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LONG BLOG

Point & Counter Point 3: Earthbound

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This is the third in a series of ‘dueling cblog editorials’ I've been doing with Aerox. You can check out his counterpoint HERE.

Previous editions:

Point & Counterpoint 2: Originals vs. Remakes

Originals

Remakes

Point & Counterpoint 1: Video Game Violence

Violence Doesn’t Affect Gamers

Violence Affects Gamers


For any old RPG fan, the SNES is the Holy Grail; its RPG library is arguably the best to grace the gaming world. From a trilogy of Final Fantasy games, a piece of Square-Nintendo co-developed genius, and an RPG that gave you a reason to buy a multitap, they were all gaming excellence. In this point and counter point, we will discuss which RPG we feel is the best of the bunch, you can view Aerox’s point here.





In my opinion, the best of the bunch has to be without a doubt one of the quirkiest off beat and unique games I have ever played, Earthbound; which, to quote Yatzee Croshaw, “Plays like a combination of the Cluthulu Mythos and Snoopy”.

Ness, Paula, Jeff, and Poo - The Protagonists



Background

Earthbound is unlike any RPG you have ever played or will ever play, it is one of a handful of RPGs set in modern times. Instead of spells characters learn psychic powers, and instead of swords or bows, characters use bats, frying pans and yo-yos. You start the game off in what is essentially rural America and after a meteorite lands containing a visitor from the future, Ness, the main character’s default name, sets off to harmonize with the power of the planet to save it from an alien evil.


Earthbound Intro Sequence



Gameplay

Earthbound is fairly standard as far as JRPGs go concerning gameplay. Combat is turn based and relies on the player’s speed to determine move order, experience is gained by winning battles and psychic powers are gained by leveling up. However, earthbound does have several unique features, one of the first apparent things being the rolling HP meter, when a character takes damage, their HP ticks down instead of going instantly down, in this way a character could sustain a mortal blow, but if another uses a healing item or psy-power or the battle ends before the ticket hits zero, the character still lives.

The menu system is easy to learn and intuitive, and the inventory system is different from most other RPGs but also, quite simple, each character has their own inventory with so many slots, each item takes up one slot, there is no accumulation of multiple items of the same type in one slot like in Final Fantasy. There are also no random encounters, all enemies are visible and can be avoided at times. In fact after a player clears certain areas, enemies will flee from them in terror instead of chasing after them and starting an encounter. To top this off, if a player is above an enemy’s level by a certain amount the battle will be automatically won with no need to actually engage.

The storyline is fairly linear, there isn’t much need for grinding and there are no fetch quests. There are a few points at which you will have to back track to get something, but at that point you’ll have a teleportation spell to enable a quick trip back to whatever town you need to visit. And any time you get stuck there are hint booths scattered throughout the game that can help you.


First Boss Fight Against Starman Jr.



The Experience & The Unique

From the moment you would have been to pick Earthbound off the shelf, it was an experience. The box in and of itself was unlike any other SNES game. Earthbound came in an enormous box that was larger than the SNES itself, this was because the game came with a strategy guide. It wasn’t that the game came with a strategy guide, the guide had a set of scratch and sniff cards in the back, which I thought at the time was one of the coolest things that had ever some with a game.


Jeff, Dr. Andonuts, Bubble Monkey, and Tessie



It quirky and off beat nature lead to many pop culture references and other oddities. Here’s just a short list of some of the things you will encounter: a time traveling psychic bee, a boss that’s a giant pile of vomit with fangs, a band that’s basically the blues brothers, a cult that wants to paint everything in the world blue, a journey into your own sub consciousness, a man who wishes to becomes a dungeon, an alien base under Stonehenge, a society of small creatures all with the same name that speak in funny fonts, a ‘land of the lost’ kind of underground filled with dinosaurs, and a bully that is a cross between Chunk from the Goonies and Biff from Back to the Future who is always one step ahead of you.

Earthbound also features some great music. And because of the games relative obscurity outside of the cult following it has, it goes relatively unnoticed when compared to the things that Square Enix has done. Earthound/Mother 2 has 18 tracks available for download on OverClocked Remix and some of them have found their way into rotation on my iPod. The music overall doesn’t always have that ‘epic feeling’ but I found it always appropriate for the setting, the style overall ranges from rock to techno and never disappoints.


Paula vs. Bogey Tent



Deep and Engaging Story

At a passing glance Earthbound may seem to have a childish design. Fonts on buildings and signs look like something a child would write, and some of the character designs look more ‘kiddy’ than any of the other SNES RPGs. If one takes the time to actually sit down and play the game, the dialogue reveals it to be a much deeper story than one would imagine in a first impression.

The overall theme in Earthbound is one of a loss of innocence and a coming of age of the characters. As you progress and the party fills out, they slowly come to the realization of what they must fight and why. At two points the game even pauses for a reflection over the past course of events.

This all builds to one of the best climaxes on the SNES and the last segment in the game is nothing short of spectacular. I’d rather not give too much away to someone who has not played the game, but to make it short, the last boss is the only one in an RPG that I’ve ever play who practically begs you to kill them.


Ness & Paula



Rarity & The Other Games

Earthbound is not a standalone game, it is part of a series, and it’s not the first game in the series, it’s actually the second. In Japan, Earthbound is known as ‘Mother 2’, the original game was made for the NES and features many of the same themes from the first game, and while not a direct sequel, Mother 2 does share a lot with its predecessor.


Mother / Earthbound Zero Japanese Comercial



In fact, the first Mother game was translated and almost released in the US but was axed at the very last minute as the NES was at the end of its life span. History almost repeated itself and Mother 2 was almost not translated and released either. A lack of marketing and an oddly designed enormous box that came with a strategy guide let to low sales and a relative rarity for the actual gamecart.

A third installment was made and released on the GBA several years ago and despite protests by angry fans at Starmen.net, Nintendo still has no plans on releasing Mother 3 (Earthbound 2) stateside. There is currently a project underway to translate the ROM, which can be viewed here.









Due to its unique storyline, nature, and art design, Earthbound is the best RPG that was seen on the SNES. And as much as I loved Chrono Trigger, it is the superior game. If you are an RPG fan and you haven’t at least played through the intro sequence to Earthbound, shame on you, fire up and emulator and get cracking, you owe it to yourself to at least try the game.




Art Links
http://amako-chan.deviantart.com/art/EarthBound-Fire-Springs-9258045
http://nemuipanda05.deviantart.com/art/the-earthbound-gang-32878345
http://eiffelart.deviantart.com/art/Earthbound-Winters-60118665
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About CaffeinePoweredone of us since 3:26 PM on 12.20.2006

Clog Banner by [WTF]Joel - much <3

Been gaming since I was five when I bought my own NES


I'm also on my 3rd custom built PC specs as follows....
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