On the surface, Earthbound may seem like a simple RPG. It tells the story of four children and their quest to save the world from aliens. It’s a basic premise with very few twists and turns, but the sum of Earthbound’s parts equate to much more than the standard RPG blueprint. Under the hood, the player will discover a souped up battle system, a tank full of laughter, and all the other parts that make the game run so smoothly.
As most RPGs do, Earthbound begins from the very beginning. Ness is a boy who lives at home and has seemingly never had any excitement in his life, despite being a psychic who can demonstrate his powers at will. Then, one night, a meteor crashes in the small town of Onett, and he goes on an adventure that changes his life forever. Again, the premise is basic, and like most RPGs, Earthbound falls into the “Slow-Starter” category. The player starts by fighting snakes and crows that peck at your eyes. There is only a small amount of EXP to be gained at a time from fighting these enemies, so grinding is necessary. Fortunately, once you get past the first few hours of the game, get your first partner, Paula, and get a few battles under your belt, Ness will stop dying constantly and the game can be enjoyed properly.
Despite the slow start, Earthbound is actually paced quite well in terms of difficulty. Most of the game will be a struggle, there are very few moments when Ness will be overwhelmingly more powerful than the enemies that surround the area. This is obviously a good thing, as there is nothing worse than an easy RPG that doesn’t challenge the player to come up with unique strategies to win difficult battles. While fighting enemies, the player has a myriad of options to choose from. There is a basic attack that utilizes Ness’ famous baseball bat or yo-yo, many different psychic attacks that have different effects, and about ten billion different hilarious items to choose from that range from devastatingly dangerous to completely worthless. The way the player uses these options can turn a seemingly impossible one into a simple one…and vice versa.
Strategy is remarkably important in battles, especially with so many different funny status effects that can be inflicted on Ness and his friends. For example, it is always important to avoid crying at any cost. It sucks when one of the kids catches a cold or becomes confused or poisoned, but nothing is worse than crying, which causes an enormous drop in accuracy. There are ways to heal these afflictions, but only at the expense of your psychic points, which are limited and fuel the kids’ PSI attacks. The game is also at its funniest while in battle, dropping status updates like when the useless partner Pokey infuriatingly decides to play dead instead of helping Ness fight, or when the enemies decide they don’t want to fight anymore and they decide to use a Ruler item to help them figure out the length of things. I’m serious. Regarding the strategic use of items, since Jeff doesn’t have any psychic abilities, it is wise to let him use the HP Sucker and the bottle rockets instead of just using his standard attacks. Items become incredibly important near the end of the game and the standard RPGer would do well to remember that. Anyway, the battle system is fairly standard for an RPG, but it’s all the little touches that make it stand out from the pack.
If you like a little humor with your games, Earthbound has got to be at the top of your list. Among other things, some of the enemies you’ll fight include piles of puke and annoying old party men. Also, I mentioned it earlier, but the game is LOADED with hilarious moments and memorable quotes. I won’t spoil them all here, but when the player has finished the game, they will undoubtedly have a laundry list of favorite quotes ready to use at their disposal in their daily lives. (My new favorite is going to be tested at a family gathering during the obligatory photo-op. We’ll just see what happens when I ask them to say “fuzzy pickles”.) Speaking of memorable quotes, the game is also filled with memorable and fantastic setpieces, some of the most unique and amazing locales in the history of any RPG. This is no small feat. There’s the shifty city of Fourside, the haunted city of Threed, the disturbing Happy Happy Village, the enormous Lost Underworld, the oddball Saturn Village, the “city” of Magicant, and, of course, Moonside, a drug induced version of Fourside. That’s right, the kids basically take drugs and end up in Moonside. In fact, they take drugs at least twice in the game. It’s wild. There are actually lots of adult references in this game that no kid would ever understand, and that’s what makes it so enjoyable to play as an adult. It’s totally scandalous and I love it!
I do need to mention the issues I have with the game, chiefest among which is the horrendous checkpoint system. Every time the whole team collapses, they are taken back to the last save point. (No progress is lost, which is appreciated.) Unfortunately, this can lead to some terribly dull backtracking sessions, especially when you’re stronger than all the enemies but you have to fight them anyway. The hospital and hotel system also sucks. When I die, why can’t I just have my team back to full strength instead of making a mindless (and sometimes lengthy) trek to the hospital to pay my fees and get the team back to full strength? Little flaws like these seem somewhat intentional, though, and when you’re totally absorbed in the game, they don’t seem as impactful. The save system is obviously out of date when compared to the auto-save games of 2016, but luckily the Wii U’s Virtual Console offers save-state functionality, making this a non-issue. One other thing I should mention is the lack of item space, although this becomes less of a problem once you get more party members.
It should not be my responsibility to spoil every little detail about Earthbound in this review, because this game is all about experiencing those little details for yourself. Most who play this game fall in love with its charm and humor and stay for the great battles. I was no different. I am head over heels for Earthbound, and I can’t wait to play Mother 3 when it comes out in the United States. Unfortunately, I might have a while to wait. Luckily, Earthbound has tremendous replay value. The player will discover something new every time in a game that is packed with places to go, people to see, enemies to fight, and aliens to destroy. Earthbound is yet another glorious SNES-era RPG, and one that absolutely shouldn’t be missed. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go eat some trout-flavored yogurt with my friends.
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