Earthbound is a title for the SNES co-developed by Ape, Inc. and HAL Laboratory, released in 1994 in Japan and 1995 in the USA. In Japan, it was released as Mother 2, a sequel to Mother, a fairly successful title released only in Japan. In the US, Earthbound was released as a standalone and published by Nintendo. Earthbound sold very well in Japan; American audiences, however, were not quick to pick up on this title. Nintendo didn't exactly help things with their horrible, "This game stinks!" campaign. It seems the humor in that slogan and how it relates to the game was lost on American audiences. It took years for most critics and fans to finally realize just how far ahead of its time this game was. Now, you'll find almost universal praise for it, and for good reason.
Let's take a closer, mostly spoiler-free, look.
The story in this game is sort of standard these days. The game begins with you, Ness, your dog, King, and your portly neighbor, Pokey Minch, all going to investigate a meteor that crashed in your hometown. At the scene of the crash, Ness meets a talking alien bee from the future named Buzz Buzz who tells him of a dark, desolate future where a creature named Giygas rules over the world. He bestows upon Ness a Sound Stone as well as a mission: go to all 8 sanctuaries, collecting the songs on the Sound Stone, and defeat Giygas in the present.
Now, Ness doesn't save the world all by himself. Not only is he born with unexplained telekinetic powers, but he also meets 3 companions along the way. There's Jeff, the boy genius/MacGuyver-esque super nerd, who is invaluable despite his inability to use the same psychic powers as the other 3. There's Paula, a girl from Twoson who also was born with psychic powers. Lastly, there's Poo, the prince of the Oriental-themed land of Dalaam who can also utilize psychic powers.
What really makes this game stand out as far as story goes is the humor. This is by far one of the most comical games I've ever played. Through dialogue, images, enemies that you fight, and plot devices, the comedy is quite overt in this game. You'll often find yourself laughing out loud, not knowing just exactly what the hell is going on.
|The lovable and grammatically-retarded Mr. Saturns|
|Probably a good idea, Mr. T.|
|And the sub is actually a part of the plot, too|
Those are just a tiny sample of the humor present in the game. Who can forget the Runaway Five, a six-person band who can't seem to stay out of trouble? There's also the photographer who randomly floats down from the sky to take your picture, telling you to say, "Fuzzy pickles," every single time, there's the Happy Happy Cult who seems obsessed with the color blue, and there's the entirety of the city of Moonside (a weird inverted color pallet version of the town of Fourside where Yes means No and No means Yes, and EVERYONE is apparently on LSD). You get to fight Cranky Old Ladies and New Age Retro Hippies and even Piles of Barf.
The story isn't without it's drama and seriousness, though. As it progresses, the game begins to get quite deep. There are points that will make you think, and there are pieces of dialogue that will make you cry out of sadness and pity. The end is also quite satisfying, speaking on the theme of how we affect the lives we touch. I could talk for a long time about the story, but I think I have to stop here to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible.
The graphics in EarthBound are very "love 'em or hate 'em". They're quite polarizing. On the one hand, for a later SNES game, the graphics are just god-awful, and a lot of critics are quick to point this out. On the other hand, there's a quirkiness about it that makes them endearing and somehow makes the game even MORE fun to play. I'm personally a part of the "love 'em" group. There's just something about these graphics that draw me in even more and contribute to the overall 'awesome' vibe the game has going. To see which camp you fall in with, take a look at the screenshots on this review and decide for yourself.
I've already talked about how weird this game is; now, I'll talk about how fun this game is.
It's a little bit different from your standard RPG, but a lot of conventions are the same. To do anything in game, you tap the A button to bring up the menu. From there, you can Talk To whoever is in front of you, you can Check the item in front of you, you can view/use your Psi (the equivalent of magic for curing and attacking), you can check your Goods (items), check the Status of your characters, and Equip (and unequip) items.
Mostly, it's a series of battles (which are nice because you can see the enemies on the map before you fight), all of which give you EXP, leading to level-ups and stat increases. You talk to the NPCs and gain clues about where to go. You finish the story in whatever given town/area you're in, and then you move to the next town (the first four are Onett, Twoson, Threed, and Fourside) and do it again. It's the same pattern as in every RPG, but this game manages to keep things fun through it's absolutely hilarious battle sequences and storyline elements. Trust me, you won't get bored quickly. Even level grinding stays fun for a lot longer than usual in EarthBound, and this game luckily doesn't require a whole lot of grinding. It's also never too confusing to figure out where to go or who to talk to next.
There are a few downsides to the way this game was setup, though. The main problem is how little inventory space you have. I found myself constantly having to throw away items I thought I might need in the future just to make room for new equip or key items. Things get better for a bit each time a new character comes (each has their own inventory slots), but before long you're completely full on items again. This gets frustrating.
Let me just say that the music in this game is FUCKING AWESOME. A lot of it is quite psychedelic, especially the battle music and ESPECIALLY some of the boss music. It's very trippy at times. The different overworld themes are almost all very catchy, and you'll find yourself with these songs either running through your head or being hummed under your breath without realizing it. Here's a compilation of a lot of the battle songs (seriously, hit play and go browse some other pages while it plays).
However, good music != good sound. The sounds effects are good most of the way through, but some are pretty mediocre, and a lot of sound effects that it seems like should be there are conspicuously missing.
Replay Value: 6/10
EarthBound is a totally fucking awesome game, and you'll love almost every minute of it. However, there's a LOT of minutes of it. This game is a loooooong game. For that reason alone, no matter how fun a game is, I'm much more reticent to blow 60 hours playing it for a second time. That being said, if there is any game worth playing twice, this is it, just to catch all of the subtle humor and odd references to Western culture from the Japanese's perspective.
All in all, you'd be a fool to not give this game a try at least once. It's certainly one of the best SNES RPGs I've ever played, and it even ranks in the top 10 RPGs of all time, I'm sure.
For some extra fun with the game, at the start, you're prompted for your favorite thing and your favorite food. For favorite food, try entering in something like 'pussy' or something equally juvenile. The results are surprisingly hilarious throughout the entire game.
And remember, there are hard parts in EarthBound...just pray you can beat the final boss.