Retro Game Review – Earthbound
With the recent announcement of the upcoming release of Earthbound on the Wii U’s virtual console, I thought it would be the perfect game to kick off my series of retro game reviews! Earthbound is one of the holy trinity of SNES RPG’s. Over the past few years it has become a very rare game to run across and can cost you a pretty penny to pick up a copy of the original cartridge. If you want the original box and what may be the most entertaining game manual of all time (it actually came with the player’s guide), you are going to pay a premium. But now, after years of asking for it, Nintendo is finally bringing Earthbound back to the masses! I’ll do my best to keep this as spoiler free as possible for those of you who have not experienced this masterpiece.
For those of you unfamiliar with Earthbound, it is a Role Playing Game developed by Ape and HAL Laboratory, published by Nintendo in 1994. It is the second in the “Mother” series, and the only iteration of the series to make its way to the United States. You play as Ness (and eventually his cohorts Paula, Jeff and Poo), who is sent on a quest to prevent the evil Giygas from taking over the world. Ness and his friends must travel to Sanctuary locations throughout the world of Earthbound, which allows him to unite his powers with those of the Earth so he can gain the necessary strength to take down Giygas. Over the course of the game, you travel across the world visiting a slew of differing locales, from your hometown of Onett to the metropolis known as Fourside, the bustling beach town of Summers and the strange village of Saturn Valley, just to name a few.
There is always something new and exciting to explore, and the very best that Earthbound has to offer is oftentimes off the beaten path. This gives those who take the time to explore the game countless hours of additional entertainment, significantly adding to replayability.
Earthbound does its best not to take itself too seriously, and it is because of this that it became an instant classic. While humor is abundant in Earthbound, it also is a game full of serious moments that bring out a variety of feelings. Enemies in Earthbound range from wacked out Hippies to Starmen, ghosts, zombies, crazed animals and a wide array of boss battles. Earthbound’s variety of baddies keep the game fresh and entertaining throughout. The game’s simplistic equipment system allows you to easily identify the best weapons and armor available. Most of the weapons are unique to each character, with a bit of crossover on certain types of weaponry. Weapons like baseball bats and sling shots help to maintain a sense of innocence that lasts through the entire game. It is a very charming aspect that I feel tends to get lost and forgotten in most modern titles.
Each of the game’s four main characters bring something different to the table. Paula is the resident mage of the group, possessing powerful psychic elemental attacks. Jeff doesn’t possess any magical abilities, but his array of items and attacks, as well as his “Spy” ability bring a lot to the team. Poo is a hybrid character, utilizing powerful attacks and psychic abilities to become a very versatile member in battle. Even though there are only four main playable characters in the game, each character is properly developed and doesn’t leave anything to be desired. With a ton of abilities (even one you get to name yourself!) and unique player skills, there is definitely some strategy to battles. Be prepared for some frustrating encounters if you are underleveled and not familiar with all of the battle options available to you.
Earthbound also sports quite the soundtrack, which ranges from a wacky upbeat tunes and soulful jazzy melodies to mysterious and haunting tacks such as those found in Threed and many other places throughout the game. One of my favorite parts about this game was its diverse soundtrack, which brings back many feelings of nostalgia. While it doesn’t have as many classics as the Chrono Trigger soundtrack, Earthbound’s score is memorable and the music always fits the feel of the area that you are exploring.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing the masterpiece that is Earthbound and don’t want to drop the $100+ to pick up an original copy, make sure to pick it up on the Wii U Virtual Console when it is released this winter. Earthbound has been a favorite of mine since childhood and easily makes my list of the top 10 games of all time. At the time of its release I would have happily given it almost a perfect score for its combination of humor, great gameplay mechanics and a brilliant soundtrack. I feel that Earthbound could have easily been a staple RPG series had its brethren been given a chance on American shores.
While a sequel or its Famicom prequel are very unlikely to ever hit the United States, I am very pleased to see Nintendo bring this SNES classic to a new generation of gamers on the Wii U. After the heartbreak that was the cancelled Earthbound 64, gamers have been waiting for something to fill the void left by Earthbound once it is complete. This is a game that I try to revisit every few years, and is one of the few games that I continue to replay and enjoy more and more with each subsequent play through.
For those of you who haven’t played Earthbound, do you plan on picking it up when it is released on the Virtual Console? For those of you who have, what is your favorite track from the game? Let me know if the comments below! I will leave you with my personal favorite: