Retro Review: EarthBound


by Jason Parker [Ragachak]

EarthBound 1

It all starts with the Meteorite…

Earthbound is my favorite game of all time. There aren’t too many that come close. But I feel like if I’m going to go in on a game, it may as well be one that I love. It’s a charming game that’s very ahead of its time in a lot of ways, which may be why it wasn’t a huge success, and is instead relegated to “Cult Hit”. It’s nowhere near my first RPG, and in fact, I only briefly played it as a younger man, borrowing it from a friend. It took a few years for me to land my first copy of the game and play it for myself, but I was hooked from the first time I stepped into the shoes of Ness, the protagonist of the game. I do think it’s a shame that a majority of folks only know him as “That kid who what fought people in Smash Bros.”. It’s a story of a young boy, a ball bat, and his psychic powers. He teams up with friends he’s never met until you know … he meets them, and they work together to battle foes that no child should ever have to stand up to. The world is on the backs of these children, the chosen ones, travel alone, and in a very charming way the game tackles social issues, norms, and hides it behind bright colors and hilarious jokes.  You even get to name your special attack/PSI ability and your favorite food! Immaturity ahoy!

Earthbound 2 - Onett

The lovely town of Onett!

EarthBound’s a single-player turn-based RPG by the legendary Shigesato Itoi and APE/HAL Labs. It was the second game in an ultimately three-game series, Mother. Ness has been put into a position where he is the “Chosen One” and through a time-travelling bee, Buzz Buzz, he learns of his fate, his impending friends and the duty he has to the world. So he sets out with his dog, and two friends [one whom turns out to be not so friendly, the other is simply not in the prophecy] and alone again, he heads into the world. From deserts, swamps, mystical lands, a town filled with zombies and the bowls of God, Ness wanders trying to solve a problem only he can. He teams with Paula who is a psychic girl with incredible attack powers. Jeff’s the only one who can’t use these magical powers because he’s a scientist Clearly, they don’t believe in hokum like that. Instead, he gets laser guns, bombs, and bottle rockets. They do battle with gangs dressed like sharks, piles of living puke/vomit, the cops, giant moles, aliens, and more aliens. Even stop signs and taxi cabs have been infected by the power of Giygas.

EarthBound - 6 - Crit by a Record

Now that’s what I call Music, Vol. 47!

Jeff’s the only one who can’t use these magical powers because he’s a scientist, and clearly, they don’t believe in hokum like that. Instead, he gets laser guns, bombs, and bottle rockets. They do battle with gangs dressed like sharks, piles of living puke/vomit, the cops, giant moles, aliens, and more aliens. Even stop signs and taxi cabs have been infected by the power of Giygas/Giygig. His evil influence is spreading through the world [sort of like Zeroumus did in Final Fantasy IV], but it’s far less picky, apparently. The ultimate goal is to stop the machinations of Giygas, and there’s no guarantee you’re going to come home after it’s all said and done. You’re basically doing battle with an alien space-god that’s also a fetus [supposedly, but the argument’s strong]. Nothing in EarthBound is as simple as it appears. In fact, we played this on our Youtube Channel and our Livestream! Also, shoutout to Duane and Brando, who produced an amazing album of EarthBound themed music, such as this track.

Let's Play - Earthbound - Episode 19_ Shopping Imitates Life - Bottom Tier - You

Shoutout to Duane and Brando!

That’s one of the things that I love about this game, it does not take itself seriously. Characters are wacky, charming, and more often than not funny. Almost sign in the world had something worth a chuckle over, and some of the more sinister characters appear disarming and friendly. One of the earliest encounters in the game is Ness alone, versus the cops. Despite getting permission to go into Giant Step, the cops accuse him of trespassing, and instead of arresting him, fight him. He has to do battle with a group of cops in a backroom of Onett, and only after besting him will he let you go to Twoson to continue the adventure. Fun fact, Strong can actually be seen at the Meteor outside of Onett at the beginning of the game. He’s been hounding you this whole time, following, tracking. Perhaps he’s one of Giygas’ pawns? From the “Runaway Five” band which has six members and can be viewed as a parody of the Blues Brothers, to the Nessie-watching Club, there are lots of things that can make this game come across as a parody, as a satire of the RPG genre.

EarthBound 4 - Let's Play Battle

Weird encounters are this games cup of tea.

I disagree though. It can certainly come across that way, as a way to take the air out of the ultra-serious RPG genre. But EarthBound is its own game, and while it may look heartwarmingly and visually is very bright, colorful and warm, this is one of the most depressing, soul-crushing games I’ve ever played; I think that contrast is why I love it so much.Dr. Andoughnuts, Jeff’s dad, has no idea who his kid is. He was shipped off early to a boarding school, has a best friend who he has an unrequited homosexual relationship with [yes it is confirmed]. Jeff’s a lonely genius who basically has nobody in his life other than Tony, and after meeting his dad still doesn’t have a warm relationship. It may never happen. Ness has a similar issue, and only talks to his dad on the phone, who sends him money in lieu of love and fatherhood.

Bottom Tier - Earthbound - Episode 11_ Whoops Ass! Is True! - YouTube

Jeff and Tony at Boarding School.

Ness feels like a real kid, basically alone in the world except his few friends. He frequently gets homesick [call home to prevent it], which is a real status ailment in the game. It’s a dark world and pulls no punches. The ending of the game is so sad it’s borderline physically painful to watch. But the tears in this game are also of joy, happiness, worry. Sure, Mother 3 is far more evocative and depressing [The story of Porky/Pokey is goddamn heartbreaking], Mother 2/EarthBound has its own charms. It has cults trying to paint the world blue [based on the actual Aum Shinrikyo Cult of 90s Japan], it has deep roots in our actual world. It’s our world, and all of its sadness, seen through the eyes of a child.

pokey_giygas_wallpaper_by_doctor_g-d33rc00

[Accurate] fan art of Porky/Gigyas.

