I had recently undergone a surgery that had me more or less bedridden for a while. This was a planned surgery that went well, in case you were wondering. Being that I knew the surgery was coming and that I’d require bed rest afterward, I knew I’d have to find something to fill the time to prevent myself from going insane and eating my pillows or whatever it is gun-less insane people do nowadays. Thankfully, a certain cult classic for the SNES had recently (surprisingly and enthusiastically) hit the Wii U Virtual Console a couple months prior to my surgery date. And, with its arrival to the West, I knew exactly what I was doing during my recovery. With my plan set, I eagerly awaited my surgery just so I could have some time off work to take down this RPG classic once again. Oh, and to recover from heart surgery, too, I guess.
Console: SNES and Wii U Virtual Console
Developer: Ape & HAL Laboratory
Release Year: 199X
Earthbound is a tough game to talk about for a couple of reasons: 1.) Everyone’s already talked about it, so being fresh and interesting is going to be difficult; and 2.) Much like the blue cultists of Happy Happyism, this game has an unhealthy and unprecedentedly vocal following that’s more than willing to destroy and besmirch any naysayers. I’m sure kidnapping and electric-based violence isn’t below them, either.
I’m just kidding. I’m sure Earthbound’s cult is perfectly normal.
But here I am talking about Earthbound anyway. I’ve always liked this game, and I played it a lot as a kid despite never actually owning it. I had a buddy who’d always let me borrow it because I was poor, living off child support and my grandma’s social security checks. There was no way my grandma was shelling out $80 – $90 on a video game! I remember my buddy’s mom putting it on layaway for a couple months before bringing it home. Those two months were pretty excruciating for him. He was an RPG fanatic and had been anticipating this game for a while. I was indifferent; I thought the game looked stupid. Listening to my friend rattle on about it, I didn’t get the appeal. Why would I want to hit rats and bugs with baseball bats and yo-yos? Swords and axes against dragons is much cooler!
I was only in Fifth grade at the time, and I had only recently gotten into RPGs, my first being Final Fantasy II on the SNES and my second being Final Fantasy III. I had certain expectations for RPGs, and Earthbound did not sound like it’d meet them. Earthbound‘s graphics looked ridiculously outdated, the story didn’t sound epic, and the whole game just looked and sounded too goofy. Having already played some of the best RPGs of the generation (and of all time, I might add), Earthbound looked too childish and sounded too sophomoric, even to an elementary school kid.
I’m too smart for this shit.
However, as we all know, kids are idiots and don’t know anything. After sitting with my buddy and playing through Earthbound, I fell in love (with the game, not my buddy. That would be gay and confusing for my wife). It was cool to play a challenging, goofy, and fun RPG with semi-relatable characters in semi-relatable settings. I played through it and beat it a couple times growing up, so I was really looking forward to playing it again as an adult. So… is the game still good today? Well, yes… mostly.
To the game’s credit, even after all these years I still remembered pretty much everything: the story, the characters, where to go, what to do. The game’s just that memorable. I also remembered a lot of the little things, like how the Mole monster at the second “Your Sanctuary” location is susceptible to paralysis and how the Runaway Five dance numbers are really stupid.
Oh, good. I’m forced to watch this again.
I also remembered liking the game’s dialogue as a kid which, again, is more proof that kids are idiots. Just about every bit of dialogue from NPCs is pointless bullshit about farts, 90’s slang, or out-of-date-even-then pop references. It was funny when I was in Fifth grade, but now it’s incredibly annoying. Why is it annoying? I mean, you can just not talk to them, right? Well, for the most part you can ignore them, but it’s not a good idea if you want to progress in the game. Earthbound, despite its freshness and uniqueness, is quite traditional in structure and progressed much like its contemporaries, which is a euphemism for “tended to be confusing and petty as shit.” You see, Earthbound is a bit too Trigger Happy.
What’s “Trigger Happy?” If you’ve ever created an RPG (good ol’ RPG Maker on the PSX), you’d know that RPGs are really just a series of Triggers and Events with stuff in between (or at least that’s how it feels when you make them). For example, let’s say the Event is entering a tower. You can’t enter the Tower of Phallus until you have the Key of Flaccidity, and you can only get the key after you’ve collected 5 Goblin Loincloths and traded them to the village pimp. So basically, you have to kill goblins until you get 5 Goblin Loincloths [Trigger 1], then you have to talk to the village pimp to get the key [Trigger 2], and then you have to go to the Tower to unlock the door [Trigger 3]. If you don’t set off those 3 Triggers in that order, the Tower will be inaccessible.
