The MOTHER series of RPGs is a strange, funny, and heartrending kettle of fish. Starting life as an affectionate parody of Dragon Quest, the first video game acclaimed essayist, poet and philosopher Shigesato Itoi ever played, the games from this series have since formed a massive cult following.
One of the many reasons for this series’ beloved nature is the richness of themes touched upon despite the basic gameplay and art style. In many ways, its minimalistic approach to its visuals and gameplay allowed a player to more easily connect to the overarching ideas that their writer, the aforementioned Shigesato Itoi, was trying to explore.
Despite the MOTHER series being lauded as one of Itoi’s greatest achievements by westerners, it should be noted that in Japan, it is yet another entry in his list of influential projects. The man was no stranger to approaching difficult subjects as an essayist, so it should come to no-one’s surprise that the MOTHER series feels less like a set of video games and more like a quirky, interactive set of novels, one that lets the player’s imagination fill in the gaps left by its primitive visuals.
In this essay, I aim to explore but one of the many themes of the MOTHER series; a subject touched upon by all its entries with varying levels of depth and success: Innocence. The games run the gamut of exploring the smaller, insignificant expressions of this concept to outright deconstructing and reconstructing the concept, and I personally have concluded that Shigesato Itoi, over his years of writing for the series altered his perspective with time.
To analyse how each game in the series approaches innocence, I shall run through them one by one. First, I shall give a summary of the game, then I shall explore how innocence is approached through the protagonists, the antagonists, and the significant NPCs, as well as how the setting of each game portrays the nature of innocence. I shall conclude each game’s section with a summary explaining what the overall tone suggests about innocence.
Once each of the games has been covered, I shall explore how these games have shifted in their thematic philosophy, as well as offering my own conclusion on what I believe to be a worthwhile takeaway from this series. Hopefully, this essay should provide an insight into how the MOTHER series tackles high concepts in its own quirky, charming way.
The first game of the series, MOTHER, was originally released for the Famicom in 1989 for a Japanese audience only but was rereleased in English-speaking regions for the Wii U Virtual Console as EarthBound Beginnings more than twenty years later, in 2015, using an English-translated copy of the game that had been developed for the NES but never officially released.
Its story is simple in premise; Ninten, a boy from the small town of Podunk, USA, must confront a poltergeist terrorising his home. After defeating a possessed lamp and a possessed doll, he receives a call from his father, who explains that his great grandfather, George, studied PSI, a form of psychic power. Accessing his house’s basement and his great-grandfather’s diary, Ninten travels around rural America and makes friends along his adventures.
Prefacing all this is the story of his great-grandparents and Giygas, an alien whose race is the source of PSI. George and his wife, Maria, were both abducted by aliens, and while George returned, bringing the knowledge of PSI with him, Maria did not. In the present, the rampant spread of PSI knowledge has led to a litany of problems in rural America. Compounding this is the return of Giygas’s race, whose invasion is led by none other than Giygas himself.
Later, it is revealed that George’s diary allows Ninten to visit Magicant, a peculiar realm where everyone loves Ninten and is willing to heal and help him. This place is governed by the mysterious Queen Mary, an amnesiac who sends Ninten on a quest to find eight melodies, segments of a song that should jog her memory.
This quest has Ninten visit significant areas and acquire melodies from various creatures and objects. The first few melodies are innocuous enough; one is hidden within his younger sister’s doll, another has been taught to a canary, but the further one plays in the game, the more plot-significant the sources become, being direct results of PSI’s spread through the world.
This culminates in EVE, a robotic protector built by George, dying to save Ninten’s life and revealing the seventh melody, followed by Ninten’s group discovering George’s gravestone on Mount Itoi, who reveals the eighth melody and transports them to Magicant.
Singing the completed eight melodies reminds Queen Mary of her true identity; Maria, Ninten’s long-lost great-grandmother, an eternally drifting spirit projecting her memories onto a wasteland. She reveals that she raised Giygas, the leader of the current alien invasion, who was tasked by his race to take over Earth due to PSI’s spread to Earth. She mentions how he was once a sprightly, wilful child, always wagging his tail, yet he could be calmed reliably with her lullaby; this was the purpose of the eight melodies.
Maria’s restless spirit has finally fulfilled its purpose and passed its message on, and so Magicant crumbles away into non-existence, and Ninten’s group returns to Mount Itoi to confront Giygas himself. The alien is not portrayed as entirely evil, despite his underlings driving animals in zoos mad and in a particularly abhorrent case, abducting all the adults from a place called ‘Youngtown’.
Immediately, Giygas offers a truce with Ninten; he expresses gratitude to his family, and says that he shall spare Ninten, provided he let him carry out the rest of his invasion and do what he will with the Earth. Ninten, however, is incorruptible, and refuses this offer. Giygas expresses regret yet attacks regardless.
Here, the party must frantically balance healing and working in moments to sing the eight melodies, each attempt being cut off by Giygas insistently denying that he knows the song and demanding that they stop. With each subsequent attempt, however, he lets it go on and on. He’s reminded of the life he once had, the mother who once raised him. His interruptions go from aggressive and commanding to desperate and pleading.
Once the melodies are sung in their entirety, Giygas cannot take it anymore. He says that he cannot invade the Earth in this state but promises that he’ll return. Then, his massive, ominous ship, the same one that descended in a slow, intimidating fashion, flies off in a state of emergency. Abducted parents are rescued, Giygas’s starman flunkies have retreated, and Ninten and his friends return to their hometowns as heroes.
The theme of innocence is not as overtly explored in MOTHER as it is in the other two games. A lot of the MOTHER series’ strengths are lacking in its first instalment, and when it comes to the characters that are acting in the main games’ storyline, only two characters can be truly said to have an arc centring around innocence: Maria and Giygas.
That isn’t to say other characters aren’t involved in the exploration of innocence, however their actions do not happen within the events of the games themselves. While Teddy, a party member that was formerly part of a gang, is implied to have lost his innocence at a young age, when he’s played as a character in-game, the worst he does is have knives as his weapons of choice, and while George’s lack of innocence is ultimately considered his failing, it is also treated as backstory, not brought to the forefront.
The protagonists themselves are not particularly fleshed-out. Ninten is a boy from a rural town who has asthma and plays baseball, Lloyd is a genius-level bully victim, Ana is a psychic girl raised in a church, and Teddy is a young gang member with a heart of gold. Apart from Teddy, each of the children remain relatively static in characterisation; Ninten is always brave and never backs down, Lloyd is a dependable ‘cowardly lion’ with an ingenious streak, Ana is steadfast in her belief in Ninten. They retain their innocence despite the horrors they witness, and merely act as catalysts for Maria and Giygas’s character development.
As mentioned before, Teddy is an outlier to this pattern. While it isn’t brought to the forefront, the fact he is introduced as the boss of a gang and is even fought in-game, yet he mellows out and joins the party is already character development, and right before his death (Famicom version) or serious injury (every other version), he actually becomes warm with Ninten and Ana, to the point where he leaves them alone to dance with one another.
When he dies/gets seriously injured, he does so to protect some children he barely knows, despite knowing that his ulterior motive of getting revenge for his parents’ deaths is now impossible to fulfil. In a way, Ninten and the others’ innocence redeems Teddy, allowing him to become less irascible and end his adventure as a hero, a protector of the innocent. This theme of those without innocence having the strength to defend those who still have it is a recurring one; it returns in MOTHER 3.
Returning to the two characters of MOTHER whose arcs centre around innocence; Maria and Giygas. Despite being alluded to a couple of times, Giygas is not seen in person until he’s faced as the final boss, and by this point, the player already knows he was once innocent.
He is, in a way, a subversion of Dragon Quest’s own Dragon King. While the Dragon King offers the player a place by his side, he does so with the offer of power, as a simple ‘we can rule together’ cliché. When Giygas offers Ninten a place by his side, he’s simply offering to spare him from what’s implied to be a genocide that he fully believes is necessary. He’s rebelling ever so slightly against his people all because he’s got a shred of sentimentality remaining in him.
While Giygas acknowledges his lost innocence by providing this offer, upon rejection he spends the rest of the fight denying it. He believes, like many who lose their innocence throughout their lives, that merely acknowledging his previous state of childhood is a sign of weakness, that somehow if he wills hard enough to forget, then the innocence within him would stop condemning his harsher actions.
Yet his denial is not framed as evil; it is instead framed as a pathetic, easily-crumbling façade. While he continues to attack Ninten, his strikes become progressively weaker, until, instead of reaching a compromise between his adult duties and his innocence, he fully regresses and finds it impossible to fight Ninten. He flies away in his ship, humiliated and a failure, unable to win a war his race deemed a cakewalk.
