Mother – Snowman
The Mother/Earthbound series features dozens of outstanding compositions that I could easily induct into to the Musical Showcase vault. But given the current time of year let’s zero in on an enduring winter themed classic.
Though the Mother series sports a long, winding yet unique history (that I thoroughly recommend reading up on) here’s the cliff notes summary. It’s comprised of three JRPGs, only one of which has seen an official western release (where it was renamed Earthbound). In a genre dominated by fantasy kingdoms Mother broke the mould by placing you in the shoes of a young boy living in a contemporary Middle American town (though Mother 3 shifted the setting somewhat). Its turn-based battles are fought with the likes of baseball bats and frying pans instead of swords, and innate physic abilities are used instead of magic.
In Japan the series was known for its fantastic musical score even back when the original Mother debuted on the Famicom (Japan’s version of the NES) back in 1989. That same year an official album was released on CD and cassette featuring orchestrated renditions of its compositions with English vocals. The original tracks were so popular in the country that one of its core themes named Eight Melodies was taught in elementary school music classes.
Snowman was one of these debut tracks, named for the eponymous snowbound town in the game. It’s impressive that even on the Famicom’s meagre sound chip the composers were able to portray a sense of coldness and mystery.
Not only has Snowman remained a fan favourite but evidently a developer favourite too. Though the town of Snowman was not revisited, its theme has reappeared in both Mother 2/Earthbound and Mother 3 in similar snowy regions.
Credit for this wonderful piece goes to Mother’s dual composers, Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka. Suzuki is better known in Japan as member of the progressive rock band The Moonriders and a feature film composer, with only a few video game credits under his belt. Hip Tanaka on the other hand is well known for his contributions to video game music and was particularly prolific in the 80s and 90s, scoring classics like Metroid, Kid Icarus and Super Mario Land.
The version of Snowman that I’m highlighting today debuted on the Mother 3+ album released in 2004 but was later rearranged as an unlockable track in Super Smash Brothers Brawl. For me, this is ultimate realisation of the song and how I imagine the composers wanted it to sound before it had to be compressed and simplified to fit the limited sound systems of the consoles of the time.