RPG Series Review: Earthbound/Undertale (PART 1)

xandermartin98
RPG Series Review: Earthbound/Undertale (PART 1)

Now honestly, I apologize for ragging so hard on Chrono Trigger and (to a lesser extent) golden-age Final Fantasy for being INCREDIBLY overrated and depth-lacking, because in many ways, the series I'm about to review here is arguably even more so...well, compared to the latter, at least.

Said series is none other than Earthbound...with Radiation's Halloween Hack and Undertale added onto the back tag not only because I feel like it but also because I've been itching to give it a more level-headed review of them for quite some time now. And so, without further ado, let's give it up for Earthbound...Zero?

MOTHER 1 (Earthbound Zero)

Ah, Earthbound Zero, a truly bizarre and oft-forgotten footnote in Nintendo's history that is horrifically overshadowed by its Super Nintendo remake sequel, Earthbound...and unfortunately for good reason. Normally, I don't like to accuse classic-era Nintendo of making genuinely BAD games within its most famous and iconic flagship franchises, but this might actually be one of remarkably, thankfully few exceptions, for a multitude of reasons I am about to briefly but concisely delve into.

GRAPHICS: For its time, the Earthbound art style was executed moderately well here, but if you don't want your game looking like absolute garbage then I would strongly suggest waiting for a remake. Also, if you're downloading a ROM of the game, make SURE that it has the word ZERO displayed on the title screen; seriously, I'm warning you, this game has MULTIPLE piracy screens.

SOUND: While the soundtrack is still quite good in its own right, and easily one of the best I've ever heard on the NES outside of Mega Man and Castlevania, it's awfully difficult to ignore how much better the vast majority of it became when it was directly remade from 8-bit to 16-bit in Earthbound (cough, remake that renders this completely obsolete, cough). Pollyanna (Ness' House), Dangerous Foe (Sanctuary Guardian), Bein' Friends, Hippie Battle (New Age Retro Hippie) and the original Eight Melodies theme are all quite spectacular in their own right, but by today's standards, I would strongly suggest muting the game altogether and turning on a podcast instead if you're planning to play it for extended periods of time.

STORY: Well, it's an NES game, so you can probably expect the in-game storyline to be BORDER-line nonexistent...which is still true for this game as well, let's not mince words here. However, once you reach the end of the game and discover the astonishingly tragic and unsettling truth behind Magicant and Giegue, it opens up brand-new hidden depths that I honestly never expected a game on this system to openly display within itself, so kudos for that, I suppose. (psst, psst, Earthbound did all of these things SO much better, psst psst)

GAMEPLAY: Now THIS right here is where this game REALLY falls apart. Granted, Earthbound was pretty shallow in this department as well (in many ways, even shallower than those Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Trigger games I keep ragging on about), but it's an ESPECIALLY poor man's Dragon Quest here. The enemy difficulty curve (notice that I only said enemy, because there are literally only TWO actual boss fights in the entire game, MAYBE three if you count the Starman Junior) is ATROCIOUSLY unbalanced, requiring the player to spend literal HOURS mindlessly grinding, 4th-D-Slip-spamming, and hotel-scumming (and for that matter, emulator fast-forwarding and savestate-scumming) in order to get through MANY of the areas...again, only to hit a last-minute dead end at (one of) the piracy screen(s) in the unfortunate event that said player just so happened to be that one poor sap who accidentally downloaded the wrong version of the ROM. Don't even get me STARTED on the enemy-encounter rate either (yes, this game also has random battles, just in case you were wondering).

Oh, and did I mention that the game never actually tells you ANYTHING about what your PSI abilities do, nor about how many magic points they cost, gives the enemies QUITE a few methods of insta-killing your entire party during battle, and only has ONE half-decent armor shop that (by this game's standards) is almost immediately accessible upon starting the game? Have fun...

OVERALL: Decent game for its time, and I respect it for serving as the development template for the much, much, MUCH greater things that later came after it (Earthbound and to a lesser inspirational extent MOTHER 3), but as even one of the Earthbound fan forum's proudly dedicated members put it, Earthbound Zero "seems like a 7/10 game and has aged like raw milk on a Florida beach". In conclusion, 5/10. Yes, I know it's from the Earthbound series, but that doesn't make it immune to criticism. That being said, rest assured that the next three games I'm about to review easily range between 8/10 and 10/10 review scores, so the series really HAS come an astonishingly long way. Especially as far as final bosses are concerned- (gunshot)

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