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Earthbound

Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Nintendo
Reviewer: ViviOrnitierIX Released: 1995
Gameplay: 93% Control: N/A
Graphics: 82% Sound/Music: 92%
Story: 97% Overall: 94%


The entire fate of the universe lies in the hands of four teenagers, three boys and one girl. Doesn't sound much different from any other RPG, right? Did I fail to mention that in order to save the planet the teens must brave out of control taxi cabs, crows that pilfer through your items, new age retro hippies, the occasional UFO, and to top it all off they save the world armed with weapons and carrying armor you can probably find lying around the house, such as bracelets, rabbits' feet, pop guns, baseball bats, construction helmets, and yep, you guessed it, a few frying pans have made their way out of the kitchen. You have wandered into the world of Earthbound. Earthbound is hailed as one of the best RPG's of the glory days (the SNES) by many gamers, known to the entire RPG community as a rather large cult hit. But does Earthbound truly live up to these praises? Well, my little hunky-dory review will be judging just that.

The year is 199X. A quiet town in Eagleland, Onett, has turned in for the night. Sleeping soundly in his bed in the comfort of his own room, Ness snores rather loudly, dreaming. He is soon jolted out of his blissful sleep, and an earth rocking crash shatters his dream. Startled and worried for his family, he shoots up, his hair a mess, and goes to check on his sister. She is already up and about in the hallway, shooting questions out of her mouth as fast as she can think of them. Ness then goes down the stairs to see how his mother is doing. She is a wreck, panicking, frantically pacing about. As soon as she sees Ness, she immediately demands him to change out of his clothes and see what's happening. Ness returns to his room and changes into a striped T-Shirt, a pair of shorts, and places his favorite baseball cap, the one given to him by his father when he was just born. Ness then leaves his home, only to see the once quiet hills of Onett are now busy with policeman putting up roadblocks. He asks the closest policeman for information about what's happening; who tells him a meteorite has actually landed on the top of Mt. Onett. Ness's curiosity has sparked, and he climbs up the mountain for further investigation, only to be turned away by even more roadblocks and police officers. There is one thing he notices while he's up here... his next-door neighbor Pokey running about trying to pass through the roadblock. Although Ness would never admit it, Pokey doesn't look much different from a pig, being a bit more corpulent than other boys. His nose is even upturned like a snout of a pig! An officer asking him to try and get Pokey out of their way then approaches Ness. Ness agrees to try and he asks Pokey if he knows what's going on. Pokey gives him no new information and only says he'll inform Ness when he hears of anything new.

Ness heads back to his home down the mountain, where his mother waits for him nervously. After Ness tells her of the events, she tells him to go to bed and wait until the morning for any news. About two hours further into the night, Ness awakens to the sound of a rather annoying knock. He again heads down the stairs to see his mother and sister complaining about the noise, apparently forgetting how to open the front door. Ness answering the rhythmic knocking to the face of Porky... er... Pokey stared back at him impatiently, as if to say what took you so long. After he has a laugh as Ness's messy hair, Pokey gives Ness some news, not about the meteorite, but of his own dilemma. Pokey has lost his little brother Picky when he was gawking at the meteorite. After a plea for help and a threat of stabbing if he doesn't, Ness agrees to help Pokey, being the good neighbor that he is. Ness again changes into something a bit more comfortable and he, Pokey, and his dog, King, leave for the mountaintop. Thankfully for Ness, he is able to communicate well with his trusty, though often wimpy, canine.

