Earthbound - Retroview  

The war against Giygas just got silly!
by ZelGreywards

30-35 hours


Rating definitions 

   Earthbound (released in 1995) is a game that is often overlooked by people enamored with Squaresoft classics such as Final Fantasy VI (1994) and Chrono Trigger (1995). Although those are both great RPGs they both lack a certain charm that can be found in a game like Earthbound.

   Earthbound is not the first game in its series. Much like the “missing” Final Fantasy titles we have not been graced with the original NES “Mother” game.

   Earthbound is a game starring a young boy named Ness from the small town of Onett in the fictional country of Eagleland who, upon investigating a meteorite that crashed on a hill top on the outskirts of town, embarks on a journey to stop the ultimate evil being known as Giygas. During his adventure Ness meets many odd and interesting characters such as the “Runaway Five” (a traveling musical group), “Carpainter” (the founder of a very odd “religion”), and a big talking blob named “Master Belch”.

   This can make or break an RPG for many people. Earthbound’s battle system is, as has been stated by many people, quite similar to that of the Dragon Warrior series. All of the enemies are displayed in the center of the screen and your characters are represented by information boxes displaying your stats.

The gardener for this valley house appears to be on strike. The gardener for this valley house appears to be on strike.

   All battles are normal turn based affairs that play out like almost any other turn based RPG. They really aren’t that special but some features such as the “rolling HP counter” can make them more interesting. When you take damage your HP gradually decreases to its new total as opposed to simply changing all at once. This provides you with a small bit of time to heal yourself if you take “mortal damage” before you actually collapse.

   There are no “bouncy numbers” to display damage or super flashy summons to speak of in this game. All battle information is shown in text form at the top of the screen. This is not a bad thing because some of the enemy actions are quite interesting and add a bit of depth to the battle as long as you can use your imagination.

   Overall, battles are fun, balanced, and decently paced (not slow crawls like some text based RPG battles).

   The dialog in this game is perfect. There are no typos or spelling errors and the humor was very well written. I do not know how accurate it is as far as translation is concerned but the dialog is perfectly suited to a US audience.

   This is a simple game at heart and interaction is usually limited to talking to people, searching “presents” and trash cans, and encountering monsters. It’s rare for an RPG to stray from this formula as it has been proven time and again to be effective.

   One interesting thing that stands out is the encounter system. You see all enemies on the map before you go into battle. When you approach an enemy (or simply enter their territory) they will rush at you to fight. Upon contact the screen will show you who gets the first strike by displaying a gray swirl for a normal encounter, a green swirl for a preemptive strike, and a red swirl for an ambush.

   To add to this encounter system the developers added an “instant win” feature. If you are significantly stronger than the enemies in a particular area the screen will simply flash and display the victory text without the bother of actually fighting the monsters. This is a good way to build your levels as you don’t have to spend all of your extra money on a hotel room to recover from numerous battles with weak foes.

   This encounter system is a new addition to the series as the original “Mother” featured a typical random encounter system with frequent battles.

   Another odd feature was the photographer that shows up at certain places to take your picture. This may seem strange at first but it has its purpose and you’ll see it in time. It’s a side quest to find all of the picture locations and it’s actually fairly easy to miss some of them unless you like to explore a lot.

   The music for Earthbound is very well composed and is very effective for setting the mood for each situation. Battle themes are strange an interesting and town themes are fitting. None of the music seems out of place in the strange world of Earthbound. Many of the tracks are actually remixes or enhancements of music found in “Mother” which is a nice touch.

   Sound effects are a bit strange. They are mostly comical sounding blips and beeps for battle effects that can get annoying sometimes but they never seemed overwhelming. They certainly weren’t bad and they never made me want to mute the TV but they are an acquired taste.

This teacher must not be very popular… he’s only got two students! This teacher must not be very popular… he’s only got two students!

   With its interesting characters and quirky “modern” setting Earthbound stands out above other games of its era. The funny remarks of the characters and the odd situations that you will encounter are unlike most other games of its time.

   One interesting thing is the fact that you are using modern day items such as baseball bats, frying pans, and slingshots for weapons while you use psychic powers (called PSI in the game) instead of magic spells. These make the game feel more natural (except for the psychic powers I suppose).

   The story, as a whole, is fairly standard. Boy learns he’s the chosen one, boy goes on quest, boy meets girl, boy rides sea monster, boy saves world from freaky evil being. It’s all standard fare really and certainly not original. The four main characters have very little development of their own and are overshadowed by a select few supporting characters that receive better treatment in that department. It would have been nice if we had learned a bit more about Ness and his friends in the long run but I suppose they were trying to make “you” the hero much like “Chrono Trigger” where the protagonist only had one line in the entire game (and it wasn’t an important one and is very unlikely to be seen by many casual players).

   The visuals in Earthbound are simple yet pleasing to the eyes. Cities look like nice and “modern” and the characters look appropriate for their surroundings. There were some minor issues with the grass at the edge of cliffs not lining up perfectly and a particularly large bridge looking a bit disproportional but those are minor nitpicks.

   Battle visuals were quite interesting. The enemies looked great and had some nice detail but the most interesting part of the battles was the backgrounds themselves. Battle backgrounds did not display your surroundings but were very odd animated images that look like they came out of a nice trippy screensaver. They added an extra weirdness to the game that only made it more interesting overall.

   Overall the visuals are very appropriate. They aren’t huge competitors for games like “Final Fantasy VI” or “Chrono Trigger” but they are very good at what they are trying to portray. To tell the truth the game looks appropriately like an update to “Mother”, which isn’t a bad thing.

   Battles are fairly easy as a whole but you will spend a decent time early in the adventure using healing items or healing PSI powers to stay alive unless you level up a bit in the first town. The game does get a bit more difficult later on simply because of the stronger enemies but it never really becomes hard.

   Avoiding some encounters can be nearly impossible sometimes due to the high speed of enemies on the map. This probably should have been tweaked a bit but it’s not a big deal.

   Earthbound is a surprisingly long game. It will take an average gamer who takes his/her time anywhere between 30 and 35 hours to complete. That’s more of an estimated guess because the game does not feature a play time clock like many newer games. It would have been nice to know how long I’d been in that weird world though.

   If you can find a copy of Earthbound (hopefully with the strategy guide still included as it was well made and funny on its own) I strongly suggest you give it a try. If you are ill and need an RPG that is light-hearted, fun, and doesn’t always take itself seriously Earthbound is just the right medicine.

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