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LK4O4 avatar 1:45 PM on 08.12.2009  (server time)

Posted by: Ryan

About a month ago, I beat EarthBound for the first time. It's one of those games I've always meant to play, and just never did. I also motivated myself by not permitting myself to play the Mother 3 Fan Translation until after I beat EarthBound, so that helped move things along as well.

Right from the beginning, it's tough not to love the quirky humor of this game. After waking up in the middle of the night, Ness can try to leave town, where in classic RPG fashion, an excuse is made up as to why you can leave yet. Except that the police stopping you say that they're famous for blocking roads, and that they're going for the blocking-roads world record! Then, when you go and see what caused all the ruckus, you find that it's a crash-landed meteor, and upon finding it, a talking bee—who's sprite is like five pixels tall—explains to you that the world is in danger. You don't hear it from a grand deity, or an ancient prophecy; a fucking bug from outer space tells you that you have to save the world.

Soon after, the game made me laugh out loud when a dying character gives you some long-winded, crucial information amongst cries of, "Oh! The pain!... Everything is getting dark..." Already, it's kind of cute that he's telling you this ridiculously long story as he's dying, but then at the end, he asks if you like him to repeat it. So of course, I clicked "Yes," and he repeats his long story, still talking about how he's going to die, and it was hilarious to imagine Ness sitting there saying, "Well, I know you're dying and all, but could you explain that whole story over again?" I don't want to spoil a lot of the jokes, but after just playing the beginning, there's this vibe of parody about the whole thing, although it's probably funnier to people who've played Dragon Quest or Pokemon-style RPG games.

The entire game has that same quality to it: it's quirky, it's funny, and the writing just makes me smile. The creators of EarthBound must have been having one hell of a good time making this game, since it's filled with silliness and puns throughout—well, either they did or the translators did. With all the word-play in the game, it's easy to forget that this was originally a Japanese game. The translation is surprisingly excellent, to match the excellent writing. In most RPGs, I find myself talking to everyone in the towns because I'm always afraid that there's a mission or an item that I'll miss, but in EarthBound, it's worth talking to everyone just because of the dialogue.

And yet, among all the humor, EarthBound has some truly poignant moments. Those who have had a cup of coffee with Mr. Saturn or beaten the second-to-last sanctuary boss know what I'm talking about, and these moments stand out all the more because of how unexpected they are. None of these moments feel forced either; they fit in perfectly with the unusual aesthetic of the rest of the game.

The writing is really what carries this game, and I'm not sure this game would hold up nearly as well without it. The battle system is very much like the old Dragon Quest games, where you can't see your characters, and you're just picking commands from a menu. There's the rolling life counter system, which is definitely an interesting mechanic, but it doesn't really become a factor until more than halfway through the game. The battle system feels a bit archaic, especially in the beginning.

However, it seems like the designers knew how stale the battle system can get, and so there are two nice features to the battle system to help minimize frustration.

First, if you're backtracking through a part of the game, and you walk into a really weak enemy, you don't even go to a battle screen; the enemy just dies and you get whatever experience you would've gotten from killing them. This makes it much faster (and less annoying) to go through old areas. Then on top of that, when you beat the boss of a sanctuary, all of the enemies in that sanctuary run away from you, so you can pretty much just walk out of the sanctuary again without being attacked at all (unless you want to, of course).

However, the ending of the game is what stayed with me the longest. I'm not going to spoil anything, but I will say that I lost to the final boss three times before I finally figured out what I was supposed to do. And once I made it through that (which is amazing in itself), the entire ending sequence after you beat the boss is perfect.

At the end of the game, I just felt complete. It might be my favorite ending to any video game I've ever played.

Bonus Content! — Tips For EarthBound First-Timers
Mind you, I've only played the game once, but hopefully some advice will make the game easier for you:

Story Tips
1) There's a "Hint" guy in pretty much every town. If you're stuck, you can toss some money his way, and he'll usually point you in the right direction.
2) If you're still completely stuck, go ahead and check out the Walkthrough. This particular one is split into sections, so for the most part, you can't accidentally scroll too far and hit a spoiler.
3) Whenever you die, you lose half of the money you've got with you, but you don't lose any of your money in the bank. If you're the grinding type, just keep your money in the bank, and you can grind away without fear of losing any cash.

Battle Tips
1) I like equipping bats better than yo-yos. Bats seem to have better accuracy, and they smaaaaaaaash!
2) Do NOT equip the "Casey Bat." It's powerful, but it misses all the time, and it makes battles really annoying. The item description actually tells you that it misses all the time, but I didn't read it at first.
3) If you get stuck on some of the tough boss fights near the end of the game, try using some defense-boosting abilities during the beginning of the battle. It'll really help pull you through.

And with that, you have my blessing to go out and play EarthBound!

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