EarthBound Review

January 21st, 2023 at 8:30:30 AM permalink
Mission146
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 20
Posts: 3153
Greetings!

One advantage of seemingly being unable to actually recover from Covid (current symptoms still mirror a really bad sinus infection) is that it affords time to finish video games. With that, I completed Earthbound earlier than I expected.

Game: EarthBound

System: Nintendo Switch

Release Year (on Switch) 2022

Original System: Super Nintendo

Original Release Year: 1994 (Titled, "Mother 2," in Japan) 1995 (As EarthBound, in the U.S.)

"PK Fire...PK Fire...Pk Fire...DAAAHHH!!!!"

That's the introduction to Ness that most players got, but not from Earthbound, but rather, Super Smash Bros.' titles. Ness is an adorable playable character in that series of fighting games, which uses multiple characters from Nintendo (and other) properties. Interestingly, "SMASHHHH!!!," (or close to that) is the in-game message in EarthBound signifying a critical physical attack.

Perhaps ironically, Ness isn't actually capable of using PK Fire. It also wouldn't be called, "PK," in EarthBound, but rather, "PSI."

EarthBound was poorly received initially, but has developed an ever-expanding cult following and is retrospectively regarded as one of the greatest games of all-time. Other than some quintessential RPG elements, EarthBound broke RPG conventions in all ways imaginable. A poor marketing campaign is blamed for the game's underperformance in the United States, but one must also assume that players weren't impressed with it at the time.

Characters include Ness, Paula, Jeff and Poo

Characters

Ness: The protagonist and hero of the story, Ness grew up in Onett, and, when a meteorite crashed near his home, found himself embarked on the adventure of his life...with nothing more than a baseball bat and a few PSI spells. You'll enter a world created by Ness' mind late game, wherein there's a little character development, but what you see is what you get---an eager and optimistic red-capped kid off to save the world!

Paula: The daughter of a couple who own a preschool in Twoson, Paula is this game's equivalent of a Black Mage. Her special abilities include terrible physical stats and getting kidnapped.

Jeff: Hailing from Winters, Jeff is the son of a Professor and an apple that fell near the tree. Throughout the game, Jeff will take some apparent broken junk he finds and craft it into powerful weapons, mostly various guns and blasters. In the rare event you use battle items, he will probably be the one doing it because (given his lack of PSI powers) he is just a damage dealer otherwise.

Poo: I think this might have been meant to be, "Po," but maybe not. He's kind of this game's monk and hails from Dalaam. His community and backstory are fairly stereotypical, but not disrespectfully so, in my estimation. He's pretty useless until very late in the game when he learns PSI StarStorm and is woefully under leveled when he joins the party. His level will eventually catch up, somewhat and he can be a decent physical attacker as well as PSI user.

Setting

The game opens in the town of Onett, located in Eagleland, which is something of a parody on the United States. We start in Ness' house, with Ness being awoken by a meteorite crashing nearby. After a knock at the door, the first of the game's parties (all players except Ness being temporary) is formed and what amounts to a tutorial on battle mechanics unfolds.

Throughout the game, party members will be added until such time that the permanent party of four is achieved. The player will progress through towns and other communities, of varying weirdness, and will solve puzzles and complete quests in each of these to advance throughout the game.

An interesting element of EarthBound, which I give high praise, is that the story will result in players going to areas where they have already been in order to complete existing quests, or occasionally, to start totally new quests. In many RPG's, overall game progression is strictly linear, so this presents an interesting dynamic and is a credit to the game.

Battle Systems

The simple graphics of the game had been panned, and more than that, the combat system is reminiscent of much older titles, such as the original Final Fantasy. The battle screen shows the enemy and pop-up windows at the beginning of each turn such that all playable characters must decide what actions they will perform for the turn at once. The results of player actions, and enemy actions, are described in text boxes at the top of the screen.

Even by 1995 standards, this would be an antiquated way of doing it. Compared with Final Fantasy VI (released in the United States, in 1994, as Final Fantasy III) it doesn't even hold a candle in terms of battle presentation. In Final Fantasy VI, the playable characters had unique graphics and would perform attacks, and other abilities, on screen; beyond that, FFVI even went as far as to have unique graphics associated with different weapon types, as well as with different weapons of the same type.

In EarthBound, the playable characters do not even appear onscreen during battles, which makes it a fairly easy game to dismiss.

However, EarthBound does feature a few unique mechanics that players, even at that time, would probably have found either interesting or off-putting. The first mechanic is the fact that the player must decide actions for all characters at the beginning of each turn; the order that playable character and enemy actions are performed is based largely on the, "Speed," stat, so for common enemies, a big part of the strategy is learning the order in which characters (including enemies) will take actions. The good news for players, particularly in boss fights, is that the priority order will remain mostly constant.

