RPG Review #99: Earthbound

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In what is one of the most predicted RPGs I would end up getting to review, I finally get to Earthbound, of course not a moment too soon, as it is actually Number Two on my countdown to 100 RPGs reviewed. Did you really think I would actually review Earthbound at #100? Nah. I like to follow weird patterns. I reviewed Earthbound ZERO as #88, so I thought it would be fitting to review Earthbound itself at #99. Now predict what #111 will be. Yeah, I plan things on the long term. Anyways, Earthbound, most of you guys have at least heard of it, and most are simply familiar with the obvious fact that Ness has been a Smash Bros character from the first game onwards. For those that must know, Earthbound continues the Mother series as Mother 2, renamed to Earthbound to potentially avoid confusion that this is in fact part of a series, and also the only game in that series released outside of Japan for a very long time. That being said, this is a notorious game that screws with pirates who get their hands on illegal copies, which first involves a piracy message and nothing else, but getting past that the game is supposedly harder all the way to the end, where attempting to fight the final boss causes a freeze, and upon a reset, ALL THE SAVE GAMES ARE GONE. A truly diabolical way to handle piracy in that day, although apparently emulating a ROM doesn't trigger any of this. Besides, there were some ROM hacks developed for this game that I probably won't play due to time constraints and all. Enough talk, let's see how this cult classic went with me.

Gameplay: Once again, we're treated to the modern-day setting in Earthbound, places don't look super-hi-tech or medieval, and are more commonplace. Earthbound actually does away with the random battle system that the first game has, showing enemies on the field. These enemies usually run up to engage combat (and unfortunately character movement is quite slow in this game). It's possible to get ambushes if attacked from behind or attacking the enemies from behind as well with this field method. One of the best features this game has is an "auto-kill" feature, useful against enemies significantly weaker than the party where you don't actually have to engage in combat at all.

Speaking of battles, it's mostly similar to other turn-based games, pick commands and go on your merry way. PP stat is used for PSI attacks, while other items and commands do exist as well. Notice that the HP and PP bars actually are on odometer rollers of sorts. This plays a huge part in nastier battles, with enemies that can inflict mortal damage, it will take a while until your characters bite it, so before it reaches 0 it's still possible to heal or do commands with a character or even end a battle early. Getting a game over means you lose half your money though, which isn't cool. Also several amenities from Earthbound ZERO still exist, the blue-haired healers, hospitals that charge players, ATMs requiring an ATM, and telephone calls so you can call mommy and daddy and the pizza place and what not. Gaining money basically involves talking to dad after beating monsters, he deposits money and also functions to save the game. NPCs in the game have weird dialogue that often breaks the fourth wall too. It's all weird and all, but to be frank, as a seasoned RPG player, the differences don't seem like much after a while. I appreciate all the thoughts though. Grade: B

Characters:
Ness: We all know Ness, baseball cap-wearing kid with PSI abilities and baseball bat. In Earthbound he generally has most of the healing and status PSI, along with the best attack power and HP, but he is also the slowest character. Ness is naturally a silent protagonist for this game.
Paula: The psychic girl with even more PSI abilities than Ness, mostly offensive. Wields fry pans in combat and can do damage, but generally is better with PSI. Very low HP, usually the fastest to offset her main weakness.
Jeff: The nerdy son of Dr. Andonuts, Jeff completely lacks PSI abilities and PP and has guns for combat. Some special equipment can be used by him to help out with things, especially bottle rockets.
Poo: Yes, laugh, he's named Poo. A monk prince of the nation of Dalaam, Poo is pretty good overall with several PSI abilities and good stats. His main gimmick is that most healing items do not work on him as much as others, and that goes for equipment as well. There are some items that will help him better than other characters though.

Those are the main characters. Take note of the mommy and daddy Ness has, as well as recurring characters like the camera guy who keeps showing up, Apple Kid, Dr. Andonuts, and who could forget Porky Minch and Giygas? Grade: A-

Plot: Ness sleeps at home, awakened by the sudden meteorite that hits the planet. Porky, or Pokey in this translation, also investigates along with his little brother Picky, and a little insect named Buzz Buzz shows up telling of the whole deal with Ness being chosen to save the world from Giygas, which creates hatred in everyday things. He's told to find eight melodies (similar to what Ninten had to do) in a Sound Stone, although Buzz Buzz is swatted down by Pokey's mother soonafter. Onett is the starting town, and Ness will get his first melody around here along with getting rid of some gang thugs and beating the police force before the second town, Twoson.

