The Mother series is one of the most beloved franchises in gaming history. Known as Earthbound in the west, the series is renowned for its quirkiness, unique graphics, and nontraditional RPG gameplay. Although the original NES title only recently made its way to the west, the Super Nintendo Earthbound is the one most players have attached to.
So what happened? How does a series with so much adoration and cult status not have more on offer? Why has this series died, and is it worth resurrecting? Let’s do the dive and see if the Earthbound franchise is worth bringing back to life.
Mother is the brainchild of Shigesato Itoi, a Japanese entertainer with many titles under his belt. He simply presented the idea of an RPG set in the modern world to Shigeru Miyamoto, and once Itoi showed full commitment to the project, Miyamoto gave his blessing. The first title, which released on the Famicom (NES) in Japan on July 27th, 1989, was a strong shift from the normal settings in most RPGs, as the contemporary setting allowed Itoi and company to do and include things that were not in RPGs at the time.
The original Mother did incredibly well in Japan, its only market, as it sold over 400,000 units and received lots of high praise from critics thanks to its quirky nature and parodying of tropes within the genre. The biggest complaints about the original were the high difficulty and balancing, so many Japanese eagerly awaited Mother 2 when it was announced, hoping that it would improve upon everything that Itoi established in the first.
Unfortunately, sales did not meet expectations with Mother 2/Earthbound, as Nintendo took the risk of releasing the sequel in America as well. Earthbound sold 440,000 copies worldwide, which barely beat the original that only sold in Japan. What’s more is that Mother 2, the Japanese release, sold 300,000 units, meaning the US only accounted for roughly 140,000 Earthbound units sold. This had a lot to do with poor marketing and the “this game stinks” ads that did a lot more bad than good. Because of the commercial failure in the US, Earthbound did not release in Europe.
Understandably, when Nintendo decided to give Itoi another shot at the Mother series, they ultimately decided that they would only release the third entry in Japan. Mother 3 was announced initially for the Nintendo 64, and although Earthbound 64 was in the talks, that was scrapped rather quickly. Unfortunately for this project, Mother 3 went through development hell, as Itoi’s vision for this third entry was beginning to move so far away from the original ideas that people on the team were beginning to wonder if fans would even accept it as part of the series.
Well, Mother 3 never happened on the Nintendo 64, as it was outright cancelled, and it was reannounced 3 years later for the Game Boy Advance. Itoi abandoned the original graphical direction but kept the same plot and characters. What we ended up getting was a true sequel that felt like a natural step forward for the franchise. But that was it. The last entry, which released April 20th, 2006 in Japan and sold just over 300,000 copies.
When you look at the Mother series’ sales, it is a bit disappointing, and it has everything to do with Earthbound. Sales in Japan across all three games were solid and expected, but that one try with Earthbound in the US killed momentum. Prior to Earthbound, Nintendo could barely do any wrongs in the US, as most of their SNES games were selling millions of units thanks to the SNES’s giant install base of nearly 50 million. Earthbound was seen as a colossal failure, and the Japan side of Nintendo did not do a good job helping the American side to understand what they were receiving and how to advertise for it. The results ended with mixed reviews and poor sales.
To this day, Mother 3 has never officially released outside of Japan, and it has only been in recent years that Nintendo has released the original Mother, known in the west as Earthbound Beginnings, on certain services like Nintendo Switch Online. But the overarching problem, and one that many Earthbound fans cannot come to grips with, is that Nintendo has no faith in the franchise anymore. Even in its native country of Japan, sales were not super-great. They were just okay, and when Mother 3 could not even outsell the first two, that seemed like the final nail in the coffin.
What makes this most unfortunate is that Mother 3 is the most critically acclaimed of the bunch, refining the series in just about every way. What is even more devastating is that Nintendo released Mother 1 + 2 on the Game Boy Advance just a couple years prior to Mother 3, and that combo outsold the brand new Mother 3. This means that the Mother/Earthbound series faces a very difficult problem, and that is a hardcore fanbase that talks a whole lot more than they act. What I mean is that the supposed fans are only fans by their word and not by their purchasing of the games in the series.
Consider the pitiful US sales, and I will tell you, I was one of those owners. I had the big box that contained the game and the strategy guide, but I also know that I was the only person within my friends that had the game. Based on the US sales of Earthbound, I would even say I was the only person in my hometown that actually owned the game, and Nintendo recognizes this reality. They cannot continue making sequels to a series that people do not actually purchase, so although the series receives a lot of love from gamers, they haven’t invested in the series the right way when it meant the most.
Both Earthbound Beginnings and Earthbound are available on the NES and SNES apps for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers, but Mother 3 has yet to make an appearance since initially releasing in 2006. Speculation is that a Game Boy/Game Boy Advance channel will be added to Nintendo Switch Online, but even if that happens, the odds of Mother 3 getting localized for the west is highly unlikely.
Ness and Lucas have stayed relevant for years thanks to their inclusion in the Smash Bros series, but as an actual fan of Earthbound, it does break my heart that these incredible characters and their amazing stories are stuck in a video game limbo of sorts. As much as I want a new Earthbound, I cannot blame Nintendo for not wanting to try again with the franchise. All of the Mother/Earthbound releases combined do not even outsell the recently released Metroid Dread, which is not good, as the Metroid series is also known for unimpressive sales.
At the end of the day, the Earthbound series just does not have any chance for a resurrection. It would be too risky for Nintendo to invest a lot of money in a game that will most likely not meet sales expectations, and we only have one group to blame for this reality: the fans. If we want more of a certain thing, then we have to invest, and sadly, we did not collectively invest in Earthbound, the game we all supposedly love.
Thank you for stopping by Nintendo Link! What do you think of the series? Are you a fan? Did you actually buy Earthbound on the SNES? Let us know in the comments below! Happy gaming, everyone.
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My name is Jason Capp. I am a husband, father, son, and brother, and I am a gamer, a writer, and a wannabe pro wrestler. It is hard to erase the smile on this simple man.