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Tips for Buying EarthBound

February 5th, 2012 | EarthBound, MOTHER 1, MOTHER 1+2, MOTHER 3

An extremely common thing I see on message boards and e-mails is:

I want to get into the Mother / EarthBound games but don’t know where to start. What do you recommend?

So I thought it’d be nice to make a short page about the topic to make everything nice and clear. I present to you The Newcomer’s Guide to the EarthBound / Mother series!

Now I know a lot of people will disagree with where I put MOTHER 1. I spent a lot of time trying to decide where to put MOTHER 1, and in the end that seemed the best place to me, but at the very least I want to bring this point across:

If you’re a newcomer and you ever decide to play the first MOTHER game, don’t bother with the unfinished NES version – play the MOTHER 1+2 translation patch version instead! I made it specifically because of the fact that the NES version is so hard for people to get into.

I feel like I’ve left some stuff out of that page, so let me know if you think I should add anything else. And if you disagree with my suggestions, please feel free to chime in with your own order of games!

Basically, I want to try to share the series with more people, so send this suggestion page far and wide! If you ever see anyone ask which game they should start with, give them this handy link for reference 😀

EDIT: I’ve since updated the page to incorporate some of the readers’ suggestions. Keep ’em coming!


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58 Comments to The Newcomer’s Guide to MOTHER

emobook101 said on Feb. 5, 2012

why is the NES version not recomended? I already have a repro on the way… :'(

Mato said on Feb. 5, 2012

The majority of EarthBound fans have a really hard time enjoying the NES beta. Part of it is because EarthBound improved on so many things, so going backwards is tough. Another part is that the text is kind of bleh and in translation-ese (although it was pretty okay for the time).

My patch corrects some of these things, and also retains many of the connections with the other two games that were lost during the NES version’s translation. The M1+2 patch also includes the optional Easy Ring, since probably the biggest from EarthBound from fans was the sheer grindiness of the first game.

I’m not saying the NES version is *bad*, I’m just saying that if I had to recommend the first game to a newcomer, I’d personally suggest the M1+2 version over the NES version.

Miles of SmashWiki said on Feb. 5, 2012

No offense meant, Mato, but I have to take issue with the idea skipping the NES version. Despite its flaws it is the closest thing we have to an official release of Mother in English. I think it better supports the series to play the Nintendo-commissioned translation wherever possible.

Not to mention that while the NES version is admittedly difficult, it isn’t the impossibility that people seem to claim it is.

Mato said on Feb. 5, 2012

Well, I suggest the M1+2 version because if someone completely new plays the NES version and can’t stand the grindiness, they’re probably going to give up and not continue with the other games. For most outsiders, the first game probably isn’t as stand-out-y as the other two games and might make people think, “This series isn’t so great after all, what’s the big deal?” In that regard, I almost suggested not playing the game at all, but that would be a terrible thing to suggest :X

EDIT: As an example, see the Happy Video Game Nerd’s EarthBound video. He absolutely LOVES EarthBound to death and gushes about it throughout the whole thing, but when it comes time to discuss the NES version of EarthBound Zero, he’s like, “Uhh… it’s certainly an NES game!” and then changes subjects to a completely different game 😛

I want to avoid newcomers having that same reaction, hence why I suggested the M1+2 version, even if it isn’t official (although neither is the Mother 3 translation). In fact, as soon as I finished seeing his video I recommended the patch to him too.

gBev said on Feb. 5, 2012

I agree with putting the 1+2 patch over the NES version, I hadn’t actually beaten the game before I had that.

I usually tell people to start with EB though, mainly because I feel like if they don’t like EB0 they’ll never try the others. Not just because of the grinding, but because a lot of aspects of the game are inferior to the others, and someone playing in 2012 could easily think it was poor quality because of its simplicity.

Mato said on Feb. 5, 2012

Yeah, that’s why I was a little unsure of where to put EB0/M1 in the list. But I know from firsthand experience how hard it is to go from 2 to 1. That’s why I’m curious to know what order other people would suggest, maybe there’s a better one, I dunno.

gBev said on Feb. 5, 2012

I guess it’s really a matter of opinion, but I usually tell people to play EB then M3, and that if they really enjoy both and want more of the series they should go back and play EB0.