Paula is missing from the Polestar preschool (have I mentioned Paula's last name is Polestar? It seems that way) and people from Twoson are worried about her. Ness eventually finds her at the Happy Happy Village, a cult of people who shade things blue and are deluded to happiness. Pokey is also here for some reason and is now hostile to Ness for the rest of the game. Ness frees Paula and she helps for the rest of the game, getting the second melody around this time. The journey to the third city, Threed, is accompanied by the Runaway Five, a group of musicians that play fantastic music but can't pay any bills.

Well, Threed is a zombie-infested town with a load of problems. Ness and Paula while investigating get caught in a trap and the scene shifts to Jeff who hears Paula's PSI call while at the Snow Wood Academy. He visits his father and gets a flying machine, eventually meeting the other two and breaking them out. Traps are laid to get zombies out of the way and the party reaches the mysterious Saturn Valley (where those Mr. Saturns are, you know, the throwable item in Smash Bros?) along with Master Belch (a huge pile of barf). The third melody can be reached here as well.

The journey to Fourside (another known Smash Bros stage) is halted by "The Worlds Largest Traffic Jam" in the middle of a desert, so Ness has to take the long way around. At Fourside, the Runaway Five are met again, still having trouble with money, so Ness helps them out by filching a diamond to give to the manager, then upon finding the department store, Paula is kidnapped and we eventually find out the dark side of Fourside, infamously called Moonside. It's a wacky hallucination, but once Ness pushes through, we can then confront Monotoli and rescue Paula, only for Pokey to steal the helicopter. Around this time it's possible to get the fourth melody, and then that same flying machine Jeff used is used to reach the summer resort town of Summers.

Around this time the scene shifts to Prince Poo, who uses his mediation to find out what's going on and joins Ness's group. Some museum trekking later, and it's possible to get two more melodies, then go to the desert town of Scaraba. They then go through the Deep Darkness, a dangerous swamp, then meet the Tenda race, normally shy, but eventually cured, although first several notable characters had to be rescued from Giygas' clutches then. We see some of Ness's thoughts at the seventh melody before entering a prehistoric-looking place where the final melody lies.

Upon getting the final melody, Ness is sent to Magicant (similar to what Ninten had to go through, but in this case much later), a weird dream world where Ness eventually has the fight his nightmare (that same statue). NPC allies come up with the Phase Distorter, and Ness helps out by getting a shard from the meteorite in Onett. However, they have to transfer their souls to robots to reach the Cave of the Past where Giygas lies. Oh, and Pokey's there too. After a fight he turns a device off to sic Giygas to the group, and it is up to Paula and her Pray skill to get Giygas defeated by then. A playable epilogue ensues afterwards with everyone basically going home, you get to view a photo album with mom and then after the credits Pokey apparently delivers a letter to Ness to find him. Oh, by the way, the game actually lets you input YOUR name at times, interesting. As is the plot I guess. Seems like another chosen one story in another wacky world. I'm used to it sometimes. Grade: B+

Music: A pretty high point for the game. Again, the best thing is that there are different battle themes for different types of opponents, a huge plus. Regular music in-game is pretty good as well, and some of the tracks like the Fourside theme are naturally remixed for Super Smash Bros. They do a good, no, great job of conveying the overall feel of the game. Grade: A+

Overall Grade: A-

Being that I've played numerous RPGs at this point, playing Earthbound really did not create a whole lot that I would not see anywhere else. Sure, it's got a nice modern setting and wacky characters and humor, but apart from a few innovations, the gameplay itself isn't too different from a standard turn-based game and it is fairly linear. Trying to figure out clues from things does amp the score a bit, since confusion in this game was actually a plus. I'd love to figure out where I was heading at times, what I needed to buy, what I needed to see, which spells I needed to use. Maybe I just need a bit more excitement factor. A cult classic is a cult classic though.

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