Of all of Nintendo’s franchises, there’s none that has gotten the short end of the stick as much as the EarthBound (or Mother) series. Year in and year out fans of the whimsical RPG franchise anticipate every single E3 conference, Tokyo Game Show and Nintendo Direct in the hopes of… something related to the series making its way to their Nintendo systems and every year and every single time the result is the same; disappointment, anger and circling the next Nintendo event on the calendar and marking it down as ‘the time it finally gets announced.’ Despite this very loyal and vocal set of fans constantly demanding that Nintendo pays attention to the EarthBound series the situation is a bit more complicated than what is the case with many other of Nintendo’s properties leading us to ask – does the series even have a future?
Before we get to talking about the future, let’s take a quick look back at the series’ history.
Our story begins in 1989 when Shigesato Itoi, with the approval of Shigeru Miyamoto, released Mother on the Famicom. The game, set in a contemporary analog to Washington state told the story of Ninten and his quest to unravel supernatural mysteries happening near his hometown. Despite selling quite well in Japan and being fully localized for English-speaking audiences, Nintendo decided to hold off on releasing Mother overseas, supposedly in order to put more focus on the game’s sequel Mother 2 or as we here in North America know it – EarthBound. Released in June of 1995, EarthBound was many westerners first look at the series but sadly, despite being in and of itself a great game, many factors were working against it. The Super NES was getting long in the tooth at this point and EarthBound admittedly looks pretty ho-hum in screenshots and advertisements. The advertising campaign for the game itself was also questionable and involved more fart jokes than anything else. At the end of the day, the game failed to meet Nintendo of America’s sale targets and a potential European release was cancelled.
Despite this, Mother 2 was a hit in Japan and Itoi quickly began development of a third game in the series. Originally planned for the Super NES, Mother 3‘s development shifted to the Nintendo 64 and the 64-DD add-on before finally releasing on the Game Boy Advance in 2006. The garnered universal praise from the Japanese media and fans and was a hit at retail as well. Despite all of this Nintendo has rarely acknowledged this game’s existence out of Japan with the closest fans have gotten being the game’s main character – Lucas’ inclusion in the Super Smash Bros. series since the release of Brawl. At E3 2014 Nintendo even took a shot at the fan demands for Mother 3‘s localization as part of their collaboration with Robot Chicken.
Clip courtesy of BakaCoptr24
So where does all of this leave us North American fans of the series now? Well thankfully it seems Nintendo has not fully abandoned the series in its entirety as EarthBound has become a regular inclusion wherever SNES games are re-released as the game is now available on the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U Virtual Consoles as well as included as part of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System Classic Edition. On top of this, the original Mother was finally released in North America on the Wii U Virtual Console back in 2015, now titled EarthBound: Beginnings. So while we have yet to see anything ‘new’ from the series, there’s definitely a feeling of momentum going on right now when it comes to the future of the series.
But what will this future look like? Sadly it doesn’t seem like Mother 4 would be a part of that. In a blog post back from 2006, shortly following the Japanese release of Mother 3, Shigesato Itoi was quoted as saying “not Mother 4” when asked if future game development was possible. Seeing as how this quote is now over a decade old it stands to reason that we won’t be seeing a 4th entry in the series. But that doesn’t mean that the series is dead and Nintendo won’t ever revisit the world of EarthBound, it just means what we might see will be a little… different.
You see, Itoi’s quote directly references a potential 4th game in the mainline series, but this doesn’t stop Nintendo from producing side games or spin-offs. Sure there would have to be some negotiations involved as the rights to the franchise are only partially owned by Nintendo (Itoi controls the rest) but the EarthBound franchise is well suited to other games that tell stories outside of the main storyline. And while its hard to imagine an EarthBound game that is not an RPG, Nintendo have proven to be masters of taking their franchises and putting new spins on them. We’ve seen Mario play sports, Link star in a shooter and Samus turn into a pinball, so there really is no limit to what could be done with a franchise with such a rich world as EarthBound.
And then there’s the remake route. While all three games in the series are still very playable they have aged significantly and serve more as reminders of what RPGs were in the early 90’s. EarthBound Beginnings in particular is rather hard to get through today with its slow progression system and endless slog of random encounters. Nintendo could do fans of the series a big favor by updating and re-releasing these games on the 3DS and/or Switch, complete with refined battle systems, updated visuals and other perks that come with being a modern game. This would also open up the series to new players and expose more people to the franchise outside of ‘those psychic kids from Smash Bros.’. And then of course is the possibility that Mother 3 finally gets a western release though that feels like a given at this point considering the amount of people pestering Nintendo about it.
What will Nintendo do with the EarthBound series has been the subject of speculation for years now and we are no closer to an answer in 2017 than we were in 2007 or any other time really. But that doesn’t mean that we wont ever get to play another game in the series again. While Mother 4 may be off the table, that doesn’t exclude the possibility of a spin-off or side game continuing the story in some form. And then there’s the option to get updated and enhanced remakes of the series which could introduce a whole new generation of players to the wonders of EarthBound. Simply put, there’s a lot that Nintendo could do with the series outside of just releasing Mother 3 in the West.