Another unique battle mechanic is what I will term, "Rolling HP," which might be what it's actually called. With that, a playable character can be dealt, "Mortal damage," however, they can sometimes be spared by getting, "Lifeup," (The equivalent of, 'Cure,' in most other games) prior to the HP bar hitting 0. Of course, I made the mistake of using, "Healing," multiple times in battle, but Healing is meant to cure status ailments, not recover health.

Here are the battle options:

Attack-Pretty obvious, this is how you attack. Provided you are sufficiently leveled, most of the game can be played simply spamming the attack button.

PSI-Three of the four playable party characters are capable of using PSI, which is the equivalent of, "Magic," in most games. The third character you will acquire in the game cannot use PSI.

PSI Offense: Ness uses PSI Rockin', a non-elemental attack. Evidently, PSI Flash is an ability (which can be used by Ness) that gives the enemy status ailments, but I never tried it. Paula's PSI Offense is entirely elemental-based, with fire being able to target a row of enemies whilst her other spells hit individual targets. Poo also has PSI Elemental attacks, but learns, "PSI Starstorm," late in the game, which is similar to PSI Rockin'.

PSI Recover: Ness' abilities include Lifeup (Cure) and Healing (Removes status ailments). Poo can also do lifeup and healing. Both Paula and Poo can do PSI Magnet, which draws PP (Psychic Power) from enemies. The top healing spell can also (sometimes) revive a fallen teammate.

PSI Teleport: This is an ability exclusive to Ness (nobody else would ever need it) and is acquired late in the game. The teleport ability enables the player to teleport to any area where they have been.

PSI Assist: Finally, PSI Assist abilities (which I almost never used) include Hypnosis, which puts an enemy(ies) to sleep, Shield (prevents physical damage and reflects as much as half of that damage), Brainshock (An ability Poo has that causes an enemy to, "Feel Strange," similar to, "Confuse," in other games), Paralysis (Does what it says on the box) as well as Offense and Defense Up, which is used exclusively by Paula, along with Shield.

Goods: This command is similar to, "Items," in other games as some in-game items may be used in battle.

Defend: Causes the defending player to take less physical damage that turn and for the rolling HP meter to slow down, if decreasing.

Auto Fight: Does what it says. Useful for grinding, but make sure you're going to win. Can be cancelled mid-battle.

SPECIAL ABILITIES):

Pray (Paula): This causes a random effect, so isn't my cup of tea. That said, it will be needed at or near the end of the game for reasons unrelated to what it normally does.

Spy (Jeff): This effect displays the enemy's offense and defense, as well as any elemental weaknesses, should the enemy have any. I guess it can also be used to steal an item if the enemy is carrying one (only used it once, so didn't know).

Mirror (Poo): This causes Poo to become one of the enemies being faced, but naturally, does not work for boss battles. I never used it.

Flee: Ness can also cause the party to attempt to flee battle, this might also be called, "Run away," only used it once or twice.

Overall, the battle system is pretty good and offers players the ability to play around with stuff, should they wish. Paula and Poo will be weak physical attackers, most of the game, but my tendency was wanting to save PP (Magic) for bosses, so most of my battles consisted of spamming physical attacks and having Ness recover everyone's HP after battle, if needed.

Gameplay

This game plays really well, for the most part, and early grinding is highly rewarded. If you care to take the time to get Ness to Level 40, or so, before you even get Paula, then you could cruise through about 75% of the game with him alone...even though that's not actually an option.

One downfall to the gameplay, however, is that there is no playable character level scaling. What that means is that Paula and Jeff will start at Level 1, regardless of Ness' level when they first join the party, and since Poo joins the party more than halfway through the game, and starts at something like Level 10, he is woefully under leveled compared to his comrades.

A HUGE positive in this game is that fights against weak enemies (relative to your current level) can mostly be avoided. When you reach a particular level, (which, unfortunately, is based either on the lowest level of your party or average level) enemies will actively run away from you. At that point, you can approach them from behind and, if there are only one or two of them, the game will automatically give you the win and any associated EXP. This is great for level grinding.

In theory, enemies could be avoided, but that's mostly not the case. If you are not over leveled, while enemies do appear on screen, they will approach you and it is quite rare to be able to totally avoid a fight. In many instances, the path to where you have to go is simply too narrow, so you must fight them anyway.

Between the above and the, "Battle Systems," I would consider the gameplay really solid. Fights can be fun and the vast majority of them are over in one or two turns. Graphics representing the playable characters conducting actions would have been a plus, and were certainly the expectation at the time, but I had no trouble getting into the battle system and you eventually stop noticing anyway. After all, who really still enjoys character attack animations deep into an RPG in the 16-bit era, anyway?

I suppose some people who replay this for a, "Low Level Playthrough," have beaten this with characters in the Level 40 range; my hat's off to them.

