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LONG BLOG

SNES REVIEW: Earthbound

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For those reading one of my SNES review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:

"While the SNES was a constant presence in my childhood, I never had a large collection of games for it. In fact, many of the games I played I still don't know the names of. It wasn't until I say the uproar over Breath of Fire 6 that I knew I played Breath of Fire 1 in the SNES.

After reading the excellent top 100 SNES games list by IGN:

http://www.ign.com/top/snes-games

I decided to go back and play those 100 games and review them. Well, as I looked closer at the list, I realized that there are many genres that did not age well from the SNES (racing, sports) and many other genres that I am simply not good at (shmups, arcade shooters) and others that I need other players to play against for an accurate representation (fighters). Also, I played many of the more well known games such as Final Fantasy and Super Metroid."

We finished with the legacy reviews, so we are beginning with the reviews after my hiatus. Please feel free to give me advise on my reviews, as I always look for improvement.


Also, here are a number of extra rules for Destructoid:
-If you have any suggestion of a game that is not in the IGN list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.

Without further ado, here is:

13- Earthbound:
Year: 1995.
Genre: RPG.
Publisher: Nintendo.
Developer: Ape Creatures/HAL Lab.
 

First things first, I am changing my rating system to better rate different genres according to their own rules. It will still be from 50 quality points, but every title will start from 25 and earn/lose points according to criteria important to the titles and genres themselves.

For many, including myself, their first encounter with Earthbound or Mother 2 as it is known in Japan is through Ness in Super Smash Bros. It was only after seeing Ness in the famous Nintendo cross-over brawler that I began hearing about the game he featured in. The reputation of Earthbound becomes a part of gamer's lore. We have seen the petitions asking for Nintendo to release the game in the Wii's virtual console well before it finally released it on the Wii U.

Hence, it is difficult to play Earthbound without being influenced by the passion of its fans, and the unique statues it managed to cultivate with the passing years. At once, we are promised a unique experience and another SNES RPG classic.

It is difficult to analyze why Earthbound was a commercial failure in the US. It did well in Japan, and Nintnedo heavily advertised it overseas. Yet, those who bought the game are behind the massive push for it online.

For the reviewer, we need to discern the reality from the myth. Yet, it increasingly difficult to separate the two in case of Earthbound. And it is this power, and its unapologetic pursuit of novelty that pushes Eartbound well beyond its flaws to what I consider a true SNES classic.

"Giygas, the universal destroyer, sent all to the horrors of eternal darkness"

Taking the game at its two end points, Earthbound is little more than a chosen hero tale defeating an ancient undiscerning evil. Yet, when we unfold this story and play as Ness through the journey to the final end point, we see both the character of the world, and the novelty of its stories.

At once, we are greeted not with the typical fantasy realms of SNES role-playing games, but with modern world suburb. This setting lands the game its unique charm, and also highlights its parody qualities. But the game does not rely on parody and making fun of RPG tropes, it carries itself as a game first and foremost.

I will begin by saying there is little interesting in the core story outside of it setting of a reason for all the side stories to exist. Giygas's only reason to exist is for all the crazy plots to begin. He spreads evil through a crazy golden statue, and causes weird things to happen. It is not Giygas who players will remember after playing the game, but the crazy cults they fought, the corrupt business mafiosi they went against, and all crazy things that happens in the way.

Unlike other games, the world of Earthbound is its own character. Interacting with the NPCs flesh out the story, and little exposition dialogue is offered. This does make for a dull group of playable characters, who are only interesting in a gameplay perspective. Yet, it makes talking to the NPCs more than a way to gather what to do next.

To carry through with this living modern world, the game pays a lot of attention to small details that flesh the world out, and huge design choices that impact the whole game. Little details such as the main character Ness being homesick unless he calls his mom every now and then, and the main currency being funds from his dad that he withdraws from an ATM. There is no world map in Earthbound, locations are interconnected by land roads, bus routes, ferry travel, and even a lake monster ride.

Outside of his iconic appearance in Smash, Ness might not be otherwise remembered. Yet, the world of Earthbound is one that most players would find hard to forget. The stories it tells, and the journey you take. In a way, it is the player that travels through the game, the playable characters only forgettable companion to an unforgettable journey.

Unique Fleshed out World: +5
Interesting Side Stories: +5
Boring Main Characters: -1


"Pokey used Ness as a shield!!"

