RPG Series Review: Earthbound/Undertale (PART 2.5)

xandermartin98 RPG Series Review: Earthbound/Undertale (PART 2.5)

Ha, just kidding; I randomly decided that since Toby Fox, the creator of Undertale, also created easily one of the greatest ROM hacks of all time with the Earthbound Halloween Hack, I would also briefly cover IT as well, before finally moving on to Mother 3 and Undertale. Fasten your seatbelts, everyone, because this ride's about to get a whole lot bumpier than you'd expect.

So basically, to make a long story short, this admittedly rather quaint little game (quasi-game, if you will) was pretty much how Toby Fox's game-making career started (or at least, how it got off the ground); one fateful day on the Earthbound fan forums (that Toby Fox was an EXTREMELY dedicated member of, mind you), there was a contest being held to determine who could make the best Halloween-themed ROM hack for Earthbound...and while Toby's unanimous winner might not have actually been the best GAME of the bunch as far as gameplay is concerned, it truly was a ROM-hack storytelling experience unlike any other.

And yes, I mean that in both a positive and also a negative sense as well. Anyway, let's start the review before I break down into another rant about all of those nostalgia-blinded idiots who seriously think that THIS is objectively a better overall game than Undertale. Here goes, wish me luck.

STORY: While not quite AS overrated as the one in Undertale, this game's storyline really isn't nearly as deep or as interesting as UT's either. However, it is somehow even MORE atmospheric.

Taking control of an incredibly edgy-looking, knight-costumed, gratuitously 1990s-styled anti-hero named Varik, you wake up covered in vomit from how much you drank the previous night at Twoson's local concert hall and end up having to be dragged out of your guest bedroom into the lobby by one of the managers, at which point you are immediately directed into the head manager's (AKA the local town mayor's) office.

Taking great lengths to be as frightfully edgy and pretentious as possible (get used to that, by the way, as it's a rather profoundly common theme in both this and Undertale), the mayor informs you that a mysteriously nondescript "monster" has kidnapped and eaten his daughter, and that said monster therefore has a massive bounty placed on his head for Varik to hunt.

After spending a fair amount of time grinding (the key word being FAIR) in Twoson (which is deliberately made to be disappointingly similar in tone to the original Earthbound, to lower players' expectations for the rest of the game), Varik frustratingly slogs his way through the town's rat-infested (and later hellspawn-infested, after he presumably travels through some kind of hidden portal within one of the doorways) sewers and finds himself in...wait for it...

a really, REALLY unconvincingly recolored hellscape version of Winters from Earthbound (meant to reflect the fact that the game takes place in an alternate timeline in which Giygas actually WON the Humans VS Aliens war), where he reluctantly fights his way through a whole BUNCH of nondescript zombie "monsters" and desperate, bleeding, exhausted survivors of the apocalypse until he finally slits his wrists- I mean, reaches Dr. Andonuts' laboratory!

From there, the plot is about as basic as you can get, minus the whole "LOL reminds me of Psychonauts but a lot more disturbing" part; basically, you go into Andonuts' mind, battle his incredibly horrifying personal demons, get told a really unnecessarily flowery sob story about how the poor doctor's tragic mental state in the hack came to be, reunite yourself with his ever-so-faint memories of Paula, Jeff and Poo from Earthbound proper, and then finally travel across the Sea Of Eden (effectively the River Styx, for all intensive purposes) of his subconscious and brutally murder him in what can only be described as "a fight that can only be described by Megalovania". It's an incredibly good plot for a ROM hack, yes, but trust me, Undertale's has WAY more to it.

SOUND: Of course, Earthbound's absolutely phenomenal music and sound design are still present as always (and are used to outstanding effect, might I add), but where the soundtrack REALLY shines is in the shockingly well-made custom songs that were added to it (Twoson Love Theme, Techno Boss Battle, Dead Onett, and most especially OG Megalovania). Really good stuff, if I do say so myself.

GRAPHICS: Overworld-wise, still the same as Earthbound, but the spritework on the new enemies and bosses is just so astonishingly well-made and genuinely frightening that I would have to say it actually looks quite a bit BETTER than the real game as far as combat encounters are concerned.

GAMEPLAY: Now this is where this game REALLY starts to fall into "love it or hate it" territory; personally, depending on what mood I'm in, my love/hate stance on it can lean either way. For one thing, I certainly do respect the game for making it so that ACTUAL STRATEGY is something that the game genuinely requires during combat...but on the other hand, it just REALLY overdid it.

Basically, what happened was that Toby Fox knew that this game was ridiculously short and needed to be brutally difficult (albeit ironically nowhere near AS brutal as Earthbound Zero, and thankfully with only about maybe one percent of EBZ's mandatory grinding at worst) in order to balance things out. However, frustratingly enough, rather than actually making the enemies stronger, Toby simply made the players' party members infinitely WEAKER, leading to an absolutely INFURIATING amount of one-hit party member kills from enemies during battle.

More notoriously, he also felt that PSI was way too much of a beginner's crutch in Earthbound proper; I kind of agree, actually, but he just took it WAY too seriously, effectively nerfing the characters' PSI powers and capacities to the point where simply using the Alpha form of literally any one of the most basic PSI powers in the game could easily eat up at least a solid fifth of a character's entire PSI point supply. Yeah, I sure hope you like stuffing yourself with Magic Taffy and spamming PSI Magnet all day (and being mercilessly bombarded with the infamous Hard Levels, Easy Bosses trope)...except that thankfully, you DON'T have to play the game all day, as it's only about two hours long and has basically no replay value whatsoever unless you're ludicrously obsessed with the series.

OVERALL: Very good albeit horribly unbalanced and frustrating hack, and certainly a rather interesting exploration of an otherwise unremarkable background character's psyche, but calling it even as good as, let alone BETTER than Undertale is an outright insult to UT. Honestly, 7/10