The police have all gone home, but now the hills are littered with runaway dogs, snakes, and crows, all of which seem to be attacking Ness and Pokey for no reason at all, as if they are being controlled by some unseen, malicious force. Ness fends them off with a cracked bat he found in his sister's room while Pokey cowers behind him, using Ness as a shield, and King bites and tackles his way, helping the humans. They reach the top of the mountain, not a policeman in sight. As they make their way across the hill to look for Picky, King hears an animal let out a frightening howl that, well, frightens him enough to make him run back home. Ness lets out a sigh and continues his search for Picky, ignoring the constant tugging on his shirt from Pokey and trying his best to avoid the heat from the nearby meteorite. They finally find Picky, sleeping under a tree, and after he cracks a joke about Pokey's flee from the meteorite, the three head off, but not without some trouble. Pokey notices a buzzing sound and asks Ness if he can hear it, but before he can reply, the meteorite begins to crack open and a beam of bright, blinding yellow light shoots out. A small, insect like creature emerges from the light and begins to talk. He tells Ness that he is Buzz Buzz, and he has come from ten years in the future, where all is devastation due to an alien force known as Giygas. Buzz Buzz then tells Ness of a prophecy handed down from something called the Apple of Enlightenment may be the key to their salvation. The Apple of Enlightenment says that Giygas will be one day defeated by a group of three boys and one girl.

After he wraps up this story, Buzz Buzz, Picky, Pokey, and Ness head back to Pokey's house to deliver the two boys back home, hopefully to an empty one. As they near their houses, another light shoots from the sky. But instead of another insect, a strange silver headless being steps out and announces that he will destroy Buzz Buzz and the by he is traveling with. With the help of Buzz Buzz's psychic powers, Ness and company are able to defeat the being known as the Starman Jr. Buzz Buzz warns that this will only be the beginning of Giygas's attempt at stopping Ness and he must face all of these challenges with his own strength. At long last, Ness is able to return Picky and Pokey home, but unfortunately, their parents have returned just in time to give them both a punishment they won't soon forget. As their father quietly... well... beats the two boys, their mother apologizes to Ness for any trouble they might have caused. Buzz Buzz then makes a fatal mistake. He lands in the woman's hair, which makes her respond by swatting him, and bringing him within an inch to his life. As Buzz Buzz dies, he tells Ness one final secret to winning the fight against Giygas. He tells Ness that he must travel the planet, seeking the eight sanctuary spots, which will amplify Ness's power enough to defeat Giygas. His final strength is handing Ness the Sound Stone, which will record the eight melodies at each of these points. And with that Buzz Buzz dies, and Ness's adventure begins.

And with that, the story of Earthbound begins. Earthbound is not an RPG of deep sadness, a tale of a young boy finding his own identity as he saves the world. Earthbound has the most basic of plots: defeat the bad guy to save the world. But the way Earthbound executes this story is done so well that it makes up for the clichéd plot. Earthbound takes the usual plot and turns into a humorous adventure. To be rather blunt, it may be the first RPG to make a fart joke. Throughout your journey in Eagleland, you'll fight a large cast of enemies ranging from a local band of thugs who hang out at a local arcade to the local police to a large titanic alien ant protecting one of the sanctuaries that you must acquire a melody from. In fact, there are points in the game where the story does take incredibly odd twists and turns but they work in the story extremely well. This is why Earthbound is hailed as one of the best RPG's of the SNES. Unconventional storylines can sometimes lead to disaster in an RPG, but Earthbound's story leads to a golden road of success, laughs, and a rare feeling of satisfaction when you beat this game the first time. Though the story seems a bit whacked out at times, you'll soon find yourself caring deeply for these characters, even if they aren't playable ones. From Paula's purity to Apple Kid's absentmindedness to the playful nature of the bubble monkey, these characters all make Earthbound one of the most enjoyable RPG's ever created.

