No matter how much you dislike a certain genre of games, there are just some that you must play. Itís like that for me, at least. Whether itís to contribute to an interesting conversation, or just simply expanding my gaming repertoire, games like Earthbound and Chrono Trigger are high up on my to do list. If it means diving headfirst into a particular genre I know I have little fervor for, so be it. I hate hearing about how great something is and not having an opinion on it.
The few that know me well understand that Iím not the biggest fan of Japanese role playing games, or most things that have to do with Japanese culture for that matter. Iím not totally opposed to them, but my patience wears thin. There are some prerequisites when purchasing a new JRPG for me. It must be something extraordinary, or it must have Pokťmon.
What prompted me to jump into Earthbound before any other games in the genre was the strong Western vibe. It wasnít set in a fantasy land and it wasnít set in Tokyo, or whatever irrelevant Japanese location. It oozes 80s and 90s American cinema. You know, back when a childís adventure flick meant the Goonies and not Hannah Montana.
After a few hours of play, Iím happy to announce that I like it. Itís not necessarily because Iím enamored with the battle system. On the contrary. I absolutely despise the combat system. It is overly simple and utterly monotonous. Even upon looking back at other JRPGs released during and before Earthboundís release, you canít say that it was one of the strongest. It also didnít help that the game wasnít very clear about telling me what to do. Iíd run back and forth trying to figure out what to do and having to fend off the same enemies because theyíd reset once I moved screens.
Itís interesting when I look back at all the games Iíve played. Not many have been able to pull off what this one has. As a game, Earthbound fails. The mechanics - the combat; it isnít fun, and no amount of convincing will change my mind. As a story telling platform, itís such a palatable experience.
The closest thing I can really compare Earthbound to is Uncharted, but even thatís sort of a stretch. I didnít hate its gameplay, but it wasnít what Iíd call ďgoodĒ. My attention was kept because of the charm that the digital actors had, and such was the case with Earthbound. The world was an absolute joy to traverse. Luckily, some of the same charm that you get from walking around and interacting with things sometimes sneaks into the combat in Earthbound.
There were many things that makes everything outside of battle an absolute joy, but the most prominent part was the music. Lately Iíve opened up to the music in older games, and this oneís up there with the likes of Megaman 3 and the original Metroid soundtrack. However, it isnít just the music thatís astonishingly good. The entire audio department did a fantastic job; especially with sound effects.
Your party members walking around with you is another aspect of the game Iím quite happy with. I wish Japanese developers would do it all the time. It does so much for immersion when I donít see my characters disappear after battle, even with a game whose graphics require much more imagination.
Iím sitting at a crossroad. I canít tell you that I hate this game, because I donít. It just sits in a spot where it relies on narrative, but thatís usually there to back gameplay. Itís just not easy to be black and white with this one, and itís something I can respect.