Soapbox: Mother 3 Isn’t Sad, It’s Hopeful

Image: Nintendo Life / Zion Grassl

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they’ve got on their minds. Today, Alana wants to tell you why you should find hope and not just gloom in Mother 3. You’ll still cry, though, don’t worry. Now, are you ready? Say… Fuzzy Pickles!

Please be aware that major story points and endgame spoilers for Mother 3 will be discussed here, including themes of loss and grief that some readers may wish to avoid. Read on at your own risk.

“No crying until the end!”

This quote from a commercial for the original Mother probably best fits Mother 3. The GBA entry in the series has a very different approach to storytelling when compared to its predecessors. In a series where irreverent humour and unique and silly enemies are the most remembered aspects, Mother 3’s string of traumatic events and tear-jerking moments stand out.

But for all of the pain and sorrow that Mother 3 puts its characters through, I don’t think it’s a “sad” game. That’s not to dismiss the horrible events or character deaths that happen, but I think there’s a hopeful thread running through the whole game that, by the end, presents a picture of moving on with your head held high.

In the prologue, we meet Lucas (the protagonist), his twin brother Claus, their mother Hinawa, and her husband, Flint. Hinawa and the twins are visiting her father, Alec. In the opening montage, the world is colourful and welcoming, with lush green grass, vibrant purple mountains, and friendly creatures like napping dinosaurs (Dragos) and chatty and aggressive mole crickets. Yep, this is definitely a Mother game.

Skip to the end of chapter one, however, and the Pigmask Army has invaded Lucas’ hometown of Tazmily, the surrounding forest has been set fire to, an out-of-control Drago has killed Lucas and Claus’ mother, and Claus is now missing. In little over an hour of game time, you’ve already run the gamut of emotions – confusion at the invasion, panic, relief, hope, happiness, then pure, crushing sadness.

You’re likely wondering why I’m diving into some of the game’s most awful events – and it won’t be the last time – but Hinawa is such a key figure in Mother 3 despite her physical absence. Mothers have always been critical in this aptly-titled series, from healing your party to being a reassuring voice down the phone. Of course, Lucas’ mother is a comforting voice too, but she’s also the biggest symbol of hope in the game.

In chapter one, Lucas says to his father while standing by Hinawa’s grave, “She can’t even punish me anymore…” as though he wants to take the blame for his mother’s death. But in chapter four – after a three-year time skip that sees Tazmily become a much-more suburban town – Lucas revisits his mother’s grave. You see a short flashback of Hinawa putting the washing out and laughing as the twins run towards her. Then the soft flashback music fades with the memories, and the peppy, upbeat ‘A Railway in Our Village’ resumes.

Mother 3 is often about reflection and moving on – sometimes for the worst, but often for the best, I think. Despite all of the horrors of the world, there’s always something to cling to. This scene at the grave shows Lucas reflecting, missing, grieving, and accepting. The positive memories of his mother help push him forward. It’s appropriate that Lucas becomes the protagonist from chapter four onwards. Characters comment on how “gallant” he is and that his father “doesn’t need to worry anymore” because of how strong he is. That’s despite everything Lucas has been through. He’s grown into someone who can lead.

Claus Lucas Adventure 1 720
Of happier times… (Image: Nintendo Life / Zion Grassl)

As soon as Lucas takes charge, Mother 3 becomes a game about a group of outsiders who push back against aggressive conformism, who want to restore people’s familial and community connections, and who (eventually) end up saving the world. The famous four are; Lucas, the shy, quiet boy; Duster, a thief with a clubbed leg; Kumatora, a tomboyish princess; and Boney, a dog. It’s far from your typical JRPG party – one is an introvert, one has a disability, one defies traditional gender conventions, and one is… a dog. Like Beginnings and EarthBound, these are just ordinary people you might meet in real life, but they’re underdogs, people you root for, and people you might associate with. They give you hope.

Like Beginnings and EarthBound, these are just ordinary people you might meet in real life, but they’re underdogs, people you root for, and people you might associate with. They give you hope.

