This is a very special game for me. I remember when this game came out – I didn’t buy it right away. A friend of mine from camp told me how was awesome it was – how you could stay in hotels, order pizzas, and how some of the enemies were actually vomit! The game also came in a huge BIG box. Despite this – I didn’t end up buying the game like many other people. Well into the Nintendo 64 era (after I had sold my Super Nintendo), I slowly began to hear again about how awesome it was. Eventually, I saw it used at my local video game store – complete in box for $20! I temporarily traded my Nintendo 64 with a friend for his Super Nintendo, and quickly became enthralled in one of the best RPGs of the time!
The game follows the story of an unassuming small-town psychic boy named Ness from a western country! A meteorite crashes close to his house, and he and some of his friends are thrown into a story of friendship, self-discovery, and ultimately a battle with chaos itself! While the story might look simple at first glance, the more I play through this game, the more impactful and heartening it becomes – and the more relevant it is to todays world! The game also takes a more personal approach than many RPGs and incorporates many of the players favourite things such as food, activities, and even the player’s actual name to bring them even further into the game experience – making for something truly special.
This game is a traditional Japanese RPG with turn-based battles, multiple party-members, menus, lots of exploration, and text-heavy story. Despite this, the infusion of creativity and humour makes the game feel anything but traditional with save-points replaced with telephones calls to “dad,” battles with aliens, cops, and giant piles of puke, and endlessly bizarre inventions!
Despite my loving this game – the inventory system is archaic – even for back in the 16-bit era. There is little way to organize your inventory system, and if you ran out of room, you needed to call someone by phone to pick stuff up for your (3 items max) which was annoying. The end result did not significantly reduce my enjoyment of the game, but was nevertheless noticeable.
Ness eventually gets 3 other team members and together work together to save the world. Each party member has strengths and weaknesses and are all very useful in battle in their own ways. Enemies are visualized on-screen in the over-world and beginning battle conditions (preemptive vs. surprise) are determined based on what direction Ness are facing when he encounters an enemy. Once in battle, all that is presented is the enemies in front of you and names and hp/mp for each of your characters. You select what commands to be completed (e.g., Physical Attack, PSI, Items, et cetera) and watched them play out on-screen.
A unique features of these battles is that even if a player is hit with a powerful attack that incapacitates them – if you heal them before their hit points reach zero (they quickly reduce overtime) you can actually safe your party member! This adds a level of tension and strategy that is rarely felt in turn-based RPGs and made from some thrilling battles! Also – when you become more powerful – you can run into enemies and automatically beat them without going into battle – a saving grace to speeds up overly easy battles!
The graphics are quintessential 16-bit graphics and endlessly charming – so much so that I have incorporated the characters into the very design of this website! While simple, the characters are oozing with personality, the battle sprites all look hilarious and detailed, and the explored regions are all varied and really caricature many of the worlds great cultures and wonders into interesting and explorable areas. The battle special effects are often psychedelic and fascinating to look at – and make battles all the more enjoyable.
The music is also timeless and unexpectedly emotional – especially closer to the end of game. The music effectively sets the frame for everything from “happy small-town” to “haunted pyramid” and “spooky underground base.” The game also employs some exceptional ambience sounds to further enhance many areas. The battle sounds are satisfying – especially the “SMMMMASSHHH” attacks!
In summary, Earthbound is a timeless RPG with a simple but profound story, surprisingly engaging battle mechanics, and graphics and music that retain their charm today. While it is an expensive cartridge to own, there are many ways to play it nowadays for a reasonable price including on the Nintendo eShop store and on the GBA. If you like RPGs and have never played it before – I highly recommend it. Overall, I give this game a 9/10 and my All-Time Top 10 tag! Go play it already!
Final Score: 9/10