EarthBound: Pontificating Over the SNES RPG Legend

EarthBound on the Super Nintendo
Ahoy, hoy!

One of the most legendary retro games of all time, this Super Nintendo classic is a big deal. So we’re treating it with maximum respect!

EarthBound: The Basics

From the Japanese developer Ape Inc. (now Creatures Inc.) and HAL Laboratory, this is the second entry in the Mother series.

EarthBound has the same level of mystic respect as Chrono Trigger—another title that leads to the Super Nintendo’s reputation as the best console ever.

Launching in Japan back in August 1994, the plot involves the wee young lad Ness.

It’s the year 199X in Eagleland (which is a take on America). After a meteorite crashes in his neighbourhood one night, he heads off to investigate.

Ness finds that an alien being called Giygas—existing in the name of hatred—has turned the world of Eagleland around.

All of a sudden, many of the local animals and humans start attacking folks on sight.

Chatting with a small bee called Buzz Buzz, it hands over a Sound Stone. It’s up to Ness to collect melodies from eight sanctuaries to restore equilibrium.

Oh, then Buzz Buzz is killed by some angry parents. And the alien being dies off to the sounds of this lovely tune.

After that, you get on with the adventure and your exploring. All to the backdrop of some of the SNES’ very best graphics and music. Super!

EarthBound: Reviewing a Legend

There are plenty of amazing RPGs on the SNES, the system is legendary for them. Think Final Fantasy VI and Secret of Mana. Astonishing titles.

But EarthBound has garnered this reputation for being ethereal—as if it’s from a different world. It’s packed full of cryptic themes and messages.

Although the artistic style is colourful and like Super Mario World, the game is far from a cutesy romp along. It’s more like a Studio Ghibli film, with dark themes lingering just beneath the surface.

The game’s opening reflects this rather well. But we also just took to walking around, as the walk cycle animation is adorable in EarthBound. The 16-bit graphics a wonderful fit.

There are some gameplay mechanics that feel radical even now. As you continue to level up, some enemies will suddenly realise you’re far too powerful and try to run away.

Then, if you walk into one of them to attack, the game will acknowledge you defeated the enemy. Without going into the fighting sequence.

They’re clever, thoughtful little touches that speeds the game along.

Other RPGs, such as Final Fantasy VII, rely on random combat sequences. And even the most die-hard FF fan will probably admit it can get annoying.

However, EarthBound isn’t free from gaming sins. It can prove frustrating. For example, it’s often not clear what you’re supposed to do.

This was a common thing in RPGs of the era. Normally, you had to wander about talking to NPCs until you got some clue that allows you to move on.

There’s also quite a lot of backtracking you need to do to advance on, which isn’t exactly rewarding gameplay.

Taking the edge off that is an excellent soundtrack. Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka were responsible for delights like this, with lots of use of vibrato and synthesiser.

Away from that side, this is a very surreal game. As with many RPGs/JRPGs at the time, it’s a pretty common thing. But EarthBound really does stand out with its unique approach.

The battle screens, the bizarre enemies, random giant pencils blocking your path etc.

You eventually team up with some friends and four of you go wandering about the world, which gets increasingly bizarre, dark, and disturbing.

Many gamers, since EarthBound’s release in 1994, have theorised about the nature of the narrative and Giygas.

All sorts of themes from youth, memories, loss, and existentialism lurk under the surface of a pretty cutesy title.

But as a game, does it stand up to its legacy? Despite showing its age in some areas, EarthBound is a charming and engaging RPG.

Many other websites and YouTube channels (such as the Angry Video Game Nerd) have provided far more extensive considerations on the title.

And so we feel a bit late to the party here. Nonetheless, despite the time and dedication you need to get the most out of it, it’s a stellar SNES game.

One brimming with little details remarkable for its era—we couldn’t help but swoon for it.

2 comments

  1. I do think the Earthbound trilogy does get a little more love than it deserves, but I won’t deny that the first two games were definitely ambitious efforts for their time, and their demonstration of the medium’s latent storytelling potential was an undeniable step forward for the medium. It’s a bit of a shame the American AAA industry would spend the next few decade undoing that in favor of aping off of films, though that practice appears to be dying off; I think we have Undertale, which was inspired by Earthbound, to thank for that. It’s also kind of a shame the trilogy wasn’t consistent in its quality; between the three games, I think only Earthbound has stood the test of time by virtue of mitigating the most tedious aspects of contemporary JRPGs and having the most timeless narrative.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wouldn’t put it near to the likes of Chrono Trigger and A Link to The Past (not an RPG, yurr, but close enough!!). But I enjoyed it a great deal, despite its backtracking and other odd features.

      It’s sort of the SNES’ Shenmue, it has a mysticism to it. Even though I don’t particularly like the Dreamcast game, there’s a legion of fans for it ready to start a riot in the name of its supposed genius. Innit.

      Liked by 1 person

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