A great SNES cult classic.

by Saul Smith

Before you read on, I want to be upfront that Earthbound is my favorite game of all time, and I still enjoy playing it to this day (15 years after its release). Although it is my favorite, I do not want to come across as bias, as I do realize the flaws in the game as well.

Earthbound is a quirky RPG that often times makes fun of past games in its own genre. Back around the time it was released, many RPGs had a very cliche story lines and characters. Kill some goblins, rescue a princess, you have probably heard all of the sorts before. Earthbound's story is the same basis as of many before it, but with very humorous dialogue and great story telling. Instead of potions to restore health, you use hamburgers. Where there would be save points in past games, this game uses a telephone call to your father for saving your progress. Beating hippies with a baseball bat? This game is definitely one of a kind. The comedy is broad enough that anyone will enjoy it, no matter what age. It definitely gives a refreshing face lift to the RPG genre, and makes the game very unique. Despite the cutesy appearance and humor, this game is actually rather difficult at times, so don't let it fool you. And if you look deep enough, you will find some seriousness in the game as well.

You will start out in the year 199X playing as Ness, a young boy from the town of Onett. One night you are awaken by a loud noise, and you decide to check it out. Eventually you will find out the loud crash you heard that night was a meteorite that crashed nearby. However, this is no ordinary meteorite! You will find that this flaming rubble contains a..fly?! That's right, you heard me correctly. Buzz Buzz is its name, and claims to be from ten years in the future. He speaks of the future as being very bleak, as something (or someone) by the name of Giygas has been up to no good. But fear not! For he believes that you are the chosen one, and you must find others who will help you on your quest. To defeat Giygas, he says you must unite with the Earth, which you will do by visiting eight special places. The funny dialogue continues throughout the whole game, so you will definitely be chuckling a lot and actually want to see what happens next. Eventually, you will find three other characters named Paula, Jeff, and Poo to add to your party, and are unique in their own way. I liked Jeff especially, and while he cannot use magic, he fixes anything in your inventory that is "broken" when you take a rest somewhere like a hotel. That is dedication! This kid does not sleep!

Very early in the game, you will notice that like it has been stated before, this game has a definite classic RPG feel to it. You will fight enemies, collect equipment and items, level up, explore towns and dungeons, the basic stuff. The great thing about it though, is that it is set in modern time. You will learn new PSI (the "magic" in the game) as you level up, and a lot of PSI are specific to one character. One of the grumbles of the game is the battle system. It consists of you looking at your enemy, not being able to see your own party. There will be commands at the top you can choose from like attack, defend, goods, run away, etc. All the standards are there, but there is not much particularly exciting about it. There is also a pretty plain looking menu system, but it gets the job done. Another gripe I have with the game is that your main characters can only hold fourteen items each. This also includes your equipment, which takes up four slots right there if you have a full set, and the items do not stack. So for example, say you had your full armor, six hamburgers, and a couple random things. That is ALL you can hold! It makes it frustrating because you will be constantly throwing away items, or calling up Escargo Express, which is a service you can use to store your items. And even when you use Escargo Express, they will only take 3 items per call. In Earthbound, there are no random battles. You can see the sprites running around, and bumping into them will force you into a fight. If you run into the enemies back it will allow you to have an extra hit at the beginning of the battle, but the same can be said for him if he catches you from behind. These little things will allow you to use a bit more strategy before going into battle then random turn based battles from games like Final Fantasy, for example.

Graphically, the games colorful style fits the game very well, although the Super Nintendo could definitely pump out much better visuals. There is not much animation happening either, besides characters walking about, so don't expect anything too spectacular in this department. Earthbound shows off a lot of different diverse landscapes, and you will see everything -- snowy areas, forests, deserts, sunny beaches -- all very colorful and vibrant. Its hard to complain about the mediocre graphics of the game, because it feels like that is what they was going for anyways, as odd as that may sound. There are lots of areas to explore, as it is a fairly long game. When in battle, all of the enemies are still pictures, and the backgrounds are not of the area you are in but some random colors. Its a shame, because outside of battles the areas look great, and to have them show that in battle would have been better then just colors.

As the game is a funny, wacky game, it would only seem fit that the music fits this description as well. The tunes in the game are just stellar, maybe even the greatest amongst games from its time. Most of the tunes are pretty lively, and quite memorable. There is every type of music you can think of in there, from crazy space techno to classic blues. There is a band in the game called the Runaway 5 (which you will find out is an obvious parody of The Blues Brothers) and anytime they are around, you are guaranteed to hear some great music from them. As you play through the game you will probably find yourself humming along to the music, and even possibly when your not even playing the game. The sound effects are pretty solid as well, especially when you get a critical hit (or SMASSSSHHH! as the game likes to call it). Everything works, and I can't stress enough how fantastic everything sounds.

I just want to end this by saying, if you love RPGs, you owe it to yourself to try it. Despite its lackluster battle system and item management, this game is is absolutely lovable. You can get a good 50 hours out of the game if you explore everything, and why wouldn't you want to? The graphics are sharp and colorful, the music is outstanding, and you will want to read what every character has to say until the very end. Earthbound is a game that doesn't take itself too seriously, so you shouldn't either.

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Comments and criticisms are appreciated! :)