Published on November 8th, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley0
Earthbound – SNES
I hope I’m not too late am I?
Earthbound, known as Mother 2 in Japan, was originally released on the Super Nintendo during 1994, but made it’s way to America in ’95, it was one of the later released games like Chrono Trigger and similarly benefited from the experienced knowledge of the system. Us folks here in the UK never got to see this game and for many years, fans have had to emulate it in order to have the chance to play it, because god knows nobody could afford to buy the NA carts. But all this changed with the re-release on the Wii-U’s virtual console earlier this year, finally I’ve found the right time to play it!
Developed by Hal Laboratory and Ape, both companies that are owned by Nintendo, Earthbound characters have appeared in numerous titles such as the Smash Bros. series but the actual game is a turn-based RPG set in the modern era, which incorporates Wizardry-style battles much like Dragon Quest.
Every instalment features a different character, Earthbound begins with a young boy, called Ness, who discovers a meteorite which has landed in his hometown, he is soon whisked on an adventure which sees him explore the entire world in search for the eight sanctuaries of the world, in order to become stronger and beat an evil entity known as Giygas.
The macguffin didn’t have to be particularly interesting, in Chrono Trigger, you have the choice to finish the game whenever you like, allowing little macguffin to be had, but in Earthbound’s case, there aren’t many of titles without the use of a persistent threat that can manage to hold much interest, but each scene played out at a sanctuary feels… mystical and strangely relaxing.
Battles are fairly standard except that instead of Magic and MP, there are Psi powers and Psi points, with Ness and a few other party members being psychic. This is an interesting concept as it is a simple yet effective deviation from the usual RPG lore, this is just one of many subversions which are both refreshing and strikingly original, as it appears that no game since has made similar attempts. The HP gauge ticks down whenever the player is hit, however it is not merely a superficial alteration as when a critical hit lands, if the player is fast enough, they can avert death or huge amounts of damage by defeating the enemy quickly, this gives a fantastically stressful dynamic to the game, making it almost feel like a board game in its game mechanic sentience.
There is no overworld map and it is better for it, the game doesn’t want to feel epic in the traditional quest sense, instead the town-to-town traverse and unique characteristics manage to make each area feel memorable. Every town has various amenities which act in lieu of traditional RPG elements, such as Hospital and Hotels instead of Inns, shops/malls have ATM machines where you can withdraw the cash from the bank,that your father sends after winning battles, there are burger joints to buy health replenishing food and you can also store your items using a delivery service. It seems like every aspect of this game is made to counter all of things you’ve learnt in RPGs up until now.
The characters are fairly interesting, however lack of dialogue between them leaves all but Ness more of a fun addition to your battle party than a good plot addition. Each have good build up stories, but that alone does not make the character; little to no relationship with one another and sparse personality makes them superficially good and not much else, but the world-building and townsfolk are more than enough to make up for it, with their colourful conversations and thought provoking scripts.
Presentation, to be honest, I forget about presentation when I talk about most games, a couple of pictures and descriptive talk of plot and game design are usually what I consider enough to get the idea across without going into boring details, but to talk of this game and neglect to mention the gorgeous and elaborate presentation would be a sin.
Earthbound sports the most identifiable visual aesthetic in the 16 bit era, bright and cheery colours distinguish this RPG from all the other brown and grainy others from this generation, and being one of few games set in the modern era, it makes a big impression. Each enemy and character are carefully detailed to ensure that they all look picture-worthy, the game looks cartoon-y and with the setting being in ‘Eagleland’ the inspiration is fairly clear.
The game’s look and the main character being young, gives an impression that it is being aimed at youngsters, but the content is very mature, dealing with dark themes such as domestic abuse, corruption and death. When rated again for the Virtual Console release, the game was rated T for Teen despite the content not having changed and being previously rated the equivalent of E for Everyone. There are also more positive concepts handled in an honest way such as religion, friendship, motherhood and childhood.
This game has possibly the largest array of music in a 16bit-era title. The soundtrack is offbeat and whacky following the psychadelic style of battle backgrounds, there are many different themes for battles and non-playable characters, each track transcends its generation turning into one of the most suitable soundtracks seen in a game. The sound design overall is distinguishable lending itself to the ocean of admirable attributes to be found.
There are too many features to detail, and for the initiated RPG fan, so much attention to detail that almost every ten minutes you will be squealing with joy about some new discovery. It’s not a game for those that want to play something standard or even not mentally taxing, there are too many oddities for this to be something to recommend to everyone, but to those that are intrigued, it is a must.
This game is truly revolutionary, it breaks all of the self-imposed rules on game development, offering a new and truly unique experience nearly 20 years after its release. Some games are good for their time, but not this, this game is good for all time.