[In this article, Erik Foss of The Guildhall at SMU picks apart the narrative of Mother 3 to demonstrate how this quirky GBA title succeeds and fails in creating an emotional bond with its players.]
Mother 3 tells the story of Lucas and Claus, twin brothers who live on the Nowhere Islands. These islands (and specifically their main settlement, Tazmily Village) are initially a vaguely socialist, rural utopia with no need for money, electronic devices, or even an operational jail. However, the islands and their inhabitants undergo troubling changes when strange troops known as the "Pigmasks" arrive and begin introducing modern goods and conveniences while using the local wildlife in strange cybernetics experiments, causing them to become vicious "chimeras." One of these chimeras kills the twins' mother, causing Claus to run away from the village and Lucas to eventually oppose the Pigmasks and their self-absorbed leader (appropriately named Porky) with several companions he meets during the story.
Later, it is revealed that the islands hide seven needles which seal away a being called the Dark Dragon, and that these needles are being pulled from the earth under Porky's orders by a "Masked Man" (who is actually Claus, made into a human chimera). Once freed, the Dragon will recreate the world in accordance with the values of its liberator. Lucas must race to pull at least four of the needles before his brother.
Mother 3 was given multiple tag lines, one of which is "Strange, Funny, and Heartrending". While much of the game is characteristically quirky, lighthearted, and comfortably abstract, the story begins with sudden tragedy that sets the tone for many of its major plot points. Mother 3 is probably most remarkable for its harmonious integration of play elements with exceptional narrative content, encompassing strong characterization, coherent symbolic and thematic aspects, and pointed commentary on human nature and society. It is also noted for its remarkably poignant ending, which distills the game's overall design sensibilities and offers a glimpse at the great potential of effective narrative design in games.
The main protagonist, Lucas is the twin of Claus and a son of Flint and Hinawa. He is more timid than his brother early on, though he gains confidence over the course of the story. Lucas is one of a few main characters who can use psychokinetic "PSI" abilities, and is the only person besides his brother who can pull the needles of the Nowhere Islands.
The more assertive of the two brothers, Claus runs off after the death of Hinawa, saying that he needs to become stronger. He later appears as "the Masked Man" who opposes Lucas and his companions multiple times on their journey. Exactly what happened to him after leaving the village is uncertain, but little of his former nature is intact once he reappears. When fighting Lucas for control of the final needle, he hears Hinawa's voice and remembers his family. After Claus kills himself out of penance with a reflected bolt of lightning, Lucas is able to pull the final needle.
Hinawa, Flint, and Boney
Hinawa is the eponymous mother of Mother 3. As mentioned in the overview, she is killed by a chimera in the first chapter, setting the events of the plot in progress. Flint is the twins' quiet but strong willed father and is described as a "reckless nice guy". Boney is the family's dog, and is the only member to accompany Lucas on his journey.
The returning antagonist from Earthbound (AKA Mother 2), Porky resents the lives of others and has managed to become immortal, traveling through space and time while extending his life with advanced technology. Porky commands the Masked Man to pull the needles since he himself can't, believing that this will result in a world of nothing with only himself and the Dragon left.
Kumatora and Duster
Kumatora is a somewhat masculine teenage girl raised by Ionia of the Magypsies (who are described below) as the princess of Osohe Castle, a haunted area in ruins near Tazmily Village. Duster is trained as a thief, though he doesn't actually steal from the villagers. He has a slight limp, bad breath, and average looks. According to Mother 3's creative director and writer ShigesatoItoi, characters with undesirable or unpopular qualities like Duster were included as "symbols of not rejecting such people" . Notably, Kumatora and Duster also have no mothers, and in Duster's case a verbally abusive father (named Wess) who also claims to be the cause of Duster's bad leg.
Salsa and Yokuba
Salsa is a performing monkey held captive by the selfish and manipulative Yokuba, who serves Porky. Yokuba frequently electrocutes Salsa when he is disobeyed, and is unable to understand the pain he inflicts on others. Salsa's goal is to free his girlfriend Samba, another monkey captured by the Pigmasks for use in their chimera experiments, and escapes Yokuba with the help of Kumatora and Wess. Yokuba is also responsible for distributing money and modern technology to the villagers, including the popular "Happy Boxes" which resemble television sets or personal computers. While making their way to Porky near the end of the game, Lucas and his companions discover that Yokuba was actually Locria, the seventh of the Magypsies. It is also indicated that although Yokuba was often wicked, there were occasional instances in which he was kind to others. Ultimately, the nature of his motivations and worldview are left ambiguous.
A large cast of distinctive nonplayer characters populate Mother 3's world. Of note are the seven Magypsies, who are said to be "neither male nor female" and each guard one of the islands' needles. Leder the bell ringer is also a significant minor character. Although silent for most of the game, in the final chapter Leder tells the mysterious story of how the Nowhere Islands came to be settled.