Retro Game Review: Earthbound

Retro Game Review: Earthbound

Last updated on August 10th, 2015

 

This Game Stinks.

For those who aren’t aware, Earthbound is an RPG for the SNES. It’s part two of what is currently a trilogy of games known in Japan as the Mother franchise. While in Japan it had a decent number of sales, because of the marketing campaign and the American audience’s generally uncaring attitude toward rpgs at the time, the USA release had significantly less hype and sales. However, rather than losing out to father time, Earthbound is seen as a classic RPG even today. So why does this game stink?


 

Earthbound’s marketing campaign had this tagline because of the scratch and sniff section of the player guide that came with the box (from what I could tell). Indeed, when my father picked this up in my childhood, all he saw was a game about a child, so he figured it would be an easy game for me to play. Yet that large box (with a player’s guide included) held within it a secret treasure; my first game.

However, how does the nostalgia represent the game itself? Is this game’s stink a stink of master belch, a stink of trout yogurt, or perhaps a smell of hamburgers and skip sandwich DX with a side hint of homecooked steak? Let’s find out.

Graphics

What is there to say about the graphics of this game? Honestly when reviewing a retro game, the graphics are the least important feature (doubly so if it’s an RPG). Sure the graphics aren’t the best, but they aren’t the worst either. When compared to other SNES rpgs like Chrono Trigger or Dragon Quest V, I couldn’t argue that they’re superior to Chrono Trigger, but as for Dragon Quest V, they definitely win. Let’s break it down to simplify things a bit.

The character models are varied, with a long list of credits dedicated to the vast number of models that look extremely different. Very colorful and very unique, it was always clear that you were meant to see most of these models as individuals. Except Mr. Saturns, they all look the same to me because I’m racist against them. Oh boy, time for hate mail…

The graphics of the levels are 2-dimensional,  as is to be expected of most SNES games. The levels don’t necessarily look amazing, however they are rather immersive, with each area having fairly unique textures. Whether you’re chilling in winters or hot in summers, or maybe in a land in the clouds in Dalaam, you’re always in a colorful environment that stands out from the rest of the game.

Here’s where things don’t look quite as sweet. The effects of battles look very simplistic. While it’s obvious what each attack is based on how it looks and the text it gives you, it leaves it entirely to your imagination to decide what a pk fire alpha attack looks like or a pk rocking beta. While the enemies themselves are creative, that falls under the character models. The effects aren’t particularly good when compared to Chrono Trigger.

Earthbound’s graphics for the time exhibited good design practices in drawing you in, but falls short of being called truly great. All in all, I feel it deserves a 7/10 for the time’s capabilities.

Sound

The music in this game is incredible, and that’s that. Half of it is a nostalgic homage to American culture and the other half is just amazing in and of itself. Just like its predecessor, Mother, Earthbound is a treat for the ears. Every song is selected properly, and whether it’s Johnny B. Goode or the Flying Man song, I always find myself humming it along with the game. Even the most annoying sound in the game, which I won’t spoil if you haven’t played, is very well-placed. However, to be fair, that still has to be held against it. Even if a sound is meant to be annoying, players generally don’t want to be annoyed by something in game. Difficulty is debatable, but a sound? It’s hard to defend that.

This stinky game’s music, while incredible, does have some minor flaws. However, don’t let that keep you from enjoying the game’s soundtrack. I feel the homage-laden sound deserves a 9/10.

Story

Giygas, telekinetic time-traveling alien overlord, is attacking the entire world from all throughout history. Why? Go see Mother 1. What’s the ultimate outcome of this? Go see Mother 3. What’s important for this review is this game. You play as [Insert Name Here], who gathers his friends [Insert Name Here], [Insert Name Here], and [Insert Name Here], eating his favorite food [Insert Food Name Here] and petting his family dog [Insert Name Here] while beating baddies with his mind’s power [Insert Power Name Here]. Bad jokes about being able to name the characters aside, you play as Ness, who gathers his friends Paula, Jeff, and Poo, eating his favorite food steak and petting his family dog King while beating baddies with his mind’s power Pk Rocking.

Most of the game revolves around chasing down the evil mani mani statue while gathering his friends and unlocking his sanctuary locations to properly mount an offensive against Giygas. The significance of these things are difficult to understand and subject to many interpretations. Even what exactly Giygas is is subject to many word-of-god sources and personal interpretation. However, like Dark Souls, I believe this is a good thing. Rather than a story that handholds you and tells you every little detail, you’re meant to create your own world within this game and decide on what you really believe in regards to the story.

