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Gems of Gaming: Earthbound

June 18, 2009

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Welcome to Gems of Gaming. This new column will cover games that I personally consider classic. The goal is to analyze these games objectively and look at what sort of impact they had on gaming once they were released. So without further ado, let’s get into it shall we?

I’m assuming here, and yes, I know assumption wins and loses wars, but let me finish…I’m assuming we all have a game that we remember from when we were growing up, a game that means something sentimental to us. That we spent hours tucked away in our room playing. When mom yelled that it was dinnertime we yelled back “Okay! Let me get to a save point!” In my case, that meant trying to find the nearest telephone to call my dad. That’s right. I’m talking about Earthbound.

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I’ll never forget the first time I saw the game in motion. I think that’s what really struck me. Not that graphically it wasn’t good, it was just…different. I’ve since come to appreciate the art style. In a world where game colors are under saturated and worlds look bleak and uninspired, it’s quite a breath of fresh air to see such a wide palette of color strewn across my TV screen. No, not just the look, the game play, the story, and even the soundtrack stood out. I knew back then that I was playing something special.

If you’ve never played Earthbound then you’re truly missing out on a classic. Released in Japan as Mother 2 (yes, there is a prequel and a sequel that have yet to hit US shores), Earthbound was met with modest success and warm reception. It wound up selling over 400,000 copies worldwide soon after. Maybe that doesn’t compete with Halo’s 9 million copies, but for an RPG and for the time, that was a tremendous success.

If I had to attribute just one thing to the timeless quality of the title, it would be the humor. Being a kid, a lot of the innuendo was over my head. Replaying the game as a teen, and then again in college, opened my eyes to the dry and witty writing that went into this title. The game was a huge laugh at American culture. It may have been a warped vision of what the Japanese think, but it was a humorous one nonetheless. Using a solid script, creating an intriguing look, and innovating new game play ideas is what made Earthbound such a well rounded package. This probably isn’t the first example of ‘Games as Art’ (and we could argue forever as to what constitutes art, but then, art is subjective isn’t it? Even though it goes against the objectivity of this column, I’ll stick with that for now), but it was the first one I experienced. Perhaps that’s why it’s so dear to my heart. I don’t think another game struck such a chord with me until ICO, which arrived years later.

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Maybe you didn’t play Earthbound for other reasons? You thought it looked silly and childish? An honest mistake. Let’s face it, at first glance the game appears to be a the bastard child of a Disney coloring book and David Lynch film. Don’t let the scribble-style artistry fool you, Earthbound was not for the faint of heart. Anyone remember Diamond Dog? How about trying to get the Gutsy Bat? The Sword of Kings? This was a difficult (read:brutal) game. However, there were innovations in Earthbound that were revolutionary for their time, and one could argue, still revolutionary today. First person battle perspective in an RPG? That was something unexpected during my first encounter. Being able to level to the point where you can SMAAAAAAAAAASH!! enemies? What a fantastic idea! Why don’t we see more of that in RPG’s today? It rewarded the player for working hard enough to gain a level that was considered outrageous at that stage in the game. Perhaps Final Fantasy XII displayed a similar (if altered) use of this feature. The Gambit system allowed for you to quickly level in an area where you far surpassed the strength of the monsters. Did some inspiration come from Earthbound? It can’t be proven, although it’s likely, but let’s move on.

In addition, the superb cast of characters in the game took the story to unparalleled heights. I understand the need for voice over’s in modern Role Playing Games, but you have to admit, not naming your party does take a bit of the connection out between the player and the characters. Not only did Earthbound let you name your alter ego and your dog, but your favorite pastime became your ultimate attack? Heck yeah!! There’s a good chance my final power was Video Game Omega…I’ll leave it up to you to decide. And of course, after realizing what the ‘favorite’ name did, I can imagine more than a few juvenile things I attempted (well, succeeded) to call it. $@!!*% Omega anyone? This sort of customization connected you to that world. On top of that, the characters were all memorable. You were able to travel to each one’s homeland and develop their back-story. There was a substantial portion of the game devoted to fleshing out your entire party. Hmmm, I seem to remember a few other travelers going to Wutai, Cosmo Canyon, and Rocket Town in a game that would come a few years down the road. Interesting. But again, it’s not that this was revolutionary, it’s just that Earthbound did it so well.

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Before I wrap up, let’s talk about combat. I touched briefly on this earlier. Earthbound did not have random encounters. Instead the player was treated to seeing each enemy on screen. Unlike most RPG’s however, there were some tactics to how you engaged your opponent prior to entering the battle. If you engaged an enemy from behind, the screen would swirl green, meaning that you had activated a preemptive strike. If the opposite, they would have the one up on you. This added a new twist to every area you entered. Stronger enemies would pursue you, while weaker parties would flee. I think we all remember a few times in Dark Side, while frantically trying to figure out where to go, that we were running our tails off from pieces of art and demonic fire hydrants. It added so much fun to simple dungeon crawling. I hate to even call it that. It makes most RPG dungeons seem like a complete bore. Anyone out there played Eternal Sonata? Was I the only one who thought “WHOA! Earthbound!” when they explain that you can gain an advantage by engaging the enemy from the rear? Yeah. Just another example of a simple, yet very effective, influence.

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So you’ve never played it. Well, I have to ask: What are you waiting for? Give this game a shot. I know it’s difficult, but stick with it. The scenery is out of this world, the adventure is epic, and the ending is something I will never forget. Go grab an emulator and play this now. It’s truly a gem of gaming.

-Garrett

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. lifethroughalense permalink
    June 18, 2009 2:15 am

    I have been looking all over for a copy for you!! I remember loving this game & watching you play it all the time. Hopefully I will find it and not for the price of my arm & leg!

    PS Keep up the amazing blog! I enjoy it alot!

