Empathizing with Loss – Mother 3

We’re half a month into the new year, and nothing says “hope for the future” like an article about DEATH.

(Hey, I figured I might as well make it a tradition.)

Now, I don’t make a habit of announcing spoilers. I figure if you’re going to read me go on about video game story elements, you’d better believe I’m gonna reveal something you don’t wanna know. But listen, y’all. Mother 3 is serious business. It’s an experience like no other, and I don’t want it on my conscience that I wrecked your gaming feels prematurely. You read ahead at your own risk, here.

With that out of the way…let’s explore the power of loss in storytelling. Remember all those memes about authors’ glee at killing off characters? I mean, it’s partly true. It just gets the story moving, ya know?

However – death needs impact. It needs purpose. Stories reflect the very real truths of life, and loss needs to speak powerfully to the audience so it doesn’t become trite. For many, the way to create this impact is to craft a likeable character who we couldn’t bear to see gone. But there’s an equally powerful way to impact your audience – by showing the affect your character’s death has on others.

In Mother 3 we meet Hinawa early on. Do we learn much about her? She’s the mother of twins Lucas and Claus, wife of Flint, daughter of Alec. She seems to be a generous contributor in her community and a well-respected and loved family woman. What we know of her from her own expression comes in a letter she writes to Flint and a few lines of dialogue to her children. She’s not spared much more because, well…

…the plot must have its way.

Hinawa is dead within the first chapter of the game; the audience can’t even claim to know her well. Yet the loss holds immediate impact, simply in how those closest to her react. Before Bronson delivers the news, Lucas and Claus huddle by the fire wrapped in blankets. Their stutters and speechlessness already build the dread for what’s happened. And then Flint finds out.

I have rarely seen such a raw and real reaction to death in fiction. I’ve known characters who cried in response, or moped, or denied their loved one’s passing. What Flint does is so human and unpredicted. Death is already difficult to comprehend, but in a utopian society? It would cause absolute catastrophe, as demonstrated.

It isn’t necessarily Hinawa’s death that causes shock and mourning for the audience, though. It’s the response of the people with whom we’ve spent more time. Flint, who moments ago risked his life to save the child Fuel from a burning house, who garnered our respect with his selfless actions, completely loses control when confronted with grief. It conveys all the sorrow and discomfort of handling a friend who reacts incomprehensibly to loss.

As the story progresses, the sadness deepens (underneath that wonderfully quirky surface all Mother/Earthbound games supply). Hinawa’s death has long-reaching effects – most notably Lucas’s isolation as the family breaks apart. In a stellar moment of “show, don’t tell”, Lucas wakes up years later in his empty home and – while still in his pajamas – looks at himself in the family room mirror. His reflection takes him back to early childhood, with his mother brushing his disheveled hair – before the scene snaps back to present day.

Do we miss Hinawa because of who she was? Not truly, I would say. While her altruism endears her to us quickly, she isn’t human enough for audience connection. Her mourners, however, are. The death of an individual affects us best if we’re familiar enough with that person – as would be the case in real life. Anyone, however, can empathize with what it means to move on after a death – and what pain that can bring.

In the end, what you want in your story is connection, and there are several ways to create that. You authors who love to kill, consider this a way to make all those losses mean something.


Mother 3 is the property of Nintendo & Shigesato Itoi and has no English language release. You can, however, emulate the game in Japanese and use this translation patch by Tomato. If you choose this route, please support the developers by investing in their other games and merchandise.

Stellar Squad Series – Mother 3

They say you can’t choose your family. But sometimes – say, when your mom’s brutally murdered by a reconstructed cyber-animal, your brother goes missing in an attempt to avenge her, and your dad just can’t deal – you may have to cobble a new one together on your own.

And even if they en’t perfect, they’re your homies through the best and worst of it – whether that be chasing down a clayman to retrieve a memory egg, or accidentally ingesting hallucinatory mushrooms while marooned on a tropical island.

(It’s all about context; just go with it.)

Mother 3’s team may be my favorite team ever. I grant you, there’s a sea of games I have yet to play, and many characters and parties I have yet to meet through the experiences those games lend – but I’m telling you: these quirky little nuggets will never be dethroned.

Want to get to know them? I kneeeeeeeeew you’d enthusiastically say yes!


