There’s something to be said for a game that can bring you back and genuinely give the feel of your youth. How often is it in a game you actually feel the desire to talk with your mom or dad on the phone and get uplifting praise? Yeah in Gold/Silver/Crystal there was a need to speak with your mom, but it felt like it was needed for a purpose and not something you’d just want to do “just because”. Something about being able to order a pizza in the middle of the game and have it show up a few minutes of actual time later really makes for an interesting and exciting spin on an rpg.
Usually when it comes to jrpgs, its go run around a medieval land fighting mythical gods or run around a post-apocalyptic barren world with only zombies and looters as your break from the vast nothingness. But then, here Ness is in….modern day? What? How? In 199X you have Ness running off in an America-inspired landscape enjoying the day to day city-life of runaway dogs, new-age retro hippies, zombies, space aliens, pizza deliveries, prostitutes, all while confronting homesickness.
(I’m serious about the prostitute thing though. Like, in Threed you follow this chick into a hotel room then get BEAT UP BY ZOMBIES AND GHOSTS LIKE WHOA OK SHE LURED A 13 YEAR-OLD INTO A HOTEL ROOM NOTHING WRONG THERE HOLY CRAP WHAT JUST OH MAN OH MAN JKHSDKFHL (AND ONLY MADE IT WORSE BECAUSE YOU AND PAULA ARE BEATEN LIKE WHAT THE HECK))
What’s there to say about Earthbound? Such a surreal game surprisingly was unnoticed in the 90’s and only now, years later, do people see just how amazing, influential, and deep one of the (if not THE) best game of the SNES era is.
Back when the jrpg was still relatively new to America, Earthbound came out only to find a quick silent death after poor sales despite NoA pouring advertisement cash into the game. So quickly it became another “cult classic”, but why’s that? Because it’s amazing, that’s literally why. The game was way ahead of its time and even brought forward some mechanics we only wish we could see in rpgs.
Earthbound follows the cute 13 year-old Ness in his adventures in growing up, facing evils, being lured into a hotel room by a prostitute, homesickness, and much more in a modern America-esque landscape. After being woken up one night by Pokey, Ness wanders outside and finds a meteorite and is informed he is the key to saving the world from the most ultimate evil imaginable. Ness, along with expert PSI user Paula, weapons expert Jeff, and foreign prince Poo, the four go off to save the world from the ultimate evil known as Giygas.
What about this weird little title makes fans that have played it go gaga? Why is it when you meet someone who’s played it, all they want to do is force you to play like some sort of weird cult (which they have in Earthbound). Anyways… what is it that makes Earthbound great?
The music is expansive and helps keep the time flying by. There’s everything from calming background music to music reminiscent of Michael Jackson, to death metal, to off-the-wall quirky music. And yet…it all fits. Even different enemies have different music themes which helps keep battles fresh and interesting even after farming for Starman Super for hours at a time.
The gameplay? AMAZING. Simply amazing. I can’t give enough praise to a game that allows you to skip entire battles based on your ability to more or less OHKO baddies you happen upon. Why isn’t this elaborated more in jrpgs/rpgs? There’s nothing much different than the usual rpg movements otherwise, though with PK Teleport you can cut down the time that it takes to run around various part of the map which is a plus. And there’s something charming about not having to use an airship or horse to run around. Airships are cool, don’t get me wrong, BUT THERE’S SOMETHING SATISFYING ABOUT RUNNING AROUND IN CIRCLES AT AN INCREDIBLE SPEED TO FLY OFF TO A DIFFERENT AREA. It’s just. Different. Quirky. Entertaining. (especially when it goes horribly wrong and you end up a charred mess)
Grinding? Unlike most gameas where the grinding is not only drab, but needed to advance even the slightest bit, in Earthbound there’s hardly any need for grinding more than 30 minutes to get to the levels you need. The game does a fantastic job of keeping the enemy levels around what yours is (and with the added benefit and satisfaction of having the baddies run away when you’re obviously superior). Not to mention it just FEELS good grinding with the weird and downright wacky foes you come across. Like, seriously. You fight a horde of Grimers made of vomit before you face the ultimate vomit Muk. YOU FIGHT WALKING BUSHES VIVA LA TANGELA WAY BEFORE POKEMON EVER HIT THE SHELVES. This game was so ahead of the curve. Plus you can fight New Age Retro Hippie and that is the coolest thing you can ever do.
The story. Ok. OK. Where do I even begin? I can’t begin to explain how simply off-the-wall the entire game is. And no one really questions anything that happens, which is nice. Oh look, some meteorite came and a butterfly is telling you that you’re the savior of all mankind. Cool, Imma go ride my bike and beat the everloving crap out of some wild dogs and ants. Why am I suddenly in my own mind talking to myself? IT DOESN’T MATTER JUST GO WITH IT. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT FIGHT THAT GIANT ANT FIGHT THE STARMAN SUPER DON’T EVEN GIVE A HECK.
The final boss. The boss battle at the end was astoundingly amazing. How do you even explain? Basically the entire game leads up to you saving the world from a great evil which is Giygas. With the help of your friends and a science bro and some Mr. Saturns, you go and make a time/space machine where you travel to where Giygas is staying. You go and WHOA WHOA WHOA OK HE’S THERE. LOTS OF YEARS IN THE PAST. OH NO. So you get your soul. Your very essence stored into a robot body so you can go back in time in order to battle this super-mega god of evil.
YOU CANNOT GRASP THE TRUE FORM OF GIYGAS’ ATTACK
NESS NESS NESS NESS NESS NESS NESS NESS NESS NESS NESS NESS NESS
I FEEL G…O…O…D…
I’M SO SAD…
IT’S… NOT RIGHT…NOT RIGHT…NOT RIGHT…
Look at that thing. LOOK. AT. THAT. THING. The MAIN reason so many kids could never finish the game. The entire game escalates to this point and you can’t even HURT him. He’s beyond anything you’ve ever seen or can understand. He’s transcended reality. AND IT’S FREAKING FRIGHTENING. Something out of a child’s nightmares. And all the while metal music is playing in the background and the only way to beat this mother hugger is to pray. PRAY. And it works. Praying not just in the game, but the player. You. Not Ness, you the player. Pray for Giygas to fall. And it works. And he falls. And you’re left with Ness and company going back to their bodies.
And once all is said and done and after you walk Paula back home, there you are. Ness. All alone once again. And although you may have already shed a few tears by now, you realize there’s something you can do all alone before you go back home. You can go ride around on your bike with a whimsical smile on your face. Something you could only experience at the very beginning of the game. And although it’s small and seemingly insignificant, you still have an amazing time just being able to go through and see everyone before the inevitable tear-filled credit roll where you get to see a look-back through all your time spent in the game via the “fuzzy pickles” photographer you’ve met all throughout the series at seemingly random points.
And it was here where the tears wouldn’t stop. The game closed with a definitive ending and the world had been saved… only there’s a knock at your door in the middle of the night…? Who is it? You go out only to find a letter sent to you by your neighbor and certifiably evil friend-gone-enemy Pokey telling you to find him… if you can.. Followed by a looming “THE END… ?” An open ending following what seemed like a completely closed game. Not one question was left unanswered though suddenly Pokey stuck his stupid face in Ness’s business and the game ends with you wondering if your prayers for a proper sequel will be answered.
And although the prayers were answered in Japan with Mother 3, us in the west seem to have no hope for anything more from this “failed” series. Yeah, it’s on the Nintendo Eshop and yeah you should definitely play (seriously if you haven’t played it I won’t ever speak to you), but sadly that’s all we may ever see from the Mother series.
RIP in pieces you beautiful game.