Released on June 5, 1995 by Nintendo, and developed by Ape and HAL Laboratory, Earthbound is an RPG featuring a 13-year old boy's and his friends' epic battle against the unimaginable evil of Giygas.
|So does that mean, like, you are headed to Earth, or you are trapped by Earth, or the Earth is trapped? I'm so confused!|
"Are you sure you don't want to get this instead?"
I remember this moment in Baton Rouge's now demolished Video Game Exchange (VGX) as if it just happened. I had visited with my two best buddies to find a used copy of Soul Caliber for my Dreamcast, George W Bush would be elected president just three months later, and I was soon to start my first semester of college.
"Get what?" I asked Daniel, the clerk at VGX. All these years later, I still remember his name.
"Someone just brought in this complete copy of Earthbound with the strategy guide and everything. I'm selling it for just $50. It's in almost perfect condition. This thing is going to be worth serious money someday. I already have my own copy."
I looked at the box, featuring a kid riding around in a goofy looking star. I remembered the magazine ads for this game from five years before, the weird "This Game Stinks" marketing tag, and the nasty scratch-n-sniffs that went with it. If you want people to associate good memories with your yet-to-be-released game, don't make their first connection to it an olfactory assault.
"Nah," I said. "I really want to get Soul Caliber."
Soul Caliber is an excellent game, one of the best fighting games of its generation. I bought my mint-condition used copy for $20. It goes for about $15 now. A complete copy of Earthbound...goes for significantly more than that.
|Pictured: Me and my buddies headed to VGX. Not pictured: the pile of money I'm not currently rolling in.|
But then, something strange happened. Years after its release, people started praising Earthbound. Daniel, the VGX guy, is some kind of crazed-but-accurate video-game prophet. Fansites for Earthbound suddenly sprang up everywhere. In the blink of an eye, publications that weren't so high on Earthbound were praising it as not just one of the best RPG's, but best games of its generation. Suddenly, I was faced with the prospect that one of the most well-regarded games in my favorite genre on my favorite system was a game I never even played. And thus, with a chip on my shoulder, and a seven-year old at my side, I finally entered the world of Earthbound.
|Hey, "finally" is better than "never!"|
|Nine times out of ten, I consider monkeys.|
WARNING: The following paragraph is entitled "RPG's for Dummies." If you already know what an RPG is, skip it, unless you are a completionist, which, paradoxically, means you are probably already well-aware of what an RPG is. I just want to warn that the upcoming paragraph (and even the one after) is as dry as a Mississippi county.
An RPG is a game where the protagonist (in Earthbound, Ness) generally meets new characters who may join him as a party; the party members then get into generally turn-based battles with foes; when/if those enemies are defeated, the party members gain experience points; when the party members gain enough experience points, they reach a new level where their stats, such as offense, defense, and hit points(a number which is depleted when a character takes damage) and magic points (in Earthbound, called PSI, and used for magic-based moves) are increased--this is called leveling up, and may also result in the respective party members learning new magic-based moves (for attack, healing, protection, etc.).
|That thing to their left is called a "building."|
|Have you ever just tried not being annoying?|
|Except for this bridge.|
|Anti-commercialism and the death of the bourgeoise.|
"Where is Ness' daddy, daddy?'
Ness' home is occupied by his mother, sister, and dog. He can call his dad from any of the many phones (including pay-phones!) throughout the game, in order to save his progress. While Ness' dad sometimes mentions coming home, he never makes a physical appearance in Earthbound. There are times during the game where Ness starts to struggle in battle. Sometimes, the message "Ness misses his mother" comes up when the player attempts to command Ness to attack. The player must then find a phone, so that Ness can call his mother for encouragement. Another party member, Jeff, has a work-focused father he hasn't seen in a decade. Jeff longs for his father's approval. Midway through the game, when he and Jeff are reunited, his father barely acknowledges him.
|Almost as much as I long to run away and join the circus.|
|Okay, "war" against Giygas.|
Giygas is an incomprehensible, ancient, formless evil that corrupts everything near it, including adults, children, animals, and even entire towns. Ness must collect melodies from eight sanctuaries throughout the game in order to more fully connect himself to the Earth, and to know himself more deeply, so that he can defeat Giygas. This is all at once very nebulous, and yet very personal and emotional, as Ness experiences a very lucid memory of his childhood upon hearing each melody. Also, going back to the psychological subtext I mentioned above, there's a sanctuary location called "Milky Well"....
|Which then inspired a strange desire in Ness to go to the beach to "scope out babes."|
Yes, Earthbound got me. The game I left on the shelf for so many years, with graphics that look hand-drawn by kids as old as the protagonists, still had the power to emotionally wreck me. This leads me to the final component of what makes this game so great.
|"Is it me, the Annoying Reveler?"|
My son has an MP3 player full of his favorite video game music, including the Earthbound soundtrack, and he confided to me the other day that he was listening to some of the game's final battle music in his bed one night, got scared, and deleted it. Again, it's incredible how resonant this game is for something that looks like it does. Also, up to this point, nothing my son has seen in a film or video game has ever scared him (I mean, I'm not showing him The Exorcist or anything, but I'm not exactly sheltering him, either), but the climactic fight in Earthbound did. This is an affecting game, and one I already feel like I may play through again. My "favorite SNES RPG's" list just got a little longer.
|Alright, dude, it's time for you to go.|
1995 Nintendo/Ape/HAL Labaratory
Lasting Value: 9.0/10.0