The moment was when I was playing as Jeff, the genius mechanic, and was stuck trying to figure out how to get past a large lake. I was armed with a pack of bubble gum, a couple of broken toy guns, and a monkey. I gave the monkey a piece of gum and he blew a bubble balloon and flew away. He hovered over the lake with his bubble balloon until Nessie emerged from the water. Jeff, the monkey, and the pack of gum then enjoyed an elegant cruise on the back of Nessie. It was this moment when I realized I was bat-shit crazy in love with Earthbound.
Earthbound was released in 1995 and is a traditional turn-based RPG. The story revolves around the crazy events of a crashed meteorite and the destiny of a young child named Ness. Ness and 3 other friends are tasked with saving the world from the destroyer of world, Gigyas. As the game progresses, Gigyas’ influence spreads and his evil is able to possess anything and everything. Ness and his friends can be attacked from all sorts of enemies ranging from cranky old ladies to piles of puke to poltergeist street signs. The story revolves more around the character interactions than the actual plot, which remains paper thin. To combat this, Earthbound’s writing and dialogue is fantastic. The characters Ness meets along his journey are hilarious and completely bonkers. The game’s setting takes place in suburban America, but it seems Japan has no idea what America was actually like. Earthbound forms a strange, twisted version of America that was built on Japanese’s perception of American pop culture. It creates an America that is eerily similar to the pop culture obsessed America of today’s modern age. The writing and setting are some of the many ways Earthbound was incredibly ahead of its time.
Earthbound’s turn-based battles are a successful experiment with the RPG standards of the time, coughFinalFantasycough. The battles are executed in first person and have some non-traditional elements. The health box is really cool allowing Ness to combat fatal blows if the player can heal themselves before the health goes to zero. Considering the game is also incredibly difficult this tension gets amped up making every enemy interaction incredibly satisfying. Ness and his friends also use non-traditional weapons when taking out enemies. Ness wields baseball bats, while Paula uses frying pans. These weapons keep the tongue firmly planted within Earthbound’s cheek, but do little to change Earthbound’s horrible accuracy rating. One of the largest reasons for Earthbound’s insane difficulty is the accuracy of the characters. Ness and his friend will miss their attacks 40%-60% of the time. It helps adding stress and panic to the fights, but leads to many crucial moments being deflated by cries of “YOU’VE GOT TO BE SHITTING ME!”
Earthbound’s difficulty is brutal, but fair. Although, some strange design decisions make the game more difficult than it should be. The inventory is incredibly small with many key items taking up space with the player unclear on if they’re ever going to use it again. The enemy respawn rate is incredibly high with enemies appearing on screen mere seconds after defeating them. The difficulty is stressful, but the goal to get stronger is firmly planted within the player’s brain and makes the grind surprisingly fun. Facing lower level enemies is considerably less stressful since the battles are skipped automatically. This mechanic is genius with battles going straight to the “You Won!” screen and by-passing a ton of needless fights. It’s a shame this mechanic hasn’t been implemented in modern day RPGs since it is such a damn good design choice.
The game’s presentation is childish, but fits Earthbound’s tone of “I’m completely bonkers.” What seals the deal though is the game’s soundtrack, which sways between honky tonky jingles and strange sci-fi noises. Earthbound isn’t afraid to dive into weird psychedelic with trippy backgrounds and weird neon aesthetics making an unpredictable appearance to the delight of the player. Moonside is the perfect example taking an existing level and turning it on its head. Neon lights, teleportation and strange enemies will melt your mind as Earthbound constantly changes.
Earthbound is a traditional turn-based RPG, but it is like nothing you’ve ever played before. The brutal difficulty is matched by innovative design and the unpredictable nature of this game will surely bring a smile to your face. The writing is witty, the presentation is trippy, the scenarios are insane, and Pokey is a douche. Unfortunately, I just realized how irrelevant this review is since nothing can quite possibly prepare you for the insanity of Earthbound. The only thing I can say that holds weight is play this game right now. Earthbound is a classic that is greatly ahead of its time.