Earthbound is the second game in a three part series known as the Mother series. The designer of the series is Shigesato Itoi, who had a large influence over many aspects of the games. The first game, named Mother, was released in 1989 in Japan. It was also translated for an North American released but never happened due to the reason of “probably wouldn’t sell well.” But eventually, work began on a sequel for the SNES.
Development of the sequel lasted five years, nearly being cancelled a few times along the way. A notable member of the development team was Satoru Iwata, the late Nintendo president. He is noted as being important to the game since development became more swift once he joined. Because of the nonstop development team and Iwata’s talents, Mother 2 saw a release in 1994 in Japan. And unlike its predecessor, the sequel was localized but given a less confusing name since the original was not released elsewhere: Earthbound.
So that’s a very condensed version of the history behind Earthbound. There could be whole essays, books and videos about it. Well, in fact, there is! A Kickstarter is happening that covers the story behind Earthbound Beginnings a.k.a. The first Mother game. Here’s the link to learn more.
I first heard about Earthbound when my brother unlocked Ness in Super Smash Bros. for the N64. I’m almost positive that this is where a good amount of the fan base heard about Earthbound and grew interest. But I never did.
To me, Ness was a character I hardly played as because his fighting style was strange. Over time, I got over my distaste but I still didn’t care much for Ness. When Melee came out, there were two stages for Ness: Onett and Fourside. I played on the stages quite a bit and was intrigued by them, wondering about the music and the stage elements. Despite curiosity though, I never looked more into Earthbound. But the internet did and Earthbound began to garner more attention. More chatter about the game spread, some even saying it was one of the best games ever. At this time, the only way to play Earthbound was emulator or an SNES cartridge. SNES and cartridges weren’t cheap so for many, emulator was how one played this “great” game.
I think I saw my brother play Earthbound on his old computer back then, maybe before even Brawl was out. He didn’t finish it at the time but finally did a few years ago. Even he would tell him about unique and memorable the game was. While it was interesting to hear about, at that point I was sick of hearing about how great Earthbound was. It turned me off the game for various reasons and I was content not playing it, despite being curiosity. The game stayed off my radar and I began to hear less and less about it…until a big event brought it back to my attention in full force.
Upon Satoru Iwata’s death, one of the many games he was remembered for was Earthbound. I knew he did work on the game and was an enormous help towards on its development. Reading about Iwata and about Earthbound, I figured it was about time to play this game I’ve been curious about for a long while. I didn’t have any spare cash to get it on the eShop and I didn’t want to emulate it as I felt like it’d be insulting Iwata’s memory. I put it off for a bit until I got paid but ended up getting distracted by…um, something. Then when it went on sale earlier this year in January, I knew it was a sign to finally get it. (More like procrastination paying off, but eh.)
Now to the matter at hand, which is a review of the Earthbound itself. The story starts out with a boy called Ness who lives in Onett. Due to one fateful night, he learns of his destiny to save the world. Venturing out, he comes across many colorful characters and new friends. These friends include a psychic girl, a boy genius and a powerful prince.Together, they unite to stop the world from the evil entity known as ‘Giygas’. Gameplay wise, the game plays like any typical RPG but with a few unique elements. Instead of random battles, enemies appear on the overworld and depending on how you walk into them, can influence who gets a first strike. Also, if you’re way stronger than the enemy you run into, you’ll kill the enemy without battling. (Which is something a lot more games should’ve copied.) The HP and PP numbers are on rotating dials, which at first don’t appear to be significant but really end up being utilized throughout the game. For example, if a character has 292 HP and gets hit for 300 damage, they don’t necessarily die immediately. If you’re fast enough, you can heal them to offset the damage or finish the battle before they die.
Aside from those mechanics, what makes Earthbound stand out is the setting. Rather than be placed in an medieval time, the game takes place in a modern, American-style world. Instead of castles and swords, there’s malls and baseball bats. Save points are telephones. You don’t use magic, but you use PSI. It’s refreshing, to say the least.
