There is always that one game that somehow manages to strike a cord with you. A seemingly unexplainable connection that cements its self into your heart and mind forever. Earthbound is one such game, especially for me and the other fans of the “Mother” series who for the past several years have had to be content with only one of the games actually being released here decades ago on the SNES.
The other 2 entries in the series never saw true release in America but we all managed to play them through a medium I will refer to only as “magic.” But even the scarcity of the game it managed to gain quite the cult following outside of Japan. You may have noticed that me and the other fans of Earthbound and the Mother series regularly rave about our love of games wherever we can, usually past the point of being tolerable. Just what the hell is it about Earthbound that really does it for people? Well if you’ve got a Wii U you have the chance to buy it on the digital store for the first time since its original release back on the SNES and find out for yourself. I’ve played it dozens of times already and don’t own a Wii U yet, so this won’t really be a review so much as a gush session where I attempt to convince you to buy it.
I didn’t play Earthbound until after I unlocked Ness in the original Smash Bros game on the Nintendo 64. I’m not sure what it was but there was something strangely familer about Ness that I just couldn’t place. I could have sworn I’d seen him or the game before somewhere but just couldn’t remember where. So I managed to track down a copy and gave it a whirl. Well at the base of the game its a fairly traditional SNES RPG: random battles, equipment hunting, level grinding, boss fights, party members, the works. But to say its just a traditional SNES RPG isn’t the full picture. It has weird mechanics like its “Rolling Health Meter” where instead of just taking damage instantly your health rolls down like a backwards car mileage counter. That may not seem like much but if you are quick on the heal your health restores from the number it was at when you healed, which often times can save your life, particularly during the games brutal first couple of hours before you get the second party member.
But the mechanics go so much further than that. Earthbound has this weird atmosphere to it that stems entirely from Shigesato Itoi, the games creator and famed Japanese artist/ Renaissance man/voice of the dad from “My Neighbor Totoro”, and his desire to make a game like no other. He sought to make more of a playground for people where things like drinking a cup of tea got you experience. Where other RPG’s want you to track down every person in the game and talk to them to find your way through, Earthbound doesn’t make it feel like a chore by having everyone person (and several non-people) have something weird amusing to say. It’s just so damn charming and something I didn’t get from a game again until Rune Factory 3. In fact, at the end of the game you can walk around the entire world and every single character you could talk to has something new to say in regards to you winning or how things changed since you spoke before.
It’s not an RPG where you arm yourself with swords and sheilds. Earthbound takes place in a made up American suburban town and enemies range from living stop signs, renegade taxi’s and aggressive flora and fauna, to hippies, rich old ladies, creepy bald old guys, and Salvador Dali clocks. It’s an RPG in our own time, or at least the world of my childhood. And its such a colorful and charming world I still get the desire to replay the game yet again. There’s no shortage of medivel settings in games, especially RPG’s, but the world of suburbia mixed with the feeling of old sci-fi pulp aliens seems to belong entirely to Earthbound. And each part is so beautifully crafted to make the game feel special. The soundtrack is absolutely to die for.
There’s so much more to the game that I could gush about but it just doesn’t do it justice. The game is best experienced on your own so if you’ve got a Wii U or plan on getting one soon, throw an extra couple of bucks at Earthbound and really experience its world. You won’t regret it.
Kimo is a contemptuous old coot. With experience in video games dating back to 1988 and a schizophrenic range of games he boasts an impressive range of knowledge of gamings best, and worst. Dwelling in the desolate wastes of the American Midwest he brings to Z1Gaming a perspective that looks for positive qualities in even the worst games.