|Publisher:||Nintendo of America|
|Release Date:||June 1995|
EarthBound is truly the epitome of the cult-classic. With its quirky gameplay, bizarre dialouge, and unique setting/atmosphere, it really is a one-of-a-kind experience. There is a mysterious aura/mystique that surrounds this game as well. EarthBound has a fiercely loyal fanbase and its surprisingly high level of rarity (normally unheard of for games published by Nintendo) only furthers the legend. In the opinion of this gamer, EarthBound is yet another notch in the belt of what many consider to be the Golden Age of RPGs. EarthBound is fun, witty, and an original gaming experience in many ways. If you have not yet played this game and want to try something that takes a page out of the bizarre, you can do no wrong with EarthBound!
Overview: EarthBound is a unique entity for sure. Whereas I typically have no problems starting a new review and getting into the groove so to speak, I am truly at a loss for words in regards to EarthBound. How do you even begin to discuss the psychedelic backgrounds, the hilarious enemies (What other game features Insane Cultists and New Age Hippies as foes?), or the unique, completely original dialouge? Any attempt to seriously describe certain nuances of the game (e.g. the final boss of the game) could easily take up the space of this entire review. EarthBound clearly does not fit in a box nor does it want to fit in a box. This is one game that absolutely thrives when it comes to the intangibles. And that is what makes it such a unique game and so difficult to critique. I will certainly do my best though.
First off, let me provide you with some basic background information on EarthBound. EarthBound was released back in the summer of 1995 by Nintendo of America and developed by the little-known Ape Studios. Although we know this game as EarthBound, it is only one installment from a series of epics known as Mother in Japan. What makes EarthBound so unique and special is that, to this day, EarthBound remains the one and only game that we have ever received in North America from the Mother series. Granted, Ness and Lucas are both featured in Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Nintendo Wii but that doesn't really count as a unique Mother game. The other Mother games can be played but you need a Famicom or a Super Famicom in order to do so. In addition, no remake or Virtual Console download option is yet available for EarthBound. If you want to play this game, you have to own a Super NES and you must own this game as well. And since EarthBound is a rare find nowadays and is worth $200+ dollars...well, you get the picture.
Still, you might be thinking to yourself that things like this happen all the time. Plenty of games from the NES and Super NES era were released one time and never seen or heard from again (Sqoon is the perfect example). However, what separates EarthBound from the pack and gives the game its unique mystique is quite simple really: the game is very good and is very rare to boot. A great comparison is Panzer Dragoon Saga for the Sega Saturn. Here is another fantastic game that was exclusively released for one console (in very limited copies in this case) and never distributed again. In any case, let's move on shall we?
So what exactly is it that makes EarthBound the game itself tick? Well, if I have to put my finger on it, I would say that this is one game that is almost completely dependent on its atmosphere/humorous dialouge/random gimmicks for its success. This game's strength, as I said before, lies in its intangibles. EarthBound never really tries to take itself too seriously and the whole quirky/random element is what drives this game. It is the engine that keeps you, the gamer, entertained and intrigued and laughing from start to finish! This is simply one of those games that you have to experience for yourself because my words and explanations don't really do the game justice. Let me just say that you will find yourself laughing on many occasions as you play through this game because it is quite witty and is relevant even 17+ years after its initial release. If I was putting together a "Top 10 Comedic Games" list, EarthBound would easily make the cut! Such is life in the boundless world of EarthBound.
Even the meat and potatoes portion of this game is beyond explanation. In terms of gameplay, EarthBound is a traditional turn-based RPG with a few borrowed elements from the Dragon Quest series (such as not being able to see your characters during battles). You can simply attack with your weapons, use your unique PSI abilities (the equivalent of magic in this game), or find a use for one of your wacky items to do who-knows-what. There are a plethora of options at your disposal and, coupled with the random psychedelic backgrounds (just don't let anyone who has epilepsy catch even a glimpse of this game) and insanely wacky enemies, make for quite the video game experience.
Graphics: If you enjoy colorful, cartoonish visuals, then you will have no issues with EarthBound in this department. Much of the game's distinct personality is fleshed out through the game's graphics. This is particularly the case due to the impressive diversity in terms of the character sprites. They truly have a unique look about them (see my screenshots for details) and the world of EarthBound just wouldn't be the same without them. You can tell that the developers really put a lot of thought and effort in this area because it shows.
Characters aside, everything just looks very crisp and colorful in the world of EarthBound. There is a nice polish about the appearance of this game and the attention to detail is quite impressive as well. Winters feels like a winter wonderland with its snow-capped mountains and pine trees while Summers has the aura of a Hollywood resort with its beaches, expensive prices, and stuck-up beach bums (the nerve of those jerks!).
