love is. And also the way it uses music as a central plot device felt unique to me. Sure other games like Zelda Ocarina of Time did the same but... Mother did this way before Ocarina of Time and did it in a much more profound way in my opinion. The Eight Melodies you collect are so powerful that I would call it simply the best single song in NES history. Sure, it isn't as memorable as Super Mario Bros., Zelda or Metroid or Mega Man, but it has become a part of me in a way no other NES tune ever has. No 8bit tune in the world has given me such profound deep emotions and I just cannot understate how incredibly good the music in this game is. I can truly believe that the Eight Melodies can inspire anyone to remember the love they felt in their childhood, and if they didn't have a childhood, this song can make them long to have one again. It is simply amazing. And the Eight Melodies resounded almost constantly in my head while playing the game. Like Ninten, I remember them, and probably will for all time. It is likely that when I have a child of my own, I will sing this lullaby to it. And when it's old enough, I will let it play Mother.

Graphically, Mother isn't all that impressive, but at the same time it is near impossible to find anything bad to say about the graphics. They are quite cartoony and at times makes me feel like I'm watching a Peanuts episode, so the game has a very unique style and atmosphere that I think adds to the game's childish nature. Most of the enemy sprites don't even look threatening and are at times outright adorable. You feel bad killing some of these enemies. At times I felt the enemies were like something taken out of a fantasy book or a child's imagination, which made them very powerful to me. Especially in Magicant I encountered enemies I couldn't even think up if I tried, and I would dare call Mother the most refreshing and original game I've played in a long time. After so many cookie-cutter RPG's with dragons, elves and other Western archetypes, it feels wholeheartedly inspiring to play a Japanese RPG like this that dares to go for a modern day setting and actually use some real imagination for once. I would rather play Mother over any Elder Scrolls game any day. As I stated, the graphics aren't that impressive or even realistic but the style makes this game simply impossible to not remember or take with you. A lot of locales are genuinely creepy and the atmosphere is at times incredible for an 8bit game. I'll also add that the graphics made the game feel really big and vast as the game is simply just one big world you are exploring without any load times except for when you go into buildings. This is just incredible for a NES game in my opinion.

Now, I've said a lot of nice things about Mother so far but if there is one thing I feel draws it back then it is the gameplay. I don't really mind turnbased RPG combat but I felt the game had a way too big abundance of random encounters. Even with the Easy patch I added that allegedly reduces the number of random encounters, it was way too many and at times after finishing one battle, just stepping one tile brought up another one and it was aggrivating. Trust me when I say that Mother hasn't aged well in terms of the gameplay. The actual combat mechanics themselves work fine though and you have a choice between attacking (basically using the weapon you have equipped) or using a PSI attack (though only Ninten and Ana were capable of using PSI powers to my knowledge). You can also guard, run away, use an item or set the combat to Auto, though I always preferred having control for more powerful enemies or groups of enemies. You'll spend most of the game going from town to town and in each town you have several options of going to stores (you get an allowance from your dad via telephones) where you can buy new weapons and items, going to hotels to rest (replenishing Hit Points and PSI Points), going to McDonalds to hang out (since it's America obviously) and have a burger, or go to a hospital in case you are wounded. Most towns also have exclusive buildings. Mother is a game where you'd want to talk to all the NPC's as this can often result in hilarious dialogue or situations. Unlike most RPG's where I feel NPC's are boring and only filler, Mother did a great job at making all the NPC's feel interesting and quirky. At its heart though, Mother is a straight turn-based party RPG where you have to take care of your party members and grow stronger. There is a lot of grinding involved although the Easy patch cuts down on this heavily so getting it is recommended for beginners or people who don't like grinding.

As previously stated, the music in Mother is some of the best I have heard from a NES game. It ranks up there with masterpieces such as Zelda and MegaMan. I often found myself humming along to the music as I played and there is a great variety of influences too, ranging from rock to pop music and as stated, I'd dare say Eight Melodies is the best piece of 8bit NES music ever made. The enormous power contained in those notes is enough to make me cry every time I hear it. And it was the sole reason I started playing the game. The sounds are great too, especially the PSI attack ones.

Gameplay: 7/10
Story: 10/10
Graphics: 10/10
Sound: 10/10

Total Score: 8/10

In summary, Mother isn't only one of the best RPG's I've played, it isn't even just one of the best NES games I've played. While it ranks in my top 10 NES games at the moment, this game is one of the best games of all time for me. It touches something inside me, something no other game I've played has touched. It makes me feel like a mother and a child, both at the same time. It brings me back to a world I thought I had lost, brings back emotions I thought I had forgotten. While playing Mother, I am a child again, and it is the reason I consider it such an incredible game. It is more than just a game, it is pure art. And playing it, I could feel that this was not only a personal game for Shigesato Itoi, who designed and directed this masterpiece, but also it has become a personal game for me.

Mother is a game I will remember until I die, a journey I will take again and again. It reminds me and all who have played it, that love, pure love that a mother feels for her child, is the most powerful emotion of all, and can bring even an alien Tyrant to his end...

- Alyxx

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