TMO said on Feb. 5, 2012

Not sure if my experience will change anyone else’s, but I started with the Earthbound Zero beta. It wasn’t the easiest thing to get through, but I did it, and having to work for it made it a more rewarding experience. I didn’t find the translation so utterly horrible that I couldn’t make my way through it.

A good trick is to keep Pippi around near the start and abuse her glitched stat growth to help Ninten reach a decently high level before returning her and continueing.

I’d recommend the beta because the screen resolution is higher, the menus are a bit easier to navigate and the music is better quality. All my opinion, I hope everyone understands, but when I tried the GBA version after having played the NES version, these were the things I noticed.

That said, I’m sure a lot of people aren’t masochists like me and willing to put themselves through that. I mean, that two second tune that plays when encountering random battles haunts my nightmares still, to say nothing of Mt. Itoi in general.

Also, if one has already played Earthbound, the NES EB beta is defintely going to feel like hell.

questionsleep said on Feb. 5, 2012

First game should be EarthBound.
When you are recommending a single starting MOTHER game, which may very well be the last for a newcomer, they will judge the whole series based off of it, so you must naturally recommend EarthBound. If a person is going to play all three for sure, then naturally they’d start with EB0 and wouldn’t be asking you about it. As a fan, when you recommend the first game in any series in a situation like this, in place of the shining peak of the series, you are too entrenched in the fandom to think outside of it with a fresh perspective.

EarthBound NES prototype ROM.
I disagree with the portion of the vocal EB community who thinks EB0 is too difficult, and I do not think the Easy Patch is good for newcomers or one’s first playthrough. The Patch is awesome for fans, though. MOTHER/EB0 is meant to be played casually, slowly, over a period of time. Too many people who played EB first, and are seasoned gamers, rush into MOTHER/EB0 with modern expectations, thinking it’s EarthBound and treat it as such, when that only ruins the experience. They treat it like any other game to rush through in a weekend. On the contrary – when you take your time with EB0, it is a wonderful, rewarding experience.

I have spoken with many newcomers, giving them a push up into the world of MOTHER, and I always give them the personal care and attention that makes EB itself so great. I learn what kind of gamer they are, and I explain the basic pros and cons of each game. Overall, EB has been the best choice, unless they happen to appreciate NES era RPGs. It should go without saying that Mother 3 is mostly a treat for those who’ve played 1 and/or 2.

FlyingManCourage said on Feb. 5, 2012

Well my opinion lies somewhere near questionsleep. I think it’s important to really “suck them in” with the greatness of EarthBound….but I haven’t even started Mother 1, yet. Really…they are made by Itoi. They are all great games, right? If someone is going to love the series, it probably doesn’t matter where they start.

And damnit, Mato….I sure hope you eventually get some sort of EarthBound lifetime achievement award.

Mato said on Feb. 5, 2012

Yeah, I’m still uncertain of my own recommendation, like I said I put a ton of thought into it and I think the current recommendation (as I say on the page) is for “getting the most out of the full series”. I think that’s not quite the same question most newcomers might ask though, so I’ll think about it some more.

kenisu said on Feb. 5, 2012

I went from 2 to 1, and you know I came out loving the first game. Actually, for a few years EB was my favorite, but it wasn’t until about 2003, when my copy of MOTHER 1+2 was on order and I was hyped for it, that I realized MOTHER 1 was my true favorite.

People gripe way too much about its difficulty level, and yet now that I look back, it was precisely because of that difficulty level that I fell in love with it. When I was a kid and the NES was all there was to rent games for, the harder a game was, the greater the allure conquering it held for me. The game would become mysterious to me, and reaching the next level would be an emotional high like none other.

Gaaaah I never seem able to come up with the right words to explain!

Poe said on Feb. 5, 2012

I understand where you’re coming from kenisu, but too many people (myself included) will simply give up on hard games after dying enough times. Remember that the easy ring is optional – you don’t have to wear it. I’m just thankful that it’s there for those of us who feel like we need it.

kenisu said on Feb. 5, 2012

Oh well. I guess it is true that I might have given up on the game myself the first time through, if I hadn’t been so dead-set on seeing that final battle (because I had myself convinced that the 8-bit portion of Giygas’s metal theme had been a carry-over from the first game… boy was I wrong), and I also wanted to see what that weird real-life photo on the back of the Catherine Warwick album was referencing.