He frequently gets homesick [call home to prevent it], which is a real status ailment in the game. It’s a dark world and pulls no punches. The ending of the game is so sad it’s borderline physically painful to watch. But the tears in this game are also of joy, happiness, worry. Sure, Mother 3 is far more evocative and depressing [The story of Porky/Pokey is goddamn heartbreaking], Mother 2/EarthBound has its own charms. It has cults trying to paint the world blue [based on the actual Aum Shinrikyo Cult of 90s Japan], it has deep roots in our actual world. It’s our world, and all of its sadness, seen through the eyes of a child.

EarthBound - 3 Summers

Visit beaautiful [expensive] Summers!

The gameplay’s very simple. Your enemies are out in the world, and if you get the drop on them, A green swirl fills the screen and your party goes first. Otherwise, if they get the drop on you, it’s a red swirl and they go first. Otherwise, it’s left up to initiative/speed. You attack, use items, defend, use psychic powers in lieu of magic. One of the most interesting things though is that the HP rolls on a wheel, and if you take mortal damage [and you will. A lot] you can get through the exp screen with as low as 1 hp and still survive. Hell, there are enemies that do mortal/critical damage every time they die, and you feel the need to rush and mash buttons to get through without dying. Most of the time, it’s easier to just avoid these fights.

EarthBound 8 - Territorial Oak

It looks peaceful, but it’s about to explode; literally!

Scroll them off screen, wait, then scroll back up to see if RNG reset them. This is one of the most frustrating things about the game, winning a fight, then losing because you’re slightly low on HP and the enemy explodes. And you will spend a lot of time grinding, which is one of the major downsides of the game. Luckily there are useful creature comforts: Calling a business to pick up your items like key items you don’t need, ordering pizzas [but first you have to visit the pizza parlor, only to find out they don’t do in-house, only delivery], calling your dad to save the game, calling mom to prevent homesickness… wow, now that I think about it, those are pretty damn annoying too. But it is true to the theme of the game. I appreciate that.

Earthbound 5 - Shopping

Your inventory will almost always be full..

You will spend a lot of time exping, and dying. Dying’s the worst because resurrection items are rare, expensive, and most of the time you’re going to have to find a hospital, which means leaving the dungeon/wilderness and going into town. There are exceptions, like Saturn Valley where it’s free, but that’s seldom found as well. The difficulty curves with no warning and there will be times when suddenly one of your most powerful team members is out of commission/unable to be used, making the game far more challenging [RE: Fourside Mall]. The story is incredible, and the gameplay is solid. It’s charming and without a doubt, a story worth telling. But there are huge slow gaps, where you are just leveling, walking places, or completing really annoying gameplay. I think the most frustrating parts are the Fourside Mall, or Dusty Dunes mines, where you fight five bosses in one series of caves. You’ll likely have to leave at least once to heal. The status ailments are infuriating, and happen more often than you’d like. That means over-level to use PSI Heal or carry tons of items. There are repeated parts of the game that are just a slog, then the difficulty spikes, and hair is pulled out.

EarthBound 7 - Mall Stuff

Hope you’re prepared, cause this mall will kick your ass.

The story is incredible, and the gameplay is solid. It’s charming and without a doubt, a story worth telling. But there are huge slow gaps, where you are just leveling, walking places, or completing really annoying gameplay. I think the most frustrating parts are the Fourside Mall, or Dusty Dunes mines, where you fight five bosses in one series of caves. You’ll likely have to leave at least once to heal. The status ailments are infuriating, and happen more often than you’d like. That means over-level to use PSI Heal or carry tons of items. There are repeated parts of the game that are just a slog, then the difficulty spikes, and hair is pulled out.

Say Fuzzle Pickles/Cheese Sandwich: 4/5

Earthbound: War Against Giygas

War never changes.

EarthBound/Mother 2 holds up after all this time. It’s repetitive at times, frustrating at others, but is couched in a delightful story, one that’s without a doubt well told. You meet a wacky cast of characters, many of which hide evil intentions behind a quaint smile. That’s the beautiful thing about EarthBound, nothing is what it seems. You see the world in a pretty fantastic way, through the eyes of a child, and it’s definitely a child of its era. This is the 80s/90s encapsulated in a cartridge. Everything that can go wrong will. It’s a Lovecraftian world bordering on the end-times, but it’s colored like a child’s coloring book, all bright yellows and greens. The gameplay’s a bit on the easy side, but that’s marred by the frustrating boss fights that can one-shot you if you aren’t completely prepared. It looks childlike, but it’s anything but. EarthBound is a unique game, and Mother 1 and 3 don’t compare at all. No other game compares. There are lots of wonderful and sad stories hiding under the surface for someone willing to look. Possibly the greatest [one that heads into Mother 3 for it’s most depressing bit] is someone whom you think is your best buddy is a liar and betrays you, repeatedly. That hurts, and it will feel familiar to a lot of folks. It’s one of my favorite games of all. In a time when I didn’t have many friends, and I felt like there was nothing to look forward to, Earthbound gave me that. It wasn’t without its deep flaws, but it made up for those in charm and skillful storytelling. EarthBound taught me that while yes, the world can be a terrible place [and it was for me then], things can get better. Things do get better. All you can do is keep walking forward down that road, believe in yourself, and your friends. That’s probably not the intended message, but it’s one I took away from it.

 

 

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  • Herschel Pilcher III

    Great game.

    Very well written. It’s not easy being able to give an objective opinion on something you love, but you went after the flaws of the game as well as shining the spotlight on it’s high points.