Platform Reviewed: SNES
Platforms Available: Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Wii U, New Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Ape, HAL Laboratory, Inc.
Release Date: August 27, 1994
MSRP: USD $7.99 (Php 369)
EarthBound is a very special game. Mixing in lighthearted fun with a brooding coming-of-age story, EarthBound is truly one of the most under appreciated JRPGs of all time.
EarthBound stars Ness, but unlike most RPGs at the time he wasn’t your honorable knight or wise and powerful mage, he is but a young boy who lives a relatively normal life until one night your neighbor wakes you up to help him find his lost brother. Upon finding his brother you get in contact with a meteor that crash landed and a bee emerges from it telling you that: You are the fated one of prophecy, to defeat an evil that will enslave the world ten years into the future. If you think that it wont get weirder than that, that’s barely scratching the surface on a game that is EarthBound.
The world you find yourself in is inspired by 1990’s Americana; Where healing items are hotdogs and burgers and in place of traditional RPG armor, you get regular clothing. You can equip Ness and his friends equipment such as baseball bats and frying pans and instead of your regular magic you get psychic abilities and gadgets. Instead of poison and mute status ailments, You get the sniffles and sunstroke; Ness sometimes even gets homesick and the only cure is for you to call your mom. You don’t get gold from enemy drops, you get money from your dad at the ATM. You also call him to save your game and he often tells you how long you’ve played and asks you to take a rest. The enemies you encounter are an odd bunch. You get to fight Stray dogs, Disgruntled old men, Evil cultists, Mini UFOs and the occasional New-Age Retro Hippie. Like I said, EarthBound tends to be quirky.
Enemies are visible on screen and can be encountered by touching them. The battle system is your regular Turn-Based RPG flair but with a twist. It has the Rolling Meter system. It may be trivial to have your HP and MP but this Hp/Mp system is unique only to EarthBound and its sequel. Whenever you get hit the meter goes down, sounds trivial enough, and your character can still act as long as it doesn’t hit 0. That means even if your party got hit by a powerful attack that’ll surely 1-hit KO you, you’re not technically dead until your HP meter rolls down to 0 and in my playthrough I’ve been through multiple times where an enemy attack would’ve wiped out my entire team but I managed to outrun the meter. The battle graphic is nothing special though, we get a first person view against the enemy you’re up against and you get the standard hp/mp meter on the bottom and the status bar on top that shows you information on how much damage was taken and other effects occurring. We have geometric shapes such as diamonds and octagons that show as spell effects, and that’s it. Overall, battle is pretty standard in EarthBound.
The music in the game is very diverse. You can find song samples from various pop culture icons such as The Beatles and Monty Python’s Flying Circus hidden among the tracks, and there are over 170 tracks in this title. Clearly the composers were given a lot of freedom on experimentation on this game, as evident on the multiple samples mixed in and the varied genres on the soundtrack. This overall makes in very memorable tracks in key, and sometimes random, moments in the game.
The story in EarthBound, although memorable, is your basic JRPG story. You’ve got the main good guys versus the main baddie and his lackeys but what separates EarthBound from other RPG titles at the time was it never really took itself seriously. This is what makes the game shine. The fact that it is aware that it is a more or less a satire to other JRPGs gives it a lot of charm and personality. Your main quest is given to you by Buzz Buzz, the bee who emerged from the meteorite early in the game and later gives you the Sound Stone. In which you must collect 8 different parts of a lullaby which will then help defeat the main enemy Giygas, The universal cosmic destroyer. Along the way you’ll meet the rest of your party: Paula, a psychic girl Jeff, a young inventor and Poo, a foreign prince. The team then sets off fighting evil but not without meeting interesting characters along the way. The writing in this game is very entertaining that in my playthrough I was dead set on finding and talking to all NPCs in every location I visited. The game does really have that lighthearted and childish tone. From the colorful graphics and funny dialogue, it often catches you off guard when it hits you with something Dark, Sad and just downright unsettling. Also something to note. EarthBound can get unexpectedly terrifying. Its 3rd and final act gives off a feel of dread and helplessness and then gives way to one of gaming’s most iconic boss fights: The Giygas battle.
The game doesn’t really have any endgame quests or side quests for that matter, which is kind of disappointing but how the story is paced, how well its written and a very memorable ending, It leaves you content (and maybe a little sad).
EarthBound is absolutely an amazing game. Its writing and themes were way ahead of its time but sold poorly on its release. With a horrible marketing campaign,a hefty price tag and childish graphics that didn’t really catch the average player’s attention, it was deemed a commercial failure. Over time it had gained a cult following and people started getting word on how the innovative and wonderful the game really is.
I recommend EarthBound to any avid RPG player out there. It has aged well and will prove to be a challenge to the new RPG crowd, as it is a traditional JRPG. A classic RPG that will pull you in by its charm. A truly under appreciated masterpiece. A very charming JRPG with beautiful graphics, memorable characters and amazing soundtrack. It may have its quirks but it still holds up after many years and I recommend it for JRPG enthusiasts. EarthBound is truly a unique experience, An experience that I wont mind experiencing over and over again.
This review is based of a retail copy of the game