Oh, and Mato, quick correction, trivial though it may be: you have MOTHER listed as coming out in 1988.

Mato said on Feb. 5, 2012

Oops, I’ll fix that soon.

Anonymous said on Feb. 5, 2012

“Sales were poor and NOA has never released any other games since.”

I like how that sounds like the overwhelming commercial failure of EarthBound was enough for NOA to pack it up and go home

Mato said on Feb. 5, 2012

Haha good point, I’ll have to reword that.

Gaffer Tape said on Feb. 5, 2012

It’s odd. Aside from Duncan’s Factory, I don’t see Mother 1 as that difficult. Compared to other RPGs of the era, it’s rather tame, in my opinion. Then again, I’ve played through it several times, so I pretty much know what to do.

That said, I would almost recommend to do Mother 2 first, even though I feel guilty for saying so. Mother 2 is more memorable, less grind-intensive, and I could see the first game turning people off.

My only complaint about the list, though, if that I feel it’s inaccurate to refer to the NES version as “unfinished.” That’s just not factually accurate. It was finished, even to the point of box art and instruction manuals. It was just never released. Heck, it was so finished that all of the changes made in the game were ported over to the GBA version, as you point out. “Unpolished” might be a better word, at least in terms of its translation, which is what I assume you were referring to, given your new (awesome) translation for the GBA version.

Schlupi said on Feb. 5, 2012

Hey Mato, awesome page! I’ll spread it to my friends who have yet to play MOTHER in all its glory. I couldn’t agree with what you said more. And once again, since its on topic– Thanks for all of your guys’ hard work on the MOTHER 3 and MOTHER 1+2 translations! MOTHER 3 is an amazing game I couldn’t have full experienced otherwise (at least, not yet, in Japanese) and I couldn’t thank you and your fellow hackers and translaters enough.

Schlupi said on Feb. 5, 2012

MOTHER/Earth Bound WAS unfinished. Did you forget it was a beta? We never actually got the final release, we dunno if what we had dumped was what was to be the final release. Just saying. =P

Sir Ilpalazzo said on Feb. 5, 2012

I’m glad that you recommend that people start with the first game. I’ve always felt that way, but it seems to be a pretty uncommon opinion.

kenisu said on Feb. 5, 2012

@ Gaffer Tape

Not to be off-topic, but you wouldn’t happen to be the same Gaffer Tape as the one on DaizenshuuEX, would you?

Gaffer Tape said on Feb. 5, 2012

@ kenisu

Hmm? I have NO idea what you’re talking about…

Shebt said on Feb. 5, 2012

Ok cool article

Crazy Arse said on Feb. 5, 2012

Alright, I would rather have 2 wieners shoved up my ass than to play MOTHER for a newcomer. I recommend EB –> M3 –> M.

Naja said on Feb. 5, 2012

Totally agree with this.
Mother 1 is the best way possible to get into the series.
I understand many people started with EarthBound/M2 and hold warm memories of it being their first Mother game, but for someone who’s just trying to get into the series, Mother 1 is the right one to start with: It’s the beginning of the story (Gyiyg’s origins, etc), it’s the oldest one, meaning playing Earthbound after Mother 1 will actually feel amazing (gameplay-wise), unlike downgrading from EB to Mother 1. And in the end, it’s just the way Ioti originally released the games! Why not?

Mother 1+2 version or Famicom/NES version, both are fine.
I also beat Mother 1 without any easy patch… it was hard but not harder than other RPGs from the times like dragon warrior, etc, I don’t see the problem. Just be patient.

Danuab said on Feb. 5, 2012

I tried and failed to get through Earthbound a couple of times. Too grindy for me. But I played Mother 3 all the way through and loved every second of it. My recommendation for anyone who finds M1 or 2 too grindy is to go straight to 3 and work your way backwards.

