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Earthbound – SNES

Earthbound – SNES

Super Nintendo EarthBound Normal Size Box Mockup Front Cover

Platform: Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Developer: Ape, HAL Laboratory

Publisher: Nintendo

Release Date (NA): June 5, 1995

Genre: Role-Playing

Nerd Rating: 10/10

Reviewed by TimmiT

Earthbound (Known as Mother 2 in Japan) isn’t a game for everyone. Complaints I often hear of people who I have tried to get into often include criticisms of the game’s battle system being too basic, the NES style graphics, the lame design of enemies and bosses, and the nonsensical plot elements. These are all fair criticisms of the game, however, as evidenced by my perfect score, I clearly do not hold these elements of the game to be negatives, or at least not significant negatives. Of course, it holds true for any piece of art that some people are going to enjoy and others won’t, however, with Earthbound I find that the reactions are even more polarizing.

The reason for this polarization, I believe, is because Earthbound’s greatest strength lies in its sense of character. The game itself feels has such a strong personality to it that it leaves audiences split. If you don’t like the game’s sense of style and character, you’ll probably be totally disinterested, but if you do, it will probably be one of your favorite games. Now, my best recommendation would be to play this game for yourself to see what side of the coin you’ll fall on, as a review can only convey so much, but if you want to hear from someone who finds this game to be an absolute masterpiece (it is, in fact, my favorite game), then let us begin this journey.

earthbound_review_2

As I stated in my review of Earthbound Beginnings (Earthbound’s prequel, known as Mother 1 in Japan), the basic concept behind the Mother trilogy is a tongue-in-cheek homage to old-school RPGs in a modern American setting. What I didn’t describe in that review, however, was how the Mother series combines fantasy and science fiction in such a unique way. This concept wouldn’t be fully explored until Mother 3, but it is much more fully realized in this game than it was in Earthbound Beginnings. The game begins with a Close Encounters of the Third Kind style intro, with a meteorite crashing to Earth that our main character, decides to explore (along with his friend Pokey, who will shortly become much less of a friend). Ness is then greeted by a butterfly from the future, who warns him of a future destroyed by the alien Giygas. The player is then tasked with finding eight melodies to defeat Giygas, each located at a mythical location such as a Giant’s step or Fire Springs. Throughout the rest of the game, the player encounters aliens, mummies, cavemen, hippies, and other ridiculous enemies.

pokey

Again referring back to my review of Earthbound Beginnings, I explained how the nonsensical moments hold greater weight because of the modern day American setting. This game only enhances that style by utilizing the SNES’s advanced graphical and audio capabilities. One particular moment that stands out in my mind is in the town of Fourside, a booming capitalist cornucopia, with a corporate sounding “Muzak” soundtrack, there is a hidden area which takes one to an alternate version of Fourside called “Moonside”. This place is like a nightmare version of Fourside, with the vibrant colors replaced with only outlines of the city, and a distorted “Star Spangled Banner” playing the background. The contrast to the previous setting is startling, and the audio and visuals create an atmosphere straight out of a David Lynch film. In addition to the purely visceral effect of this, one could also see it as a symbolic criticism against greed.

moonfour

The game’s more serious moments don’t come off as heavy handed because of the light-hearted and humorous character of the game as a whole. Earthbound tackles subjects such as racism, environmental pollution, and even same-sex relationships, however, because of the humor of the game and the minimalist storytelling, it never comes off as heavy-handed. There is an enormous desert level in the game where the player can reunite a single pixel white sesame seed with a black one, and what reward does the player get as a reward? A simple thank you. Moments like these add to the character of the game and really showcase how the developers took the time to add things into the game which may have never even been discovered. And while exploring a large area for only a fake-out reward would have come off as a slap in the face in a difficult game like Earthbound Beginnings, in Earthbound it comes off as a charming moment because the gameplay isn’t frustrating at all.

sesame

I’ve waited to discuss the gameplay of this game last because honestly, it is the least memorable aspect, despite the many advancements that it made. For the most part, the battle system, like Earthbound Beginnings, is a typical JRPG battle format. You have attacks, spells (PSI abilities), and items. Despite the simplicity, the gameplay is solid and makes many advancements over its predecessor. You can no longer attack dead enemies, and a rolling HP counter is used so even if you are killed, if you tap the A button quick enough, you can still leave before your HP hits 0. And while this may seem like a small improvement, the creative, almost psychedelic backgrounds in the combat screen certainly beat a simple black background. While not the most groundbreaking battle system, the simplicity complements the game’s humor, with actions such as “Pokey used Ness as a shield!” being much funnier in our imagination than if we actually saw them. The real improvements, though, are the encounters with enemies. Like Chrono Trigger, you can see and avoid enemies on the map without getting any random encounters. This goes a long way to encouraging exploration of the game’s massive world. Gaining the teleport ability earlier in the game also helps this. Pretty much any complaints you might have had with Earthbound Beginning’s gameplay have been alleviated in this game.

mini

Despite how I said the game doesn’t come off as heavy-handed in its story, this doesn’t mean the game doesn’t get emotional during its final moments. Though I love Mother 3 to death, I feel as if maybe the almost constant serious tone of the game didn’t detract from some of its more powerful moments. Earthbound seems to hit the perfect balance though, ending on what I can only call gaming’s first “psychological boss battle”. There is so much more discuss about this game, such as the absolutely off the wall “Mr. Saturn” village, or Poo’s “training” which pushes the limits of gaming as an art form, but the game really does need to be experienced for itself. Objectively looking at the game, I suppose the boss battles could have used more strategy to defeat besides spamming “paralysis”, and the game’s lack of storage for items is a bit annoying, but these are only things that bug me now after playing Mother 3 which fixed these problems. As a whole, Earthbound is a masterpiece of a game which I could sit down and play every day, and still enjoy and find new things. Here’s hoping that maybe I convinced one of you out there to give it a try.

Written by Nerd Bacon

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One Comment

  1. Great review for an awesome game. I still remember freaking out the first time I found “Moonside”. Didn’t know about the sesame seeds in the desert though. Def have to try that next time.

     

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