ROMHACK FRIDAYS: Mother (NES)

In this week’s Romhack Fridays, we’ll be looking at a complete hack. Unlike last week’s improvement hacks, complete hacks tend to be more involved. They often make drastic changes involving many facets of ROM hacking: reworked translations, visual upgrades, adjusted difficulty, and sometimes go even further, adding in new stages and gameplay features. Some notable games like Super Mario World and Super Metroid have received various complete hacks over the years. Their perfectly tuned gameplay mechanics are ample for new content and features. Today, we’ll be looking at a release that aims to make the definite experience for such a wonderfully quirky RPG. Upgrades and tweaks have been made to bring it closer to its sequels, but does it succeed? Let’s find out in this week’s Romhack Fridays.

Overview:

Notable Japanese copywriter Shigesato Itoi once pitched the idea for a roleplaying game set in modern times while visiting Nintendo for work. What he came up with was a tale of abduction, physic children, and motherly love. With the supervision of Shigeru Miyamoto, development was soon underway. Named after the famous John Lennon song, Mother was developed by Ape and released for the Famicom back in 1989. Taking cues from Dragon Quest, it is a traditional JRPG where you’ll find yourself exploring towns, leveling up your characters, and battling hordes of enemies.

But Mother was unique. It offered a much-needed break from the various fantasy settings of the time. Instead of taking on the role of a legendary hero, you played Ninten, a young American child with physic powers. You bashed enemies with baseball bats, consumed soda and hamburgers, and called your dad to record your progress. Itoi’s experience as a writer was well suited for the genre, as NPC’s didn’t exist for the sole reason of advancing the plot. Talking to every NPC was a delight, as their funny and interesting dialog helped made the world of Mother livelier.

Mother 1 Claymodels.png

It’s a great game held back by an insane encounter rate and grind. You can’t take two steps outside of your home before your up to your neck in hippies and smoking crows. It becomes a war of attrition. If battles were interesting or even fun in the slightest, it wouldn’t be such an issue. But let me tell you, they are not. Battle mechanics are lifted straight from Dragon Quest, with the same windowed, first person style. There a variety of wonderfully designed foes to battle. Sounds good so far, so what went wrong? Battles progress painfully slow and in rapid succession. You gain little experience points and are forced to grind if you want to make any progression. When you consider the amount of backtracking you have to do throughout the game, it can get borderline obnoxious.

An extremely limited inventory system only adds to the difficulty, as you have to choose very carefully what you bring on your quest. Little annoyances add up and it soon becomes hard to recommend the game in its unaltered form. However, as a huge fan of Earthbound, I couldn’t just give up on the game. I’ve tried the easy patch which should have solved these issues, but fell into another extreme, stripping the game of any semblance of a challenge. What I wanted most was a rebalancing of Mother, but what I got was so much more.

The Hack: Mother 25th Anniversary

Developed by DragonDePlatino, the Mother 25th Anniversary patch is quite the comprehensive hack. Graphics have been altered to stay more faithful to their clay models. The overworld was tweaked to breathe some life into it and make easier to traverse. And balance changes were made to get rid of the tedious grinding. The goal of the hack was to “make Mother much more enjoyable for both Earthbound fans and those playing it for the first time”. Let’s break down some of these major changes.

Mother (Japan)-170623-195456Earthbound Zero [25th Anniversary]-170623-194608

Having spent so many years replaying Earthbound, it was always tough going back to the original Mother. It has just not aged well visually. The backgrounds are barren, there is a limited use of colors and some funky looking enemy designs. It lacks much of the aesthetic charm you’d see in other NES RPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. The changes made work well, as characters are much more appealing to look at and are closer to the art style found in Earthbound. Background elements have been retouched and rearranged, adding detailed were needed, and sprucing up the tame colors of the original, all while making them easier to navigate. I’ve seen some argue that the characters look a bit too chubby and round, but I still greatly prefer them to the original clunky sprite designs.

Earthbound Zero [25th Anniversary]-170623-145640

Not only have encounter rates been decreased, but battles end quicker too, and the added experience points help ease some of the grind. But unlike the easy patch, you won’t just breeze through the game. It feels like enemy stats have been altered to account for the lower encounter rate and XP gains. For example, when I reached my first Star Man Jr in the zoo, I had to be mindful of keeping myself alive while dishing out attacks. It wasn’t just pressing the A button until I won. The changes are challenging, faster, and grinding no longer feels essential.

Earthbound Zero [25th Anniversary]-170623-150351Earthbound Zero [25th Anniversary]-170623-111056

As for the translation, out goes Nintendo’s official translation in favor of Tomato’s top-notch work on Mother 1+2. The official translation always read a bit too dry and literal. Tomato’s translation is far more in line with the humor and writing style you’ve come to expect from the series. It’s charming, quirky, and a joy to read. I can’t think of too many RPGs out there where I’d go out of my way to talk to NPCs, but the Mother series has a way of hooking you into its world and inhabitants.

Verdict:

Earthbound Zero [25th Anniversary]-170623-110619

If DragonDePlatino goal was to make the essential Mother 1 experience, it was an astounding success. Playing through the game for the third time, I’ve found it felt less like work and allowed me to take in all the sights and characters. Earthbound and Mother 3 were never about their role-playing mechanics. They were used as a means to an end, as a way of delivering more personal and unique stories than found in other role-playing games. Mother 25th Anniversary refines the experience both visually and mechanically, letting fans enjoy the best of what the original Mother had to offer. It really does feel like playing Mother 1 for the first time given the amount of work put into the hack.

I felt it was best to leave this to the end. Earthbound Beginnings for the Wii U. If you are a fan of Earthbound and still own a Wii U, I implore you to buy it. If there is any chance of getting an official release of Mother 3 in the West one day, we all have to put our part in supporting Earthbound in America. But that doesn’t mean I recommend playing Beginnings over the 25th Anniversary patch. Beginnings suffer from censorship and the various issues presented above. I say purchase it out of loyalty to the series. If you’re interested in experiencing Mother for the first time, I’m confident you will love it as much as I have, with the 25th Anniversary Patch. Now go out and sing a song of love.

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