This depiction of innocence implies that not only is staying in touch with one’s innocence a good thing, but denial of one’s remaining innocence is extremely unhealthy. In both Teddy and Giygas’s case, innocence is a redemptive force that frees them from the shackles of their gang and their race’s demands, respectively. Innocence is the force that makes Giygas go against what he believes is wrong despite the intense societal pressure he feels to do said wrong act.
Queen Mary, or Maria, on the other hand, is a much more complicated topic. Her relationship to innocence is akin to that of an old woman, having lived long enough to have all innocence naturally drawn out of her. She could be forgiven for believing that innocence doesn’t exist, that innocence isn’t something that can be retained.
It should also be noted that while she’s in her amnesiac state, where she’s unsure why the eight melodies are so important, that Magicant is stable. Magicant is the only part of MOTHER which is outright fantastical, where the melody contained within is represented by a dragon, of all things, and residents spout all sorts of vague, but ultimately meaningless words of ‘wisdom’. In a way, Magicant represents the delusions of wisdom a worldly person may have; the pretentions to intellectualism that a cynic will claim to have. Even Queen Mary’s castle theme, ‘Wisdom of the World’, reflects a morose, grieving nature to her despite her oracular style of speech, an understanding that something is missing.
Queen Mary has forgotten Giygas, forgotten the child she has raised, and her world reflects this. She’s stuck in a fantasy where all are worldly-wise in pretentious ways, where good guys and bad guys exist and where dragons guard magical songs. Equally fantastical is the idea that Giygas is irredeemable. And once Maria is reawakened, when she remembers who she truly is, that is her acknowledging that even Giygas, even the leader of a race bent on humanity’s destruction, was once innocent.
Maria’s story is one of a person, slowly jaded with time, forgetting about the innocence of the world, the being reminded all too well that everyone was once a child, and everyone can, at some point, be redeemed. Acting as a foil to her are George’s actions in the backstory; while he was presumably abducted to help raise Giygas as well, George betrayed the aliens’ trust by stealing the secrets of PSI. His worldliness is framed as a failing that ultimately brings an alien invasion upon the earth, and one that shattered the innocence of both Maria and Giygas.
Despite this, however, his lack of innocence also allowed him to recognise his wrongdoing. He worked to preserve the knowledge of Maria’s lullaby, the last line of defence, and used his knowledge to construct EVE, a robot whose main purpose is, much like Teddy, to protect innocents. George is the first instance of permanently lost innocence that is ultimately viewed as a good thing in the universe of MOTHER, but as the series goes on, he would prove not to be the last.
Overall, however, MOTHER seems to view innocence as a good thing, a redemptive force that one needs to remain in touch with to be emotionally healthy, and those who reject their own innocence only hurt themselves and others in the end. While this view has its merits, it’s also reductive and simplistic, and does not treat the concept’s complexity with an appropriate level of nuance. Its sequels, however, would begin to explore the theme to a much greater depth.
Its direct sequel, MOTHER 2, known in the English-speaking world as EarthBound, does not explicitly continue the story of Ninten and his friends; rather, it continues the story of Giygas, the first game’s antagonist. In many ways, though, Ninten’s spirit is very much alive; one starts the game playing as Ness, a baseball-loving boy from the town of Onett, Eagleland.
The game’s opening and overall quest hit very similar story-beats to the original; a peculiar event moves Ness into action much like Ninten, and once again the protagonists are travelling the world to find eight melodies, which when strung together cause something major to happen. However, the devil is in the details, and EarthBound’s smaller quirks make it stand out markedly from its predecessor.
In Ness’s story, the event that moves Ness into action isn’t a poltergeist directly threatening him; it’s a meteorite that has crashed down near his house. There isn’t any need for him to investigate this, yet he does anyway. Ness’s curiosity is so insatiable that his mother, while discouraging at first, accepts that her son’s the sort of kid that would climb out of his window just to check this strange event out.
Already, there are indications that Ness is more characterised than his predecessor; he’s established as dangerously curious, willing to take risks, and even rebel against his well-meaning mother to discover the world for himself. In other words, he’s already beginning to lose his innocence; he’s at an age where he’s prioritising learning and curiosity over safety and obedience.
Though Ness sneaks off to the meteorite successfully, the police have blocked it off for investigation while Porky Minch, Ness’s insufferable neighbour, pesters them. He insists that Ness go home and that he will tell him everything. After accepting futility, Ness returns, only for Porky to be at the door demanding help; his little brother, Picky, has gone missing looking for him. The two brothers’ parents are out at an extravagant restaurant, and so he only has Ness to turn to. Ness accepts, and the two return to the meteorite.
There, they find Picky, lying asleep near the meteor, and Porky notices a buzzing sound coming from the meteor. It’s Buzz Buzz, a living instectoid plot device whose role is to tell Ness about the threat that’s rising (Giygas), that he and three others are destined to defeat him, and he even tells him the way they must defeat him (by acquiring a different set of melodies to the first game). He even has a ‘doomed mentor’ moment; he effortlessly protects Ness, Porky and Picky from a low-ranking starman soldier on their way home before being anticlimactically smashed by Porky’s mother.
And so, Ness’s quest begins, and unlike Ninten’s journey, it is notably non-reliant on any sort of backstory; Giygas is presented as a corrupting force affecting Ness’s world, and all one needs to know about Ness is presented in his current self. His family aren’t special people, they have no special involvement with Giygas, he is who he is.
His journey takes him throughout the world, and in collecting each of his eight melodies, he visits unusual, magical places that present him with a mere flicker of a memory from his childhood along with the piece of music he needs. The eight melodies grant Ness access to a separate Magicant to MOTHER’s, representing Ness’s psyche, where he ultimately confronts and rejects his evil urges and is infused with Earth’s power, giving him the strength to face Giygas.
Despite this seeming to be a lot less involved and characterised than its predecessor, MOTHER 2/EarthBound more than makes up for this with the level of interaction and story that are had per mini-arc. Even in Ness’s first town, Onett, the boy faces up against gang violence, befriends its leader, takes a bribe from a corrupt politician, and experiences police brutality first-hand.
And each arc delves further and further into these details; as the player learns about the kooky world of EarthBound, so does the player. Ness befriends an organised criminal who helps him stop a cult, he participates in money laundering to help self-admitted perennial debtors and womanisers, the Runaway Five, he faces up against zombies and adventures through shady bars.
There are two major arcs among the myriad smaller ones; the Mani Mani Statue Arc and the Porky Pursuit Arc. The Mani Mani Statue arc is set in Eagleland, and involves Ness putting a stop to the antics of various people who allow themselves to become corrupted by the Mani Mani Statue, a statue unearthed by the shady Lier X Agerate, and directly following the destruction of this bizarre device in Fourside is Ness’s chase of Porky, who escapes the city by stealing the statue’s final victim’s helicopter.
What should be noted about the Mani Mani arc are the sorts of people who become corrupted by the statue and those who don’t. The original one to dig it up, Lier X Agerate, is a serial liar and outcast from the town of Onett, having a somewhat unnerving disposition. He invites Ness over to show him what he’s unearthed, but is only willing to show Ness. However, from there, he does not get corrupted.
Instead, he successfully sells it to the pure-hearted, idealistic Mr Carpainter, who becomes immediately corrupted. When uncorrupted, he claims to have only wanted a normal life, and even when corrupted he seems to sincerely desire peace on Earth. However, his means of achieving it is to form a cult reminiscent of Aum Shinrikyo, where the colour blue is worshipped as a way of finding happiness and peace.
His village, Happy Happy Village, is full of idealistic, drone-like cultists that demand, above all, conformity and stagnancy, kidnapping a young girl just to satisfy their leader’s need for a high priestess. In addition, Porky makes a reappearance, serving as high priest of the cult, apparently following the Mani Mani Statue around, and seems to have encouraged the cult’s more unsavoury practices for little to no reason.
When this cult is broken up, the Mani Mani once again switches hands, this time being stolen by the criminal overlord, Everdred, the aforementioned friend of Ness’s who encouraged him to rescue Paula in the first place. And similarly to Lier X Agerate, Everdred remains unaffected by the statue; however, an insecure, weak-willed businessman who believed himself to be a politician in the making stole the statue, wanting to attain the power owning it seemed to wield.
