The Week in Japan: Sweet Mother 3

The Week in Japan: Sweet Mother 3

Mother 3 scores big in Famitsu, Ninety-Nine Nights is looking lovely, Japanese FPSers anticipate GRAW, and Animal Crossing: Wild World is the top-selling game of ’05. More Japanese reports from Tim Rogers await within…

This week’s Famitsu’s cover depicts Mother 3, a game about the twin sons of a cowboy setting off on an adventure in a futuristic, post-semi-apocalyptic world to seek . . . something. I will not spoil it for you. It is written by famed essayist Shigesato Itoi, whose previous game, Mother 2, came out twelve years ago and inspired legions of non-gamers to weep at its cathartic ending. The sequel is anticipated in the lowest-key of ways — promoted only by Itoi’s personal site and by the memories of the devoted players of its previous installments, scored a not-surprising 10, 9, 8, 8 from Famitsu last week, and will probably sell a million copies this week. It is for Gameboy Advance, and it will cost 4,800 yen. I have my copy already. Yes, I’m bragging. No, I haven’t gotten far in it yet, so I guess I shouldn’t brag.

The one page ad for Mother 3 in this week’s issue carries the game’s tag line: "It was bizarre; it was interesting. And then, it was devastating." And the English words "STORY, SCENARIO & MESSAGE" above the Japanese name "Shigesato Itoi." I wonder what the "MESSAGE" part means? I guess I’ll have to play it to find out.

For one thing, I can break a little bit of news to you about the game — first of all, there is no kanji used in the dialogue. This is a huge point; Itoi got the idea to make a game with dialogue written only in the hiragana syllabic alphabet while playing the original Dragon Quest one day, sick in bed. He was forced to read all of the dialogue aloud because games back then couldn’t display kanji, and reading Japanese without the kanji is, to a native speaker, a lot like reading English where all the words are stuffed together without spaces. Itoi said he relished the experience, because he was able to read the battle messages as though he were a sports announcer. This is what gave him the idea to make his game with no kanji, even though kanji might, by then, be possible to insert into a game. He wanted players to read his story aloud. The final battle of Mother 2 would exploit the effect to bewildering results. The instruction manual for Mother 2, in fact, also begins with the lyrics to a song, telling you that, when the song shows up in the game, you’ll have to sing along.

The font in Mother 3, at least, is very clean-looking. The text windows are black, with whtie text; the high contrast configuration was aptly chosen for a Gameboy Advance game.

Itoi had encouraged players to play Mother 2 with their televisions set on stereo, because the music had his full endorsement as high-quality. Maybe a lot of players didn’t do this. Well, Itoi will fix them with Mother 3 — in order to do maximum damage during battles, you need to time your button presses to the music. This makes the game not nearly as playable without headphones.

I remember Hideo Kojima lamenting a long time ago about how no one listened to the music in his game Boktai. He said he wanted to think of a way to make it necessary to listen to the music, because they put a lot of work into it. Who knew the answer was so simple?

Like Mother 2, Mother 3 has numerous battle themes, usually selected at random, so no matter of memorization will let you get away with cheating on the rhythm element.

I’m keeping tabs on an unfolding interview with Shigesato Itoi on, um, Shigesato Itoi’s blog. (Yes, he got someone else to interview him for his own site.) The interview is on the subject of the game; so far, he hasn’t revealed anything about why the Nintendo 64 version was put on hiatus. He’s only said that the N64 game was to be "Like a movie," and that this version, born during a casual conversation with Shigeru Miyamoto in a taxicab bound from Nintendo headquarters to downtown Kyoto, is like a small play. He also alludes to holing himself up into a writing frenzy to completely finish the game’s script in time for the game’s production.

The game’s theme is "love for one’s family." I personally look forward to whatever little revelations the game brings my way. I will not spoil it for you, don’t worry.

THURSDAY THURSDAY THURSDAY

Mother 3 is not alone; this Thursday, that is, tomorrow, sees the release of Square-Enix’s light-user-friendly Dragon Quest: Young Yangus and the Mysterious Dungeon (developed by my favorite little studio cavia) and Capcom’s Okami for PlayStation2, as well as Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Ninety-Nine Nights for Xbox 360. Each one of these games is a triple-A title worthy of (at least) twenty hours of any self-respecting videogamer’s time.

Next: N3

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