I WANT YOU FOR THE SNES ARMY!
In 1989, Shigesato Itoi, a Japanese essayist, joined with Nintendo to make a quirky little game named Mother, after the John Lennon song. It received a bit more acclaim than he likely expected, and so he, APE, and HAL Laboratory before long began development on the next game in the series; Mother 2, or EarthBound in the US. The game did excellently in its origin country but sold quite poorly in the US despite an extensive advertising effort. However, EarthBound has gained its due keep because of the power of the interwebz; it's considered a cult hit nowadays and has developed a large following.
EarthBound does have a problem or two; the gameplay is fairly typical RPG fare with few deviations. Despite a charming art style, it's hard to doubt that the graphics are slightly unimpressive compared to boundary-pushers like Final Fantasy VI. However, these are only minor; there is a reason the game has gained such a fanbase, and it's time to examine why.
This is, obviously, the most devastating attack in the game.
As I mentioned previously, it's hard to doubt that in terms of battles, EarthBound does not differentiate from the usual RPGs of 16-bit times. The game has a usual turn-based system that there's not much point in explaining; you have the party do stuff and they do it. Stats are pretty normal, though there are two notable stats; Vitality and IQ; that aren't seen in the normal batch of RPG statistics. Basically, Vitality determines how much HP you get on a level-up, and IQ determines how much PP you get.
Overall, the game is quirky in its subversions on some traditional RPG elements; the overworld and landscape outside of battle is represented through 3D space but 2D sprites in a slightly unique look. Thankfully, random encounters are replaced by a more preferable system where enemies are visible on the overworld and can be walked into when you want to battle them(you can also launch sneak attacks from behind, Mario and Luigi-style; then again, considering the timeline of releases here, I guess Mario and Luigi did it EarthBound-style). Rather than chests, you find items around the world in pink gift boxes. It's a nice oddball design that you get used to.
The controls are pretty rote and work fine, though one thing I want to note is the challenge. I feel like the game handles this quite well; rarely did I ever feel like you had to level grind in order to progress, if ever. The game is quite fun, but also knows when to give you a challenge, and still I didn't really feel like things were ever unfair or stilted in favor of the AI. I'm not saying the game is totally immune from these things (RAWR THE TWO DOGS), but they are not as frequent a problem as in other RPGs, which is refreshing.
It's not like there's anything amazing about the gameplay, which is your average RPG stuff, but it does have a couple of nice tweaks that give the game a feel of its own for the most part.
"ORBS ARE THE BEST SHAPE EVER! SCREW YOU, SQUARE!"
I'm not going to deny that the graphics are not a marvel of the 16-bit craft; actually, in ways they are mediocre. Perhaps there were budget or time constraints, but I honestly do feel there could have been a little
more effort in making the art look like more of a quality work. It's not that there's anything particularly bad about it, but this was released in 1995, not at the start of the SNES's lifespan.
However, it's not all bad. The art style has a kiddish, charming feel to it, like a lot of things in this game, and I often enjoyed the art in a lot of cases (four words: New-Age Retro Hippie). While not the best in technology/advancement, the art has its own personal strengths in style and character.
Where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face.
The music is pretty stellar, as to be expected of your average first-party Nintendo game; Suzuki and Tanaka's hard work shows. The normal boss theme, as well as Pokey Means Business and Giygas' theme (the latter can also be written as "High-Octane Nightmare Fuel") are particularly great contributions to an excellent soundtrack.
I kind of hate how sound sections are always short, because there isn't all that much I can elaborate on. The sound effects are purely average, and the music is cool beans, so what more can I speak about?
Can I touch you?
EarthBound's actual plot is not remarkable; it's a pretty basic "save the world" affair. The writing, however, is quirky, endearing, and hilarious, and all the little touches in-between (Saturn Valley, New Age Retro Hippie again, the subtle satire everywhere) only serve to lift the whole experience higher.
A 13-year-old boy named Ness, hailing from the small town of Onett, wakes up in the middle of the night when a meteor crashes near his house. Going out to investigate, he discovers a smart little insect named Buzz-Buzz, who tells him that he is the destined one who will save the world, yadda yadda etc. Buzz-Buzz ends up getting... er, squished (rather comically at that), and entrusts the mission to collect the Eight Melodies and defeat Giygas to Ness in his final words. In his way, however, are corrupt cops, a video-game-loving gang, a cult obsessed with blue, the oddest alternate universe ever, and a chubby, vindictive childhood friend (enemy?) named Pokey Minch. Yep. Just your average game.
I repeat, the writing is funny and well-done, and it redeems the average plot from... uh, whatever section of Hell that average plots end up in. The characters aren't really well-developed, but are at least colorful, well-designed, and enjoyable to watch.
EarthBound isn't perfect, though its at-times overzealous fanbase can make claims of the sort. It has its weaknesses, but it also has plenty of strengths, and I would argue that they outweigh the problems present. It is a quirky, fun little RPG that is its own beast, and should serve to offer plenty of enjoyable hours for anyone who decides to play. It's a bit hard to get your hands on it without emulation, but it may be worth it.
Finally, got another review out. It is a bit shaky as it's not very long, but here's hoping everyone enjoyed anyways.