This businessman-turned-politician, Monotoli, is the Mayor of Fourside, and he, for whatever reason, is convinced to hire Porky, a young teenage boy, as his aide. It should be noted that Porky knew not to bother trying to schmooze up to Lier X Agerate or Everdred, yet he wormed his way into becoming a right-hand-man to both Carpainter and Monotoli.
Once the Mani Mani is destroyed, Monotoli snaps out of his corruption and similarly to Carpainter, explains that all he wanted was to change Fourside, thoroughly repents of his actions and offers to help Ness and his friends by offering them his helicopter. Before he can, though, Porky hijacks it and flies off, and from that point onwards, pursuing him becomes the aim of the game.
Evidence of Porky’s influence is mentioned, yet is notably fleeting; he’s said to visit the same museum in the resort town of Summers, left physical evidence of his visit to the desert nation of Scaraba, and finally, his stolen helicopter is found without an engine in a remote swamp called ‘the Deep Darkness’. The journey is bringing Ness and his friends to the aforementioned eight melodies, but Porky’s trail is the more pertinent issue.
After the last of the melodies are collected and Ness’s power becomes fully realised, it’s revealed how Giygas has been corrupting the world; by hiding in the past, influencing events retroactively. To fight him, Ness and his friends must travel back in time using a time machine built by the friendly aliens known as Mr Saturn and the worldly scientist, Dr Andonuts, father to Jeff, MOTHER 2’s answer to the first game’s Lloyd, along with the oft-forgotten teenage genius, Apple Kid.
Unfortunately for them, Porky has already stolen the first version of the time machine, and so Ness must acquire a meteorite piece from Onett, where it all began. The small town is now overrun by Giygas’s force, and thus Ness must return to his hometown, not as a hero triumphantly having completed his mission, but as a hardened fighter and protector, meeting up with his mother again as half a man, more mature than before.
Together, Ness’s party gets the meteorite piece required and they manage to travel back in time, but at a cost; they must give up their physical bodies (as time travel warps the flesh in unknown ways) and fully come to terms with the possibility that they could never return from this last step of the journey. In robotic suits, their souls trudge through the haunting, dreary Cave of the Past and come across a visceral, unsettlingly organic container where what’s left of Giygas can be found. The alien is no longer recognisable as a form; the machine he’s contained in rumbles, and shows Ness’s organic, non-robotic face.
A heavily-armed, but time-travel-ravaged Porky arrives on the scene to explain the situation; Giygas is no longer merely an alien invader on a mission. Determined to gain evil power, the once-reasonable alien destroyed his mind and body and became the embodiment of evil itself. He is no longer a person, merely a concept, and the machine containing him is the only thing keeping his mind in a coherent state.
A fight with the insufferable boy breaks out, and in desperation, Porky, now with an established history of both relying on more powerful allies and summarily discarding them once they prove ineffectual, refuses to break form even for the embodiment of evil itself. He turns off the Devil’s Machine containing Giygas, eradicating his master’s mind and with it, all limitations on his power. Giygas becomes a world unto himself, a reality-warping cosmic destroyer without a mind, or as Porky puts it, ‘an all-mighty idiot’.
Ness and friends fight the long-gone Giygas and keep up for a while, but eventually the terrors and the incomprehensibility become too much, and Porky, mocking the once heroic spirit of his former neighbour, says that his only choice is to ask for help. In the end, this is the key; Paula, Ness’s travelling companion, prays for help, and the various people, good, bad and ugly alike, all feel an urge to wish for the safety and wellbeing of Ness and his friends.
The power of their prayers, of their connection to Ness, coming from people innocent and worldly alike, begins to damage Giygas. After all, the alien is now evil manifest, so it would make sense that goodwill, his antithesis, would harm him. Prayer after prayer damages him, up to and including a prayer from the player themselves, euthanising the wretched former alien for good as Porky makes his getaway. Ness’s group come out of the battle with damaged robotic suits, but are ultimately salvageable. Their souls go back to their original bodies and they can wander the world they’ve become all too familiar with, speaking with their friends as the triumphant heroes they’ve proven themselves to be.
Ness’s tale is not one of retaining one’s pep and innocence against overwhelming odds, nor is it a tale of innocence redeeming all. Instead, it’s one of knowing when to let go of one’s innocence and when to hold on to it; it’s reminders of Ness’s childhood that provide him with the bravery and strength to face up against Giygas, but what ultimately saves him is his capacity to accept and befriend a variety of people; it’s his experiences, his worldliness, that mortally wounds Giygas.
A complete lack of innocence likewise is not depicted as a strength in this game. Porky, strongly implied to have neglectful or outright abusive parents, is not portrayed as having any lingering form of innocence within him. From an early age, he has become sociopathic yet needy, and understands the need to rely on others without learning how to authentically attach to anyone. This is reflected in his parasitic leeching and discarding of the two corrupted owners of the Mani Mani Statue, Carpainter and Monotoli.
Ultimately, it’s Porky’s understanding that he’s lost his innocence, combined with his complete resentment towards the positivity he sees in Ness, that ultimately leads to Ness’s success and his own failure. Ness and his friends all believe that they can change the world, an optimistic, innocent view, while Porky outright claims he couldn’t be one of the chosen four in the beginning of the tale because he’s not brave or heroic.
Porky is in a state of learned helplessness, where he knows the best he can do is ride of the coat-tails of the more powerful until he finds a bigger fish to parasitise. As such, he cannot comprehend the idea of Ness forging on against the flow, resisting the evil and making his own path. So, in the final moments where he appears to be vindicated, where Ness’s innocence and idealism, the same traits that united him with Earth through the eight melodies, seem to have failed him, he inadvertently gloats to Ness the exact solution to the problem: Decisively letting go of one’s innocence.
Paula praying for help represents a lot of things; a loss of idealism, an admission that without others behind them, their beliefs are meaningless, an acceptance of all their previous experiences, and even a moment to allow for the very real adult emotions of despair and futility to be brought to the forefront. It’s Ness essentially granting Porky one thing; that idealism and belief in oneself alone isn’t enough. In admitting this, they go on to take down Porky’s blind idiot attack god with the power of their experiences.
Porky’s pathetic nature is further explored in how he departs from every one of his hosts’ defeats; he runs away. He truly believes that in this world, he has no power, and so he rushes away from any form of direct confrontation. While assisted by the powerful, he puts on affectations of wisdom; religious wisdom with Carpainter, political power and know-how as Monotoli’s aid, and finally, as a self-proclaimed diabolical genius as Giygas’s right-hand-man and betrayer. Even as Giygas dies, Porky claims to have it all together, that somehow, this was still according to plan. He asks whether he’s cool now, and that he can always sneak off to another era for his next plan, which he just so happens to do.
Giygas, however, is a much more difficult topic to discuss with regards to his previous themes of innocence, due to his drastic changes between the original MOTHER and EarthBound. Shigesato Itoi explained his reasoning behind Giygas’s terrifying second form, as well as his promotion from a lost, formerly innocent alien doing what he believed was necessary to a vague, conceptual form of evil, as due to being symbolic of a permanent loss of innocence, akin to his experiences at an adult Japanese theatre.
As a child, Itoi stumbled upon a love scene followed by a murder, and misinterpreted it as rape, and claimed that the aggressive distortion of an actress’s breast in that scene was the visceral scene that permanently haunted him. Giygas’s dialogue in his mindless form are evocative of the scene and Itoi’s feelings on it, with phrases like ‘I’M HAPPY’ and ‘I FEEL GOOD’ being uttered alongside chaotic screeching and repetition by the lost alien.
Giygas in this case represents the world itself; the traumas that all growing children have to face that will, for better or worse, permanently affect them. He graduated from an alien that simply rejected his opportunity for redemption into the very thing that would tear the innocence from every living being in the universe.
When taken from a series-wide angle, Giygas represents the cyclical nature of trauma; that those who allow trauma and worldliness to completely rob them of their innocence and hope will often, willingly or otherwise, become the ones responsible for the trauma of others. His rejection of his own innocence culminates in his desire to deny everyone the experience of it.
Overall, it’s clear that MOTHER 2/EarthBound has a highly complex take on innocence, especially compared to its predecessor. It is depicted as both a powerful force that grants one the power to change the world and as a gaping weakness that allows one to be corruptible, while worldliness is depicted as both a helpful application of experience and a state of learned helplessness. MOTHER 2 does not preach the Word of Innocence, rather, it preaches the Word of Balance.
The following and final official instalment of the MOTHER series, MOTHER 3, would offer an even darker take on innocence than even EarthBound could muster. While there are some superficial similarities between Lucas, the main protagonist of MOTHER 3 and its predecessors’, such as his favouring of striped shirts and a unique, player-named PSI ability, he is anything but the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Eaglelander the first two games tout as heroic, being instead regarded as overly sensitive and a crybaby by most of his community.
