Yesterday morning, I said I wanted E3 2015 to surprise me. A few hours later, on the Wii U Virtual Console, Nintendo launched EarthBound Beginnings—their rebranded, English-localized version of the 1989 Famicom RPG, Mother.
You know those people who say, "Be careful what you wish for?" Well, they can go straight to hell.
In case you weren't aware, this is a pretty big damn deal. Nintendo originally localized Mother (its Japanese title) shortly after its 1989 release, and apparently had a 1991 launch date in mind for the USA. Due to unknown factors—most likely, how dated the first Mother looked and played just a few years later—Nintendo abandoned their original plans, and eventually released 1994's Mother 2 under the name they originally planned on giving its predecessor: EarthBound.
Thanks to a prototype discovered in the late 90s, Mother's English language version (usually called EarthBound Zero) has been a known quantity for over 15 years, but yesterday marks the first time this RPG has been made available to Americans through legal means. Oh yeah, and despite what the title screen tells you, it's now called "EarthBound Beginnings." (Now that's a 2015 subtitle if I've ever heard one.)
It goes without saying that if you're a fan of RPGs, classic games, and/or the Mother series, you should be excited. And while I encourage everyone to send Nintendo a paltry $6.99, if only to say "Yes, please keep doing more cool stuff like this," there's probably a bit more you should know about EarthBound Beginnings. As a matter of fact, its new title is a lot more apt than the original one: the first Mother feels very much like a dry run for the superb Mother 2. A good portion of the beats, quirks, characters, and systems from the SNES EarthBound can be found here, albeit delivered in a much less effective way. If you're coming to Beginnings after playing its sequel—as I assume most of you are—don't be surprised to find everything you love about EarthBound, but in a slightly lesser state.
That's not a warning, mind you: It's really more of a disclaimer. Before you start playing EarthBound Beginnings, know what you're getting into. Even if you have a history with this type of old-school RPG, Beginnings is still pretty dated—even for a 1989 release—and requires a significant amount of grinding. And unlike EarthBound, you're not particularly gated from one town to the next as you solve various people's problems: From the beginning, a significant portion of the world map is freely available, and with no clear goal in sight. So if you need to use an FAQ if only to figure out where to go next, there's no shame in that.
Despite my complaints, I really do think Beginnings is worth a playthrough, though you might not get a whole lot out of it unless you're already riding the EarthBound fan train. Still, it features a lot of the stuff that makes EarthBound so great, even if this localization doesn't quite communicate the dry absurdism of series writer Shigesato Itoi as well as the sequel's would. Simply put, there's a reason Nintendo kept so much of Beginnings' content for the next game, especially most of the music. While it doesn't sound quite as good as EarthBound's great sample-based compositions, you'll find plenty of the sequel's song here in 8-bit format. And if you want to be a real EarthBound Beginnings superfan, you can always listen to the unexpectedly great vocal album released in Japan around the time of the game's launch.
It's been a pretty momentous time for EarthBound fans, but before we get a little too excited, it should be said that the release of Beginnings doesn't necessarily mean Mother 3 is on its way. While I'd like nothing more, it's important to remember Nintendo had an existing, in-house translation of Mother—something that's most likely not the case with the most recent sequel. Sure, it seems reasonable for Nintendo to work with the amazing folks who brought us the equally amazing Mother 3 translation back in 2008, but that brand out outsourcing doesn't seem like something Nintendo would ever do.
But, hey: baby steps. Just a handful of years ago, it seemed like EarthBound would never be made available again, and now, two out of the three games can be found on the Wii U's Virtual Console. I'm still holding out hope for a Mother 3 release, but thanks to EarthBound Beginnings, that "stranger things have happened" bar is now set pretty high.