Experience Points .03: EarthBound

Say, ‘fuzzy pickles!’

Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a part of the soundtrack, a gameplay mechanic, a line of dialogue, or anything else about the game that is particularly noteworthy and/or awesome.

This series will no doubt contain spoilers for the games being discussed, so keep that in mind if you plan on playing the game for the first time.

This entry is all about EarthBound, one of my favorite games of all time. Feel free to share some of your own favorite things about the game in the comments!

Know your enemy

One of the first things that stuck out to me in EarthBound was the enemies. Once Ness leaves his house, wild animals begin to attack him. They seem like somewhat normal enemies at first; crows, snakes, dogs. Except they aren’t just crows, snakes, or dogs. They’re Spiteful Crows, Coil Snakes, and Runaway Dogs. They could’ve just been plain old animals, but these additional descriptors really make the enemies sound way more interesting. Why is this crow so spiteful? Where did this dog run away from? Am I beating up someone’s lost pet?

This is a running theme for all of the enemies you fight throughout EarthBound. You won’t find any run-of-the-mill ghosts or goblins here. Instead, you’ll go up against weird foes like Ramblin’ Evil Mushrooms, Moles Playing Rough, No Good Flies, and the Plague Rat of Doom. You’ll also run into humans gone bad, like the Cranky Lady, the Unassuming Local Guy, the Annoying Old Party Man, and the New Age Retro Hippie (a personal favorite). And then things start to get straight-up crazy, with unusual enemies like Scalding Coffee Cups, Mad Taxis, Crazed Signs (which are apparently from Ohio?), Big Piles of Puke, French Kisses of Death… what the heck is going on in this game?

The wide variety of quirky, unexpected enemies really makes this game stand out; it’s not going to be any old RPG. I mean, what other game has you beating up mean old ladies and possessed vehicles with a baseball bat? It’s completely bonkers, but that’s exactly what’s so great about it. You really can’t help but smile whenever you run into a new enemy only to find out it’s called a Worthless Protoplasm.

The 13-year-old homeowner

While exploring Ness’s hometown of Onett, you’ll probably notice a house that’s for sale near a cliff by the sea. The current owner is willing to sell you the house for $7,500. Since Onett is the very first town, there’s no way you’d be able to afford it unless you felt like grinding enemies like crazy, so most players will probably move on and eventually forget about the house.

Later in the game, when your bank account is literally overflowing (geez, Dad, don’t you think you’re spoiling me a bit here?), you can return to Onett and the house will still be up for sale. Pay the steep fee, and Ness will become the proud owner of a beautiful seaside cottage. The things kids spend their money on these days, sheesh…

Then you step inside your humble abode and… ummm… what the hell happened to this place? There are gaping holes in the floor, the furniture is all torn up, and what on earth happened to the entire back wall?! It’s just not there, it’s straight up gone. Is this what the guy meant when he said the house had “an ocean view?” What a jerk! I guess this will teach Ness to inspect a house first before buying it, at least. You gotta learn these things young, you know?

The strangest thing about this ramshackle house, though, is a weird magazine you can find in the open drawer. It contains an excerpt from a story called “My Secret Life” and describes an incident where a man tries to get out of a speeding ticket by claiming his wife is in labor, and then when the officer offers to escort them to the hospital, the man refuses and exclaims that the baby is actually a demon child. It’s truly a bizarre find, and along with the decrepit state of the place, it really makes you wonder just what kind of person owned this house before Ness.

A cure for what ails you

Most RPGs have status ailments that affect your party during battles, and EarthBound is no exception. There are your RPG staples, of course, like falling asleep, getting poisoned, or becoming paralyzed. But then EarthBound gets a little more creative with its ailments. Ness and friends can catch colds, start feeling nauseous, begin crying uncontrollably, get sunstroke from walking in the desert, become possessed by a ghost, get turned into a diamond, and more.

One of the strangest status ailments happens when a mushroom enemy scatters spores all around and you become “mushroomized.” In battle, this basically works like confusion; you’ll randomly attack your allies sometimes. Outside of battle, you’ll have a mushroom growing out of the top of your head, and the controls will be all scrambled, causing you to move in random directions. These have to be removed by healers rather than doctors, and the healers actually pay you $50 for each mushroom, so it’s almost worth it to be hit with spores. The effect is kind of annoying, but it always made me laugh whenever it happened, because of how silly everyone looks with a fungus on their head.

My favorite EarthBound ailment, however, is homesickness. Ness is the only character who can become homesick, and it could happen randomly at any point during your adventure. This causes him to occasionally waste a turn with messages like, “Ness misses home,” or, “Ness suddenly thought about his Mom.” To cure homesickness, all you have to do is find a phone and give your mother a call. Is that not the most heartwarming game mechanic ever?