Since it has been over 20 years since release, there have been other games that take place in a modern setting. But that’s not all that makes Earthbound unique. To simply put it, it’s a very weird game. Puzzles in Earthbound don’t just come down to finding a blue key for a blue door. A more accurate description of this game’s types of puzzles is finding a yogurt machine to make yogurt to give to a maid so she’ll let you use an elevator. You’re probably wondering how you’d figure all that out but everything progresses in a way that you won’t ever really get lost, so long as you pay attention (like any RPG, really.)
The original SNES game came with a guide and the Wii U version has a GamePad friendly guide available straight from Nintendo. So, don’t feel ashamed if you have to look something up when you’re really stuck. And even if you aren’t stuck, take a look anyway since it’s a pretty cool guide that’s a spectacle to look at.
It’s all these elements and its unpredictability that make Earthbound a unique experience. Now, that doesn’t mean you’ll like it or even appreciate it. But it’s more than likely you’ll remember your time playing Earthbound. Whether it’s the music, characters, story, puzzles or dialogue, something will stand out to you. Not because how good it is but because how odd it is.
Spoilers (marked with
Earthbound doesn’t have much in the way of spoilers; there really isn’t a “big reveal” of any kind. Just a dial that switches from ‘what’ to ‘WHAT THE HELL’. But there are a few points I wanted to mention that I wouldn’t want to spoil for anyone who has an interest in playing.
(Spoilers in between next two pictures.)
I like how your neighbor Pokey is your indirect rival throughout the game. He has just enough focus on him so you remember him but not a huge one that’s overbearing. And the way you meet the rest of party is so unconventional from other RPGs that it’s a breath of fresh air. Honestly, many aspects of Earthbound are refreshing that it didn’t make it a hassle to grind or explore. I could sit here and just ramble on it but I think if you’re reading this section, you already know what I’m talking about. But a big reason I wanted to do a spoiler section was in order to talk about the end of the game. Specifically, the final battle against Giygas. Upon my first time doing it, I was so focused and concentrated. Yet I still died. So I tried again and died. On a whim, I used Pray and that looked to work so I kept doing it. But then we got onto Giygas’ final form. Now, when you first use it, it says it doesn’t work. So naturally, I didn’t bother to use it again. I thought that using ‘Pray’ gets you through that form and now it’s up to you to deliver the final blow. But it never happened. I tried a few more times getting to that part with as much PSI left over as possible but hammering on him. But he never died. I looked up on a guide what to do and found out you do have to keep using ‘Pray’.I eventually did beat him but it was a real hindrance on my enjoyment of the game. I just wish there was some indication to do this instead of a guess/off chance of doing it. In terms of the “concept” of Giygas though, I thought it was all very well crafted. By itself, it’s such a crazy, bizarre and eerie fight. I played it in the dark and with the constant red flashing and distorted music, it was quite an experience. I’ve heard and seen some of it on YouTube before but none of it prepared me for facing it myself.
It can be easily found in google searches that the final battle was inspired by a rape/murder scene Itoi saw in a theater as a kid. Knowing that in mind, it all kinda makes sense. Earthbound, for the most part, is very innocent. Sure, you run into monsters, aliens and crazed individuals but there’s a sense of wonder and humor behind them. With Giygas though, there’s no humor and the wonder there is less mysterious and more frightening; you almost don’t want to stick around and figure it out, you just want to leave. The final fight with Giygas feels so sudden, so unexpected. You’ve grown into thinking the world is a certain way, only to receive a shock of something you have never seen before. It’s kinda like a kid walking into a movie theater and seeing something not meant for their eyes…sound familiar?
That’s just a couple things I wanted to mention about Earthbound. I say this is a spoiler section but even then, it’ll only really make sense if you played the game. Hell, even if you played the game, it still probably won’t make sense.
Last Thoughts [TL;DR]
Earthbound is a uniquely weird game. Stylistically weird. It’s random but not lol quriky random. It’s a type of random that was done to make the player feel a certain way, not done just for the sake of being random or unique. While there have been other games that do things similarly to Earthbound, they don’t do it as successfully in my opinion. Earthbound is still a game and always feels like one. It’s not catered towards anyone, trying to start a trend or purposely stand out. It’s doing its own thing and going its own direction; it’s up to you to decide to follow along.