For most players, one downside of this game is that late game level grinding (which is fortunately set to be reasonably fast as late game enemies award boatloads of EXP) is NOT rewarded, but rather, mandatory. I think I had Ness in the 80's and other characters in the 70's and regular enemies in the final parts of this game can absolutely WRECK you just by virtue of you catching unfavorable '"RNG." In fact, one set of enemies (in what is basically the game's final world) is arguably more difficult than the final fight if they perform an unfavorable sequence of moves.

I'm going to chalk that up to being a slight knock against the gameplay because, while the final stage of these sorts of games should be challenging, it should be because there's some unique strategy that needs to be worked out---not by the game just turning the b$%^&&!t meter up to 11 on enemies spamming attacks powerful enough to one shot half of your party if you can't cure them in time. Usually, this will be before your actions have been completed (because these enemies also have a high Speed stat), so by the time you get to execute actions again (and the fact that only two characters are capable of curing) it might already be too late.

Miscellaneous Gripes

Get used to seeing, "MISS," a great deal of the time. While I give EarthBound credit for somewhat complex mechanics in terms of accuracy and enemy dodging, the randomness of it can be more than annoying, at times, especially in battles that you would otherwise cruise through. Combined with the bu&%$4!t dial being cranked up to 11 on enemy attacks, this aspect can also make late game problematic as the player loses to what amounts to, "Really bad luck," against common enemies.

The fact that playable character levels don't, "Scale," with those already in your party. This is most apparent with Poo, who spends more of his time than not, after you get him, being completely useless for anything. You're 80-90% through the game by the time he starts being even remotely useful.

The inventory system is somewhat realistic, and consequently, sucks. Player characters can only hold fourteen items apiece (56 items for a full party) and the four things that they have equipped count towards this number. Poo doesn't use equipment most of the game, but still, that means you can only hold 44 items. Fewer, actually, because Ness must keep possession of the Sound Stone and Receiver Phone (which is technically understandable for realism purposes, but so unnecessary) the better part of the game.

The other annoying aspect of the inventory system is that each playable character's inventory is treated individually. In other words, if you want to put a piece of equipment on a character, then you must move it to that character's personal inventory with the, "Give," function. If you want to use an in-battle item, then it better belong to the character who you are trying to get to use it.

Again, I suppose the Inventory system represents something closer to reality, but it still blows. Even as a habitual inventory minimalist in RPG's, I found myself using consumables for no reason just to have somewhere to put items found in dungeons due to inventory being full.

Paula is simply too physically weak, even for a black mage equivalent. At Level 99, I think late game enemies could still deal mortal damage in one, with the right attack. She's also not worth trying to keep alive, most fights (until late in the game when her physical attack isn't total garbage)...but you have to keep her alive, or she won't level up and will be decreasingly worth trying to keep alive!

Tone

The best aspect of this game is its tone. EarthBound is relentlessly silly, whimsical, humorous and fun!

EarthBound also incorporated a ton of elements that you didn't see at that time, such as fourth wall breaks and other winks at the player. The game packed humor in some of the dialogue unrelated to fourth wall breaks, as well, such as with the bizarre and kooky, Mr. Saturn tribe.

The only way not to get, at least, the occasional laugh out of EarthBound is for your heart to have gone completely cold.

Besides, have you ever really lived unless you've, "Tamed," random animals/creatures/monsters and caused people, such as police officers, to go, "Back to Normal," after bludgeoning them so that you can go to a payphone, call your dad, and have him put money into your bank account as a reward for smiting these enemies of all sorts? I think not. Of course, if you save, your, 'Dad,' will encourage you (another fourth wall break) to go to bed and not 'work' so hard all the time.

OVERALL

Overall, I think EarthBound deserves all of the praise that it gets.

Aside from the late game B#^%$4!+ Index of 105.8, the annoying inventory system and one of the party's main characters being too difficult to keep alive, there's really nothing negative to be said about it. I could see where some hardcore RPG'ers would prefer tactically complex games with any number of different character classes, strategies and mechanics, but sometimes they should just kick their feet up, eat their favorite food and relax with some pure fun.

Also, massive props to the game's pair of translating directors as a massive percentage of the humor comes from in-game dialogue, signs and messages. Had the translation work been poor, or not conveyed the tone that the Japanese version had in mind, then this might have never even become a cult classic. I think it helps that the translation team consisted of one individual from each country.

For all the initial criticism it received, my take on EarthBound is that it is a game that became exactly what it set out to be; in that regard, it's nearly perfect.

I think people just weren't ready for it yet, but they are now.

Story: 10/10
Characters: 6/10 (Fine, but not meaningfully developed)
Gameplay: 7/10 (Inventory system sucks, late game BS)
Depth: 10/10 (For the time. Going back to previous locations is cool and the world can still be explored after beating the game, with some new dialogue.)
Mechanics/Systems: 9/10 (Takes getting used to, but I like the battle system.)

