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Why the Ys Don't Match - by Anthadd

Why the Ys Don't Match

"What is the relationship between Ness and Ninten?" That debate has permeated the EarthBound community for years. About the only other debates with such lasting power have been:
  1. the relationship between Giygas and Giegue [they're the same character], and
  2. whether or not Ness is, was or ought to be the main character in Mother 3 [which I won't address in this article, since we're probably due for another debate on it somewhere soon]

Before I actually address the situation, I would like to describe what I call a Hierarchy of Reliability. That is, how reliable a source is. For the Japanese continuum of Mother, I use the following hierarchy, in descending order of reliability:
  1. Itoi and the Mother games
  2. Nintendo of Japan, the Smash Bros. games, and the instruction manuals
  3. Nintendo-affiliated magazines, official player's guides, and advertisements
  4. Non-affiliated magazines and unofficial player's guides
  5. Internet hearsay

For the English continuum, I use:
  1. Itoi and the game(s)
  2. Nintendo of America, the Smash Bros. games, and Nintendo Power
  3. The player's guide
  4. Advertisements, unaffiliated magazines
  5. Internet hearsay
  6. Uncorroborated allegations on Internet FAQs, etc.

Since the English continuum is derivative of the Japanese continuum — without the Japanese continuum, there would not be an English continuum — I combine the hierarchies as follows:
  1. Itoi and the games
  2. Nintendo of Japan, Smash Bros. (Japanese), and the instruction manuals
  3. Nintendo of America, Smash Bros. (English), Nintendo-affiliated magazines, official Japanese player's guides, and Japanese advertisements
  4. Non-affiliated Japanese magazines, unofficial Japanese player's guides, the EarthBound player's guide
  5. English advertisements, non-affiliated English magazines
  6. Internet hearsay
  7. Uncorroborated allegations on Internet FAQs, etc.

The opinions that people hold on the debate to be addressed in this article can be divided into four camps, as follows:
  1. Ninten is Ness' father
  2. Ninten is Ness
  3. Ninten and Ness are related, but not immediately
  4. Ninten and Ness are not related at all

This article will address (1.).


Mother was released for the Famicom in 1989; Mother 2 was released for the Super Famicom in 1994. This much can be discerned from the title screens. What is colloquially referred to as EarthBound Zero, the translated prototype of Mother, was to have been released some time in 1990; EarthBound was released in 1995 (GamePro reviewed the game in its July 1995 issue).

Mother gave a definite time frame for its occurrence: the opening sequence explicitly says the action begins in 1988, on the outskirts of Mother's Day (Podunk). Mother 2 was more vague: as the screen pans across "Onett, a small town in Eagleland", the year is revealed to be 199X. EarthBound Zero, on the other hand, took an even vaguer turn: where Mother referred to "1988, on the outskirts of Mother's Day", EarthBound Zero spoke of "eighty years later" relative to two years after some year in the early 1900s. EarthBound, however, maintained the slight vagueness of Mother 2; it, too, took place in the ambiguous 199X.

At this point, I make my first postulate. I postulate that if the English continuum does not define something, the data as determined by the Japanese continuum will be used. This, note, will not define EarthBound Zero as taking place in 1988; however, the following data will be covered by the postulate.

On Nintendo of Japan's Mother hero profile page [man, that's a mouthful!], we have Ninten's profile, registered under Boku, or I. (As a slight digression, note that a Nintendo Dream article from May 2003 mentioned the main character of Mother as officially having no name, although the name Ninten is used on NoJ's screenshots as what I presume is the "official" name.)

The first sentence of Ninten's profile reads in Romanised Japanese as Boku wa 12sai. Boku, as mentioned before, means I. Sai, on the other hand, is a suffix which glosses to the English compound "years old". Since Japanese typically indicates negatives, we can conclude that this sentence is positive, and hence the sentence translates as "I am 12 years old."

EarthBound Zero, on the other hand, never had an instruction manual or any other source by which we could determine Ninten's EB0 age, since it was never released. Hence, via the postulate I suggested above, I assume Ninten's EB0 age to be 12. (In further digression, before learning of Ninten's actual age, I posited his age as being seven or eight. Ninten being twelve makes the Ninten-fathered-Ness theory more difficult to disprove, so you ought to be happy I gave this postulate. You know who you are.)



Mother 2 was, as stated before, situated in the year 199X. This means that the game could start any time from 1 January 1990 to 31 December 1999. Dialogue in the epilogue to Mother 2 indicates that Ness' birthday occurs soon after Mother 2 begins. Meaning his birthday runs anywhere in the year. But how old will he turn then?

To determine his age during the course of Mother 2, we must once more turn to the game. In the game, Jeff's father, Dr. Andonuts, remarks that he and Jeff have not seen each other in ten years, implying of course that Jeff must be at least ten. Furthermore, Jeff's profile at Nintendo of Japan's Mother 1+2 page on the Mother 2 heroes page relates this information to Ness. The beginning of the second sentence Romanises as boku to onaji sai na no ni. As with Ninten's profile from the Mother 1 heroes page, boku and sai use the same meanings. Onaji, as a note, translates as same. So we have //[I] to [same years old] na no ni//. A general approximation of this fragment is "the same age as I am".

From this, we can conclude that in Mother 2, Ness can be no younger than ten. But what would the upper bound on his age be? Since I would prefer to minimise the number of arguments against this case which involve the fact I have unfairly limited a bound, I will assume no limit. (Of course, there is a point at which a limit ought to be imposed.)

However, if I were to have imposed an upper bound on Ness' age, I would have turned to the EarthBound-defined age of 13, which is often attested in the player's guide. (A note for those of you unaware with the idiosyncracies of EarthBound's player's guide: the player's guide is notorious for apparently being a mid-translation work with numerous errata derived from the fact it was done while the localisation team was translating Mother 2 into EarthBound, as well as for possessing further errata completely unrelated to the localisation process. Take this with a pound of salt.)