Once notorious as a coddled crybaby, he’s determined to reinvent himself as strong and capable after his family fell apart. Gotta love that cowlick in his hair.



A dog. But more than that, he’s Lucas’s constant companion and even gives sensible advice – if you can interpret his barks, at any rate.


Your resident tomboy princess (or IS she?). A bit crass, and she’s got a mouth, but she’d go to any lengths for her friends. If she requests you take a shower, be careful declining her wishes…



Looks like a bum, walks with a limp, sleeps all day – also plays a mean upright bass (LITERALLY). Past the bad breath and slightly unkempt look, Duster harbors a helping heart. My favorite of the team, I’m not even gonna hide it. He even has his own post.


So, why is this team so great? Well, attempting to set aside my fangirl ravings and approach this from a level-headed, storytelling perspective *calming breath* – each of these characters is a misfit in some fashion (maybe discounting Boney; a dog can only carry so much of a stigma). They come out of hurts, imperfections, and unconventionality to form a bond and stand against a power you wouldn’t think four oddballs had a chance to beat.

Remember how we talked about the relatability of a character in our last video game post? We linked it to personal experience and to quirks/struggles the audience might share with each character. Well, Mother 3 takes that idea and adds the strongest sense of kinship this trilogy has to offer. You get to know each character individually; you get to walk in their shoes for a period of time and understand their life. Maybe you empathize with them. You see their need for love and friendship, so that when they become a team you KNOW the bonds are important to them.

This is relatability cubed. Think of your own idiosyncrasies – what makes you weird and out there . Now think of the people who came into your life with their own oddities and chose to walk your road with you. How deep do those bonds go? How strong is your trust? Would you face a totalitarian pigmask army together with these friends?

That’s what Mother 3‘s team evokes. The theme throughout the series, after all, is love, so what better way to close the trilogy than with camaraderie between unconventional friends? Gets me all warm and fuzzy for my own crazy troupe of amigos. Group hug, y’all!


Mother 3 is the property of Nintendo & Shigesato Itoi and has no English language release. You can, however, emulate the game in Japanese and use this translation patch by Tomato. If you choose this route, please support the developers by investing in their other games and merchandise.

Relatable Characters – Earthbound Series

Storytellers try a number of methods to help endear characters to their audience: tragic backstory to tug at heartstrings, diversifying the cast to appeal to a wider range of experience, creating quirks and tics to make a character as immediately unique as possible. Sometimes the attempts can go a little overboard.

Did I mention “radical costuming”?
(I’ve never played this game. Does this dude just really love pizza, or…?)

Here’s a pro tip: if your characters express a sense of humanity, triumph, and fallibility, the audience will relate regardless of other influencing factors.

Still, there’s something to be said for character attributes that quickly grab the audience’s attention. Sometimes they can be the gateway to a deeper emotional bond. But how do you create such quirks in a way that doesn’t seem forced or against the natural flow of the story?

I know EXACTLY the games that can help us solve that question:

*obsession intensifies*

The Mother/Earthbound series’ goal, from the beginning, was to experiment telling a story through the video game medium. For me to compare Mother 1 Earthbound Beginnings to other RPG stories released around the same time would be a little above my pay grade (because yo, I don’t get paid for this), but whatever the case, Itoi knew how to endear his characters to players in an environment that complimented the quirks.

Since the games take place in the “real world”, there’s already some familiarity when we recruit and interact with the cast. This helps set the stage for when we meet what might be considered underwhelming characters, compared to the epic casts of other JRPGs. Your first teammate in Earthbound Beginnings wasn’t some noble warrior sporting a sweet set of armor; it was a nerd with thick glasses hiding in a trash can at his school.

But this is great, because we immediately have a reason to root for this kid: I mean, who HASN’T dealt with bullies in their life? And instead of just getting fed a character bio, we connect with Lloyd through quirks related to his current struggles.

(Remember when we covered character introductions in detail? Man, that was such a great time.)

The trend continues into Earthbound, where your party diversifies beyond the confines of America Eagleland and includes individuals from overseas. (Jeff is totally British, and you can’t convince me otherwise.) A foreign character like Poo, for example, brings a cool, mystical (and highly stereotyped – Earthbound is shameless) dynamic to the cast, which may not necessarily make him relatable, but he nevertheless garners audience interest.

