Mother 2 is, for people of a certain age, one of the great moments of video gaming. Released as EarthBound in North America, its quirky nature, bizarre homage to pop culture, and subtle humor have made it a cult favorite that people still play today. The music was always an integral part of this, and it is therefore unfortunate that Mother games have a trend of receiving incomplete soundtrack releases, this being no exception. Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka’s avant-garde soundtrack has been packed into a single disc, and as a result many tracks have been either merged or shortened, and many are missing entirely.
What is there is, of course, fantastic. Onett is a well devised track for the first town, and even at this stage it is evident a lot of thought is going into the soundtrack. The following track, Twoson, is possibly the most iconic town theme for any game on the SNES. Saturn Valley’s bizarre time signature and samples have also cemented it in the minds of many gamers, and it is a shame that it is not longer here. Fourside and Moonside mirror each other in game, and this is also evident in the soundtrack. Despite the two tracks sounding very different, Moonside’s off-the-wall instrumentation is the complete opposite of Fourside’s stable theme.
Of course, this album is a long way from perfect. Winters and Ranma are both amalgamations of three or four tracks related to those areas, and though they are impressive, they highlight one of the major problems with this album. Many of the tracks are so short that they are impossible to enjoy in their entirety, and sticking a track on loop becomes difficult with the inconsistent styles within these tracks and the constant changing of songs. Even self-contained tracks, like Doko Doko Desert, are less than a minute long before they fade out.
Naturally, this is a problem with the album, and does not reflect in any way on the quality of the music itself. One thing that Mother 2‘s soundtrack manages to succeed at is conveying emotion and atmosphere, and then playing around with this mental image. Summers can only ever be a beachside town, but whereas most beachside themes are light, Suzuki and Tanaka conjure up a seedy, overcrowded seaside city overrun with cars more than sand. In another instance, Scarabi’s slightly eerie Arabic opening is interrupted after the first forty seconds when the track descends into a gloriously silly manipulating of the melody’s pitch that intentionally kills any notion of fear and danger. Unfortunately, again, this is a combination of several tracks in the game, but for the most part the style remains consistent, unlike Winters and Ranma. Dungeon Man’s weird mixture of out-of-tune instruments and vocal samples turn what would otherwise be a filler track into a memorable piece. It is followed by one of the genuinely serious tracks in the game, Cursed Jungles, which uses dark synths and oppressive percussion that is well balanced by the subsequent Gumi Village, which is very difficult to listen to without laughing.
One of the defining moments of the game itself was the dreamlike world of Magicant. It is impossible for its eponymous theme to capture the same mood here as it does in the game, and the fact that it is, once again, a compilation of tracks does not help matters. That said, it stands on its own as an impressive piece, and even those who have not played the game can only imagine the kind of drug-induced hallucinogenic visuals accompanying this track while playing. The Great Underworld is one of the most spine-tingling final dungeon tracks ever devised, and manages to be chilling while still retaining the more gentle mood of the soundtrack as a whole. Final Battle is mostly taken up with the two minute cutscene that happens at the end of the final battle, and although nice to listen to, I could not help but wonder why this had been included instead of some of the more acoustically pleasing tracks. The Ending theme is a welcome full track from the game, an arrangement of some of the pieces that were not included individually (notably the Tonzura Brothers/Runaway 5’s theme), but it is a shame that these tracks were not included in their original form.
The final three themes on the disc are a collection of remixes that are essentially further tracks from the game mixed into a single track. The first of these, Room Number, consists of the majority of the shop and hotel themes mixed together. The second, Hula Hoop, contains a number of the dungeon pieces, including the genuinely eerie theme from the zombie-infested town of Threek (Threed). But it is the last of these remixes that captured my attention. The real disappointment in this album had been the complete lack of the music played during battles. This is partially alleviated with the last track on the disc, an arrangement of the battle themes in a remixed form, but once again it likely to cause irritation that these tracks were not included in their entirety on, say, a three disc soundtrack album. In addition, as a remix it is fairly poor, with the track jumping around with no real sense of cohesion.
Mother 2‘s soundtrack is obviously not for everyone, it being the musical equivalent of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. However, for fans and newcomers alike, this is a sample of some of the great tracks that were included in the game itself, and with the game the cult hit it still is today I’d recommend it as a collector’s item, if nothing else. Of course, those looking for the definitive Mother 2 soundtrack will be disappointed by this particular release, but I remain hopeful that at some point in the future, Mother 2, as well as the other games in the series, will get the kind of treatment they deserve.