MOTHER 3’s setting is also, at first blush, entirely different to its predecessors’. While the first two MOTHER games boast a playful parody of America and in MOTHER 2’s case, the real world as a whole, MOTHER 3 starts off in a quasi-utopian, Arcadian society. The community is known as Tazmily Village, a place where the prison has not once been necessary, everyone knows each other’s name, and there’s not even a concept of currency; the bonds of trust and innocence run deep between the villagers, occasional passive-aggressive jabs aside.
The prologue is played by two twin brothers, Claus and Lucas, the former brave and brash and the latter sensitive and coddled. They’re playing with gentle dinosaur-like creatures called dragos close to a log cabin at their grandfather, Alec’s house, separated from Tazmily by the Sunshine Forest to the south.
After Lucas and Claus complete a tutorial battle, their mother, Hinawa, sends a letter via dove telling the children’s father how much they’re enjoying themselves, and the prologue ends. A brief cutscene is shown of strange men in pig-like uniforms bombing the Sunshine Forest, setting it on fire. Following this is the title screen of the first chapter, ominously titled The Night of the Funeral.
The player’s control then shifts to the twins’ father, Flint, a shepherd in the southernmost stretch of Tazmily Village. He is told by a fidgety member of the village, Thomas, that the Sunshine Forest is on fire. Concerned about his wife and children’s ability to make it home safely, goes into the forest to investigate. He rescues a lumberjack named Lighter and his son, Fuel, from their burning house in the woods, while coming across freshly-released, unusual creatures: The flying mouse, a mouse with bug wings crudely attached to it, and the firefly, an insect capable of breathing fire.
Knowing he has to go back with the villagers to take Lighter and Fuel to safety, Flint returns, and rain falls, putting out the fire. After getting his injuries from the rescue tended to at the local inn, Flint gets approached by the local soothsayer, Isaac, who not-so-subtly asks if his wife and children have made it home. When Flint checks, he finds nought but the dove sent by Hinawa in the prologue, its saccharine proclamation of the wonderful time they were having now evoking dread rather than warmth.
By this point, the village, as concerned for Hinawa and the children as Flint is, set out to look for her, Flint himself taking his dog Boney with him. They come across a felled tree in the way, snapped in two by some kind of massive creature, and a cliff that looks scalable. Old man Wess, a cynical old man who is treated by the village as a quaint oddity with delusions of grandeur, claims he’s much stronger than he seems and that his son, Duster, could help.
Flint agrees to send Boney to find Duster by scent and drag the odd, ugly man out of bed to help the situation. He proceeds to set up a ladder using one of his many tools that takes the group up the cliff face, where they come across a torn piece of fabric, seemingly from Hinawa’s dress, along with the strange, pig-suited individuals from the chapter’s preceding cutscene.
Duster seems shocked by these people, even doubting that they could be human. They are seen experimenting on a caribou, and upon spotting Flint, Boney, and Duster, one of the pigmasks, as they’re called, drops a notebook and sends electricity through the caribou, revealing that it has been transformed into a mechanical monstrosity. It attacks Flint and his party, leaving them with no choice but to put it down.
The notebook is picked up and revealed to contain a childish scrawl expressing that all the animals in this area ‘suck’ and they need to be ‘made cooler’. The proposed solution is to make them more aggressive, and to ‘mix and match’ various aspects of creatures to create novelties unlike which the world has ever seen.
Flint heads back down the cliff to find the villagers have moved the felled tree and set up a campfire. There, Claus and Lucas are waiting for Flint, but Hinawa is nowhere to be found. They hug their father and the reunion is bittersweet. While the villagers seem blissfully ignorant and unwilling to listen, both children seem rattled.
Claus, brave and fierce, is angrily deriding himself, seemingly having failed at something, while Lucas is unable to say anything other than ‘Dad… Mom’s… Mom’s…’ and still retain composure. Eventually, the village blacksmith, Bronson, arrives having investigated the area north of the campfire. He says there’s good news and bad news.
The good news is that he found a drago claw, apparently useful for weaponry that the peaceful village of Tazmily has no use for. The bad news, however, is crushing; he found this drago claw in the heart of Hinawa, Flint’s wife. This news completely destroys Flint. Despite being in front of his children, the player is locked out of control as Flint undergoes a harrowing, excessive mental breakdown.
He smashes up the campfire in front of the well-meaning villagers who built it, and when some of them insensitively tell him to get his act together and not express his grief, he waves a still-flaming stick from the fire at them, injuring Abbot and Oliver, two minor villagers. Lighter, at a loss, hits Flint with a two-by-four and knocks him unconscious.
Flint thus becomes the first prisoner in the Tazmily Jail, waking up behind bars. He’s visited by Claus, who fills him in on the situation: Lucas has been crying nonstop at his mother’s grave, a funeral service is happening, and Claus has brought Flint an apple that he absolutely must eat. Claus then promises to become strong enough to kill the drago that killed his mother and runs away. Flint, determined not to be denied his own wife’s funeral, eats the apple and finds a file, then uses it to break out and attend the funeral, being offered condolences by Duster outside the building.
The villagers, to their credit, don’t try to stop him. They all seem highly unaccustomed to grief; despite the fact there’s a full graveyard tended to by the undertaker, Nippolyte, they’re all reduced to tears from Hinawa’s death, with only young children that lack full comprehension of the situation having any sort of composure. Lucas and Alec, Hinawa’s father, are waiting at the grave. Lucas, being a grief-stricken child, lets slip that Claus has sneaked off to the mountains where the drago live with Flint’s old knife to get revenge for his mother.
Flint, realising the urgency, abandons Lucas and runs with Alec to the mountains to try and stop Claus. They come across the otherworldly, gender-indeterminate magypsies, who let slip they saw Claus, granted him a powerful lightning attack, and sent him on his way. After a sound berating by Alec, they also give them directions to where he was headed.
They thus head to the Drago Plateau, where Flint finds a child’s shoe, seemingly belonging to Claus, being played with by a drago hatchling. After a gruelling journey, they find another one being guarded by none other than the drago who killed Hinawa. Half its face is mechanised, and whatever was left of its peaceful nature seen in the prologue is erased.
Flint attacks the beast and mortally wounds it, at which point its child comes out of hiding, confused and afraid. It licks its mother and calls in incomprehension. Alec urges Flint to show mercy, telling him that all he’ll do is make the hatchling go through what Lucas and Claus had been through. Flint accepts the truth of Alec’s words, but he’s too late; the mechanised drago succumbs to its wounds and sheds one last tear before dying. Demoralised, Flint gives up his search; the player’s view shows that he’d stopped just short. Claus’s body is seen lying face-down in a nearby canyon, to be forgotten by all.
A chapter epilogue expresses that much like the rarely-experienced rain of Tazmily, this could be the first time the village had ever experienced true sadness, true anguish. It says that the tale of MOTHER 3 begins as a tragedy, and so it does. The story then shifts perspectives again, going back to outside the Tazmily prison, when Flint first broke out. Duster offers his condolences once again, but this time Flint speaks, showing he is no longer a silent protagonist. From there, the game will only show Flint in person once more until the final stretch of the game, his conspicuous absence somehow the most present aspect of his character.
Chapter two instead follows Duster, who goes home to he and his father Wess’s house. He says that all their nebulous ‘thief arts’, which had gone unused in the blandly utopian society of Tazmily, are finally going to come in handy. This is because there’s a looming crisis, and imperative to solving this crisis is a super-special… something. Wess is evasive about what it is, and only tells Duster that it lies in Osohe Castle, an abandoned castle north of the graveyard. He claims that he trusts Duster’s intuition, and arms him with five additional tools to his cliff-climbing gear and sends him on his way.
Duster is generally regarded with suspicion and wonder by his fellow villagers; he’s a night-owl, unlike the diurnal majority, and is called ‘a thief that doesn’t steal anything’ by many of his peers. He comes across Butch, the village pig farmer, elated to tell Duster that he recently sold some of his pigs for what an out-of-town peddler called ‘money’, and tells him that no matter what, he shouldn’t tell anyone that he hid this money in the nearby well. Duster shrugs this off despite his alleged status as a thief and heads into the graveyard, where he uses the undertaker’s secret passageway to get into Osohe Castle and plunder its treasures.
