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What Mother 3 Taught Me About Death, Grieving, and Two-by-Fours

Important lessons from a JRPG about a boy, his dog, and a whole lot of bad news.

Analysis by Nadia Oxford, .

Esteemed localizer Clyde "Tomato" Mandelin published a chronicle of Mother 3's development, distribution, and (fan) translation yesterday. The feature, which arrived on the 10th anniversary of Mandelin's own translation patch for Mother 3, is tens of thousands of words long and it contains dozens of images, including magazine scans dating back to 1997.

If you're a fan of Mother 3, the scope of Mandelin's retrospective probably doesn't surprise you. Between its tumultuous development history, the endless rumors about an incoming official translation, and the oft-sad content of the final Game Boy Advance title, few games elicit emotion like Mother 3. Few games tell you "It's OK to be mad about death" either, but that's what Mother 3 told me when I needed it most.

Rule One about Fight Club: We do not talk about the time we forced a little boy to wrestle with a T-Rex in Fight Club.

I played Mandelin's translation of Mother 3 almost immediately after finishing Earthbound. Both games were exactly what I needed in 2008, a year when Death procured a list from his robes that contained the names of a lot of people I loved (plus one beloved childhood dog) and said, "Time to get to work!" Since Earthbound is a game about kids saving the world when adults can't—or won't—protect the next generation, its positivity was a nice balm for my chapped soul.

But while Earthbound's saccharine journey healed me a bit, Mother 3's darker color palette and grim story moments helped me stay mad about the unfairness of death and the injustice of the world. Mother 3 has jokes and silliness, yes, but it's primarily remembered for striking moments like Flint's emotional breakdown early in the game. I'm still amazed at the level of care Mother's team put into the animation of Flint swinging around that chunk of firewood.

JRPGs primarily focused on child protagonists—Flint's son, Lucas, in Mother 3's case—often tell us about parents who lose their spouse or their home after an attack by a monster or an evil Empire or whatever, but we're rarely allowed to see their raw devastation. It's even rarer to see heroes attack and injure their friends while blinded with grief. Good guys undergoing a crisis are permitted to snap at their buddies with a few sarcastic or sharp words, after which they're expected to apologize, collect themselves, and strike out at the heart of an enemy who's never known the true bonds of love and friendship, poor thing. Flint, by contrast, is never "right" after the loss of his wife and one of his sons. He's only allowed the tiniest sip of closure after Mother 3's devastating final battle.

Flint is nearly consumed by the death of his family, and Mother 3 doesn't frame that consumption positively. He turns his back on his remaining son and his friends while corruption seeps into their peaceful town ahead of events that herald the literal end of the world. Flint's friends call him out on his decision to shut himself away from the world, and he doesn't respond.

Mother 3 doesn't necessarily contain a positive message about death, no, but it contains a realistic one that I appreciated in 2008, and still appreciate now. People don't always mourn gracefully. They usually mourn loudly and messily. Most importantly, grief isn't just a passing storm cloud that leaves you a little sadder. It wheels back around to bear down on you again, again, and again. You have decent days when you think you've figured everything out, and you have days when it hits you that the boisterous great-uncle who always kept his candy drawer well-stocked for you is now a cold pile of bones deep underground. When the realization hits that we're all helpless in the face of the Utter End, you do feel like striking out. The feeling comes back day after day, and sometimes you feel bad about it even if you don't actually plan to light a two-by-four on fire and start whacking your friends with it.

When Sony was flaunting Final Fantasy VII around town, N64 owners clung to whatever scraps of Earthbound 64 information they could find.

Mother 3 also shows us how devious grief can be. The scars on Lucas' soul fade a little and he moves on, as most of us do after the loss of a loved one. But in a way, Lucas is forced to deal with the loss of his father as well as his mother and twin brother. Nothing he says or does helps Flint surface from his grief. He's left alone with visions and memories of his mother, at least until he makes friends with Mother 3's motely crew. Lucas is a sensitive, quiet boy; the physical loss of his family and the additional breaking of Flint's spirit hurts him deeply. He's forced to grow up long before Mother 3 tasks him with saving the world. That's the kind of "trial by fire" character development you never forget.

Mother 3 isn't a perfect JRPG. Its anti-consumerism message isn't out of place in an era where we discard smartphones like candy wrappers, but animal-abusing villains like Fassad and the self-proclaimed King of Pigs, Porky Minch, don't really offer too many finer story points to dwell on. It's Mother 3's reflections on its characters' very human imperfections that I value. I think every JRPG fan should be allowed to experience those reflections even if they choose to forego a patched ROM because they want to support Mother series creator Shigesato Itoi and retro RPGs.

And that's why I hope WWE fans continue to hold up "LOCALIZE MOTHER 3" signs at events until it finally happens.

When begging on social media doesn't cut it, try infiltrating a WWE audience.

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