In fact, the concept of taking an upper bound for Ness' age is ultimately pointless. What is most relevant is the youngest he can be, since his youngest is the most conducive to Ninten being his father.

By that, Ness can be no younger than 10 while Mother 2 takes place. The following paragraphs operate on the presumption his next birthday will be his eleventh. As above, the game could start any day from 1 January 1990 to 31 December 1999.

Once more, I advance a postulate. This postulate is that Mother 2 took place over a one month period (30 days). That is, Mother 2 ended some time between 31 January 1990 and 30 January 2000. At the end of the game, Ness' father reveals that Ness' birthday is "next week". Ness' 11th birthday can therefore be anywhere from 1 February 1990 (if the game ends at the end of the week before next) to 12 February 2000 (if the game ends at the beginning of the week before next). By subtracting eleven years, we have Ness' birthdate as being anywhere from 1 February 1979 to 12 February 1989.

Now, it is time to factor Ninten into the equation. With Ninten, we have a confirmed age and a confirmed year of game-occurrence. What we lack is the relation of birthday to game time. To avoid another postulate, I will consider each case with respect to Ninten and Ness' birthdays and when Mother began.

Case 1: Ninten turned 12 in 1988 (1)
In this case, Ninten's birthday precedes the beginning of Mother, and his birthday precedes Ness' birthday. By this, his birthyear was 1976, and Ninten was no older than 13 when Ness was born.

Case 2: Ninten turned 12 in 1988 (2)
In this case, Ninten's birthday precedes the beginning of Mother, but his birthday follows Ness' birthday. By this, his birthyear was 1976, and Ninten was no older than 12 when Ness was born.

Case 3: Ninten turned 13 in 1988 (1)
In this case, Ninten's birthday follows the beginning of Mother, but precedes Ness' birthday. In this case, Ninten was born in 1975 and was no older than 14 when Ness was born.

Case 4: Ninten turned 13 in 1988 (2)
In this case, Ninten's birthday follows both the beginning of Mother and Ness' birthday. In this case, Ninten was born in 1975 and was no older than 13 when Ness was born.

This, of course, ignores typical human gestation, which lasts nine months. Even assuming that Ness was born about one month premature, we have his date of conception as being anywhere from 1 June 1978 to 12 June 1988. (If he was born less than a month premature, or even on time, move those dates towards 1 May and 12 May respectively.)

The above cases also presume that Ness was 10 at the time of Mother 2; to adjust, subtract one year from Ninten's age for each year older than 10 you believe Ness to be. Although young fathers are possible, the ages being required for Ninten to be Ness' father push the limits of possibility. The age he would be at conception further makes this difficult to believe.

Another complication produced by this is the identity of Ness' mother. Even if he had been born the latest he could have been born, 12 February 1989, and even assuming (the quite unlikely case of) one-month prematurity, we have a conception no later than 12 June 1988. This allows Ninten about 160 days in which to find Ness' mother and with her conceive Ness. If we were to take either female protagonist from Mother, be she Pippi or Ana, we have another very young parent.

Ness' memories as presented throughout Mother 2 suggest that when he was an infant, his parents were somewhat independent. A house is shown, presumably belonging to their family, with an infant Ness in a cradle; King later reveals that he lived in Ness' house before Ness was born.

If, as the proponents of the Ninten-fathered-Ness theory would have us believe, Ninten is Ness' father, then we are being asked to accept not only the potential of a barely pubescent father, but the potential of barely pubescent parents. Although the RPG genre often plays fast and loose with logic, the Mother series tends to be somewhat more grounded in fact. That two just-teens (at their most conducive ages) would be allowed to live on their own with their child goes against the grain of general logic, I believe.


Another interesting peculiarity concerning Ness' age comes from the previously mentioned Nintendo Dream article published some time around June 2003. It covered the then-imminent release of Mother 1+2 for the Game Boy Advance, and was essentially a character sheet for the main characters.

Ninten's (or should I say Hero's?) profile on that article also says that he is 12 years old. The little blurb on Mother says that Mother took place in 1988. For the most part, a lot of the information there can be corroborated by Mother-series in-game confirmation. But there is an interesting factoid of uncertain veracity which also appears in that article. In Ness' character profile.
Like Ninten's profile, Ness' profile says he is 12 years old.

In that case, Ness would have been born, at the latest, in 1988. No later than February 1988, no less. Which would kick Ninten conceiving Ness into the middle of 1987. When he would be twelve at his oldest, not his youngest. Of course, Nintendo Dream is the only place where I have found an actual designation of Ness' age; and it lies third on the reliability hierarchy.
However, given the dearth of specific information concerning Ness' age — the only information, vague as it is, that is available is the fact he can be no younger than ten — during Mother 2, but also given my personal reticence to advance this single-attestation point as truth, I will postulate that 12 is Ness' probable age during Mother 2, not his actual age[1].


As a general conclusion, I would like to thank you, yes you, the reader, for actually having so little of a life that you actually read through this four-pages-plus monstrosity. At times I'm certain my rambling, over-complicated dialect of English[2] confused you enough that you had to re-read what I'd just written to make heads or tails of it. But you read this entire œuvre as I used in-game attestations and references from Nintendo to give first specific indications of when Ninten's adventure took place and how old he was then, and second general approximations of when Ness' adventure took place, his age at that time, and when he was born.

Through this information, I have — I hope — established that Ninten probably is not Ness' father.

Notes
[1] "Probable" ages are used only when "actual" ages are not known.

[2] I do write and speak like this in real life. Frightening, isn't it?


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