OVERALL: 8.4/10

I would consider this game a, "Must-Play," for RPG fans or Retro Game fans, and a, "Strongly Recommend," for anyone else. I don't know about it being the best game of all-time, but if I made a Top 50 list, it would almost certainly be there somewhere.
"War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen..let us give them all they want." William T. Sherman
January 21st, 2023 at 8:38:32 AM permalink
Mission146
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 20
Posts: 3153
EarthBound Review (For Terapined---JK)

It's really good.
"War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen..let us give them all they want." William T. Sherman
January 21st, 2023 at 8:45:55 AM permalink
terapined
Member since: Aug 6, 2014
Threads: 55
Posts: 11119
Quote: Mission146
EarthBound Review (For Terapined---JK)

It's really good.

Thanks
I used to like these types of games back in the day. If it's cheap enough in the eshop, like under 5 bucks, may buy it.
I watched a video and always wondered where Nes came from. He's in Smash Brothers so I know him but in a smash brothers way.
Sometimes we live no particular way but our own - Grateful Dead "Eyes of the World"
January 21st, 2023 at 8:58:21 AM permalink
terapined
Member since: Aug 6, 2014
Threads: 55
Posts: 11119
WTF
Its not out till next month on the Switch
Absurd. This ain't Forza using the 100% of console CPU. It needs so little I should be able to play it on my phone
Hey Mission
How about reviewing games I can play NOW :-)
Sometimes we live no particular way but our own - Grateful Dead "Eyes of the World"
January 21st, 2023 at 9:01:37 AM permalink
Mission146
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 20
Posts: 3153
Quote: terapined
WTF
Its not out till next month on the Switch
Absurd. This ain't Forza using the 100% of console CPU. It needs so little I should be able to play it on my phone
Hey Mission
How about reviewing games I can play NOW :-)


I wasn't aware of that. If you have the Nintendo Switch Online basic membership, then all you need to do is download the Super Nintendo package and Earthbound is one of the available games. If you're referring to, "Earthbound Beginnings," I have no idea as I never played that one.
"War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen..let us give them all they want." William T. Sherman
January 21st, 2023 at 9:07:24 AM permalink
Mission146
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 20
Posts: 3153
Quote: terapined
Quote: Mission146
EarthBound Review (For Terapined---JK)

It's really good.

Thanks
I used to like these types of games back in the day. If it's cheap enough in the eshop, like under 5 bucks, may buy it.
I watched a video and always wondered where Nes came from. He's in Smash Brothers so I know him but in a smash brothers way.


You're welcome! If you ever liked this style of game at all, then I am quite positive you won't be disappointed with this one. I have no idea what they do/would charge for it as a stand-alone title.
"War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen..let us give them all they want." William T. Sherman
January 21st, 2023 at 10:07:42 AM permalink
terapined
Member since: Aug 6, 2014
Threads: 55
Posts: 11119
Quote: Mission146
I wasn't aware of that. If you have the Nintendo Switch Online basic membership, then all you need to do is download the Super Nintendo package and Earthbound is one of the available games. If you're referring to, "Earthbound Beginnings," I have no idea as I never played that one.

weird
looks like if you dont subscribe to the online service, you cant play
Sometimes we live no particular way but our own - Grateful Dead "Eyes of the World"
January 21st, 2023 at 10:13:59 AM permalink
Mission146
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 20
Posts: 3153
That is weird, but Switch is like that sometimes. I'd probably encourage you to check out the NES and SNES packages that come with the Online basic membership to see if you think it would be worth getting for a month. Other SNES games include Super Punch-Out, Mario All-Stars, most Kirby titles and Legends of Zelda: A Link to the Past, to name a few. Select Nintendo Titles are Tecmo Bowl, Punch-Out and the first two Legends of Zelda games.

There are a number of other titles for both systems, of course, but I'm not going to list them all.
"War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen..let us give them all they want." William T. Sherman
January 21st, 2023 at 11:24:28 AM permalink
Mission146
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 20
Posts: 3153
Just for you, Terapined, here's a video review I found (Seems like you may have read mine, this time, but this video review is very good):



I either agree or don't disagree with all of this. This reviewer also gets more into the music than I do, and found some elements in the actual battle screens that she really enjoyed. Honestly, the only time the music (which always fit the sort of, 'Theme,' of the area) really jumped out at me was the peppy battle music when fighting the weaker enemies.
"War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen..let us give them all they want." William T. Sherman
January 21st, 2023 at 4:03:24 PM permalink
gamerfreak
Member since: Feb 19, 2018
Threads: 4
Posts: 521
Original Earthbound SNES cartridges are very valuable/collectible

https://www.pricecharting.com/game/super-nintendo/earthbound