And nobody wants their tower inaccessible. Am I right, fellas?
That was a pretty practical and common example of a Fetch Quest. Earthbound, on the other hand, is not so straight forward with its Triggers. Some of the things you have to do in order to trigger certain events can be pretty random, out of the way, too picky, or all of the above. Sometimes you have to talk to a random NPC before something can happen, like talking to the benign, shy guy-looking dude in Happy Happy Village before being able to save Paula, or having to speak with Paula’s dad before you can speak with Everdred to get the Wad of Bills that you need to give to the Runaway Five’s manager to pay off their debt so they can take you to Threed. If you don’t do it in that precise order, you’ll not progress.
I think the worst Event/Trigger situation has to be getting the Pencil Eraser. You have to feed Apple Kid, go through a cave to see the Pencil Statue, search the statue, go back through the cave, get a phone call, get the Pencil Eraser, and then go all the way back to erase the Pencil. It’s just kind of a pain in the ass. Why do I have to Trigger the Event by searching the Pencil Statue? If you didn’t know that would trigger the event, you wouldn’t think of doing it. And let’s not forget that you have to feed Apple Kid first. Searching the Pencil won’t trigger anything if you haven’t hit the “Feed Apple Kid” Trigger yet.
And please, game, never explain why he has an apple for a head.
There’s plenty more examples of Earthbound being Trigger Happy, but I don’t want to bore you. I can confidently say that all this random and overly precise Trigger/Event crap is probably what preempted Nintendo to include the Player’s Guide with the game, ultimately upping the price and dooming the game’s commercial success, some theorize. But without the guide, I probably would have given up on this game as a kid. It makes me happy Nintendo made a free digital version for all to enjoy.
Seriously, what was up with this game’s marketing?
I guess I should stop being an asshole and talk about why the game’s great, because it is and I freaking love it! First off, I love a challenge, and this game is hard! Especially when you first start it up. It seems like you go through the first half of the game with only one character, though that’s not the case. It only feels like it because you’re alone for so long and the game is relentlessly difficult. You’ll probably die a lot in the beginning, especially because the Sharks keep calling for help like a bunch of pussies!
I’ll beat you like a crazy gynecologist!
But once you get into the game, it’s actually not too difficult, though it’s never easy. The dungeons will remind you of that. Relatively short and mostly linear, the dungeons keep you on your toes by being full of incredibly overpowered enemies. It’s not uncommon to get so far into a dungeon and get your ass handed to you, only so you can start over and get a little further the next run. There’s a certain satisfaction to be had with this process, and I enjoyed it. Though, I was always a little stressed while exploring, knowing I could be taken out by some random enemy and their stupid mushroom status effect.
This is where “rage quitting” began.
After a certain point, the game actually gets incredibly easy. I almost always had over $100,000 in my account at all times, and the bosses and dungeons became cake. So when does the game decide to get easier? When you get the Man himself in your party: Jeffery Andonuts!
The only thing that could make Jeff look more suave is the Golden Gun itself.
I used to get shit back in the day for liking Jeff. I actually had somebody tell me he sucked because he had no PSI powers. True, but you know what he does have? Brains! And Multi Bottle Rockets! These beauties take about 1500 HP away from a single enemy, effectively exploding most bosses in a single hit! Nobody else even comes close to dealing out that much pain to a single enemy! He also has an infinitely reusable Heavy Bazooka, laser guns, and other nasty toys to murder with. And he makes all these IN HIS SLEEP!
Well, while others slept…
But having one of my favorite playable RPG characters of all time isn’t the only thing Earthbound has going for it. This game is – and I hate to use it, but it’s pretty much THE go-to adjective everyone inevitably uses when talking about this game – “quirky.” I think people use that word because “weird” has a negative connotation to it, but this game’s freaking weird. Ness gets homesick (the lamest status effect in RPG history); you can throw dirty socks to paralyze enemies; you fight piles of puke and hippies and road signs; and Mr. Saturns. Just Mr. Saturns.
Please, game, don’t ever explain these things either!
