From the mind of Shigesato Itoi comes one of the most finely-crafted RPGs of the Super NES era - EarthBound. Known as Mother 2 in Japan, this was the Super NES sequel to an off-beat NES RPG that was translated, but never released in North America. EarthBound has a unique style, look, setting, soundtrack, and just about everything else from every other RPG. You play as four kids destined to save the world from an alien threat of total destruction. EarthBound may appear to be kids' stuff on the surface, but its initial appearance belies a complicated and twisted plot, as well as a challenge level greater than most other SNES mainstream RPGs.
First off, I don't really give a damn if someone thinks this score is too high or not! =P EarthBound's graphics are unlike anything you'll ever see in any other RPG, and possibly any other videogame, period. They look like something out of 1950's America. While they may appear cartoonish, and lacking in detail, they have a unique style that fits the mood and theme of the game just perfectly. It's almost like a minimalist style of artwork, but it comes across very nicely.
There are lots of different characters, enemies, and backgrounds. You will traverse cities, deserts, swamps, caves, volcanoes, a neon city, and even more bizarre places above and beyond. And while the graphics may appear somewhat flat at first, as you proceed you'll notice little details here and there that really add a nice touch. A few things in particular I can think of: When you cross the bridge to Fourside, you'll see the shadow of the bridge shimmering in the water below. In the dinosaur world, your characters are shrunk down in size to make everything else around you look huge! There are flowing rivers of lava in the volcano. There's also a wide variety of characters in the different towns and not just the same palette-swapped "man" and "woman" characters over and over again. I like how most of the characters have such expressive faces! I can't really think of any other SNES RPG where you can actually see the expressions on the faces of the NPCs. (Although, it seems like most of them are smiling.)
While there is some palette-swapping of enemies, most areas have plenty of monsters that are unique to that area. During battles, instead of background scenery, you will see the enemies standing against a bunch of vibrating colors. At first, I was not too fond of this, but the more I got used to it, the more I liked it. The enemies are drawn very well, but you do not see your characters while fighting. The spell effects used in battle are quite dazzling! The only real downside of the graphics that I can think of is that overall, they appear a bit "static", and the animation is nothing to speak of.
Much like the graphics, EarthBound's music is very offbeat and unique to this game. Do not expect symphony orchestras like in the Final Fantasy-style RPGs! Much of EB's music is lighthearted and bouncy, but other times it takes on a techno beat, and there are times when it can sound sad or creepy. Mostly everything is quite fitting to the scene at hand.
When you walk through the snowy forest, you'll hear music with sleigh bells. The pyramid music sounds "Egyptian". Dalaam's theme has an Asian flavor to it. When you walk into the haunted town of Threed, the music is really creepy, like something you'd hear in a haunted house. And "Bluegrass Mall Trolling" has to be one of the best videogame songs, ever! I also liked the songs that were performed by the Runaway Five, and the Sky Runner theme. The boss battle music is really good, too. Sometimes, you can hear weird sound effects in the music, like UFO noises, or monsters growling. I think the absolute coolest song in the game is the music heard during one of the final boss fights. It starts out sounding like something you'd hear on the NES, and then it proceeds to thrash into heavy metal! The only music that could've used some work is the normal battle themes. Some of them are good (such as the New-Age Retro Hippie's theme), but most of them are flat and some are really annoying. But at least this game uses several different battle themes, unlike most RPGs that have the same battle music for the whole game.
The sound effects in this game are very good, too. I love the effect of walking up and down stairs! The sound effects for the spells are just as good as the graphic effects. As long as you aren't expecting a symphony, the music shouldn't disappoint.
Are controls really that important in this kind of RPG? Not really, but it is possible for RPGs to have horrible play control, like when characters walk too slowly, or when menus are difficult to use. Fortunately, the control in EB is quite good! It's easy to move the characters around, and they walk at a fast enough pace that you won't be screaming at the TV, "Move! Dammit! Can't you go any faster?!" The menus can be a little tricky at first, because you open them up by using the A and B buttons, rather than the Start button like most other RPGs. But it's not that big a deal.