However, regardless of the overarching story structure, the main draw of this game lies in conversations with NPCs. The dialogue in this game is beyond incredible. The humor is almost universally agreed-upon as being the greatest part of this game, with a good joke in every house and a parody of Westernism in every city. Rather than reading this, it’s something to be experienced. If good dialogue is something you desire, go buy the game.

Earthbound’s story really does deserve a 9/10 in my eyes. While many might disagree with its presentation, if you’re the type who likes to postulate about video games and their stories, then give it a try.

Gameplay

The gameplay in Earthbound is solid, even if it’s not extremely impressive. Ness heals and attacks, Paula shields and uses psychic attacks, Jeff uses some gadget or other to either buff, debuff, or attack, and Poo does whatever you need him to do. Certain touches to the gameplay, like HP decreasing over time instead of instantly, as well as the ability to simply touch the model for entering a random battle instead of a random battle happening at, well, random are welcome bits of fancy to what would otherwise being very generic and boring gameplay. However, what truly saves it from being any other RPG is the ease of use associated with being able to touch the model of a very weak enemy and skipping the battle entirely, simply being given the drops of that enemy instead of needing to deal with the tedium of fighting enemies that couldn’t possibly defeat you no matter how many of them there are. So the game isn’t terribly hard. Sometimes an easy casual game can be fun too. Though it’s only easy if you’re properly leveled…

I never had an issue with the gameplay though I could see how some people might. It’s a fairly basic Dragon Quest-esque system that merely has a few bells and whistles. But ultimately this review is about what I think, and I think the gameplay deserves a 7/10.

Level Design

This game’s not particularly good at pointing you where you need to go, relying on you to explore and speak to NPCs to find your way. This shows just how good the dialogue really is in this game, but is hardly what could be considered good level design. However, once you find your way into a dungeon, it’s generally quite linear. There are many branches, but usually only one particular way to make it to the end of a level without exposing glitches. In short, it’s par for the course for an rpg. Some might consider the level design generic, but then, a pure rpg is supposed to be mostly about the story. However, because of how generic the level design is, outside of how pretty and set-apart most stages are…

This game’s level design deserves a 5/10. It’s normal; a bit confusing your first time but once you know where to go you’ll never forget, and there’s not much to be said for the design of the dungeons themselves.

Replayability

Now, I might be a bit biased since this game taught me how to read, but I’ve played this game time and time again. This quirky rpg is definitely worth replaying, especially if you’re the type who likes to take things slow and really enjoy the journey more than the destination. You might find a new perspective on the events in the game connecting to the lore of the series as a whole.

This game’s replayability deserves a 10/10 to me, seeing as how I’ve played it over 20 times. Yes, I’m a giant fanboy of the game. So sue me. If you don’t like rpgs or just don’t like stories that don’t spoonfeed you everything about it, then you probably won’t like Earthbound that much and won’t replay it if you do play it once. Your mileage may vary.

How Things Work Together

The art works with the sound, the story works with the level design, and the gameplay ties it all together. The different aspects of this game really do work well together, even if certain aspects aren’t particularly good.

While your mileage may vary, this game in my mind deserves an 7.8/10. So it’s not legendary like many people think. It’s still an extremely good RPG that’s definitely worth picking up and definitely deserves its cult status. This game definitely stinks like well-cooked homemade steak.

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5 comments on “Retro Game Review: Earthbound”

  1. twigsterxd says:

    If this game sucks, why is it rated a 7 on game play?
    Never heard of it by the way and being in Canada, it may not have made it here. There are quite a few things we don’t get in this country which also sucks.

    1. Fex says:

      I think the tagline of the game is “This game stinks”

    2. GhostApples says:

      The American marketing campaign used “This game stinks” as a way to advertise the scratch and sniff portion of the guides that came in the box with the game. it was some kind of contest apparently.

  2. twigsterxd says:

    HA HA I missed the scratch n sniff part.
    I thought the first line saying this game stinks meant that it was awful and it stunk 😀

  3. GrinTwist says:

    Was never able to find a copy of this game when I was a kid, I might try looking for an emulator for it though. This review makes me want to play it.

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