Many of the RPGs on the Super Nintendo took place in a medieval fantasy setting. Many of the characters were knights and soldiers who carried swords, and wore armor and used magic. While there were definitely some variations, a lot of them were pretty similar. Earthbound was very different, opting instead for a modern sci-fi theme and taking place in a world mostly resembling current-day America. With its unique setting and battle mechanics, it did a lot to set itself apart from its contemporaries.
The Role You Play
You spend the majority of the game playing as Ness, a young boy from the town of Onett. He fights with a baseball bat and learns psychic powers similar to magic. He is told early on by a bee named Buzz Buzz that travels back in time that he will fulfill a prophecy to save the world along with a girl and two other boys. Those three others are Paula, a young girl who specializes in elemental psychic powers, Jeff, an inventor who can repair broken items and repurpose them to use as weapons, and Poo, a young prince from the faraway kingdom of Dalaam training in the ways of mindfulness.
The world of Eagleland is under attack by a villain named Giygas. He is slowly corrupting the minds of the creatures of the world and driving them to attack people. He is also sending his army of robots and aliens to attack as well. Ness and his friends have been destined to save the world from Giygas’ destruction by traveling to eight ‘Your Sanctuary’ locations. After reaching each location, Ness has to gather the power of the world in the form of melody inside of a Sound Stone. With this newly acquired power, it will be enough to defeat Giygas.
Earthbound uses a fairly traditional turn-based combat system with a few added twists. Enemies appear on the overworld and you can engage them in combat by approaching them. You get an advantage in combat if you sneak up on them and a disadvantage if they sneak up on you.
As you travel throughout the world, you will encounter certain obstacles that require exploration and gathering the right items. These obstacles can include helping a band get out of its restrictive contract. Or it can also mean funding an up-and-coming inventor so he can build a device that can erase a large iron pencil-shaped statue that is blocking your path.
Some of the objectives in the game can take a bit of time to figure out. There isn’t always the clearest instruction on what you need to do and where you need to go. However, it can be figured out with a little bit of trial and error. There can also be some incentive to explore the worlds to interact with people, find new characters, new items, new enemies, or even just level up more and unlock new abilities earlier on. With all that in mind, Earthbound averages out at about 15 hours in length.
Earthbound is an adventure through and through. Because it goes to so many locations, it has a lot of different songs in its soundtrack. It has multiple town themes to match the different styles of towns from big cities to tiny indigenous villages. There are multiple battle themes to match the variety of enemies from robots to insects to new-age retro hippies. It also has concert venues featuring performances from the popular lounge singer Venus and traveling blues band the Runaway Five.
One big variation is the rolling health meter which gradually lowers health after taking damage. If you take mortal damage that would otherwise knock out your character(s), you can save them by healing or finishing the combat before their health rolls to zero.
Earthbound takes advantage of this feature by including a lot of enemies that end combat by self-destructing and inflicting mortal damage on one or more of your party members when they are defeated. Therefore, it becomes important to remember to defeat them last.
The Talking Parts
There are a lot of characters to talk to throughout the game. Each one has a different personality or quirk to match their outward appearance. Most of them are basic supporting roles such as Ness’s parents and sister who help out in the adventure. Others are absolutely weird like the Mr. Saturns who speak in a very elementary dialect while incorporating onomatopoeias into every other line with a bizarre font to match. There are also the Tendas who are all very shy and say as much. There are many other conversations to be had, including a very unlucky band called the Runaway Five, a group of cultists obsessed with the color blue, a monkey who loves chewing gum, a literal pile of barf, and a dungeon maker who wants to turn himself into a dungeon just to name a few.
Z…We’ve Reached the End. Anything Else?
When Earthbound was first released, It came out with one of the most bizarre marketing campaigns ever. It had ads in Nintendo power magazines saying things like ‘this game stinks’ along with awful smelling scratch and sniff stickers. The game was also sold in an oversized box with a complete player’s guide. It was panned by critics who said that the easy combat and the mature humor didn’t match. As a result of all of this, the game didn’t sell well but has now obtained new recognition as a classic.
Earthbound is a true one-of-a-kind game for the Super Nintendo. There was never anything like it before and there has barely been anything like it since. It has been an inspiration for a lot of people and it continues to do so even to this day. Regardless of what critics have said about it before, Earthbound maintains its status as a classic today, and it very likely will for a long time.