This is part 5 of Wild MOTHER Party – a round table discussion on the MOTHER/EarthBound series of video games with series creator Shigesato Itoi, musician Maximum the Ryokun (of Maximum the Hormone) and Kenny Omega.
You’ll probably want to start with Part 1 if you’re just joining in.
Of MOTHER 4 and Mr. Saturn
Omega: EarthBound, the international version of MOTHER 2, came in a much bigger box that other Super Nintendo games. Was that your idea, Mr. Itoi?
Itoi: Nintendo of America came up with that.
Omega: Ahh, okay. It was really surprising to see that huge box.
The first time I saw EarthBound was back in Canada, at a game rental place. I was looking through the shelves for a game to rent, and suddenly saw this huge box among all the others. “Whoa,” I thought, “what the heck is this?” It made quite an impact.
Unfortunately someone else had it checked out at the time. I later found out it was my next-door neighbor. [Everyone laughs.]
Omega: Of course I didn’t know that, so I told him, “I saw this SNES game with a giant box!” and he said, “Oh, yeah, I’ve got that one right now.” He invited me over to check it out, and that was the first time I played EarthBound.
Itoi: “EarthBound” is a great title for MOTHER 2, isn’t it? It implies that the planet earth is like your hometown. So it’s sentimental, but also captures the right sense of scale. When I think about it nowadays, they did a great job naming the English version.
Omega: Just talking about it has me wanting to go play it again!
Now, I know what you must be thinking, Mr. Itoi… But I’d love to play MOTHER 4 someday, too.
Itoi: You and me both.
Omega: Wait, you mean…
Itoi: But when I say I want to play MOTHER 4, I mean it – I want to play it, not make it.
Itoi: Whoever makes MOTHER 4 will be building something new on top of a foundation that I made. I’d love to see how they make something new and fun in the world I created. I want to see the ideas, skills and knowledge that someone could bring to that world.
But if someone else makes MOTHER 4, I think there’ll be aspects of the original three that they won’t be able to replicate exactly.
I feel like the unnameable discomfort I mentioned earlier might be a hurdle. Like it’d be easy to make it too easy to understand, or it’d come across as sadness instead. I think like that’s one edge I still have.
Omega: If someone else made MOTHER 4, would you at least join them as an advisor?
Itoi: I think it’d be better if I didn’t. If they’re gonna do it, they should do it the way they see fit. If someone wants to make more MOTHER, that means they have their own ideas and feelings about it. I will warn them that it’s going to take a lot of time. MOTHER 3 even got canceled once…
Ryokun: Ah, you mean the Nintendo 64 version.
Omega: How far did that get into development?
Itoi: Hmmm… We had a few separate parts worked out, but nothing was connected at all.
Ryokun: Is that so…
Itoi: I will say that everything we had put together in 3D looked really cool! I wish I could’ve seen it come together.
Omega: That would’ve been great… But personally, I’m glad MOTHER 3 ended up on Game Boy Advance instead. 2D graphics have a timeless charm. Even older 2D games still look good, while 3D games don’t hold up so well.
Ryokun: Older 3D games look really jaggy today.
Omega: Exactly. For example, the first Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid are great games, but they’re a little tough to go back to now.
Itoi: Kenny, you’re a true gamer, huh?
Ryokun: Can I ask you something, Kenny?
Omega: Go for it.
Ryokun: So when you play MOTHER in Japanese, everything in the game is written in hiragana, which gives off a unique impression.
[Translator note: Most games’ Japanese text includes at least some kanji – more complex characters that indicate entire words or concepts – in addition to hiragana, which are simple characters that stand for single syllables. The MOTHER series uses only these simple characters; the overall effect is similar to reading a children’s book.]
It feels like that’s a quirk unique to Japanese, so I wonder what kind of impression it has in English.
Omega: In English, huh… Well, I’ve played it in both English and Japanese at this point.
Itoi: Wow, that’s amazing!
Omega: My old dorm roommate had a Japanese copy that I borrowed from him. I’d already started studying Japanese, and I figured since it didn’t have any kanji, I could get through it easily enough.
So I played it in Japanese, and didn’t think much of the difference in the dialogue compared to English… Except for the Mr. Saturns. I couldn’t understand them in Japanese at all! [Everyone laughs.]
Omega: In English, I can just barely make out what the Mr. Saturns are saying. But in Japanese, forget it.
Itoi: To be fair, it’s designed to be hard to understand, so that’s not your fault!
Omega: That was the biggest struggle I had playing the game in Japanese. My tag team partner, Kota Ibushi, is a huge MOTHER fan, too. I confided in him, “I can’t understand any of the Mr. Saturns’ dialogue in Japanese,” and he told me, “I don’t understand it either.” [Everyone laughs.]