Those of us who love the Mother / Earthbound games admit it's a pretty special RPG series. Though its menu-based battle systems feel familiar, Mother's themes and very heartbeat are unlike anything offered by any other game.
Mother's uniqueness is due in large part to its creator, esteemed Japanese copywriter Shigesato Itoi. After playing games like Super Mario Bros and Dragon Quest, Itoi decided he wanted to give game development a try. However, his path to the original Mother was littered with some notable heartache. It's fitting, given the series' inherent melancholy.
Yesterday, Japanese columnist / cartoonist Keiichi Tanaka illustrated and published a meeting he had with Itoi about what he endured to bring Mother into the light. Two things seemingly motivated Itoi to make the first Mother title: While playing games, he wondered "Why can't I do this?" He also wanted to make something different from the sword-and-sorcery formula popular with RPGs at the time, so he considered the kind of game a movie director (specifically Steven Spielberg) might make.
"The story would open with some sort of activity disrupting the flow of everyday life," Itoi tells Tanaka, "and some average kid would end up facing off with the monster all by himself." Indeed, Mother opens with its hero, Ninten, doing what he can to quell a psychic attack by a poltergeist.
When Itoi was invited to pitch his idea to Shigeru Miyamoto, he expected to be lavished with praise for his unique vision. But Miyamoto's initial reaction was lukewarm at best.
Itoi was so shattered, he wept on the train home. But Nintendo reached out again months later and surprised him with a team to put his dream game together.
Mother's Super Famicom / SNES follow-up, Mother 2 (EarthBound on these shores) has a development story even more fraught with emotion than its predecessor. Despite his best efforts, Itoi couldn't get the game off the ground. The late Satoru Iwata intervened and helped re-build the game from the ground up—and he also kept the team's morale high.
It's rare to be offered such a personal glimpse into the development of a beloved game, and it's even rarer to have the glimpse presented in a charming manga format. Slow down for a few minutes and look at it for yourself.
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