The battle graphics are...interesting. While the initial appearance will remind many gamers of the Dragon Quest series, the random psychedelic backgrounds will make you feel like you went to a disco party or something! These far-out background graphics might not appeal to everyone but they are certainly fresh and original...even if the graphical scheme isn't. Personally, I thought that they were a nice touch although they could get a little nauseating after a while. Like the character graphics, the enemy sprites look crisp and detailed (especially some of the bosses...who could ever forget Master Belch and his constant burping/puking?) and the various attacks/PSI abilities at least make a dent on the screen. It isn't world-class or revolutionary, but EarthBound easily gets a passing grade for effort in the visual department.
Music: If you thought that the visuals throughout EarthBound were quirky, just wait until you hear the music! EarthBound's soundtrack truly is all over the place in terms of genre and feel. There is a lot of ambient music in this game (such as when you go outside to investigate the meteor or when you find a Sanctuary location) but there are also your traditional melodies and catchy tunes to keep things fresh. Each of the game's main areas have their own distinctive feel due largely in part to the soundtrack. Onett might win the award for having the catchiest tune in the game (listen to it for a while and try to get it out of your head...I triple-dog dare you!) while Ness' house features a nice rendition of the Mother main theme. There are a lot of minor themes that you might hear in a house/hotel/mall/building too. These can go unnoticed and underappreciated but they certainly enhance the overall experience. Some of them are funny and goofy too (like the one with the Exit Mouse).
Any review of EarthBound's music would be incomplete without mentioning that, despite the pleasant melodies and catchy tunes, there is a lot of weird music in this game as well. Think of the Dungeon Man's areas (particularly the second one fairly late in the game) along with the Tenda Village theme. I appreciate the programmers' effort and I applaud the diversity in the soundtrack, but let's face it...some of the music is not very good. At least you can annoy your friends with it though!
Lastly, the sound effects in EarthBound are a mixed bag of sensational with some "meh" thrown in for good measure. I like the sounds of opening doors and phones ringing but some of the various bleeps and bloops in battle are a little underwhelming at times. Whatever you feel regarding this game's music, you can't really complain about the variety...for better or for worse.
Play Control: If you have any experience with role-playing games, especially ones from the 8 and 16-bit era, you should have no problem just diving right into EarthBound. The D-pad moves you around and opening menus/fighting enemies is pretty straightforward. I would have liked for there to have been some sort of an "arrange items" option (us perfectionist types hate to have inventories that aren't arranged in a certain fashion) and it would have been nice to have a detailed description of your PSI abilities during battle (it can be difficult to remember what PSI Healing B does versus PSI Healing A). Otherwise, this game controls very well.
Challenge: EarthBound is a little all over the place in respect to the game's challenge level but I do feel like it is somewhere in the moderate level overall. This is chiefly due to this game having a much higher level of uncertainty in battle compared to its contemporaries. I have never played an RPG where simply hitting an enemy was such an arduous task. There would be times when Ness would connect with an enemy just fine several times in a row...only to follow that performance with 3 or 4 misses in a row. On top of that, Ness will occasionally become homesick and when that happens, he will randomly do nothing but miss home and his mommy. I am not kidding! What kind of hero acts like a baby like this and, in the midst of fighting some tough-as-nails boss, misses home and does nothing?! You can fix this ridiculous problem by calling your mom from any of the pay phones scattered throughout the game but, when you are deep in a dungeon fighting tough enemies/bosses, that sort of becomes impossible. I don't want to sound like I am ranting but the erratic hit percentages and homesick aspect do not enhance the gameplay. These elements actually make the game more challenging (in a bad/cheap way) than it needs to be and is quite frustrating.
Another aspect of EarthBound that keeps the game challenging is simply trying to keep your friends alive. You might be quite strong and perhaps even overleveled to a certain extent but, due to low HP levels (the girl in particular...I named her "Sandy") along with a very limited inventory, this task is more difficult than you might think. However, due to the unique scrolling nature of HP in this game (it literally scrolls down after getting hit instead of simply vanishing in an instant like in most RPGs), you can actually keep your friends alive by quickly healing them even after taking a mortal blow. This intuitive element is actually kind of cool since you can avert death with some well-timed healing PSI. It will keep you on your toes though.