RPGs have a really hard time crafting a good combat system. Make it too complicated, and its too slow. Make it too easy, and it becomes repetitive. A balance between deep and engaging is hard to craft, and it requires both experience and design pedigree. For the people at Ape Creatures and HAL, who have little to no experience in the Genre, who are headed by a director who insists on upending the whole RPG scheme; the expectation is to fail.

Yet, by throwing around RPG tropes and simply relaying on crazy out of the box idea, the team managed to make a combat system that is surprisingly good. While not of the quality of Square titles, Earthbound's battles are as interesting as the text inside the battle.

Central to its combat system is the diversity of its cast. Ness is both your physical tank, and your main healer. In fact, Ness is simply overpowered compared to the rest of the team. Paula is your typical Mage, who is both your defense against magical attacks (called PSI attacks in the game) and your main user of them. The other two characters are weirder styles yet. You have Jeff, who you could invest on by buying missiles that he can only use (decisions time), but he could be the one healing with items while your team dishes it out with magical attacks that he does not have. Poo is the last member in the team, who acts as a healing support for Ness, but also a magical assault companion to Paula.

Balancing the strengths and weaknesses of your cast is central in most battles, which are challenging due to the fact that I was rarely over leveled. With boss battles being a highlight, simply attacking is not going to cut it, and making wrong attack decisions can bite you.

Fortunately, the game does include a built in trump card for the player. Since the health of each character is shown in a roulette looking screen, you can always heal your characters before they die as the rollers count down. Unfortunately, this scramble for a last minute save exposes one flaw in the battles. The text is simply too slow, and nothing is more infuriating than having Paula die on you because the enemy's text took to long to disappear.

Additionally, we notice a few difficulty spikes through the game, with some combination of enemies being tougher to handle than the bosses themselves. For instance, one enemy can completely obliterate your team with his attacks unless you put up an expensive magical shield before he makes it. This makes the first time you face him painfully hilarious, and you are well out of luck if Paula is not fast enough. Yet, the worst offender is undoubtedly the self-exploding enemies, who dish out huge damage as you kill them. In these cases, you furiously tap the B button as you scramble for the battle to end before your health rolls down too much.

A grind is always possible to alleviate the difficulty spikes, but it never feels forced, especially since you could see enemies in the map. Additionally, Earthbound implemented the pioneering feature of obliterating under-leveled enemies. This means that if an enemy is no match for you, they simple disintegrate and give you the experience you would usually get without having to fight them. Hence, you could always go for a fast grind.

Elsewhere the game doesn't waste your time with obtuse objectives, as the game give you enough clues to get you to the next objective. Surely to be handy to some is a hints system, which simply tells you where to go next if your are truly stumped.

Engaging Battle System: +3
Unique Map Feature: +3
Frustrating Difficulty Spikes: -1


"Get your butt home, pronto!"

In many ways, we respect Earthbound's dedication to both is style and to streamlining the RPG genre The enemy obliteration feature and the fact that you can play the entire game only using your left hand is great. Yet, in many ways, we see a clash between the two goals, and in other ways we simply see the inexperience of the team making this RPG.

One of the greatest time wasters in the game is its storage system. While having limited pocket space is nothing new in RPGs, and it is a balance decision. We are used to having a storage system for the items clogging our inventory. Earthbound wants to have a storage system that is thematically appropriate. Hence, it uses a storage service with a guy coming over to pick up or deliver things.

This system causes a number of problems. First, you can only store up to an amount. Second, you cannot get rid of key items even after using them for their purpose, hence they clog you storage space. Third, you can only store things or take things at a trip, hence you can't swap items. Fourth, you can only store or take 3 items at a time, unless you physically go to your sister back in your hometown (not your real hometown and sister). Fifth, navigating the menu is just too slow.

Trying to heal Poo, I need to go into the menu, hit down once, go to another menu, hit select to choose Ness, hit down once to go to recovery, hit right once to go the the second recovery spell, hit right three times to choose Poo. If I wanted to heal Paula after Poo, I am booted right to the start of this sequence.

Simply put, navigating the menus is a chore, and with healing being so damn important, it is going to add up time wasted as the game goes on. I can't help but think this issue would have ironed out if the game wasn't such a troubled development project (it took 5 years). Also, it is infuriating to know how much time was wasted on the storage service which hurts more than helps the game.

Storage Service Blues: -2
Slow Menu Navigation: -3


"We are Mr. Saturn. ZOOM BOING."

