Earthbound is one of the most under played games on the Super Nintendo. With sharp writing, a memorable soundtrack, and one of the most brutally macabre boss fights ever put into a video game, Earthbound was one of the most over looked games during the 16 bit era.
This game has a long storied history that isn't particularly germane to this topic so here's what you need to know in a nut shell; Earthbound is the second game in an RPG series known as Mother and it sold poorly in America because Nintendo kind of fails at advertising sometimes.
It seems more interesting right? More is happening and there is an actual background. The game play in Final Fantasy isn't particularly all that fun but it was still interesting. The game went out of its way to make the player interested in battles; you wanted to go into a battle to test out a new summon and see its epic animation as it completely devastated your enemies, you wanted to go into battle to see what a new a spell looked like, or to see how certain characters interacted with one another. These elements made the player care more about battles and leveling up. Players wanted to level up to see what their new spells and abilities look like in battle and this motivation kept the battles relevant.
In Earthbound all this motivation is completely gone. New abilities all look relatively similar, there are only four characters to play as in the game so there isn't much room for strategy, and you never actually see your characters in battle. As a result of this Earthbound's combat never feels satisfying and the player never feels really involved in the battles.
When you look at all these elements it starts to make sense why Earthbound didn't sell as well as its contemporaries. Despite having highly entertaining writing and truly inspired themes, most players wouldn't get past the first hours before getting bored. Every time I get bored by a long stretch of battle the game comes at me with its sharp wit as if it's trying to tell me "No man it's OK just stay a little while, don't worry about battling. See that writing isn't that hilarious?" and then it slaps me with a whole string of battles and the whole experience is exhausting.
Now in the sequel, Mother 3, the creators tried to remedy this by adding in the ability to press buttons at certain times while an attack is being performed to get an extra attack, and though it works slightly better than Earthbound's combat it still feels largely uninteresting (mostly due to the difficult to discern timing of when to press the buttons).
Don't think any of this means I hate Earthbound or that I think it's a bad game, I love Earthbound and it still remains one my favorite things I've played, but I love it more as an experience than I do as a game. I think if the creators had spent more time on the battle system in addition to the great writing Earthbound could of been one of the best games ever made, but instead Earthbound feels like a chore to play through during the sections where you actually play through it.
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