As you can see, EarthBound is certainly no cakewalk. Even reaching your next destination or figuring out what to do next is not as cut-and-dry as you might think. This isn't necessarily a bad thing either. There is something to be said about the olden days (I feel like such an old geezer saying that!) before games held your hand and told you what to do. You just need to be prepared because, while EarthBound isn't what I would consider a hardcore challenge, it definitely is no slouch either. This is a retro RPG that will test you in many ways before journey's end.
And speaking of end, that raises the question of EarthBound's lasting appeal. Is this one of those classic RPGs that you will want to play over and over again or is one playthrough enough to satiate your gaming appetite? Well, if you ask the EarthBound crowd, they will adamantly proclaim that 25 playthroughs wouldn't be enough! But for me personally, I actually felt that one solid playthrough was enough for me. I enjoyed myself and this is certainly a game that fans of classic RPGs should play at least once in their lifetime. However, at least for me personally, there is no real reason why I would want to play this game again other than to enjoy the hilarious dialouge and maybe try to find anything that I missed the first time through.
Storyline: You have to at least give Ape Studios credit for originality because they took the whole "aliens invading the earth" concept and made it fresh and original! Basically, the main quest is triggered when a mysterious meteor falls to the earth. Naturally, everyone (including Ness) is curious and decides to investigate the incident but, unfortunately, the police secure the area first and tell everyone to go home (Wouldn't this totally be the case if it actually happened on earth? Wait...it already happened...). Ness, however, has other ideas and manages to sneak his way past the guards via an alternate route and discovers the meteor. It is there that he learns from a bee (yes, a bee) that Giygas, the all-powerful destroyer of things cute and cuddly, actually destroys the world ten years in the future. However, redemption is still possible as Ness is truly destiny's child and, with the help of three others, is fated to defeat Giygas before that day. Ness quickly needs to locate his posse, however, and reach the seven Sanctuary places on earth in order to attain a power that can counter Giygas.
That is the meat and potatoes version of EarthBound's story but the real fun is everything that happens during the journey. You will encounter zombies, religious cultists, middle-aged women that attack you with purses, prehistoric underground jungles, and bosses that literally puke on you. Crono and Marle never had it so bad! In any case, EarthBound is certainly not story-driven but the background story is at least mildly intriguing.
Funfactor: EarthBound may not be an all-time classic in my book (I will probably be called out as being an Insane Cultist for saying that!), but it is still a very fun gaming experience if only to enjoy the humorous dialouge and constant surprises along the way. If you enjoy old-school role-playing games from a lost, bygone era, you owe it to yourself to fire up EarthBound at some point. Although the gameplay and battle system is decent, the real highlight for me was probably simply talking to everyone! This might sound kind of lame but the dialouge in this game really is that funny and can be quite witty at times as well. EarthBound has no qualms with poking fun at itself and never truly takes itself seriously so why should we? The important thing is to enjoy the ride and EarthBound is without a doubt one of those games that you will remember whether you play it once like me or twenty times like some of its loyal fans. And who knows? You might wind up playing this game and never want to play anything else! Like I said at the beginning of this review, EarthBound truly is the epitomy of the cult-classic!
Negatives: If there is anything that bothers me about EarthBound, it's that there is nothing that you can really hang your hat on and say "This is outstanding!" I suppose you could argue that where this game thrives is in the intangibles (dialouge, jokes, atmosphere) but nothing really jumped out at me otherwise. That is why I have a hard time understanding why so many gamers claim that this game is one of the best (if not THE best) ever made. I mean...have they played Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy III/VI?!
In any case, as far as actual gameplay flaws go, I have already covered a few issues that I have with the battle system. Attacking enemies can be very erratic and unpredictable at times and the whole homesick "status ailment" is a joke. I would "call my mom" right before heading into an area to prevent this and would still get homesick almost immediately! C'mon! And while the various PSI abilities and Luke's knack for fixing items and using them in battle were nice additions, I still felt quite limited in what I could do. I guess what I am trying to say is that the battle system in EarthBound grew tedious and stale somewhat quickly for me...especially compared to some of its contemporaries.
Another item worth mentioning is the slowdown that occurs when a bunch of enemies are on the screen. I understand that many Super Nintendo games have this issue but it can be quite a problem in EarthBound.
Lastly, while the music throughout EarthBound is actually quite good for the most part, some of the tunes actually come across as being intentionally annoying. I appreciate the originality and I know that Ape Studios gave their best effort, but annoying music is annoying music.
Ratings: Graphics: 4.2 Music: 4.2 Play Control: 4.1 Challenge: 3.8 Storyline: 4.1 Funfactor: 4.2 Overall Score: 24.6 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Bronze Bravo
Back to Super NES SpecialLast Updated: February 22, 2013