Sometimes the enigmatic draws our emotions through a desire to know more, eh? Poo could also be perceived as a foil to the rest of the party, who – while boss in their own right – don’t exactly exude the same mysterious dignity.

This in particular brings out Ness’s more relatable aspects, such as his tendency toward homesickness. Despite being the game’s hero, he has this childlike fallibility set in stark contrast to Poo’s calm aloofness. While the game doesn’t reveal much through character dialogue, it does an excellent job allowing the player to project their own feelings through the cast. I’d wager more of us know what it’s like to be the homesick little boy than what it’s like to be the serious, dashing prince.

These character traits never feel forced, either. Many are in fact subtly integrated into the battle system itself (Ness thinking of his mom’s steak and missing a turn; Ninten from Beginnings seizing up with an asthma attack). Mixed with the inherent weirdness of the games’ world, the quirks fit seamlessly and allow the audience to connect on their own terms.

…But wait, you might be saying (or not saying, if you’re absolutely lost by this point): What about the cast of Mother 3? Well, have I got a TREAT for you! That party will be receiving an entire post devoted to them in two weeks’ time! Aren’t you EXCITED? (Pretend to be excited.)

…I seem to be developing a trend of dedicating whole months to this series. It’s like they’re my favorite games, or something.


The Mother/Earthbound series is the property of Nintendo & Shigesato Itoi. You can purchase both Earthbound Beginnings and Earthbound to play via the Wii U Virtual Console.

The Complex Villain (Part II) – Porky from Mother 3

[Currently listening to: the Shovel Knight OST. Oh yeah. You know we gonn’ talk about that game soon.]

*There are so many spoilers in this post, I can’t guarantee I won’t ruin your life if you plan to play Mother 3. Read at your own risk.

In our previous post about Porky as a villain we covered certain aspects of creating a complex antagonist – looking at the character’s origin, relationships, and reactions to circumstances. Now we move into Mother 3, where Porky makes his return.


What’s unique about Mother 3 is that, while our protagonists don’t meet Porky until near the very end of the game, he has a hand in everything they encounter, and we can see the sort of person he is just by the results of his influence. There’s plenty to learn from this story as well, which you knooooooow we’re going to cover in gloriously obsessive detail.

What sort of character-development does Mother 3‘s Porky teach us to observe? Let’s look at important aspects with the tried and true “three bullet point” method.


Everyone – protagonist or antagonist – will have a skewed view of the world. It’s the nature of experience. Typically, a villain will have a view that causes trouble for the heroes – if not an even larger scope of characters.

Perspective can be boiled down to one idea: how does the character think s/he should serve the world? Or how does the character think the world should serve him/her? For Porky, the world of Mother 3 is his playground.  He sees everything – even human life – as a toy for his personal entertainment.

Despite his age, Porky is still acting on little boy impulses. In his mind, people and nature should serve him according to his selfish wants, which means that perspective and its consequential behavior must be closely tied to –


It’s obvious that a moral code should shape the actions of a villain, but the spectrum in which their morals could lie can be broad. Typically, the classic villain operates on an immoral code: he knows his actions are evil but is still willing (and sometimes even gleeful) to commit wicked deeds. But can there be villains who operate on a moral code? I leave you to speculate on who could fall into that category. *Jeopardy music*

Porky operates on an amoral code, which might be as common as the immoral code in regards to fictional antagonistic behavior, but – in my opinion – allows for more character development.

Why does Porky hold to his morals (or lack thereof)? His loveless upbringing has something to do with it, no doubt. That sort of emptiness, coupled with his immortality  – it’s a sure-fire recipe for ambivalence.


Amorality can be even more frightening than immorality: There is NO ground on which to reason with an amoral character. To them, the notion of ethics is completely foreign and unnecessary. For Porky, whatever satisfies him in the moment is his driving force.

Morals are a cornerstone for any character – hero, villain, or anything in between. Once those have been established we’re naturally led to –


What does it all boil down to? What does our villain want? Sometimes it can be something noble – or at least harmless – but the way the villain goes about obtaining it is immoral and damaging. This is maybe where Porky was at the start of his own story (in Earthbound): He wanted acceptance, but never found a way to fill that hole.