There, he comes across ghosts that seem strangely aware of matters far beyond the affairs of Tazmily, such as high art, wine-drinking, jazz clubs, and even orchestral music, long-dead or otherwise alien concepts to the cowboy-themed, secluded culture of Tazmily. They’re all friendly enough, however, embracing their undeath and helping Duster in their own hospitable way.
The first treasure Duster recovers is the noble spittoon, found in a room with wall murals depicting a strange dance. When he returns his findings to Wess, however, his father is not impressed. He flings the spittoon down and smashes it, saying that Duster’s intuition on what’s ‘worth stealing’ is clearly not up to snuff. Dawn has arrived, and so Wess decides enough is enough and that he’ll accompany Duster to the castle.
By the time they get there, however, the pigmasks have already secured the castle. They sic a strange, electronically animated golem known as a ‘clayman’ on Duster and Wess, but they triumph nonetheless. The pair fight their way through pigmasks until they reach the Noble Spitoon’s room once again. This time, Wess performs a strange dance, opening a secret passageway to the upper levels of the castle.
There, they meet an anomalous young woman; the PSI-wielding Kumatora. She isn’t a member of the village, has the pink hair of the hermitic magypsy clan, and is aggressively masculine and crass, but despite this, claims to be princess of the dilapidated castle. She joins them, saying she’s after the same thing as Duster and Wess.
Together, they find the treasure, the Egg of Light, said to be a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a secret. There could be a calamity or a new hope inside it, according to Wess, who then berates Duster for not seeing such an obviously significant item. Kumatora espouses the idea that continually calling one’s son a moron isn’t productive; if Duster really is a moron, he wouldn’t understand why people are angry with him in the first place, a seemingly incidental touch upon what turns out to be a major theme of the game.
The pigmasks, however, have caught up to the party, and are set on barging in. Desperate, Kumatora nabs the egg from its pedestal and triggers a trap, sending the party into a flooded basement. They undergo one last fight with a water monster before the waters suddenly suck them all away.
While Wess and Kumatora are found by the villagers are the banks of a river close to the former’s house, Duster and the Egg of Light are nowhere to be seen. Briefly, the player controls Kumatora, talking to the curious residents of Tazmily until they come across the well. Apparently, somebody stole Butch’s hidden money cache, and the villagers are both confused by what this ‘money’ concept is as well as why Duster, the one Butch is accusing, would bother to steal it.
With that, chapter two ends, and asserts that the village’s sense of cohesion seems to be rapidly dwindling, and that it seems the pigmasks have made their first move, and that only a select few, those disposed to going against the flow, will be able to stand up for what’s right. Chapter three then commences; a section of the game which is, in effect, an interactive induction of Stockholm Syndrome.
Much like Flint’s chapter, it features a one-off playable character; an utterly underleveled monkey named Salsa, who has been coerced by the apparent commander of the pigmasks, a travelling peddler called Fassad, who also happens to be the same man that bought Butch’s pigs. He is swiftly established to be despicable; he holds Salsa’s girlfriend hostage, regularly administers electrical shocks via a collar, and slowly, excruciatingly eats a delicious banana in Salsa’s face out of spite.
Despite this, in battle he is a necessity. Every enemy outmatches Salsa considerably, while Fassad can easily defeat them in one hit. This chapter, often derided as pointless by many members of the MOTHER fanbase, illustrates a simple point; many people who are involved in evil acts are not themselves bad people, and it’s all too easy to become an accessory to evil when you yourself are weak and helpless.
The chapter at first covers Fassad’s journey from Death Desert to Tazmily Village, then his steady corruption of the villagers. It reveals that Fassad was the one responsible for stealing the money he himself gave Butch to sow discord amongst the residents of Tazmily, and that he introduced the concept of a ‘lodging fee’ to the owner of the village inn, heaping a bag of money on his counter. While the owner and his wife say it’s useless save for as a doorstop, they are evidently a little curious.
His final act is to make Salsa perform a show that plays on the recent troubles of Tazmily Village. He claims that on top of the sadness they’re currently feeling due to Hinawa’s death and the destruction of Sunshine Forest, freak thunderstorms are going to happen and dangerous beasts are moving into the areas that were once safe.
He then offers the hapless villagers a simple solution; a happy box, a pink cuboid that plays a bunch of colours that, according to Fassad, will ward off all unhappiness, ironically using his perennially-abused pet as an example of how a happy box can change one’s life. After collecting the names of the interested villagers, of whom there are only four, Salsa is sent to deliver them.
After that, Fassad receives a report from his pigmask underlings that Duster and his party have broken through their ranks somehow and are currently on their way to the Egg of Light. Determined to ambush them, Fassad accesses the non-submerged parts of the Osohe Castle basement and makes Salsa pull a lever. This very lever is the one that caused Duster’s party’s final location to drain, making Duster and the Egg of Light become lost.
Fassad, despite knowing the folly of his actions, blames Salsa and deliberately misinforms his underlings to keep a wild goose chase going just to hide his error. After that, they return to the village inn, where Kumatora and Wess come to rescue Salsa, being aware of his plight.
He escapes with them, and Wess removes his shock collar. They run into the Sunshine Forest, pursued by Fassad, and in the end are rescued by none other than Lucas, the supposed crybaby. While Claus was busy seeking revenge, Lucas had befriended the recently-bereaved drago hatchling, as well as the implied mate of the now-deceased mechanised drago.
Kumatora and Wess acknowledge the boy’s newfound courage and decide to fill him in on what has been happening with regards to the pigmasks and the village, Salsa implicitly doing so via Kumatora and Lucas’s psychic reading of his mind. The chapter ends here, and once again, narration strongly emphasises the growing unease and confusion in the village, and how, without any bad examples to draw upon, the villagers are playing right into the pigmasks’ and Fassad’s hands.
The next five chapters happen after a three-year time skip, and unlike the last three chapters, they can be summarised in a single arc, as they all follow the exploits of a now older Lucas. Flint is conspicuously absent, perpetually searching for the missing-and-presumed-dead Claus, while the neglected Lucas seems to be the village recluse. He’s the only one without a happy box, and the sheep’s barn has been struck by lightning multiple times.
The village now has a railway, and the locals that once took pride in their own professions are now orange jumpsuit-wearing factory workers, assisting claymen in an out-of-town mining facility. Strangers who seem to have no place of origin have moved into the village and treat it as some quaint tourist destination, while Leder, an unusually tall bell-ringer that was mute in the first three chapters, is now missing altogether.
The only hints of Flint’s existence are the regularly-replaced flowers at Hinawa’s grave, which Nippolyte, implied to be the closest thing Lucas has to a father figure, claims is Flint’s doing, and the villagers’ repeated passive-aggressive comments on Lucas’s father as a nebulous entity; how he’s a criminal, an awkward fellow, et cetera.
Lucas brings his dog, Boney, into his party, and pays Wess a visit in the house that used to be his home; it has since been renovated into an old people’s home where Alec and several other older villagers have been ferried into. The event that spurred this was Wess being escorted back there after calling out the now exceedingly popular Fassad, whose compelling words keep the villagers enraptured. Wess, demoralised and out of options, asks Lucas to find Duster, to tell him he’s sorry for calling him a moron, and to come home.
To do this, Lucas becomes a factory worker, gaining him the access of Club Titiboo, a not-so-subtle parody of hostess bars frequented by salarymen in Japan. Working as a hostess is an undercover Kumatora, who informs Lucas that she’s found Duster; he’s the bassist in the bar’s feature band, DCMC, but seems to be suffering from amnesia.
Together, they convince him to come with them, and they search for the Egg of Light using what few memories Duster has. They find the treasure, which mysteriously and instantaneously restores Duster’s memory. As they have at this point disguised as pigmasks, with Lucas in particular being confused for a high-ranking pigmask commander, they get ferried off to a military installation; Thunder Tower, the source of the abnormal lightning that seems to target homes without happy boxes.
Naturally, Lucas’s party intends to shut the tower down, but as they climb, it becomes evident that even the pigmasks are unsure why they’re doing what they’re doing. Someone in charge says it’s the right thing, but ultimately they know what they’re doing is wrong; they just have faith that whoever is in charge knows what they’re doing and that it’s somehow for the greater good. There’s even a bizarrely-placed child’s playroom close to the generator room, where items from MOTHER 2 can be interacted with, and a yo-yo much like those equipped by Ness can be seen guarded with care by a robotic maid.
When Thunder Tower’s generator is destroyed, Fassad confronts Lucas’s party on the roof, requesting evacuation and giving a command to destroy Thunder Tower with all its staff, and Lucas’s party, in it. While taunting them, he eats one last banana, staggers due to a tremor, then proceeds to slip on the peel and fall to his apparent death. Lucas’s party grab onto the outstretched ladder of the evacuation ship Fassad summoned and hold on for dear life.
