I’ve never met Clyde Mandelin, whose online handle is Mato (as in “tomato”), but if I ever did I’d shake him by the hand and try to buy him a beer. I don’t feel that way about every internet stranger, but I love this guy because he’s the main reason I was ever able to play Mother 3, a Japan-only RPG that happens to be one of the best games Nintendo’s ever made.
Mandelin was not the sole contributor but certainly seemed to be the driving force behind the Mother 3 fan translation that came out exactly a decade ago today. He has a really impressive body of localisation work, but for this alone I’ll forever salute in his general direction.
Playing Mother 3 in the west, as any dreamer knows, is far from easy. Even with the existence of a fan translation it’s no small commitment: I can’t remember the exact equipment involved but I had to visit some naughty sites and buy a GBA flash cart, and a DS flashcart, then do various file-shuffling… but to finally access what felt like a forbidden game was magical. The people who love this series really love this series, and that shone through in the quality of this localisation.
Who better to go through the game’s decades-long history than Mandelin and, for this anniversary, that’s exactly what he’s done. The perspective he brings is fascinating because he’s both a huge fan of the series and, in what he does for it, something of a focal point for the passionate Mother community.
So the story is being told from that ringside view, which suits Mother 3 unusually well because it’s a story full of dramatic peaks and troughs. Suffice to say that a game teased in Earthbound (basically Mother 2, release date: 1994), and initially developed for the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive, was eventually released on Game Boy Advance in 2006.
Twelve years! This wasn’t all full steam ahead development, of course, and Mandelin goes through Mother 3‘s story year-by-year: the rumours, the glimpses, the hints, the retractions, the leaks and the fakes. Perhaps the reason I liked this article so much is that it brings back all the anticipation, the excitement and, yes, the crushingly regular disappointment that any Mother fan will remember.
I first saw this game in a Nintendo magazine looking at grainy N64 screens, kept praying through the wilderness years of cancellation and, like any Mother fan, clung to every word emanating from Nintendo HQ.
This timeline is also, in a way, a story about rumours. There are some striking examples here of how stories can go around the world before quietly disappearing, and a more general sense that Mother 3 became a rumour vortex: everyone wanted to believe it so much that it seemed like an inevitability. Everyone gets pulled in. There’s a weird part of me that still thinks Mother 3 will get an official western release, even though nothing suggests that.
The community is aware of this nature, and can send itself up rather winningly:
The individual behind this is a true artist
Mandelin’s recounting of Mother 3 history has the highs (the surprise release of Earthbound Beginnings!) alongside the lows when yet another bum steer is exposed. There are also little themes running throughout: I kind of love how Reggie Fils-Aime, over the years, becomes a villain simply for telling the truth about Nintendo’s lack of plans for Mother 3.
The pinnacle is undoubtedly when Nintendo’s E3 2014 presentation shows a fan asking for Mother 3, before Reggie immolates them.
Needless to say some fans got quite angry about that, which just shows that perspective and a sense of humour are valuable things. Strange because you’d think those qualities are essential in a Mother fan.
There’s poignancy here too in the occasional cameo from Satoru Iwata, whose history with the series is amazing (this blogpost about his delivery man routine in Earthbound is ace). It was under Mr. Iwata that Earthbound was re-released on Wii U, two years before his untimely death.
The fondness with which its creators speak of Mother comes from the fact that, even for Nintendo, this has been an unusual series from inception: an RPG designed by a writer first, game designer second. It has the human core that most games never show, and combination of plain-speaking and irreverence that drills down into big themes.
Anyway I best not go on about Mother all day. This history is definitely one for the fans (who doesn’t love the Mother series?!?) and there are some real nuggets in the re-telling: before E3 2009, Destructoid hired a psychic and asked whether Mother 3 would be released on DS. The answer was “Yes.” So much for crystal balls…
Probably my favourite image in the history of gaming
The estimable Mandelin ends his write-up with a reflection on the nature of hype and fan communities, something he’s been pretty well-positioned to see over the years.
I first started this timeline project as a way to show others why longtime fans are so tired of rumors and why they say they’ve seen all this stuff before. I realized I was in a unique position to document all these things, so I got to it.
But now I realize it’s also an interesting look at how Internet fanbases work over long periods of time, among other things. I think it’d be an interesting topic for a researcher to study.