Welcome to yet another RPG most people missed when it came out. For many it slipped under the radar. For me, I only saw it in a "Sears Christmas catalog” where it included pictures of the wrong game’s screenshots. Suffice it to say that along side not having any real interest in RPGs to begin with a the time, there was no way in hell I was going to play this game when it first came out for the SNES. However, having heard stories about how good it is, finding out it would be rereleased for the WiiU made this one of the games I got the console for. So was it worth it? Well… yes, but it wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be. Let’s have a closer look.
Story: Welcome to Onett, the quintessential everyday little town in the United States. Here, you will find all the usual people such a town has, but you will find a couple of kids who’s actions are destined to play a much bigger roll in the fate of the world. For one night, a meteorite crash lands nearby their houses, causing a huge commotion, complete with cops sticking around to make sure the local kids don’t get too close and burn themselves on it.
However, our story really begins after the kids have all supposedly gone to sleep, and one of the young children (the main character… and yes, I know his name is supposed to be Ness, but since you can name him, will call him the main character) has a knock on their door. Pokey (the other child) is there franticly looking for help as his brother is missing! They had snuck off to get a closer look at the space rock, but only he had returned. So it’s time to round up the dog for a little protection and go rescue a scared younger brother.. and to get a strange message about the main character’s future from of all things an intergalactic time traveling space bee. All of this culminates to reveal two things:
1) Pokey is a total ass, and I do not believe even the main character fully understands why he counts him among his friends.
2) The main character is destined to fight a powerful evil which will destroy all of mankind if he does not take it down, and to prepare he must travel the globe in search of the 8 locations of power.
This will remain your goal throughout the story, even as it throws side-events into the mix at each town. The mix will not be anything exceptional, but it will keep the story from getting dull with a lack of material for the length of the game. But then, the basic story is not what made this game so memorable to many players. Instead it’s the writing that goes with it. Earthbound has an exceptional sense of humor that really does pass the test of time and will often have you snickering at your screen as you talk to all the random people you come across. It’s quirky, it’s odd, and it will keep you entertained, even if it’s core story hasn’t aged quite as well.
Graphics: I wish I could be kind to this game in this department, but I’m afraid I can not. If you think about what the SNES was capable of, you realize quickly how short this game falls in this department. Outside of effects on the background while in combat, there is literally nothing done with this game that could not have been done with the power and color pallet of the original Nintendo… and probably could have been done better.
While on the map, you will run across people who looked at best “ok” and a little cartoony. Often enough, you will instead come across people who in an attempt to give them green eyes look more like they are trying to wear the Green Lantern’s mask or women with a demonically huge smile that might just want to devour your characters’ souls.
In combat sprites are not much better. Set to psychedelic moving backgrounds, you will be greeted with works of art ranging in quality from somewhat cute and simplistic to the work of a professional stuck with only using MS-Paint, and sadly this is more the common result. It gets better as the game goes on with the last boss forgoing sprites entirely for the background being him. It is an awesome if disturbing site to behold, but it does little to make up for the lack of quality the rest of the game provides in this department.
Suffice it to say, this is a game that you will not remember fondly for it’s looks.
Sound: Unlike the graphical prowess of this game, you are in for a treat here. The music available in this game stands out for as many reasons as you can imagine. From some of the most serene background tracks a game will offer you when you enter those locations of power to seriously creepy stuff going with locations where something is seriously wrong. The soundtrack is varied, vibrant, and you may well find yourself humming the tunes long after you put the game away.
Sound effects are nothing special, however. They serve well with the appropriate sounding thuds, bangs, booms, clicks, whirrs, and maybe even zaps. But they will not stand out in any way, shape, or form. This is to be expected since this game is a turn based RPG, but just look forward to the music and you will be very happy here.
Gameplay: At it’s heart, Earthbound is a turn-based console RPG of the 1990s, and to this end I’m sure a lot of gamers already have an idea of what to expect when the start the game up. You run around on overworld maps, enter dungeons, and fight monsters and bosses. But that is not to say that the game doesn’t have some interesting and unusual details to bring to the table. There is no single world map, for example. Instead, you travel between towns and locations independent of one another. Sometimes you will have to travel by walking between, sometimes by hitching a ride with a friend, and sometimes even teleporting between locations. This variety allows the game to keep the feel of a nice big world to explore, while never having to worry about traversing a world map and finding towns and locations within. The end result is a much smoother flowing game that does not have that moment where the whole game halts while you go hunting for that one place.
In addition and unlike most games of this time, enemies will be visible and move around the map rather then be random encounters, allowing you to reasonably expect to see enemies even within the towns of the game! On top of that, they do not just mindlessly walk towards you or in a pattern either. The enemies become aware of you after a certain distance and then, will decide based on how tough you are if they will either chase after you, try to ignore you, or run away screaming. From here, depending on how you come into contact, you can have a normal battle or one of you (the player or the enemy) will get the advantage and a free round to do whatever they want in combat. If the enemy is weak enough and you get this benefit, you may not even need to fight, as the game will simply assume you won and give you the experience, speeding up the game while not making you fight boring one-hit battles that don’t offer you much reward.
Combat itself tries to appear special, but anyone who plays RPGs should be familiar with the way it works. At the beginning of each turn you will have to choose what each character is doing, be it bash/shoot the enemy, use psi powers (this game’s equivalent to magic), spy on the enemy and see any weaknesses/strengths they might have, pray for a random effect, or use items you have on you. Once you are done giving the commands, the battle will progress one round showing you what happens. Then it’s time to set your commands again, rinse and repeat. However, this time around, you don’t take all the damage of a hit instantly, but rather it ticks down after a character takes a hit. The game takes advantage of this by letting you use items of psi powers to heal characters even after they have taken enough damage to kill them twice over. You just have to get your healing action to happen or finish the battle before their health reaches zero, allowing you to have a chance even when dealing with enemies who would normally destroy you in one hit.
Add all this together and you get an RPG that plays more streamlined then most, but still offers you at least a chance to survive if you go somewhere you are not prepared to so you can escape, build up, an try again.
Bugs: Nothing actually ran wrong in Earthbound, but I did notice slowdown every once in a while. I would chalk this up to emulating the SNES hardware complete with it’s normal speed though, since normally this occurred when there were a ton of enemies on the map.
Overall: A lot of people want to claim this game is amazing and one of the best RPGs ever made. I can not agree, but that does not make it a bad game. It is very much a product of the times it came from, and as such only stands out in the small changes that helped streamline the gameplay and the humor that carries it along the way. I can not call it the great game everyone wants to, but I can call it very good one, and easily worth anyone’s time if they are a fan of old-school RPGs.
Source: Nintendo Eshop (WiiU)