In the end, they fall, and Lucas suffers from a hallucination where he’s in a sunflower field with Boney, frequently seeing a ghostly apparition of his dead mother. He pursues her, until he reaches a cliffside where Hinawa floats, just out of his reach. Briefly deciding life is worth trading for one last embrace of his mother, Lucas jumps, but falls just short.
Back in reality, it’s revealed Lucas and Boney fell into a massive pile of hay made by Wess and Alec. They claim Hinawa’s ghost appeared in their dreams, telling them to make that pile of hay, and so they did. After that, they go outside the old people’s home to find one of the magypsies, Ionia, tied up. The citizens are apathetic, but Lucas helps her out, recognising her from his journey to the factory; it was Ionia that taught him PSI, after all.
Together, they take a boat north to the same magypsy house Flint visited in his chapter, home to Aeolia. She claims that Lucas is one of a select few that can pull the seven needles, which means it’s likely time for the needles to be pulled. Just as she says this, a massive earthquake occurs, and Aeolia becomes translucent and wavering. She feverishly explains that the time has already come for her, and that someone must have already beaten Lucas to it, unveiling a secret passage to Osohe Castle’s courtyard.
Aeolia’s flickering visage wishes Lucas good luck and vanishes, leaving behind hallmarks of a magypsy’s simultaneous masculinity and feminity; a razor and a lipstick. These are taken as a memento of Aeolia. Ionia gives a brief eulogy to her fallen sister, saying she always admired her straightforward nature.
They then investigate Osohe Castle’s courtyard, with Ionia explaining what the needles are; seven seals upon an island-sized dragon capable of reshaping the world. Whoever pulls the most needles in awakening it will pass their heart onto the dragon, but Ionia, unsettled, remarks that it seems no heart was passed onto the dark dragon at all. Tasking Lucas with pulling the remaining six needles, the core of the game thus becomes apparent.
The following events of the chapter then become a lot more traditionally MOTHER-like; Lucas steadily reunites with his core party members, Duster and Kumatora, and he journeys throughout the Nowhere Islands pulling the needles. However, in two more cases, he is just about beaten by the mysterious man without a heart; someone that doesn’t speak, but whenever he locks eyes with Lucas, causes the pair of them to freeze up.
Details of note include the fourth needle, residing in Saturn Valley, where the innocent aliens known as Mr Saturn make a return as the helpless victims of the pigmask army, and the needle’s guardian, New Fassad, a chimera of what remained of Fassad after his fall from Thunder Tower and various mechanical implements, including a jetpack, laser weaponry, and trumpets. He has retained all of his despicable traits and blames the party for his blunder on Thunder Tower, hence his attempt at taking revenge.
Another notable event is Tanetane Island, the fifth needle’s location, and the terrifying hallucination that the party suffers during this stretch, which largely involves their family and friends running the gamut of simply insulting them to digging deep into the deepest fears of the party. It reveals that Lucas is terrified of his father beating him, Duster knows that Wess is responsible for the limp he carries to this day and isn’t fully ready to forgive his father, and Kumatora secretly knows somehow that she’s an unloved, alone creature.
Finally, the events preceding and surrounding the pulling of the sixth needle involve Lucas returning to Tazmily Village to find it abandoned. Throughout chapter seven, successive visits to the village show a dwindling population; now it has been reduced to Alec, Wess, Lighter, Fuel, and Nippolyte, the rest having left for ‘New Pork City’. The latter is found in the graveyard, after Lucas pays one last visit to Hinawa’s grave. He gives Lucas a ‘courage badge’ that Flint once held, saying that his father is proud of Lucas’s independence and that he wanted him to have it.
In the events that lead up to visiting Ionia, the final remaining known magypsy (the seventh magypsy, Locria, was not present during chapter one’s magypsy party, nor is she referenced outside of Phrygia’s notebook on the needle locations), the courage badge gets its rust cleaned off, revealing it to be a Franklin Badge, an iconic item from MOTHER 2/EarthBound, of all things, whose defining property is its ability to reflect lightning.
Ionia gives the party the means to access her temple-bound needle and gives the party her blessing, deciding to savour her final moments by eating her favourite food. When they reach the temple, however, they find the pigmasks attempting to enter it, under the command of the masked man without a heart. He and Lucas have their frozen stare, and the two battle, the masked man’s signature lightning attack being reflected by Lucas’s Franklin Badge whenever it is used.
The masked man is defeated, and sparks fall from him, indicating he mostly machine at this point. He barely recovers enough to escape, and the party pull the sixth needle. Ionia arrives just in time to see her needle pulled, congratulates her adoptive daughter, Kumatora, on a job well done in growing up, and teaches her one last PSI technique before disappearing like her five sisters before her. Her last words are a remark that Locria is nearing the seventh needle, and it’s a shame she only knows where she is now.
After Kumatora briefly grieves Ionia, the group leave the temple, to promptly start the eighth chapter; a massive flying limo is outside the temple, and without so much as asking their permission, the chauffeur ferries them into it. It’s headed straight to New Pork City; apparently the pigmasks’ glorious leader, King of the Entire World, Porky, neighbour of Ness and all-around troublemaker from EarthBound, requests their company.
Within the limo is a series of distractions, each described as being something that looks like it could be interacted with, played with, or used for entertainment, but in truth cannot, due to its falseness. For example, the pool table has the balls glued in place, and the alcoholic drinks cannot be drank; even by adults like Duster.
This continues as a theme of New Pork City upon their arrival at the city; it’s a metal-floored metropolis boasting hundreds of attractions, not unlike a supermarket, but the amount of venues that can actually be visited doesn’t surpass five. The incompleteness and falseness of New Pork City is even remarked upon by former Tazmily residents, some of which claim they thought the big city would somehow be different, others which remark on how juvenile the place is.
Said venues are ‘Beauty and Tasty’, a restaurant filled with robotic replicas of Porky’s mother, who serve as waitresses and till managers, the cinema, which depicts a montage of scenes from MOTHER 2/EarthBound, said to have been hand-picked by Porky himself, an arcade where various video games can be played, and the Empire Porky Building, a huge, towering building that’s mostly incomplete. Naturally, the latter is where Porky resides, however before the party can go there, they need to kill time while the elevator is fixed.
Via a hole in the cinema’s audio system and a passage hidden by a pinball table in the arcade, Boney and the rest of Lucas’s party respectively find their way into the sewers of New Pork City. This visit results in a disturbing discovery; the long-vanished Leder, the mute bell-ringer from the first three chapters, tied up amongst oddly-placed empty apartments and refuse. For the first time in the game, he opens his mouth and speaks.
He relays to Lucas an awful truth; Tazmily Village was all a fabrication. The original people of Tazmily Village were part of a group of people that had escaped an anthropogenic Armageddon of some sort and had arrived on the Nowhere Islands as the last refugees of humanity, looking for a safe haven.
They believed that their technology and their society itself was to blame, so they decided to erase their own memories and replace them with the blithe, Arcadian philosophy of the original untouched Tazmily Village. The Egg of Light was in fact a memory-storage device, used to contain the erased memories of the people of Tazmily Village, which is why Wess was pre-programmed to seek it out in a crisis. However, their innocence had left them unprepared, corruptible; because they had no concepts of the evils Porky and Fassad were introducing to the Nowhere Islands, they inevitably repeated their mistakes, and fell into meaningless, vapid, consumeristic ways.
Leder, and only Leder, was spared the memory erasure, and this was why he was mute in the first three chapters. It can be inferred that upon realising the corruption that was taking place, he intended to speak out, which is why the pigmasks made him disappear. He also reveals that Porky managed to stumble into the Nowhere Islands via time machine and brought in residents from various time periods to populate his new empire. He would then go on to recruit a magypsy to betray her kind; the final one, Locria. Lucas and his party are silent at these revelations, but it can be implied that none of them take this revelation well.
On their way out, Fassad arrives for one last fight as Miracle Fassad, revealing in his last moments of cornered desperation that he knows PSI, before his cybernetic implants explode and he falls into the sewage, still bubbling beneath the waters. The party are now free to visit the Empire Porky Building and go to the ‘100th floor’, where Porky apparently resides.
Naturally, through a series of elevator faults, the party is thrown through one last gauntlet of dungeons, with Porky taunting them all the while, until eventually they reach the childlike tyrant, having cleared the way for most of the other villagers, who are seeking answers as well. When the Pig King reveals himself, it turns out he’s a far cry from the little boy he was in EarthBound.
