Hello dtoid. I have returned to regail you with a tail, a tail of youth and tragedy, of coming of age and opening ones eyes to the ways of the world. But first lets get down to brass tacks. Did Earthbound have a secret hard mode added into the game, or am I just an idiot? You may think to yourself, "I've never heard of such a thing, that's preposterous!" Or you may be thinking, "this guy's an idiot". Or maybe you thought the game was hard enough as it is, and if that's the case, bless your newb heart dear child. This is an easy question to answer, but I'm not going to answer it the easy way, I'm going to tell you a story instead, so strap in. This is gonna be a long one.
I first heard about Earthbound through a freind of mine's older brother. I was 12 years old. A young man cub about to burst into teenhood, on the brink of discovering the real world in all its umm, greatness? He recommended it to me, so I borrowed it from him and took it home and was enjoying it thouroughly, though maybe not the most efficiently, as I was still fairly new to rpgs at this point. Rpgs back then were about as complex as games got, barring things like pc games that had many, many moving parts and were uninituitive, almost purposely; but I didn't have a pc and was used to just running and jupming to the right while shooting or hitting things. Anyway, I was about a quarter of the way through the game, and he came over to, I guess, monitor and judge my progress. He was not kind in his assessment, and demanded that I give the game back to him at once. I was of course upset and pleaded to him not to take it, I really liked the game and wanted to finish it. He however did not relent and took the game home with him. I was distraught. My precious grandma was in the other room and overheard this incident. Bless her heart, she went straight to the store and bought me the game then and there. She didn't tell me she was going to do it mind you, she just went and did it and brought it back to add in the surprise factor. I was abosultely thrilled.
I went on to play through the game a couple times and by the end of it I knew every knook and cranny of the game. Later on in my teens, with this game being on of my proudest posessions, tragedy struck, when I was robbed of some of my video games when I went back to the old state for Christmas. Then again one day when I was away from the house. Then again when a roommate sold me video games for drug money. Being robbed over and over again was traumatizing to me as a kid, and I still don't think I'm over it. I had every system pretty much. Nes, Snes, Genesis, 32x, PS1, Saturn, N64. And literal shitloads of games. I had Double dragon, tmnt, contra, super mario allstars, ff4, ff6, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Secret of Evermore, A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, FF7, FF tactics, Gran Turismo, Twisted Metal, Nights Into Dreams, Fighters Megamix, Daytona, Mario Kart 64, The Ocarina of Time, Mario 64, Both Star Foxes, Diddy Kong Racing, DK64, Perfect Dark, Goldeneye007, Doom for 32x, and the list goes on and on. Literally must have had 150 games, and they were all gone, little by little. I was a fortunate child by all means, for being gifted all of these things as a child, but the truth of the world and people's greed hit me hard, and I was deeply depressed as a teen by this. I was only 13 pr 14, and being robbed, when that was literally the only thing in the house they took; my escape from the harshness of reality, really hurt me deeply
I didn't play games for a few years after that. I still dabbled in some Command and Conquer on the house pc now and then at my grandma's, but I was mostly busy just trying to sort out my life as a young adult, which of course can be overwhelming for anyone. Life was hard, and I couldn't bear to think about the loss of all my games, so I got into guitars instead. Surely no one would ever steal my guitar right? Up to this point that has remained true. I still have my guitars, but they mostly collect dust, because I of course got back into games again after a while. Old habits die hard as they say. It happened in 2006 when a friend at work showed me the nintendo ds for the first time. The dual screen and touch screen technology really was quite cool at the time, and two screens was unheard of and so cool. Not to mention, square-enix was releasing a bunch of Final Fantasy titles as well as a few others like Front Mission for the system. I was smitten. I bought one immediately. Then something that was life sort of life changing happened, to the dismay of Nintendo I'm sure; he introduced me to the world of piracy. I won't go into detail, but lets just say I took an interest.
Having lost all my games and having piracy available, I surmised that since I had actually owned all of these games at one point, it was fair for me to download some of them and relive some childhood memories. I had a crappy pc at my house now that could actually play 16-bit emulators, and I grabbed a copy of Earthbound, because god damn do I love me some Earthbound. It was an inevitability really. About half way trhough my playthrough, I noticed that the game seemed harder than I remembered in some ways. It seemed like in some sections there were more enemies and I didn't seem to gain as many stats as I remembered in the retail copy. Being the stubborn type, or maybe just dumb, I pressed on. There was one section in the underworld where as soon as I won a fight with an enemy, very powerful enemies mind you, another would immediatly spawn and run straight at me from about 5 feet in front of me. There was no getting away. I wondered what the hell was going on, but again I pressed on, and even got the coveted Magic Fry Pan from the assault, so there was still benefits to the strange onslaught. One of the most shocking things that happened during the onslaught of enemies is that, upon level up, my characters were actually LOSING stat points, and were not gaining near as much as I recalled them doing before at all. These trends continued as I progressed to the end of the game. I noticed one time when I loaded the game up, in the top left of my pc screen, the emulator had text that said "bad check sum". I didn't know what this meant, being a moron at the time, and ignored it. This is a crucial clue, but I was determined to beat this damn game again, even if the experience was vastly different from what I remembered. I continued, somewhat exsasperated, to slog throuhg this hellish nightmare of a game I loved so much had become.