Mato said on Feb. 5, 2012

I’ve always wondered why people think 2 is “grindy”. I guess it’s the same reason why people who grew up with EarthBound thing 1 is too grindy, heh.

Anyway, I’ve updated the page, check it out and give me more feedback 😀

Gaffer Tape: I call it unfinished because it wasn’t a final release. Given the state of a lot of the text, I’m fairly certain that the version that got leaked wasn’t the final version. Not only that, one of the other leaked copies (which has the same ROM dump) apparently came from someone who was apparently given the task of testing the game before it was finished. I could very well be wrong, but I strongly believe some last minute tweaks would’ve been made.

minifig2401 said on Feb. 5, 2012

If you never made the 1+2 patch, i think many mother fans, may have never got past the grave yard. i admit i never got past the grave yard on the nes version. so the easy patch really helped me to get to magicant. and then i took it off just because i was over-leveled. but still it helps. the only nitpick i have is lloyd saying that the kids call him ” stupid head” kinda ticked me off a bit. i preferred him saying they call him bedwetter or four eyes, but if weakling stinkling is a trademark of the mother series i’m fine with it. oh and i see why the call redneck ” wally”.

Gaffer Tape said on Feb. 5, 2012

@ kenisu It seems that someone here decided to impersonate me. Yes, I am the Gaffer Tape from the DaizEX forums. ^_^

@ Mato Fair enough. Given how spottily translated most games were back then, I wouldn’t put it past it to not be any better than that, but the logic is sound that a prototype wouldn’t necessarily be the final build. I guess I was just going off of Sandhop’s comments that it was totally finished. Thanks for the reply.

Radiostorm said on Feb. 5, 2012

@ Mato I can understand why a new player might think that EarthBound is grindy. It’s second nature for us veterans to exploit experience boons like beaten sanctuary locations or herds of Foppies to level up quickly, but these tricks might never occur to a newcomer to the series.

It might not be a consensus among fans, but I also consider Titanic Ant and the Onett bosses to be among the hardest in the game. If you don’t spend time leveling up and aren’t properly equipped, they can really tear you apart.

gBev said on Feb. 5, 2012

New page looks perfect, leaving both orders is a good idea.

Mato said on Feb. 5, 2012

Radiostorm: The first time I played EarthBound, I started out fighting enemies excessively since I was used that formula in RPGs, but my friend who’d already beaten it made fun of me and said, “You don’t have to grind in this game.” So I never really grinded (ground?) after that and it was just fine for the most part.

Maybe it’s the case of some of us having the guide to look at and stuff. I often wonder if, had the first game gotten an official release then + a special guide, EarthBound Zero would’ve been remembered much less as a grindy game.

RandomGuardian said on Feb. 6, 2012

*sigh* yeah I played mother 3 before earthbound and originally I though earthbound as not living up to it’s hype. It took alot of story and gameplay analysis before I fully enjoyed earthbound. Some days I do wonder what I would have thought if I played earthbound first. Mother 3 threw me into its entwining story the first 20 minuets forcing me to play more and more until I was addidcted. Would earthbounds simplistic beginning turn me off from the game? I can only wonder. 🙁

liarxagerate said on Feb. 6, 2012

Anyone who’s trying to get into the Mother/EB series for the story is not going to enjoy it, and I say that as someone who loves the NES version of EB0; it’s a simple story, and it’s not especially well told in any of the games.

EarthBound is an experience—the music, the dialogue, the graphics, the environment, the tone the feel of the thing and the perfect way it positions the player within all of it. The way people—especially people who started with MOTHER 3, in my experience—reduce JRPGs to a mechanism for Story Delivery is what’s killing JRPGs.

Stories are for novels, which is why MOTHER 3 was, in my opinion, good but not great—video games just aren’t the right venue for a linear narrative, and the silent protagonist exists for a reason.

FlyingManCourage said on Feb. 6, 2012

Looks like you found the perfect middle ground, Mato.

I think it is perfect now. It allows the potential new player to identify what he wants out of this new series, and gives him options of how to go about getting the most out of his gaming goals for the series.