One of the most iconic parts of the game is chapter six. This chapter takes place after Lucas and his friends destroy the Thunder Tower – a structure created by the Pigmask Army to destroy any home in Tazmily that doesn’t have a “happy box” (a TV). The group attempt to escape the tower, only to be separated. Lucas, alone, wakes up in a sea of sunflowers.

There’s so much to take in during this sequence. The overabundance of yellow and blue. The apparition of Lucas’ mother. The shift in music from a soothing lullaby to a hopeful, almost-euphoric piece. And the very end, where Lucas jumps for his mother, reaches out to her, and falls off a cliff. Both Lucas and Boney land safely in a haystack outside of Tazmily Village, which Alec and Wess, Duster’s father, built after Hinawa came to them in a dream.

Mother 3 never clarifies whether the sunflower field sequence is real, but it doesn’t really matter either. Whether it’s a dream or a moment of grief, it’s a beautifully moving scene that propels Lucas and fills him with hope and love. His mother, even in death, shows Lucas the right path. Lucas trusts her enough even to jump off a cliff. And the dream Alec and Wess have is what saves Lucas and his pet pooch. Lucas deserves to live. He is a child, the future of the world. And he has given the people of Tazmily village hope by destroying the lighting tower.

Sunflowers are prominent throughout Mother 3, particularly concerning Hinawa. The common sunflower is a tall, bold plant symbolises the life-giving sun. Chinese culture says that sunflowers mean good luck and happiness. And in hanakotoba (the Japanese language of flowers), sunflowers represent respect, love, and radiance. They’re a strong, gorgeous blossom and hope-giving symbol to many. Because of this, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there are sunflowers around Hinawa’s grave.

Chapters seven and eight mark the culmination of Lucas’ growth. Lucas is tasked with pulling the Seven Needles from the ground across the world by the Magypsies, the needles’ guardians. The needles seal the Dark Dragon sleeping under the Nowhere Islands. If all seven needles are pulled, the dragon will awaken and will respond to the wishes of whoever pulls the most Needles. If they are kindhearted, the dragon will do something good; if bad, they will likely destroy the island.

Despite guarding objects that might determine the world’s fate, the Magypsies are very optimistic. The human-like race ends their sentences with love hearts, and Ionia and Doria, in particular, love and care about the world and its people. Lydia even shows compassion to a Pigmask soldier. And, even though they know they’ll die when their needle is pulled, they accept it without fear, leaving a memento for Lucas to “remember” them by. They are essentially dubbing him the world’s last hope by giving Lucas this task, and he accepts this.

Despite being silent for over half the game, Lucas’ kindness and resilience make him relatable and empathetic.

Despite being silent for over half the game, Lucas’ kindness and resilience make him relatable and empathetic. Lucas has been exposed to death, the complete urbanisation of his home, aggressive creatures and sentient objects, animal cruelty and experimentation, and now the end of the world. Lucas’ growth is acknowledged when you meet Nippolyte, the grave keeper, at Hinawa’s grave. He says that Lucas is his father’s “only salvation” because Lucas has moved on while taking lessons of kindness and resilience from Hinawa. Nippolyte then gives Lucas a Courage Badge, a gift from Flint, and a physical representation of Lucas’ development.

Characters like Salsa the monkey come back to repay Lucas’ kindness by saving his life, displaying more humanity than many of the selfish, capitalist-embracing villagers. And locations like Tanetane Island throw the most bizarre, testing, and cruel moments at both Lucas and the player. But after encountering the Masked Man and being saved by his Courage Badge (which is actually a Franklin Badge), Lucas must find the final needle.

Lucas and his friends are whisked off to a capitalistic utopia, New Pork City, in chapter eight. This place is a grotesque industrial metropolis with theme park rides, replicas of real-life landmarks, fast food restaurants, and a monstrous skyscraper looming at the back. You learn an overwhelming amount in New Pork City – the truth of the Nowhere Islands; that the leader of the Pigmask Army is Porky Minch; and the identity of the Masked Man.