He’s now a haggardly old man with sheet-white hair and skin not too different in hue. He can barely muster a word without hacking, wheezing or coughing, and without the pressure of having to put up a childish façade, he speaks in an antagonistically nihilistic manner. He berates the Tazmily villagers for resorting to memory erasure, mockingly asking how foolish a person would have to be to think that would work in the long run.
He reveals that he knew where the seventh needle was all along; right beneath the very building they’re in. Not only that, but his beloved ‘monster’, the masked man, is on his way to retrieve it as they speak. He then sets a lift with the party and Flint, having finally returned, careening down into the bowels of the earth, and one last dungeon is passed, with Flint running on ahead as he has concerns about a certain matter.
The party later finds him without his trademark cowboy hat, alone and defeated, hunched over with grief. He reveals that his concerns were founded; the masked man that froze Lucas up whenever they met eyes, who had learned a deadly lightning technique and could pull the needles just like Lucas, was none other than the long-missing Claus. The party, undaunted, move on, only to be stopped by Porky.
The delusional old man says that while he was having fun giving them a sporting chance, this is where it ends. When confronted about Claus, he simply mocks the idea that Claus was once a person at all. He taunts that regardless of what name he had before, now he’s nothing but Master Porky’s slave robot, his lifeless son. This naturally goads the party into battle with him.
Throughout the battle, between hacks and wheezes, Porky remarks that he’s lived for potentially thousands of years due to time travel’s warping effects on his body, that he’s lost track of time, and that the only comfort he has is knowing he’s ‘the same kid at heart’. Despite that, he still won’t accept that nobody liked him; he’s unsure what will happen if a heartless person pulls most of the needles, but if oblivion comes, he believes his immortality will save him. Regardless, once the world ends, his final goal will be realised; seeing all the people that refused to like him disappearing.
Of course, he is defeated, and the spider mech he uses to move in lieu of his non-functional legs breaks down. He then takes refuge in his last bastion of hope, a device called the ‘Absolutely Safe Capsule’, designed by a time-displaced Dr Andonuts and the enslaved Mr Saturns. Once the capsule is locked, anything within it is invincible. As Porky cannot hurt the party, and the party cannot hurt Porky, the battle is, by definition, over.
Said doctor (who was previously seen in the events pertaining to the second needle) then confirms the invincible nature of the absolutely safe capsule but mentions one caveat that he hadn’t informed Porky about: That when the capsule is locked, it cannot be unlocked. Porky is now forever trapped in absolute safety, unable to be hurt by the world and unable to hurt the world.
After this, they move on to the true final boss, the masked man himself, now known to be Claus. He’s lying in wait at the final needle but allows himself to be interrupted by the party; he casts a powerful lightning attack and wipes all the party except Lucas, and starts the battle. In true MOTHER fashion, he cannot be defeated by brute strength. Whenever a party member aside from Lucas is alive, Claus will utilise his deadly lightning attack to kill them, ensuring only Lucas is left to face him.
Frozen by the knowledge that who he is fighting is his long-lost brother, Lucas cannot do anything other than guard and heal himself. Throughout the fight, the sound of Hinawa’s voice can be heard, commanding her children to stop fighting each other. Flint arrives and attempts to intervene as well, somewhat making up for his neglect of Lucas by taking two brutal attacks while begging Claus to remember who he is, telling him that he’s been searching for him for years.
Only after his father faints can Lucas briefly attack Claus which yields little more than Hinawa’s ghostly weeping. Lucas must continue to relent until eventually, the masked man stops hitting with conviction. He stares at Lucas, looks around with confusion, and finally, decides to remove his helmet. His face is exactly like Lucas’s. Despite knowing Lucas has a Franklin Badge, the lost boy prepares one last intense lightning blast. It reflects, dealing mortal damage to Claus.
He staggers to Lucas and hugs him one last time, Lucas being overwhelmed to the point where he’s remembering basic sensory cues like his twin brother’s scent. Then Claus dies in his brother’s arms and expresses relief that he gets to die as himself and see his family one last time before going ‘where mom is’. He breathes his last, and Flint asks Lucas to forgive his ‘hasty’ brother.
Lucas, in a state of complete and utter trauma, does the only thing he’s expected to do; he pulls the final needle. When he does, the world breaks around the characters, being remade as the dark dragon awakens from its slumber. It’s revealed in the post-game wandering that the characters somehow survived this calamity, complete with retaining their memories, albeit in complete darkness. Even the capsule-bound Porky is preserved as an object being described as ‘rolling around with glee’.
As one can tell by the sheer length of the summary alone, MOTHER 3 is a much more complex narrative beast compared to its predecessors. While Ninten and his friends were little more than placeholders for any children, affectionate parodies of fantasy RPG archetypes, with the people of the backstory and the villain being substantially more characterised, and Ness’s gang being largely characterised by their interactions with the colourful world around them, Lucas and his party are a group of fully-realised people that explore a lot of different topics, innocence being merely one in a myriad.
When it comes to innocence, it should be noted that most of the protagonists do, to some extent, explore this. Starting with Lucas, his primary trait following the three-year time skip is how utterly devoid of innocence he is. He’s almost world-weary, to the point where the villagers shun him for his brooding nature.
By all accounts, this makes sense; he is implied to have witnessed his mother’s death at the hands of a creature he was safely playing with hours before, and the subsequent years of neglect by a father too obsessed with the son that he lost to care for the one he still had can’t have had a positive impact on his psychology.
Despite this, he presses on. He combs his hair in the morning, and while he remembers that his mother used to do that for him, he still combs away. When asked by Wess to take on the duty of fighting back against Fassad’s vile influence, he accepts, and ends up a saviour of, if not the world, the people within the world. He’s not Ninten, whose innocence manifests as blithe ignorance to the possibility of failure or Ness, whose belief that he can change the world stems from his childhood, and whose experiences guard him from the times where his innocence can’t save him.
Instead, Lucas is the boy who has lost it all, who knows how terrible and corrupt the world is, how the odds are stacked against him. He doesn’t believe he can change the world; he just knows that someone has to try. He doesn’t have a supportive family, given his fears of domestic abuse, his community shuns him, yet he finds the drive to carry on regardless.
In a way, Lucas is what Picky Minch, Porky’s younger brother, could have been if he had a greater destiny. Picky Minch was raised by the same abusive parents as Porky; despite being younger and unfavoured, he was the more mature and level-headed of the two, and maintained a polite, cordial relationship with Ness even after his brother disappeared. While EarthBound saw fit to make someone like Picky to be a minor character at best, it is of interest that Shigesato Itoi decided to make a similar character the main hero of MOTHER 3.
Flint and his relationship to the Tazmily villagers are also an important part of the exploration of innocence. While Lucas shows perseverance despite lost innocence, Tazmily and Flint by extension outright demonises the concept of innocence. Once it is revealed that Tazmily was in essence a play forcefully made into reality by refugees, the disturbing implications retroactively apply themselves to the past events of the early chapters, hence the detail this essay went into them.
The village’s strong and utterly unprepared reactions to grief, such as attempting to suppress Flint’s sadness, Flint’s own complete and utter loss of sanity in response to his spouse’s death, and Claus’s suicidal charge into drago territory show the inherent issues with lacking worldliness; it means that one is never prepared for negativity.
If one has never truly known sadness, then one will react unpredictably when it finally arrives. Without a sense of fear, one is unable to know their limits, and their expressions of grief are all the more likely to bring harm to others and oneself. And worse, attempting to pretend that sadness doesn’t exist does not erase the sadness, it just turns it into a cancer.
This latter point is embodied by the concept of a ‘happy box’; a magical device that distracts the user from whatever negative feelings they might have and instead makes them happy, obedient, and unsuspecting; the moron that doesn’t know nor care that he’s a moron, as Kumatora put it. Adult innocence, in MOTHER 3, is an undeniable weakness, a thing that shows a lack of having learnt from their past experiences and a gateway to corruptibility.
Porky himself mocks the absurdity of trying to pretend that the past has never happened; he points out exactly why ignoring your past experiences and holding onto a childlike outlook is an easy way for the Porkys of the world to influence them. Ironically, despite Porky knowing this full and well, he is, in fact, the worst perpetrator of this, though unlike the Tazmily villagers, he is also the least the successful in achieving it.
While in MOTHER 2, Porky was a confused and angry teenage boy who denied his innocence at every turn, believing himself to be weak to the very end and callously discarding anyone who wasn’t strong enough to support his needy brand of villainy, MOTHER 3’s older Porky appears to be a deconstruction of nostalgia.