    • thebigmanandgarrett permalink*
      June 18, 2009 3:06 am

      Thanks Tyler 🙂

      -Garrett

  2. Celes Leonhart permalink
    June 18, 2009 3:35 am

    It’s kind of depressing there’s games like these with so much acclaim yet I’ve never even touched them. Maybe it’s from a time too long passed for me to really appreciate it in its full, or maybe I’ll just love it immediately. We’ll see, if I ever get to play it (never been one for emulating.)

    But anyway, to the points:

    For starters, I definitely quite enjoyed it. Points flow well on the whole, covers everything I’d need to know. Couple of points I really enjoyed reading too, like the paragraph about its art style and graphics, very nice description. Also liked the placement of the pictures, though I’d personally swap the final two around.

    Noticed a typo – “prove” rather than “proved” under the Beatles reference.

    I’ve been trying to work out how to word this and if it’s a legitimate criticism at all – so ignore me if I seem to be talking out of my arse – but the introduction “Have I mentioned the characters yet?” really just seems too…corny, maybe. For the last paragraph to finish on “but let’s move on” to be followed by that as well, it just doesn’t seem to flow very well for me. On the criticism of flow, I felt there were a couple of points where more complex sentence structures would have been beneficial as there were a few consecutive brief sentences with limited punctuation. At those points, it seemed a little bit “stop-starty.” This may just be a 4:20am posting time and lack of sleep talking though.

    Maybe could have shown more stress or emphasis on how good the game was in parts, hyperboles and the like, but I suppose if you’re trying to appear objective as you said initially that’s fair enough. Just maybe for a “gem” it just needs a little more of a push, I’m not sure. Again, sleep deprivation might be talking here.

    In terms of a regular column, really like the idea! Is this something the two of you are going to share between you or will this be Garrett’s thing? I’m not sure if you’ll be able to maintain once-a-week considering most people normally have a very limited selection of nostalgic favourites, but if that’s shared between you I’m sure that’s easier. Also – I love the graphic/logo. Same for the “Games you probably…”, who makes them? Very professional looking, great for a regular thing. *psst, make The Legend of Dragoon the next one*

    General query time now, sorry for placing them here if you’d rather they would be somewhere else:

    Will Brandon’s articles be once-a-week (“Games you…”) and will they be written exclusively by him or shared?

    How regular will the video blogs be posted? *I’ll leave my views of them on the next release, but they’re positive so far!

    Finally, any other columns currently at the ready?

    Keep it up and all that business, good going.

    • thebigmanandgarrett permalink*
      June 18, 2009 11:19 am

      Thanks for the critique! I definitely re-read my posts as I publish them, and I noticed that typo too. I don’t know if I agree about the flow…I feel like it works pretty well. And yeah, perhaps some things are a bit corny, but that’s alright 😉 I tend to write how I talk. Maybe that’s why it seems start-stopish at points.

      Yes, this will be my column only. Hopefully it will be once a week, I have a very extensive collection of games to talk about. Brandon will also be the one writing “Games you like…” weekly. And we do video updates once a week as well. We’re working on other columns too, so keep your eyes peeled.

      And for the graphics, I do them all. I’m a graphic designer in real life, so making a few logos is nbd. I’m glad you like them!

      Thanks for all the feedback!

      -Garrett

      • thebigmanandgarrett permalink*
        June 18, 2009 1:20 pm

        Of course my Crystals of Console Gaming column will be starting soon. >_>
        -The Big Man

      • Celes Leonhart permalink
        June 18, 2009 3:53 pm

        Thanks for the answers!

        Just re-read the piece and I’m noticing all the changes you’ve made – absolute gold. I think the new introductions definitely aid the flow and work a lot more to “sell” the game too me; really well written, good introductions. The “stop-starty” nature I mentioned definitely isn’t nearly as apparent as when I read it early in the morning, so it was probably my tiredness, but I do think a lot of the changes you’ve made – aside from the introductions though as well as them – have the improved the piece greatly!

        Also – love the new look of the blog, looking very professional. I think it will help out.

      • thebigmanandgarrett permalink*
        June 18, 2009 3:57 pm

        Yes, thank you for the suggestions Celes. I re-wrote it this morning. It sounds and flows much better. 🙂

        -Garrett

  3. Masonvrocks permalink
    June 18, 2009 3:24 pm

    This game kinda got away from me, I’ve heard so much hype about and rabid fans clamoring for Mother 3 to come stateside. So a few months back I tried it out on an emulator, it just did nothing for me. The first person battles were wierd and the backgrounds make no sense, the story took to long to get exciting imo, and the characters didn’t seem all that likable.

    Perhaps I’ll try it again some day.

    Btw I would love it if you guys did Golden sun for this column!

    Keep up the good work

    • thebigmanandgarrett permalink*
      June 18, 2009 3:56 pm

      Haha, glad you like the blog. Yeah, I would love to see Mother 3 stateside, but I’m not holding my breath. I talked to Gainor (aka Jolan) and I will work on finishing Golden Sun so I can review it. Haven’t played that game in ages!

      -Garrett

  4. Allison permalink
    June 23, 2009 4:08 am

    So, Brandon downloaded this game on to his computer for me, and I’ve played a little bit of it so far. I have to say, I actually don’t hate the game. I don’t know that I will ever love it (I will probably never love a video game), but it is definitely a cute game that I will continue to play for awhile 🙂

    • Garrett permalink*
      June 23, 2009 12:56 pm

      Alright Allison! Mad props for playing such an old school game.

    • June 25, 2009 1:29 pm

      That’s my girlfriend, heh. Now Garr, you need to get Kristin to play a game or two… She could even listen to Indie music while doing it.

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  1. Weekly Round-Up #23 « EarthBound Central

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