Anonymous said on Feb. 6, 2012

I think where you should start depends on what you’re in it for. The games are way too different in terms of story-telling method and gameplay (in EB0’s case, anyhow) for this to make sense. Based on what I’ve seen:

EarthBound Zero -> For people looking for freedom to explore.

EarthBound -> For people looking for a rich world and good gameplay.

Mother 3 -> For people looking for a “deep” plot.

santiagoff said on Feb. 6, 2012

I don’t mean to be mean but… it just seems like you’re promoting your own translations a little bit. There’s actually nothing wrong with that since they are superior in every aspect to the Nintendo ones and this is your website, meaning you can promote your products at will, but still…

Maybe I’m just overthinking it n_n

Mato said on Feb. 6, 2012

Well, I emphasize it because when I look at other message boards and stuff, almost no one has heard of the translation patch. It did fly under most people’s radars, so I want to get the word out.

pranavmeno said on Feb. 6, 2012


I get where you’re coming from, but to be honest, I don’t see any problem- EB0 had a somewhat limited translation, and MOTHER3 has had no translation save for the one put out by the Starmen.Net team. Really, by promoting his translations, Mato’s doing players a favor.

Anonymous said on Feb. 7, 2012

I’m repeating myself a bit, but it might be a good idea to include blurbs explaining what people like and dislike about the games. Admittedly it might be too much information.

Look at liarxagerate’s comments above. It probably wouldn’t make any sense to a Mother 3 lover, since that game’s popularity is largely built on its tight story. Personally, I think Mother 3 is built too much like a standard post-SNES JRPG, with less subtlety in its storytelling and less for the player’s imagination and curiousity to play with.

People who play the game that doesn’t match what they’re interested in could turn away from the series as a whole.

What I recommend is that you post some surveys asking “what did you dislike/like about EarthBound?” “What did you dislike/like about Mother 3?” and such. Skimming through the comments, you might be able to see some commonalities and put those in your guide.

GiegueFanboy said on Feb. 7, 2012

I really disliked Earthbound Zero. It had a great plot with great characters, but the gameplay really drives me away. I still love Giegue though.

Ninten=ness said on Feb. 8, 2012

Might i suggest play mother 2, than mother 1? chuggaaconory did that in his LPs and i did the same thing in my mother experience…

ben said on Feb. 8, 2012

Mother’s pretty skippable. my suggestion to a friend would be: Earthbound, then Mother 3, and if you really, really want more after that hit up Mother.

ben said on Feb. 8, 2012

plus, players would totally get a kick out of hearing the title screen (music) in Mother if they had just before gone through that hallway to Pokey in Mother 3.

Missingno. said on Feb. 15, 2012

The NES version was ready for release but did not get made. So technically it is finished.

mart said on Feb. 19, 2012

I say you should you play them in this order:

MOTHER 3: Trust me, you want to do this. Not spoiling anything, but the story is pretty dark and there are many sad events that take place. So, I recommend this first.

MOTHER 2 (EarthBound): After you finish cry from MOTHER 3, you can go on to EarthBound. You’ll get some laughs and the story is good just like MOTHER 3.

MOTHER: Play this last. The game is much more difficult than the first two. You can’t see your enemies while on foot… it’s sort of like a Pokemon game: You run around in grass until a Wild Pokemon appears. Your HP can easily go down and you never know what kind of enemy you’re gonna run into in this game. However, the story is great along with funny dialogue.

Starlight36 said on Feb. 29, 2012

The order I played them in?
Mother 1
Mother 3
…interspersed with frequent playthroughs of Mother 1.
I didn’t even finish EarthBound; I was unwilling to proceed until getting the Sword of Kings, which… didn’t go so well. Now I have even less justification for not finishing EarthBound since I have an English language copy and a SNES, but that doesn’t solve the Sword of Kings problem.

What order I’d recommend?

A good game and a good representation of the series. It’s a fairly easy game, and easy to get into as well.

Mother 3
Great as a sequel as well as great on its own. It probably has the best storyline in the series, and it’s a little step up from EarthBound from both technical and difficulty standpoints.

Mother 1
The hardest game in the series, though this tends to be exaggerated by fans. It’s also the weakest from a technical standpoint, but it can be quite enjoyable if you give it a chance.