Throughout his empire are nods to his childhood, and he even prizes his former rival, Ness, as his best friend, enshrining his yo-yo and labelling it the ‘Friend’s Yo-Yo’ and making a film devoted to his adventures. He has a playroom in Thunder Tower filled with memorabilia from the long-since-destroyed Eagleland and in the Empire Porky Building, he even captures key relics from EarthBound to show off.
He succeeds in making a player who had completed EarthBound in their childhood feel the way he does; that clinging onto the past feels good, that it was better in the days of yore, when one was young and felt like they could do anything. However, due to Porky’s desperate seeking out of this long-lost innocence of his, he has essentially created a false, stagnant society.
The Tazmily villagers, steadily reminding themselves of urban lifestyle, note how hollow his imitation of cities of the past are, and ultimately even Porky himself is not convinced of his attempts to reconnect with his innocent side. He’s trapped by his past, despite knowing full well that reconnecting with his own innocence is impossible at this point. Due to his lengthy pursuit of a futile task, it then follows in his own deranged way that the only possible recourse is to end everything.
What culminates from Porky’s swaying to and fro between accepting reality in his own nihilistic way and fully regressing to an artificial state of innocence is the Absolutely Safe Capsule. This plot device serves as the ultimate indictment of those that idolise innocence, if the Tazmily villagers’ failure wasn’t enough. It is a state of complete and utter safety, a place where, in theory, an innocent could remain that way forever. And the only price one must pay is their freedom.
Porky’s eternal entrapment in the Absolutely Safe Capsule is much like the safe world many an overly-concerned parent wishes their children could inhabit; one where their children will never experience the darkness of the world or ever need to grow up. They would forever remain in their bubble, safe from even their own parents’ imperfections, never able to improve or make a meaningful impact on another’s life. The Absolutely Safe Capsule is Shigesato Itoi’s metaphorical middle finger to censorship and a childish society proscribed by the ‘moral majority’. And true innocence is represented by Porky, the pathetic, frail old man sticking his tongue out ineffectually through its window.
Other, more minor characters, are noteworthy in their exploration of innocence too. Duster’s implied resentment of his father, Wess, stems from an accident in his youth that twisted his leg. A worldly, experienced person would understand that Wess was merely preparing his son, training him, and would never intentionally hurt him, yet Duster’s resentment lingers regardless, due to innocent, idealistic minds more easily attributing malice where incompetence is the better explanation.
Mr Saturn, a key icon of innocence in both MOTHER 2 and 3, demonstrate a clear shift in competence between the games. In MOTHER 2, they are capable of building time machines, can on occasion escape enslavement, heal the party, sell unique, powerful items, and report their situations clearly when the time calls for it. In MOTHER 3, however, they are not quirky insomuch as blundering buffoons, incapable of drawing a proper map, easily cowed into submission as a race by pigmasks using robots that tell scary stories to them and produce flying machinery by filling a cage full of frightened birds. To their credit, they also are attributed to the production of the Absolutely Safe Capsule, but Dr Andonuts is the one who knows the most about the product, implying it was mostly his invention.
Salsa is another case of demonstrating the impotence of innocence alone, and how in many ways, innocence is an enabler for evil. Salsa is a monkey without an ounce of malice, yet his inability to fight evil, his weakness, ultimately leads him to be a key orchestrator of the corruption of Tazmily. His arc also acts as a deconstruction of overly idealistic notions like ‘good’ and ‘evil’, as do the increasingly humanised pigmasks that make up Porky’s army.
Most people that work with evil organisations are not themselves evil, as much as an innocent would like to believe. Life is not a Saturday morning cartoon in MOTHER 3; you’re not beating up a ‘baddie’ when you defeat a pigmask, you’re instead regretfully beating a dopey man who is just doing what he’s told.
So with this demonisation of innocence as corruptible, closed-minded, impotent and comically buffoonish comes the converse side of the argument; the idea that worldliness and maturity is a good thing. The main source of this comes in the form of Nippolyte and the magypsies. As mentioned before, Nippolyte is all but stated to have become Lucas’s surrogate father due to Flint’s perpetual absence and Lucas’s frequent visits to the graveyard.
As an undertaker, even if programmed to be as such by the Egg of Light, Nippolyte was more familiar with death than the rest of the Tazmily villagers, so while the villagers would come to resent and mock Lucas’s grieving of his mother, labelling it as evidence of his overly sensitive nature, Nippolyte understood the boy and offered him emotional support.
The magypsies are another example of acceptance of the dark and the light as being incredibly important. The only magypsy confirmed to be working for Porky, Locria, is also strongly implied to be Fassad due to finding his clothes in his house in the Empire Porky Building, and he is also the only magypsy that attempts to defend his own needle.
In magypsy terms, this means that he is also the only one that clung to his life strongly enough that he would gladly ruin the lives of several others. Every other magypsy welcomes their fate, having lived a full and healthy life they were proud of, being content to live unimpactful, hermitic lives. Locria or Fassad, however, could not accept his own mortality.
Hence, while most of the magypsies came off as strange, but balanced, kind-hearted individuals that were helpful on occasion, Fassad came off as crass, rude, self-centred and miserable. While the first six magypsies died expressing positive sentiments, such as how they’re still beautiful, or that they thoroughly enjoyed their final meals, or simply expressing concern and love for others, Locria died bubbling and struggling in sewage, desperately clinging to the last vestiges of life he had.
Evidently, there is a shift in attitude towards innocence in the MOTHER series, and Shigesato Itoi’s reasons for doing so could be attributed to many matters. It could be that Itoi simply felt more confident broaching the uncomfortable side of human nature through video games the more gamer culture embraced the negative and the edgy, or it could have been that he personally had changed stances.
While it is easy to say that MOTHER 2 and MOTHER 3 are closer to the objective truth than their originator is, it is important not to forget where the series started. The games always had innocence at the core of their narrative tone; whether it was foiling a villain by making them remember their innocent past or beholding the twisted, childish folly of a man too wrapped up in illusory innocence to value reality, the subject is there.
Personally, I believe the change was the result of an organic growth from progressively analysing the subject. MOTHER is akin to a superficial, intuitive, surface reading of innocence. One can look to their formerly childish outlook and wish that they were once again in such a state. Of course innocence is good, intuition asserts; one feels better about oneself, one believes that they can be anything they want to be, a vet, a scientist, an astronaut, a professional basketballer. Why would one want to feel any other way?
Then one starts to think about the subject more clearly. One acknowledges, at least partially, the complexities that arise from overemphasising the positives of innocence. On one hand, those who revile innocence and consider it foolish are likely doing it from a place of bitterness, and while the world is a terrible place that will often chew up and spit out the innocent, it’s not worth discarding idealism and innocence entirely. MOTHER 2 admonishes cynicism, and encourages people to be the change they seek, rather than embracing MOTHER’s ‘never change, as others will change for you’ mentality.
Finally, MOTHER 3 occurs after one too many brushes with disillusionment. While being the change one seeks is ideal, oftentimes it just doesn’t work out that way. People can’t always chase their dreams, and sometimes to survive, people must go along with a system they hate. The people who change the world aren’t safe or beloved; they’re reviled and rejected. They don’t fight for what’s right because of a belief that justice will prevail because ‘that’s what’s fair’. They fight knowing that it is likely a doomed effort. So instead of the perception of innocence as a driving force that combines itself with the judicious brakes and steering wheel of experience, instead, they believe innocence to be a kind-hearted, well-meaning hindrance to the real means of change.
In conclusion, the MOTHER series of video games are a complex, layered series of games whose exploration of themes increases in depth of exploration of the human condition with each successive instalment. In addition to this increasing complexity, a noticeable shift in attitude towards the concept of innocence can be seen, and almost as if maturing and losing its own innocence, the series increasingly sheds the idea of innocence being an admirable trait.
I believe this change is due to Shigesato Itoi, the games’ writer, becoming increasingly aware of the level of complexity with which a video game narrative could explore themes. As such, he delivered an increasingly mature, increasingly nuanced take on innocence with each successive game, intentionally or unintentionally culminating in a harsh deconstruction of the concept of innocence in the final instalment.
To all those that have read this essay to completion, my sincerest thanks go out to you. I hope you have enjoyed my take on this strange, funny, and heartrending series of video games as much as I have enjoyed writing and researching (read: Playing video games) for this essay. If you have any personal takes on the MOTHER series and on how it explores innocence, be sure to comment on this essay and contribute to the discussion.