21 Years ago in the world of the 90’s North America received in its shores a game called EarthBound on the Super Nintendo. The story of a 10 year old boy called Ness and his 3 little friend’s journey to save Earth from an alien menace called Giygas. Yet, back then there were few who heard the tale of Ness and his friends. Earthbound sold poorly and the world might never truly know the reason for this poor reception. Perhaps it was due to a failed marketing campaign which stated that Earthbound “stunk” or maybe the mechanics of the game proved to be ahead of its time. But, for whatever reason EarthBound was relegated to the confines of a commercial failure.
This is actually rather sad because Earthbound is a truly interesting game. The mechanics and presentation were unique for an RPG title. EarthBound was actually a modern RPG in a genre that was plagued by medieval castles and wizardry, EB instead offered us modern buildings and psychokinetic children that could set you ablaze with their minds instead of a wand. Rather than collecting jewels or stars, Earthbound wanted you to collect the pieces of a melody in order to create a song which could quell Giygas’ fury. In EarthBound you couldn’t fight a roving band of thieves or soldiers in a castle, but you could, however battle a gang of hooligans and corrupt policemen. Yes, EarthBound did not even bother offering you an airship, but you could ride a bicycle (pertaining you were alone in the party and this was rare). EB was a truly unique experience that was ahead of its time and thus suffered for it on the western hemisphere.
But, what can be said about EarthBound that has not been said in the past? The game rose in recognition with the appearance of Ness on Super Smash Brothers for the N64 and since then has become extremely sought after. That was until Nintendo decided to finally release on the Virtual Console for the Wii U in 2014 as an attempt to boost the dwindling sales of the console. The game sold terrifically and even encouraged Nintendo to release in the U.S. the prequel to this game under the title of EarthBound Beginnings.
I was one of the many players who purchased it on the virtual console and played through all 40+ hours of the game required to finish it. I couldn’t wait to see what was hidden inside this jewel of a game, but unlike many players I was actually not particularly impressed. While the journey throughout the world of EarthBound was enjoyable; it didn’t particularly appeal to my tastes in games. I didn’t try to see past the story in order to find some hidden meaning about Giygas being a human fetus (or something similar), and despite having researched the inspiration behind Shigesato Itoi’s creation, the game was simply another RPG in which you saved the world (to me). While the modern setting added a lot of flair to EarthBound, it wasn’t enough to make me replay the game. Even some of the battles in EarthBound felt almost unusually punishing without grinding and especially the battle within the mind of Ness felt like a hassle. There were even moments in the game where not having the guide would have been akin to running into a wall, the final fight was almost impossible to figure out until I read that you needed to pray ten times to win the game (it is alluded to vaguely and only makes sense after you finished the game already).
None of this means that I consider EarthBound as a bad game. I think quite the opposite in fact. EarthBound was certainly a great game, but it just did not care to my tastes in RPGs. The wonderful music, fun (if albeit frustrating at times) battles, and cute graphics were certainly a joy to witness during my play through though. EarthBound is a wonderful relic in the history of gaming, and while it never received the loved it deserved 21 years ago, it certainly has now.