Earth Saturn said on Mar. 18, 2012

I don’t think you should skip the NES version of EB0 entirely. Try it. And if you don’t like it, just play the M1+2 version with the patch. Simple as that. I think somebody should make a patch for the NES prototype that includes the Easy Ring. It would be optional again and that way you can play the better version without the excessive difficulty, in my opinion anyway. I have never played any of the Mother/EarthBound games though, so I can’t say anything for sure. That being said here’s my order : EarthBound>Mother 3>EarthBound 0
I feel EB0 is only for the hardcore Mother/EarthBound fans that really want to play and experience the entire series.

Earth Saturn said on Mar. 21, 2012

Wow. I forgot there’s already a patch that makes EB0 (The NES version) easier. Sorry about that!

Ostricho said on Mar. 26, 2012

I played Mother 3 first- great game- but I haven’t moved on yet.

Ninten=ness said on Apr. 16, 2012

So here might i add this suggestion:
1:Mother 2 everyone loves this one
2: Mother Now it might seem odd, but for people who like to play with chuggaa, they might go this way, and the giygas story of how evil he is makes sense.
3: Obviously Hey you pikachu, naw just kidding, mother 3, save the best for last.

September said on May. 7, 2012

I had a very hard time myself, getting into MOTHER with the NES beta. I hated grinding and at first I absolutely despised the idea of enemies popping up out of nowhere without you getting to know what enemy it was (like you can in the following two games).

Though I have to say that my opinion of the game in general changed so much when I finally finished the game. And when I tried your M1+2 translation, it just got so much better. So yeah – I’m in on the skip-NES-go-M1+2-translation-thing.

jinxkatty7 said on Jul. 21, 2012

I had heard Mother 3 was a great game. So that was what I played first. After that I played Earthbound then Mother (1). I pretty much played the whole series backwards 😉 (no NES) Also I’m the kind of person who doesn’t really mind poor graphics. As long as its a good game I’ll play it!

asterisk8 said on Aug. 10, 2012

I’m playing the GBA Mother 1 translation and loving every minute of it. I actually enjoy enemies popping up out of nowhere, it creates many small moments of drama as the screen and music change and you anticipate what you’re about to face. Maybe it’s the Easy Ring, but I genuinely don’t mind doing some grinding. It’s also Itoi’s writing that helps, I love doing “Check” because there’s often an amusing description. I’ve laughed out loud more than once, like with the Bag Lady being “built like a refrigerator with a heart of ice” or something like that.

I can imagine that some people would hate it the same way some people don’t like old black and white movies, because these kinds of games have come a long way, but I think that’s going to make Earthbound and Mother 3 even more enjoyable. I’ll appreciate both the changes and the similarities more.

David B. said on Aug. 10, 2012

I still slap myself for not exploring the Mother games until about 6 months ago… Fell in love with the series. My order was 2, 3, then 1 (appeasing my inner Zelda fan in the process) but for those interested in the story itself, I’d recommend playing in sequential order.

Opinionated Vector Chimera said on Jan. 3, 2013

I’ll be honest here. While the first portion of the EB0 prototype ROM requires a lot of grinding, once Ninten gets his (very inexpensive) stat buff spells, you can start spamming those for easy victories. It doesn’t help that the only item that restores PP is reusable (but can be broken).

But then again, I did grind in the train tunnels before Snowman.

Opinionated Vector Chimera said on Feb. 28, 2013

I’d also like to make a reply. Mato made a comment a year ago wondering why people thought Mother 2 was too “grindy”. I think this has less to do with actual experience levels, and more with overlooked strategy. Sure, you can take a PK Fire to the face and beat a Smilin’ Sphere to death, initiating your own death in the process. Or, you could just use Hypnosis on it. The enemies in the game are always at your level (which sort of explains why the first hour or two of the game is the hardest part of it), and while you could just beat the enemies to death, you’re better off in the long run if you exploit obvious enemy weaknesses. In EarthBound, it’s not that you’re underleveled, it’s that the enemies’ strengths match yours, and your only advantage is the HP odometer, which only takes you so far. I think that’s why some people might be led to believe that EarthBound is “grindy”.


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