MOTHER 3 is a powerful game that shows themes of feudalism versus technocracy, Darwinistic natural selection, individualism and conformity, and nature versus technology.
MOTHER 3 begins in Tazmily Village, a utopian paradise where humans and nature live in harmony. One day, an army of Pig-like soldiers invades the area and transforms the local wildlife into mechanical abominations, setting off a chain of events that eventually changes the tranquil lives of the town’s inhabitants forever. As the player, you play as multiple characters through eight distinct chapters to make sense of this strange and changing world.
The chief villain Porky and his Pigmask Army’s childish disregard and active malevolence towards nature drives much of the game’s conflict. In the prologue, the Pigmask Army sets fire to the forest for no discernible reason. Chapter 3 has Fassad, Porky’s chief underling, blackmail and torture the player’s avatar, a monkey named Salsa. Throughout Chapter 5, 7, and 8, the player journeys through a host of laboratories where scientists brainwash and experiment on various creatures. The very logo of the game sports this motif of unnatural melding – a mix of wood and metal, the organic and inorganic rammed together to elicit feelings of unease.
MOTHER 3 is about the corruption of utopia. The arrival of the Porky and his Army sets off a family tragedy and a chain of events that forever transforms Tazmily village. Over the span of three short years, rapid modernization of the town sends people to work at factories, creates a caste of disposable slaves, and transforms authentic happiness into a manufactured commodity. Those marginalized by or opposed to such radical change are exiled to the town’s margins or struck down by lightning bolts generated from a distant tower of judgement.
The isolation and dehumanization of modernity; the homogenization of individual thought and desire; the emptiness and ennui associated with consumerism – these are all elements expressed in MOTHER 3. By the end of the game, Tazmily becomes a ghost town, with its inhabitants relocated to the glamorous but ultimately shallow metropolis of New Pork City.
MOTHER 3 is also a bildungsroman, a tale of a child who matures into adulthood. Lucas, one of the main protagonists, is forced to grow up too fast in the wake of his mother’s sudden death, his brother’s lingering disappearance, and his father’s ensuing depression. From Chapter 4 on, the player guides Lucas and his friends to overcome enemies and challenges, eventually becoming strong enough to face Fassad and Porky.
A Unique Literary Telling
What I love about MOTHER 3 is that the entire package exists as a contradiction. Itoi’s insistence to use the videogame medium to tell a story that is structured like a play, complete with multiple acts and protagonists. The insertion of surreal and bizarre humour into serious moments. The fearless reliance of musical motifs or wordless silence to carry the emotional weight of pivotal scenes. The choice of child-like visuals to convey a narrative steeped in adult matters of grief, loss, and the inevitability of change.
Out of these deliberate clashes emerges MOTHER 3’s ability to provoke and evoke. MOTHER 3 can make you laugh out loud one moment and then tear up the next. It is completely self-aware but is strong on warmth and whimsy. Its world is strange but is never weird for the sake of weird (well, almost never.) The story revolves around mature themes but never takes itself too seriously. The game constantly subverts expectations, and it is out of these acts of subversion that the game’s depth and nuances of thought shines through. Tragic, absurd, maddening, funny, poignant – MOTHER 3 can be all of these things for a player. It resists being distilled into the neat simple summaries like the ones above – a key characteristic of literary work.
Interestingly, it is less Lucas’ courage but more his childish innocence, retained through a traumatic journey in adulthood, that proves instrumental to the story’s conclusion. In the last scene, Lucas conveys his will towards the reconstruction of a broken world. While there is no going back to the false paradise of Tazmily and the outcome is not shown as the credits roll, the player is assured that the future, guided by Lucas’ innate kindness and empathy, is a hopeful one.