This is usually given to classic arcade games, but this…this is the definition of timeless. You may have read my review of Mother and how I deemed it my first true experience with RPGs that wasn’t Pokemon. Then I played the sequel and it has officially surpassed the first one and then some. No other need for any introductions, Earthbound, known in Japan as Mother 2, developed by APE and HAL Laboratory and was published by Nintendo, being released in 1994 before getting a release in 1995 in the US.
Earthbound was directed by Shigesato Itoi and the late Satoru Iwata, who also programmed it; Earthbound had a five year development time. Whilst the game did well with gamers and critics in Japan, it didn’t have a great time in the US, probably one of the reasons why Europe never got a copy. And there are many reasons why it failed, Nintendo of America poorly marketed the game including their slogan “this game stinks”, with scratch and sniff paper and numerous fart jokes, this didn’t appeal to anyone. Another reason was that the American critics panned it for being too cartoonish, because many gamers were so used to fantasy RPGs like Chrono Trigger and the Final Fantasy games, this felt alien to the US. But years later, more gamers, even in the US played the game and it’s now considered to be the most beloved games of all time and rightfully so. By the way, I may show the final boss, but I guess you’ve probably all seen him anyway even if you haven’t played the game, but just a heads up.
Without spoiling the story, you play as Ness as he travels to various cities to defeat EVERYTHING that has become evil. You see, Giygas has returned and his wreaking havoc in one way or another. With the help of three other kids, Paula, Jeff and Poo, you must collect eight melodies and these melodies will help them defeat Giygas.
Earthbound is an RPG where you do different objectives like any other RPG, you go to different cities, villages, caves and dungeons. Whilst the cities in Mother are based on yearly holidays, Earthbound is based on…numbers? Yeah, Onett, Twoson, Threed and Fourside, whilst it may seem silly, the cities and their names are much more memorable and because the game’s setting is more modern with a mostly 60’s American aesthetic, you relate to the town. During the game, like any RPG, you battle different enemies, these include animals, people, cars, insects, sign posts…yes, sign posts, if you thought the enemies in Mother was ridiculous, these are crazy; however, unlike most RPGs, there are no random encounters, you will always see the enemies and they’ll always travel towards you, unless you level up and some enemies may run away from you.
So for the battles, if you touch an enemy facing them, the battle will start as normal. If you touch an enemy facing them but they’re not facing you, you get a chance to get an open attack, but if an enemy touches you from behind, then they can get an open attack, keep in mind that enemies will get harder as you journey on. When battling an enemy, you can attack an enemy with whatever you have, for Ness for example, you start the game with a default Baseball Bat and as the game goes on, you can purchase weapons to upgrade your offense and defence, the same goes for the other kids, like Paula handling the best of pans because getting hit with a frying pan is wacky fun, Jeff handles sci-fi style weapons like air guns and death rays, he can though find various junk, when resting, he can fix the metal during the night to make weapons for him. Poo, the Prince of Dalaam, has no weapons to purchase but he can get a special one, if a specific enemy drops it which in my playthrough didn’t. The weapons are pretty great, but that pales in comparison to the PSI attacks. PSI (In Japan known as PK, don’t know why they changed it so don’t ask me why) are psychic abilities that Ness, Paula and Poo possesses, they all have different abilities like Ness and Poo having healing powers, restore health, special PSI attacks like Rockin and Flash for Ness and Starstorm for Poo. The only character who doesn’t have PSI abilities is Jeff, for he is the man who does machines…and fights goats. When you win a battle, you get experience points, collecting certain amounts will level you up, sometimes getting new PSI abilities and upgrades for them too.
When you defeat enemies, you also get an undisclosed amount of money, the only way to get it is to phone your unseen Dad who will give you the money, as well as telling you and your motley crue how much XP you need to get to level up and can save your progress. The money can be withdrawn at ATM machines because this is based in real life, and the money can be used to buy weapons, food and other various items.
Now trust me when I say this, this game is funny, unique…and a bit weird, every battle was a drug trip and entices you with random spectacles. But suddenly, for me, I got used to the weirdness, anything strange that was thrown at me I was kind of amazed at it, in fact, the battle backgrounds were made in two years. This game will take you to different worlds, even outside of the cities, like going on holiday and meeting new people and seeing new things. The story is quirky, relatable and full of humour. Whilst it has some themes of growing up and being a child, going out in the world to unknown territories. But the darker themes overshadow them all, including the cult Happy Happyism, a blue loving cult that worship blue and paint everything blue, based on the Ku Klux Klan…and they’re still around? Really America? There’s also Police Brutality in the form of some policemen attacking Ness. You heard right, Itoi knows of your police brutality against black people, meaning Japan knows of your police brutality. These are some examples of those themes, but it’s mostly about the boy leaving his humble home in the hills to experience what the world has to offer and how the world can be dark and hostile, but still has some good places in the world.
—SPOILERS, SKIP IT IF YOU DON’T WANT TO READ THIS BIT!!!—
And then there is Giygas. WHAT THE HECK IS THIS? Seriously! WHAT IS THIS? Well after the defeat of Giygas, he returns and somehow ends up looking like the nightmares of a demented hospital patient. It’s concept? Far darker than you think! You see, Itoi as a child went to the cinema to watch a movie, but he accidentally went to the wrong theatre and instead watched Kenpei to Barabara Shibijin (also known as The Military Policeman and the Dismembered Beauty), the scene was of a woman being murdered though he mistaken it as a rape scene, which traumatised him as a child and led to the creation of Giygas we see today. He is terrifying, considering that he is a Nintendo villain is just a shocking display of this screaming being which morphs as you hurt it, telling you to stop and other weird sayings. Keep in mind that in Mother, someone sang to him and you use the same song to defeat him, let’s just say he’s one of the most sympathetic villains in any game, something that makes the character unique, in fact, the villain reminds me of Tetsuo from Akira, where he gets too powerful for his own good and…It’s not a pretty sight.
The graphics are completely timeless, a cartoony styled design that is so appealing, though that was one of the reasons why it was criticised at the time, though I would rather have these graphics than just try to be realistic. The music is weird, crazy, modern, creepy and just out-there, it’s one of my favourite soundtracks ever made for a game, when you’re in a happy place, you’re getting happy music, when you go to a dark place, you get dark and creepy music, when you go to some weird places, you get some insane music. The game is set in an isometric camera, unlike the top down games of usual RPGs, but still manages to have the best controls when walking around.
Overall, no words can explain how much this game is great, other than that I’m happy to have been alive to witness this game. Earthbound is a game you MUST PLAY in your lifetime, you don’t even need to play the first game to an extent. This was a wonderful journey, a rag tag group of children go on a quest to stop an alien invasion on a near modern world ends up being such a beloved story where nothing story-wise is too limited or too normal RPG wise, a story about a boy who is destined for greatness but has to grow up along the way.
As children, we may go out to the outside world and experience new things and see dark moments of our childhood, but we can also experience the insanities of the world as well as the good and fun moments and that’s what Earthbound to me stands for, growing up and whilst gaining knowledge of the world around you. It’s a shame though that most children are huddled around in their bedrooms with parents who are way too overprotective, unwilling to take them out into the outside world. But to those kids who know how to keep themselves safe and are willing to discover new things will probably grow up wiser and more knowledgeable, just like Ness…though probably gain no psychic powers because it’s a game but still you’ll still be a wise person.
Next time it’s Mother 3…something tells me it’s going to be a much darker experience emotion-wise. So will the last game in the series make me cry at the end?
You can get it on the SNES, Game Boy Advance and on the Wii U via Virtual Console.