Earthbound is often considered historic for gaming. Shigesato Itoi is a very well known, and respected, man. Video game designer is the last thing that will come to your mind when you look at this man’s gigantic resume. Itoi’s first video game project was MOTHER. Released for the Famicom, MOTHER is a JRPG based around the joys of childhood. The series has always been a way for Itoi to showcase his inner-self. MOTHER released extremely late into the Famicom’s life-cycle. Nintendo of America had plans to bring MOTHER to the west as Earthbound, but these plans were shelved. Funnily enough, the translation was mostly complete when the project was canned. That’ll be important later, but not for this review.
Itoi had a sequel to MOTHER kicked around extremely fast. Legendary designers at HAL, including Satoru Iwata, would work on this one. MOTHER 2 released in Japan without a hitch and Nintendo of America got to work on it. This time, we actually ended up getting it. As Nintendo quietly canceled MOTHER 1’s release on NES, they brought out Earthbound for the Super Nintendo. Earthbound, as I’ll refer to it from here on out, didn’t hit it big in the west but it became a cult-classic soon after the SNES became obsolete.
You control Ness, a young boy with psychic powers living in the small town of Onett, one of the four chosen ones destined to stop the evil formation of all fear and greed Giygas. Late one average night, a meteor crashes right by your house. You, and your neighbor Porky, go out to investigate it. This is where you’ll first find out about your journey. Soon after, you’ll meet up with the other three chosen ones. Paula is a small girl from Twoson with potent offensive powers. Jeff is the son of famous inventor Dr. Andonuts. He’s incapable of using “PK” powers, but he more than makes up for it with a full arsenal of inventions. Your final party member will be Poo. Yes, I’m serious, they named one of them Poo. Poo is the heir to the throne of Dalaam, a kingdom far away from the other places you’ll be visiting, and a master martial artist.
You must travel across the world visiting eight “Your Sanctuary” locations to learn a mysterious melody that will help you defeat Giygas. You’ll explore tons of areas, and meet dozens of unique faces. If there’s anything I’d give Earthbound credit for, atmosphere and world-building are fleshed out to such a degree that it’s surprising they went through the effort of translating it. Each, and every, NPC has unique dialogue and their own little story going on. You’ll often hear rumors and talks of later, or previous, areas to explore. Things will make much more sense later on, or quite the opposite! Earthbound is a weird game, but I couldn’t help but love this.
You’ll run into enemies in real time on the map, so you don’t need to worry about annoying random encounters. The game is prone to some pretty bad slowdown when too many enemies are loaded in, but I got used to it. Earthbound’s battle system is very simplistic. Each character has a basic attack, a magic attack, a guard, and access to one-use items outside of the other options. Magic in Earthbound comes through the form of psychic “PK” abilities. Everyone, except Jeff, can use them. Each character has a type of magic that they excel in. Ness is primarily a healer, Paula will be your offensive user, and Poo is somewhere in the middle. Earthbound has a very unique rolling healthbar. It’s quite common that enemies use super-powerful attacks that can wipe the floor with one of your party. If you heal, or use a health recovery item, before it rolls all the way back, you can survive absolutely devastating attacks.
Earthbound is filled with a ton of boss encounters. Each boss is given a lot of personality, and their own unique twists to fights. Sometimes it’s simply the type of abilities they have, and some even have unique win conditions. I felt like they were much harder in the early game. With only a low leveled Ness at your disposal, it’s not hard to get overwhelmed at first. My complaints with these encounters leveled out as the hours ticked by.
My biggest gripe with Earthbound is the inventory. Each character has fourteen slots to carry items. That doesn’t sound too bad at first, but you have to remember, there’s no item-stacking here. Earthbound features a lot of items that you can’t sell, and will be needing later. For most of my adventure, it just felt like I had a ton of dead weight on me. There is a system to help alleviate this. Using the phone in many establishments, you can call the Escargo Express delivery system. They can hold a ton of your items for basically nothing. I stored most of my key items in the Escargo Express on my journey, and it still annoyed me. It felt like every time I actually needed things like the Pencil Eraser there was no phone. I did a bunch of backtracking and calling.
Earthbound is a beautiful game. it has tons of vibrant colors that I honestly just can’t do justice. I played the game on the Wii U’s virtual console. The Wii U, for some completely moronic reason, heavily darkens all classic games. I’ve done a little bit of color editing to make it more vibrant. I hope I got close enough to satisfy any hardcore fans reading.
The game sounds just as good as it looks. There are tons of tracks that have stuck with me and many that I didn’t even know originated from this game! Of course, tracks like Onnet and Twoson I recognized from Smash but there were many others that I had no idea came from Earthbound. There’s a lot of calming music here too. If you need something to work to, I recommend looking the soundtrack up.
This was my first experience with Earthbound. I enjoyed my time with the game way more than I thought I would. Earthbound is so odd that I feel the experience is truly one of a kind. Things that no other game would attempt just because of how weird they are. The charm that this game managed to pull me in for was so unexpected, but definitely welcome. I’ve always heard this game talked up as “one of the best games ever”, or “the best game on SNES.” I don’t think I could agree with either of those statements, but this game is truly one that has to be experienced to understand.
The original Smash was developed by HAL Labs and many on the team had worked on Earthbound. These facts make his inclusion a lot more special. He’s always been shrouded in much more obscurity, but knowing he’s the underdog favorite of the team? It’s just a “homey” story. Earthbound has had quite a bit of content introduced over the years. In Brawl, the Earthbound series received a boss-fight with Porky and Lucas from Mother 3. In Ultimate, Earthbound is still well represented but loses a lot of major things it had before.
Many are familiar with the fact that Ness can’t use some of the most iconic moves from Smash in Earthbound. The well-quoted “PK THUNDER!” and infamous “PK FIRE!” are only for Paula. Smash Bros. Melee actually explains that Paula personally taught Ness these moves after he received his invitation. He has a unique story aspect most fighters lack. I’m all of creative moveset design if it makes for a better character. Ness does nothing if not benefit here. He even managed to make it out as Smash 64’s most creative character. Ness will eternally be recognized as “that guy from Smash!” by kids, but I’m not sure he’s in too bad a spot right now.