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.
In February 2007, I sat down with him at the DICE gaming convention just outside of Las Vegas. I think this is the first time we talked about the game. I wrote of Mother 3:
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.”
Later that summer in an on-camera interview we did for MTV News, he brought it up. Let the record show, I didn’t even have to ask:
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 localised 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.
A year later, it was time to ask again:
Totilo: “I don’t want to ever bring this topic up with you, but you keep giving me reasons to. You just put out a Mother game [on Virtual Console].”
Fils-Aime: “Mother 1, yes. Earthbound Beginnings!”
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 localisation 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.
And here’s Kohler again in January of 2017:
Kohler: Will we ever get Mother 3?
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 West. 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…