With all its dedication to a unique RPG experience, we of course expect an art direction aimed at establishing this unique world. Mostly, both the art and music of Earthbound lends greatly to its living world. Yet, the same dedication to a zany experience manages some poor decisions.

Off the bat, I am going to say the art style of the world is great. The chibi people style lends to a more modern looking RPG, with the little animations people do adding to their credibility. Each location is beautifully crafted and has its own character, with both towns and dungeons showing great variety in this interconnected world.

Going off this art direction, we see the enemy models with some as memorable as the locales. It is difficult to forget the angry hippies that attack you or the piece of contempreary art that insults you for failing to understand it. The game expertly pokes fun at both popular and high culture in the same breath.

Yet, the game goes too far in its pursuit with the battle background. Composed of surrealistic moving colors and lights, they can both be dizzying and bleh at the same time. With the exception of a few battles, more traditional backgrounds would have been much more appreciated.

Similar to its art direction, the musical selection adds a unique feeling to each place. With town tunes being a highlight, just walking around is fun. When you go to another town in a bus route, you not only see the scenes of the town passing by, but also listen to jazzy tune.

Yet, similiar to the art direction, the music takes a nosedive inside battles. Perhapes wanting to complement its LCD nature, the music wants to add to the theme by being mysterious and just plain weird. I don't think it works. It doesn't work as a tune, and doesn't work as a battle music. While some Battle songs are cool and memorable, the more common ones are a bore. Sometimes, even the better one feel misjudged. To clarify, one of the better battle music is a jazz inspired tune with some good bass. Yet, by the time the song really starts to hot it, most battles have already finished.

Earthbound's dedication to its style is both the cause of its better and worse decisions. But as a whole, it pulls through. Nothing reflects that more than when the music and art of the game complement each other in the cooler scenes, cut-scenes before the age of CGI. The highlight here being the Runaway five show, which showcases both the funny artstyle and unique music of the game.

Music: +5
Graphical Design: +5
Battle Music and Backgrounds: -6


In Conclusion:

As I see it, Earthbound earned its reputation through both being a solid game, and because of the story around it. Assuming it was commercially sucessful, with sequels improving on the formula and such, the game would be looked upon with respect as the game that stared the series but without the same reverence.

As it is, Earthbound is classic because it is both a unique and solid game. It did not ignite a series, but is its own game with the iconic image of Ness in Smash. Similarly, we see similiar reverence to its sequel Mother 3.

Does Earthbound deserve it?

I think it does.

Simply Unique: +5

Final: 43/50

*****************************************************************


"Tips"

1- Be very careful in the early game, it gets easier from there.
2- You can farm magic butterflies in some rooms for MP points.
3- Don't be afraid of using magic, but always leave some for Bosses.
4- Jeff needs higher IQ to fix some items.
5- Trash items that are not useful, no need to store useless buns that heal 8 points.
6- Trash periodically, you don't want to navigate the storage often.
7- Talk to the NPCs, sometimes they are really funny.

"Next Game"

Eearthbound is the perfect case in which a sequel would have become a true masterpiece. Yet gamers shunned it only to ask for it later. Perhaps Nintendo shot themselves in the foot with their stinky advertising.

After finishing a lengthy RPG, I am going to sink into another one by the masters of the genre. I am talking about Secret of Mana which sits at #11. I know its going to be good, but is it a classic?

Stay Tuned


For Previous SNES game Reviews:

The List

For More Screenshots:

http://www.mobygames.com/game/snes/earthbound/screenshots

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About Lord Spencerone of us since 5:57 PM on 01.12.2014

Hello all, I am Lord Spencer, your friendly neighborhood royalty. Yes, the ancient bloodlines are letting absolutely anyone in these days.

Being the lurker that I am, I have been following Destructoid for more than four years. Well, its 3 AM where I live now, and I just plunged in getting HUGE in the way.

Here is hoping for a fun time.

Oh yes, here is a little more info about me that is probably not as interesting as I think it is:

-I owned and played about 1000+ games.
-I owned and read about 2000+ books (I counted comic books I read as a kid so this is not as impressive as it sounds).
-I absolutely love Legos.

Out of all the games I played, I only regret playing a few. I am a big fan of gaming, and thus I really like most of what I play.

Thanks to the excellent work of community member Dango, now I have a cool infographic of my top 20 games. This list is not my final one, but what I thought off at the moment. If you notice, they are presented in chronological order:





Oh, and here is a link to my blogs:
My Blogs