The only real problem I have is that the text scrolls too slowly during battles, and you have to keep pushing one of the buttons to make it scroll faster. Sometimes, it
can be a little annoying to constantly push buttons during battles
just to move them along, but on the other hand, it can be kind of exciting to button-mash during stressful situations. Another thing they could have done better with was the bicycle. You can get a bicycle to travel around faster, but once you have another person in your party, you can no longer use it. You don't even get the bicycle until the second town, which is also where you get your second party member, so you'll never really get much of a chance to use it. Overall, the controls are decent and you won't have a problem with them.
EarthBound's plot cannot be summed up in one word, though "bizarre" comes to mind. It was written, in part, by famous Japanese personality, Shigesato Itoi. The basic premise is that four average kids, some with not-so-average psychic powers, are predicted by the Apple of Enlightenment to destroy the ultimate embodiment of evil in the universe, Giygas. It all begins one night when a meteor crashes outside Ness's house. Ness, being the main character of the story, goes to investigate, along with his annoying neighbor, Pokey. At the meteor crash site, Ness meets a heroic bee from 10 years in the future named Buzz Buzz. Buzz Buzz tells Ness the story of how Giygas destroyed everything in the future, and that it is up to Ness and three other kids, Paula, Jeff, and Poo, to stop him. Ness is given a Sound Stone, and he must use this to store energy from the eight power spots of the world, known as "Your Sanctuary" locations.
Along his journey, Ness will need to find the three other kids who will help him defeat Giygas. As if all that didn't sound complex enough as it is, you will run into many different situations. Giygas's evil is already beginning to spread, and it is taking over the minds of many people. Ness's annoying neighbor, Pokey, becomes the main instigator of Giygas's chaos, and causes quite a bit of trouble for our heroes at every turn. Pokey definitely evolves from being a timid pest in the beginning, to a real threat as the game goes on, and he marks himself in history as one of those RPG villains you really love to hate! (Not unlike FF6's Kefka.) You will face otherworldly dangers, as well as more down-to-earth situations, such as bailing a traveling blues band out of their debt. There's even a part where you go inside Ness's mind.
Overall, EarthBound's plot is very well-done, but it does lack in a few areas. The character development of the main heroes isn't so great. We do learn a little bit about each character, but they rarely do any talking once they're in the party together. Other characters were done much better. I like how many characters you meet, such as Everdred, Pokey, Apple Kid, Dr. Andonuts, the Runaway Five and Tony, come back later on for other parts of the story, and turn up in various situations. Not everyone may find this story to be as interesting as I did, since it is quite different from the usual RPG.
Either I suck at this game, or all the people who say the game is "too easy" are using some sort of special technique for winning that I am unaware of. One thing that is good about the challenge of EarthBound is that it's well-paced, without leading you around by the nose. There are very few times where I had to stop and "level up". If you do level up, it will make some areas easier to get through. But if you don't, you can probably still get through those areas, but it will just be a lot harder.
The challenge of the game can vary a bit depending on how many people are in your party. Things are kind of tough early on when you just have Ness, but as you gain party members, it becomes a little easier. But then later on, you lose one of your party members, due to a plot twist, and you'll realize just how much you miss that member. If you know what you're doing against most of the bosses, and if your levels are high enough, you probably won't have too much trouble defeating them. They are usually susceptible to at least one kind of magic, and you just have to figure out which one.
EB has other challenges besides enemies. You'll be piecing together clues in order to resolve many of the game's puzzles and situations. You'll need to find items and use those items in the appropriate situations in order to progress. These puzzles aren't impossibly mind-boggling, and even if you do get stuck, you can pay the Hint Man a small fee to get a clue as to what to do next. Another thing that adds to the challenge is the limited amount of items you can carry in your inventory. You can't just stock up with a godly amount of items and use them to heal your way to victory! You'll have to choose carefully what you take with you. (Luckily, the hero's sister will store extra items.) EarthBound is also an extremely long RPG, and possibly the longest RPG on the Super NES. EarthBound is not overly difficult, and not insanely easy, either. It's very playable for both RPG experts and newcomers.