And then it happened, I got to Gygas. When I was a kid, I remember fighting Gygas the first time, and literally trying everything in my arsenal. I was out of psi points, out of bottle rockets, out of heals, and was desperately trying any move I had to see if it had any effect. Then I stumbled, out of pure desperation ming you, onto the true way of defeating Gygas, the pray command. I had never used the pray command much throughout the game because it seemed kind of like a joke command. It wasn't powerful enough to warrant using, and had some strange effects at times, so it went largely ignored. I realized how genius this was from a development standpoint immediately, even as a 12 year old, and I'm convinced they did it on purpose so this exact scenario could play out the way it did for me in my first playthrough. This, however, was not my first playthrough. I knew exactly what to do, and was fully prepared for the final battle, low stats and Magic Frying Pan in hand, but then something truly strange happened. Pokey, the evil kid from the beginning of the game, did something wholly unexpected. He said "it's time to turn the Devil's Machine off", or something to that effect, which usually tiggers the final sequence of the game. However instead of that happening like I expected, the game simply turned itself off. I freaked out. When I reloaded the game again, which I did immediately, my save file was erased within the game files. I was shook big time by this. What the hell had I just gone through. Why did this game betray me and delete itself? Why the hell was it so much harder than I remembered, and why had I LOST stats when leveling up. Something was fucky, but I was just too dense at the time to realize it, and didn't have the internet available at home, so I was mystified by the whole thing, and didn't really know what to think.
I'm sure many of you have caught on to what was going on this whole time by now. This whole experience I had of having a hell of a time trying to play the game was put in by design, to discourage the exact thing I was doing; playing a pirated copy on an emulator. It was copyright protection put in by Nintendo in a very clever, almost deceitful way. They lured you in with a false sense of everything being ok, only to literally assault you and ultimately take the game away from you entirely by having it delete your save file and VERY hard work at the final boss instead of showing you the real ending. So in essence, yes, there IS a hard mode of Earthbound, but I don't think that Nintendo thought anyone would actually go through with it after they experienced all of these alterations to the gameplay that occured. I was just too stupid or stubborn to catch on at the time. When I went to work the day after this happened, and looked it up on the internet. I felt really, really dumb, and kind of dirty, like I had been tricked. I guess ultimately that was the intent with this copy potection strategy, but this is the only instance I'm aware of where a tactic like this has been used. Usually the game will just freeze at a certain point or not load at all if there is strong copy protection in place, so this was a higly unorthodox way to get back at theives by Nintendo, and honestly quite genius in its implementation. Gotta respect Nintendo for always thinking outside the box, even if it gets them into some odd situations at time, like the Wii-U, but that's a discussion for another day.
In conclusion, if you feel like torturing yourself, go dig up a snes emulator and an un"fixed" version of the rom of Earthbound and give it a shot. We can call it the Earthbound Hell Mode, or something, and make challenges out it it, yeah? I know there are a lot of people who really enjoy challenging games, like stupid challenging ones, and this is the literal Dark Souls of 16-bit rpgs if played this way. It's punishing, and at times shocking if you don't know about it beforehand, so sorry if I spoiled it for you, but were you really intending to play Earthbound, a 25 year old game,on zsnes in 2020? My guess is that no, you weren't; but now maybe you will. This expernce didn't ruin the game for me, and in some ways even made me appreciate the genius of Itoi and co even more. I love this game, and even though my original copy with the book and all is long gone, I can still expreince it at any time on my 3ds if I so desire. It's a classic game, and hopefully, this story will interest you enough to play it if you never have had the chance. Do yourself a favor and play it throuhg a legit means first though, its truly worth experiencing once in all it's glory before you dive into "hell mode".
Here's a little bonus umm, tip? I guess? Did you know that you can play Earthbound on the snes controller using only your left hand? It's totally true. The L button is used as a confirm button or talk, use, fight, catch all kind of "yes" button, while the select button is used to bring up the menu to access it, and also serves as a general "no" or "back button". I wonder how many people figured this out when they played it. Hey sometimes, you are busy while playing games, I guess? Maybe you gotta hold a ciggarette, or a child, or maybe you have a broken right hand or no right arm at all. Guess what? You can still play Earthbound!
Thanks for reading my little story. I hope it wasn't too long. Maybe one of these days I'll pop up and write something else. Have a great day everyone and keep on gaming on.