By Mother 3 Porky’s continuous poor choices have led him to a dire ultimatum:

Everything leads up to this point. Porky brainwashes people to like him, destroys their belongings if they don’t, takes the people who are most precious to the protagonist Lucas and uses one of them for his own personal gain. They’re the typical responses of a spoiled child, only magnified by the amount of power Porky has been able to amass.

And when none of that satisfies? When nothing combats the boredom and emptiness? Remove the offending party – in this case, everyone.

So if you need a complex villain for your story, don’t forget: They need just as much love and attention as your protagonists. But not too much love and attention. Otherwise they might stop being so deliciously bad.


Mother 3 is the property of Nintendo & Shigesato Itoi and has no English language release. You can, however, emulate the game in Japanese and use this translation patch by Tomato. If you choose this route, please support the developers by investing in their other games and merchandise.

Don’t Settle for the Stud: Why Duster Has My Heart – Bad Breath, Limp, and All

[Currently listening to: Unfounded Revenge/Smashing Song of PraiseFOREVER.]

It’s easy to swoon for a pretty face, right? Even the gamer ladies aren’t immune; we’ve got our pick of fictional gentlemen – from spiky-haired JRPG leads to inarticulate Hyrulean swordsmen.

While we may love the attractive characters for personality as well, it certainly doesn’t hurt their fan following that they’re easy on the eyes. They’re a gimmick that’s been around since the dawn of Jane Austen books (okay, probably from before her, but you get my meaning), and when something ain’t broke, why fix it?

But ladies: what if a story – game or otherwise – could get you to fall for the completely average-looking, slightly unkempt, absolutely non-studly guy?

Our shining example for this post:

Mother 3 - Clay Duster
Hubba hubba.

Duster, from Mother 3, leaves no possibility for studly misconceptions when introduced. Other characters comment on his bad breath and mistake him for a hobo or a drunk due to his pronounced limp. His very appearance gives off anti-hunk vibes: unkempt hair with a widow’s peak, drowsy eyes, magnificently huge nose.

He quickly became my favorite Earthbound/Mother series character.

Because here’s the thing: at the same time we’re assured he’s got no looks, we’re shown how incredibly kind-hearted this guy is. He’s the first person to offer condolences after tragedy hits Flint’s family; before that he willingly helps Flint find Lucas and Claus lost in the woods, even politely excusing his handicap and saying he’ll do his best regardless.

Oh, Duster, I loved you even before I found out you could flip enemies around in battle and get a free attack.


It was Shigesato Itoi’s intention, after all, to create characters you wouldn’t normally befriend and make them an integral part of your team. Other RPGs have done this to a degree, of course, but Itoi has a gift for bringing a real sense of humanity to his cast. With Duster, I’m more able to associate his mix of imperfections and good qualities with people I know in reality – as opposed to, say, the way I feel about Quina from Final Fantasy IX, who’s also a weird outcast but gives me little to work with beyond that.

Man, if I had a nickel for every time someone who looked like this came into the library…

I also just like the flipped stereotype: Duster isn’t a beautiful and brooding male heartthrob. His looks aren’t the “in” that make you love him; you have to get to know him past what’s initially off-putting before you can make a judgement call.

The beautiful/brooding boy is of course common fare in the book industry as well, YA fiction in particular. I get it: we want to live vicariously through our stories, and it’s easy to play on the girlish fantasy of meeting and wooing a hunk.

But I challenge you: get your audience to love the atypical guy. Maybe we can start a revolution.


Mother 3 is the property of Nintendo & Shigesato Itoi and has no English language release. You can, however, emulate the game in Japanese and use this translation patch by Tomato. If you choose this route, please support the developers by investing in their other games and merchandise.

(Oh, and I don’t own Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy either.)

Release Date: April 20th, 2006

Mother 3

Happy 10th anniversary, Mother 3! If you had an official English release, I’d throw so much money at you.

For now, I’ll just have to be satisfied with my Lucas Amiibo:

Triumphant in front of the Smash Bros. roster!

And now, for a celebratory dance! …But I’m not gonna stick my butt out or anything like that.

Wess dance

(Stay tuned for a Mother-related storytelling post this weekend!)