I think EarthBound is definitely one of the best RPGs I've played. This was one RPG that hooked me from start to finish. What makes EB unique from many other RPGs, besides the bizarre setting and plot, are the many different intricate situations you'll find yourself involved in within each area. You are traveling to each area looking for the Sancturay locations, but it won't always be as simple as walking from Point A to Point B, then fighting a boss. Towns aren't just little dotted places on a map where you stop to refill before moving on your merry way. There's a lot that goes on in each town, and every scenario must be played out before you can move on. For example, when you enter the second town, you are looking for Sanctuary Location #2. But before you can get there, you'll discover a girl with psychic powers was kidnapped, a blues band needs to be bailed out of debt, there's a strange new cult in Happy Happy Village to the east, and you cannot get through the tunnel to the next town because ghosts block the way. Several characters around town, like Everdred the thief, and an inventor named Apple Kid may have some answers for you. But it's up to you to make sense of everything.
The battle system in this game is very similar to Dragon Warrior. You fight the enemies in the same first-person perspective. But the way the battles run is a little different. First of all, you can see the enemies while walking around before you fight them. If you meet an enemy face-to-face, battle will begin. If the enemy sneaks up behind you, it gets the first attack. If you sneak up on the enemy, you get the first attack. Sometimes, if your levels are higher than the enemy's, you will win the battle automatically without having to fight! There's good balance between the characters' abilities, too. Ness specializes in healing powers and attack powers. Paula has devastating attack powers, but no healing magic. Jeff has no magic at all, but he can make inventions that do lots of damage to the enemies. Poo is similar to Ness, but only he can use the Starstorm magic. Sometimes, the battles can be quite amusing. The enemies don't always attack, and sometimes you get NPCs in your party who may or may not help you fight. It can be really funny at times! I still laugh whenever I see the battle dialogue say something like, "Pokey used Ness for a shield" or "the Crazy Robot ate a bologne sandwich", or "the New-Age Retro Hippie brushed his teeth." The battles also feature an innovative "rolldown" HP meter, in which your hit points gradually roll down as damage is inflicted on characters. So if a character is dealt a mortal blow, you have a chance to heal him/her before the meter rolls all the way down to zero.
This game probably also has the biggest assortment of items that I've ever seen, especially healing items. Instead of tonics and potions, you have normal food, like hamburgers, bread rolls, French fries, pizza, and stuff like that. You can even have pizza delievered to you! Different items have different effects. Some restore a few hit points, while others restore a lot. Other items may cure status ailments or can be used as weapons in battle.
The money system is a bit unusual. When you win battles, the money goes into a bank account, and you withdraw it by using an ATM. This may seem somewhat inconvenient, but if you lose a battle, all the money you were carrying is lost when you restart, but not the money in your account. So, it's a good safeguard against losing.
One thing that can be a little annoying is when Ness gets "homesick". If he gets homesick, he becomes useless in battle. You'll have to get to a phone and call home to cure it. This sometimes happens at very inopportune times (like in the middle of a boss fight!) But other than those two minor annoyances, I can't think of too many negative things about this game.
EarthBound is definitely one of those games that people either seem to love or hate. Those who love it, such as myself, tend to rate it very high, but that score may not necessarily reflect how everyone will feel about this game. If you were expecting another Final Fantasy-style RPG, you may not like this. If you don't like humorous plots, or fighting battles in first-person perspective, than this might not be your cup of tea. But for those of us who enjoy it, EarthBound is an RPG unlike any other. I don't know if I can call it the greatest RPG ever, but it is, IMO, one of the best!
SCORE (not an average): 9/10
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