Leder, the bellringer, tells Lucas that Tazmily’s residents are survivors of an apocalypse caused by human greed. They wiped their memories, and this new home was idyllic and allowed them to start afresh until an outside force (Porky and the Pigmask Army) uprooted their perfect community and corrupted it with capitalism, televisions, commerce, and convenience. It’s a cycle that can easily be seen as a hopeless read on society. If this is going to happen again, what’s the point of saving the world?

Lucas and friends climb to the top of this EarthBound reference-laden skyscraper and encounter Porky, strapped to a life-support bed. He’s a hopeless figure of greed and loneliness who clings to the past and uses power and money to try and make himself feel fulfilled. After being dropped down to the location of the final needle, Lucas and company fight Porky, who traps himself inside a machine that protects him from harm but cannot be opened again. He is already immortal, but now he’s trapped with himself, his own worst enemy, for eternity.

I did what the tagline said – I cried at the end. But those tears soon changed from tears of sorrow to something else.

When Lucas approaches the seventh needle, he sees the Masked Man, who we now know is a brainwashed Claus. Claus and Lucas duel, but all Lucas can do is defend. But, like a glint of light, the boys can hear Hinawa’s voice. She awakens memories in Claus, like Flint and Hinawa naming their kids, their time as a family, and thoughts of hope and love. Unfortunately, this also causes Claus to come to his senses, and remember the tragedies he’s committed under Porky’s control. And he ends his own life.

This moment is one of the most emotionally taxing cutscenes and fights I’ve ever seen in a video game. It made me feel utterly hopeless. I couldn’t save Lucas’ mother, but now I’d also failed to save Claus. He wouldn’t get to see the world after Lucas pulls the final needle. I did what the tagline said – I cried at the end. But those tears soon changed from tears of sorrow to something else.

Lucas, his father, and his friends all grieve for the twin before Lucas, with determination, pulls the needle. And the Nowhere Islands are apparently destroyed. Then, the screen goes black, and the words END appear. And, then, they change to END? You can “move” around this black screen and talk to characters, but you can’t see them. Many call this “apocalypse” a “miracle”; others say they’re excited about the future. Someone else says, “This world might’ve been completely destroyed had it not been for you.” And that’s where it sunk in.

Mother 3 15th Anniversary Screenshot
Look! Even Negative Man is okay! (Image: Hobonichi via Twitter)

I thought back to Leder’s speech about the truth of Tazmily and realised this too was a clean slate but in a different way. The survivors here would all remember what happened. They were grateful to be alive. They were hopeful for the future. They acknowledge the loss, and they’ll remember, just like Lucas has the Magypsies mementos, just like Lucas thinks of his mother, and (likely) just how Lucas will remember his twin brother, who gave up his life. But, despite everything, Lucas is okay – lots of people are okay.

Mother 3 paints grief in many ways, but it also shows growth and moving on in positive, optimistic ways.

After the credits roll, you see a brand new Mother 3 logo. The original one is a mix of industrial metal and wood, symbolizing the island’s eventual commodification. But the wood is still there, not entirely gone – it’s a tiny shred of something to hold onto. But the final logo is all wood, like tree branches, and instead of the metal orb representing the ‘O’, the Mother series staple – Mother Earth – sits in its place. New and humble beginnings are ahead for everyone.

Mother 3 paints grief in many ways – Flint’s anger at losing his wife, Lucas completely shutting down, and many characters wallowing and allowing themselves to be taken over by another force. But it also shows growth and moving on in positive, optimistic ways. It gives hope to those who have lost something, no matter how difficult things get. It acknowledges that it’s okay to struggle, but there is good in the world, and everyone deserves it. Even as Lucas’ childlike innocence is shredded away, he pushes forward against all odds.

That’s what makes Mother 3 hopeful. By the time I realised this, my tears weren’t ones of sadness – they were tears of relief and joy.

You may also like...