The gameplay in Earthbound is a combination of Chrono Trigger's touch the enemy to fight with the battle system of Dragon Quest/Warrior. To initiate combat in the game, the player takes Ness and touches an enemy on the screen, be it a dog, a UFO, or an alien. The screen then shows a swirl, red, green, or black. Black equals an equal battlefield, neither side has the advantage, red equals the enemy has the advantage and strikes first, and green equals that you have the advantage and can attack first. This element is like that of Chrono Trigger. The element that resembles Dragon Quest/Warrior games is the actual battle system, how you fight enemies. After the swirl, the game brings you to first person perspective, the enemy then appears and the background turns into a floating abstract, psychedelic painting, with different patterns and colors weaving in and out of focus, again setting Earthbound different from other RPG's. The battle system, however, is somewhat like other RPG's. There are about four basic commands for most of your characters. These commands are Bash/Shoot, which is a normal attack with a weapon, Goods, which is an item select screen, Defend, which makes the character take up a defensive position to take less damage, and finally PSI, or Psychic Ability, which, in Earthbound, is the character' equivalent to magic in other RPG's. At the bottom of the screen you'll find each character's HP (Hit Points) and PP (Psychic Points) in what Earthbound likes to call a rolling meter. When you lose HP is battle, the meter rolls down subtracting HP. What is different about the meter though is that if you take a death dealing blow and it's rolling down, you can heal yourself with a healing item so long at your HP does not each zero before you heal. Not only can this be a life saver, but it also adds a bit more fun and a little bit of drama to battle, so to speak, as I found my self frantically pushing buttons to try and save my characters from getting knocked out from enemy attacks. The other commands you'll find while playing Earthbound are usually of little use though, which is where the game play falters a bit. Not to mention this game is very easy in later stages of the game. This battle system is enjoyable through out the duration of the game though.

The sound effects and music in Earthbound are nothing short of superb. Each of the pieces of music in Earthbound are very catchy and you'll find yourself humming them as you play. Each of the town themes are different, but most of the dungeon music is the same, though all of these selections are well done. My personal favorite is the Mr. Saturn Valley theme. As I first entered the village, I heard the Oom-Pah sounds, the clinks and clangs, and saw Mr. Saturn, an odd, alien time creature, for the first time. That was when I knew this game was awesome. Each of the music selections fits well with each town. The theme of Onett, the first town which is considerably more of a town than a city, is a upbeat and invigorating, Summers, a vacation resort, has a relaxing slow beat, and as a mentioned above, Saturn Valley's theme definitely plays on the weirdness factor. The music is Earthbound holds up well to the music in most of today's RPGs. Sound effects are also helpful through out the game. Though they aren't as well done as games of today, more likely due to the limitations of the SNES than not, they do manage to get the job done. A crash is heard when a critical hit is pulled out in battle, allies have a ring-like tone when attacking in battle while enemies have a deeper tone, and you hear a fanfare when you level up, a trumpet sound when you learn to use a new psychic power. The sound and music in Earthbound is very well done and is as good, if not better, than the RPGs of today.

Now we've come to the graphics in Earthbound, not where the game shines. The graphics in Earthbound are very mediocre and average to say the least. Earthbound is a very colorful and bright world. As with most RPGs, character sprites reappear in town very often. The game is also what most RPG fans would call super deformed. If you don't know what super deformed is, it means that characters or monsters appear smaller out of battle than in battle, which is what most RPGs were like on the SNES. A little annoyance is that the game can suffer from a bit of slowdown if there are too many enemies are on the screen at once, but that can be easily looked over. The thing about Earthbound's graphics though is that even the spell graphics are pretty lame. Most spells are made up of flashing lines and shapes, which are rather poor. Also, there aren't a lot of different monsters, most are just color swapped and on screen renditions of enemies are sometimes the same, so you can't tell what you're fighting. The battle graphics could have been done better, but the overworld graphics are perfect for a game like Earthbound, 2D graphics that everyone loves from the SNES.

Overall, Earthbound is a game that shines brightly among the great RPGs of the SNES and of RPGs today to boot. It's never dull storyline is filled with humor which doesn't take away from the actual saving the world storyline at all, the gameplay, definitely the most important aspect of an RPG, is fun and easy to pick up for any gamer, and the music of Earthbound is one of the better soundtracks for a game I've heard in about seven years of my own personal RPG gaming, making this one the best RPGs ever created let alone for the SNES. Despite it's shortcomings, the graphical blunders, the below average sound effects, the often easy gameplay, it remains one of my favorite games of all time, and a more than worthy addition to a video gamers roster of games. Hopefully one day, Nintendo will once again attempt to create a sequel worthy to the name of Earthbound. Earthbound more than deserves a sequel; it deserves a medal for showing that RPGs don't have to be conventional to be a masterpiece.

ViviOrnitierIX

The intro screen, lookin' good.

Mr. Saturn, need I say more?







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