The game’s music runs an eclectic gamut, easily transitioning from weird to dark to light to fun to plagiarized… I mean, sampled. The music elicits so much from the player and adds so much to the experience. The graphics are cartoony, and the enemy designs range from goofy to Straight-Out-of-Cthulu’s-Ass creepy. Battles are Dragon Quest-esque with static enemies against acid-trip backgrounds.
I know you just met, but, judging by the background, you’ve already spent too much time together.
Though the battle system isn’t anything new, Earthbound did innovate by representing HP with a rolling counter. Basically, if you get killed your HP will roll down, and you’ll stay alive as long as it doesn’t hit zero. This provides the opportunity to save people by either healing them or beating the battle before they hit zero. This has led to some pretty intense and fist-pumping moments. It really makes you want to keep fighting just to see if you can cheat death!
And how could I talk about battles without talking about leveling up? Leveling up in Earthbound has always been strange. Of course it’s standard RPG fair with the fighting and the experience getting and whatnot, but it’s the actual leveling up that’s odd. There are times when you level up and get 1 HP and 1 PP (this game’s equivalent to MP), and then there are times you get 100 HP and 30 PP. It’s not bad, just odd. It does keep things interesting. I’d always get really excited when I got a “good” level and get bummed when I got a “weak” level. Plus, “good” levels were always accompanied with 90’s slang: “Oh, baby!”; “Sweet!”; and “That rocks!” That way we knew it was a good level. Because we 90’s kids only cared about things if some ‘tude was tacked on.
Or if it was associated with Nickelodeon.
To finish talking about the game’s quirkiness, I guess I should mention the plot, which is, by and large, very quirky. Superficially, Earthbound‘s about a boy and his friends fulfilling a prophecy about thwarting a cosmic evil blah blah blah power, wisdom and courage, and the princess is in another castle. You get the point.
I guess what I’m really saying is the plot really isn’t that weird; it’s all the crap that happens along the way that is. Sure, time travel, alien invasions and abductions, and worlds of illusion brought on by mysterious artifacts are old hat, but it’s fresh in Earthbound. Modern settings, psychic powers, and mundane items with epic qualities (eating a hamburger in real life usually puts you closer to death) make Earthbound a unique and fun place to play in. The lightheartedness of the writing, though annoying at times, does add a lot to the games tone, and I can appreciate that.
Another important thing to know and love about Earthbound is that it doesn’t mind not taking itself seriously. It loves to break the fourth wall, flip some RPG conventions upside down, and just be as goofy and weird as humanly possible. But that’s not to say Earthbound doesn’t take itself seriously, too. There are some genuinely emotional and thought-provoking events that happen throughout Ness’s journey, and the subjects of Nostalgia and Losing Innocence are represented well and in a (mostly) mature manner. Earthbound‘s tonal fluidity – seamlessly transitioning from silly to serious – is something that not too many games are able to pull off while still being good or, at the very least, worth playing.
Earthbound is one of those rare games that’s fun to play and experience. Obviously, I highly recommend Earthbound to RPG fans. It doesn’t deviate too much from the genre’s traditional mold, and some aspects of the game are painfully archaic (its Trigger Happy Progression style and the Menu/Inventory screens can suck it!), but it’s still damn fun and has a style distinctly its own. The only thing I have left to say is I GOT THE FUCKING SWORD OF KINGS, BABY!
I was so excited, I took the picture upside down. That’s pain killers for ya.
Since I had days to myself, I was going to do nothing but try to get this freaking weapon. I spent countless hours as a kid trying to get the Starman Super to drop this thing. Those were hours I could have spent mastering an instrument or playing a sport. But instead I wasted them on trying to get this stupid video game weapon. And “wasted” is the perfect word, because I never got it! Hours and hours and days and days of trying to get the only weapon for Poo never coming to fruition! But this time, I was ready. I was willing to do whatever it took to get this sword, even if it took me my entire recovery time, 24/7! I steeled myself, started my journey for the sword at 3:15 p.m., and obtained the Sword of Kings at… 3:18p.m.!!! WHAT THE HELL! I wasted all that time as a kid, and now I get it in just 3 MINUTES!!!!! GODDAMMIT, NINTENDO! You owe me one childhood!
Oh, I’d only waste it anyway.
Thanks for Your Playing! For those who’ve stuck around and read this whole thing, you may have noticed a glaring omission. Don’t you worry; I’ll talk about him next week… Until then, what do you guys think about Earthbound, vets and n00bs alike? For the n00bs, was it everything you expected, considering the hype? Let me know in the comments!