Star-crossed sesames

The Dusty Dunes Desert may seem vast and empty, but if you take the time to explore, you can find some really neat stuff out in the sand. There are items to be found, skeletons to talk to, sunbathers that sleep out in the desert (how are they still alive?), an oasis, a lost contact lens, and more. My favorite desert attraction, however, is probably even more difficult to find in the sand than the contact lens.

If you’re observant enough, you may notice a couple of off-colored pixels out in the dunes; one black pixel and one white pixel amid a sea of orange and yellow. If you try interacting with these tiny specks, you’ll learn that they’re actually sesame seeds, and they can talk (?), and the pair of them were once in love. The black sesame wishes he could apologize to the white sesame for hurting her, while the white sesame wants you to tell the black sesame that she still loves him.

You can walk back and forth between the two and relate their tales to each other, which seems to bring comfort to the white one, and causes the black one to begin weeping. I still don’t know why Ness couldn’t just pick them up and reunite them. Instead, he heartlessly leaves them separated out in the vast desert like a jerk. It’s still a lovely moment, though. Incredibly random, sure, but heartwarming nonetheless. And it’s something that most players will probably pass right by without even noticing.

Music to my ears

It would be remiss to talk about EarthBound and not mention the music, but choosing a favorite song from the soundtrack is nearly impossible. There are so many wonderful tunes that evoke a range of emotions, each one more memorable than the last. There’s the comforting song that plays in your home, the upbeat Onett theme, the silly shop tune, the pleasantly mystical melody of the Snow Wood Boarding House, the ritzy Fourside theme, the funky music that plays when you fight a hippie, and so much more.

EarthBound‘s music is just as important for setting the tone of the game as its witty dialogue and modern setting. Ness’ main quest revolves entirely around music, as he goes in search of melodies from his childhood and records them all in a Sound Stone in order to truly understand himself. Plus, you befriend and follow around a band, attending several of their concerts throughout the game. Music is a central theme, and the accompanying soundtrack definitely does not disappoint.

I’m sure if you asked anyone who has played EarthBound what their favorite track was, you’d probably get a wide range of answers. If I was forced to choose just one, I might go with “Home Sweet Home” or “Snowman” (see? I still can’t decide!), but I could easily make a convincing case for pretty much the entirety of the soundtrack.  

An insignificant quest

There’s one side quest in EarthBound which is so hidden that you’d be hard-pressed to even discover it without a guide, but it involves a very peculiar item that never fails to make me smile.

There’s a man in the Twoson hospital who apparently left something very precious to him at the Threed hospital. You can go and look around for it if you happen to remember the man’s offhand comment, but its location is not obvious. Rather than being inside of a gift box, like most items, you actually have to go up and search one of the hospital drawers. There you’ll find the man’s precious… “insignificant item?” Well, that was a little anti-climactic… but also kind of hilarious.

If you try to use the object, you get the following message: “By using the insignificant item, you had a very fruitful experience that cannot be understood by someone who does not use something insignificant.” For some reason, that message always spoke to me. It’s like it perfectly describes the essence of side quests in general and what they mean to the player. They may not be important to the main storyline, and they usually involve searching for trivial junk, but they’re oddly comforting to complete anyway.

After this revelation, you can return to Twoson and give the man his pointless thing back. He’s very thankful, and rewards you with a Magic Truffle, which is actually pretty useful. So, hooray! You had an epiphany and you got a neat gift!

Hi, hi, hi!

Even if you haven’t played EarthBound, you’ve probably heard of Mr. Saturn before. He’s that weird walking head creature with a huge nose, whiskers, and a bow that you can throw around in Super Smash Bros. There’s a reason why he made it into Super Smash Bros., because he happens to be the most adorable, cheerful character in all of EarthBound.

Mr. Saturns are actually a species of alien creatures who reside in Saturn Valley. They speak in broken English, which is characterized by a strange, swirly font. They have a habit of using words like “boing,” “ding,” and “zoom,” after every thought, or shouting unexpected things like, “Dakota!” Just going around and talking to each Mr. Saturn is a delight. Their dialogue is incredibly random and silly; it’s really hard not to smile at everything they have to say.

They’re also very peaceful and kind, offering you free coffee, free health care, and a place to rest. They like to eat weird foods like peanut cheese bars and piggy jelly (whatever that is) and play strange games like “ladder,” where they pile up on top of each other. Mr. Saturns are just so innocent and positive that it’s impossible to dislike them. I probably spent way too much time in Saturn Valley just playing around and chatting with them, but their happiness is so infectious that I couldn’t help myself.

“I so happy, happy, happy… Zoom!”

Past Experience Points

.01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
.02: Shadow of the Colossus

About The Author
Ben Davis
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