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Earthbound (known in Japan as Mother) is a series of RPGs created by Shigesato Itoi. Unlike most RPGs, the games don't take place in the Middle Ages or feature knights and wizards. Instead, players take control of a group of psychic kids fighting the embodiment of evil in a contemporary setting. The games mix emotional storylines with quirky humor.
The series was very popular in Japan, but it did not sell very well in America. As a result, only the second game was initially released in America as Earthbound has been released in America and none of the games made it to Europe in their initial releases.
The first game was Mother, released in Japan in 1989. It featured Ninten and the partner characters Ana, Lloyd and Teddy on a quest to find the eight melodies and prevent the alien invasion led by Giygas. Only three characters could be in the party at the time (presumably due to the NES's constraints), so Teddy was only playable during a period in which Lloyd was absent from the party.
Mother was translated and localized for an American release as Earthbound, but it was delayed for marketing reasons and ultimately canceled as the NES reached the end of its lifespans. Years later, one of the prototype localized Mother cartridges was found and emulated over the internet with a patch to make it work, known as Earthbound Zero to differentiate it from the Super NES game. It was not made officially available until 2015, when the original translation was released through the Wii U Virtual Console as Earthbound Beginnings, as a way of commemorating the 20th anniversary of Earthbound's American release.
The sequel was released for the Super NES in 1992, known as Mother 2 in Japan and Earthbound in America. This one featured a premise similar to the previous games with three characters strangely similar to the previous protagonists, known as Ness, Paula and Jeff, along with a fourth character named Poo. Giygas was once more the ultimate enemy, but was shown in a new and more disturbing light. The game focused on humor in many parts, but is known for becoming much more darker late in the game in areas exploring Ness's mind and Giygas, as well as a revelation involving Ness's supposed friend Pokey.
Despite the game's poor performance in America, due to its popularity in Japan, Itoi began work on a third Mother immediately for the Super NES's planned CD-Rom add-on. When this was peripheral was canceled, production was moved up to the next generation console, the Nintendo 64. This would be the first 3-D Mother game and went through several subtitles, Chimera Forest and The Fall of the Pig King, while being known as Earthbound 64 in America. The story was also planned as being the darkest and would have featured about ten playable characters. Although it was planned for release for the Nintendo 64DD add-on, this was also canceled, and although the team attempted to continue producing it was a normal N64 game, Nintendo eventually canceled the game.
However, Mother 3 eventually entered production for the Gameboy Advance. Most of the ideas, such as the dark plotline and the rhythm-based combat system, were carried over from the N64 plans, although apparently the GBA storyline was lightened compared to the plans for the N64 story. The game was first announced in commercials for a Mother 1+2 remake that was also released for the Gameboy Advance. Oddly enough, the remake of Mother was translated and modified from the planned English release, so it featured the same changes that were made for the American localization. None of the games saw American release, apparently due to lack of a market for Mother 3.
Earthbound notably went for a long time without a Virtual Console release. Although there were hints at a release for the Wii Virtual Console, sources suggested that Earthbound would not be released due to copyright issues with the game. It was not until 2013 that Earthbound finally received an international Virtual Console release as a part of the Wii U's Virtual Console.
Despite only one game of the series being released in America, characters, settings and music from all three games have appeared throughout the Smash Bros. series, with Ness being playable in all four installments while Super Smash Bros. Brawl features Lucas as a playable character and Pokey as a boss.
Itoi has confirmed that Mother 3 is the final game of the series that he will make, although he has also indicated that he is not opposed to someone else producing a Mother 4.