RPG Review #88: Earthbound ZERO

NuMetalManiak If you can't already tell, I'm trying to rush through many games I play. So here we are on my first entry in the Mother series, or Earthbound series. The game I played is Earthbound ZERO, which is also known as Earthbound Beginnings or just Mother. Developed by Ape and then published by Nintendo, this game gave way to the popular game you all know of as Earthbound, which is for the SNES. This is the first of a three-game series, on the NES. Interestingly enough, this game actually WAS translated, and was ACTUALLY SUPPOSED TO BE EARTHBOUND. But it never somehow made it for reasons unknown and was almost lost forever. Eventually, a fan patch was made, which is what I played and was called Earthbound ZERO. This patch actually bypasses a copy protection screen, and if you are familiar with the copy protection in the real Earthbound, well, I'm not gonna say it until I actually review that game, but obviously you just couldn't play this one in that case. There was also a GBA release containing this game and Earthbound, only released in Japan, before FINALLY becoming international for Virtual Console in 2015.

Gameplay: Okay that was a lengthy intro. The game's creator, Shigesato Itoi, was heavily inspired by Dragon Warrior when creating this game, therefore, there are a lot of connections between that and the Dragon Warrior games, specifically 2 and 3 (which I'll probably play next). It has a semi-complicated menu, turn-based combat, random encounters, dungeons and bosses, and moments you'll probably need a guide in order to get through. The game honestly feels like a much easier Dragon Warrior 2, since the level gaps are pretty good, as well as the PSI powers (magic) gained. And critical hits are more common, with the signature "SMAAAASH" text originating from this game.

The setting of the game is another reason why Earthbound games are cult classics, and that's because they seem like modern-day RPGs, as opposed to super futuristic settings or the all-too-common fantasy/kingdom setting. The game doesn't have separate areas on the world map, instead connecting areas properly. It also has large department stores, different kinds of healing (like with hospitals), as well as a unique way of utilizing money, giving the player a Cash Card at the beginning of the game to make withdrawals and deposits. I wonder how many people actually managed to learn how to use ATMs because of games like this? And yet regardless of these things, the game is still pretty traditional. Grade: B

Characters: The game makes you label four characters however you wish, as well as a favorite food. So that's pretty cool.
Ninten: Ninten is the default name of the main hero of the game, and he's the predecessor to everyone's favorite ballcap wearing bat-wielder, Ness. Aside from swinging baseball bats, he has PSI abilities, though he is limited to healing and support PSI.
Ana: The predecessor to Paula, she will basically have all the qualities Paula has, low HP and strength, lots of PSI abilities including offensive PSI.
Loid: The predecessor to Jeff, Loid shares the nerdiness and the complete lack of PSI with average attacking abilities, though he is capable of using unique guns as weapons.
Teddy: If you are thinking he's the predecessor to Poo, you're wrong. Teddy is actually a gang leader who joins very late in the game as a temporary replacement for Loid. He has no PSI abilities, but he's fast and efficient at physical combat.

Those are the main characters to name in the game. There are a few other characters that actually temporarily join, like Pippi who is a little girl Ninten saves early on, recruitable Flying Men who are actually berserkers who can permanently die, and EVE, an overpowered robot. Well, do you think Earthbound had lost some originality points? In fairness, there's not too much character dialogue overall. Grade: B-

Plot: Outlined as you start a new game is the whole preface of the plot. A couple, George and Maria, disappear from the face of the earth, and George returns, but Maria doesn't for some reason. The game actually starts with Ninten in his room, where some really paranormal activity takes place and his home is under attack. Ninten's father, never actually seen in-game, tells him of a crisis that is happening, involving some people disappearing. In the nearby town of Podunk, Ninten does some things, like rescuing Pippi from zombies and getting rid of an annoying sound at the local zoo. Along the way, he has to find these melodies, eight in total, which will be used at the very end.

Ninten gets warped to a place called Magicant, which honestly looks like something out of an acid trip. The ruler of Magicant is Queen Mary, who can't remember the melody, which is why you need to find eight. Back in the real world, Ninten meets Loid at Twinkle Elementary where he is apparently in a trash can. Later on they find a hat and give it to Ana, who joins saying she saw Ninten in a dream. She's trying to find her mother, who would've thought. Later on, there's a gang ridden town where Teddy gets impressed by Ninten's strength, kicking Loid out of the party to join them on their way to Mt. Itoi. Yes, Shigesato Itoi named the mountain after himself, it seems. Also Teddy is looking for revenge for what happens to his parents.

Around this time is when Ana starts to feel romantic for Ninten. The group is attacked by an undefeatable robot and Loid saves them, but Teddy is critically wounded so Loid rejoins. EVE helps them until yet another big robot destroys it. After getting the final melody, Queen Mary remembers the song. She is actually Maria from the prologue, and the gravestone at the mountain peak was that of George. Magicant vanishes after the melody is remembered, and the party will finally confront Giegue at the end. This battle apparently involves waiting, then using the Sing command. 'Twas an interesting plot overall. Grade: B

Music: I mentioned that melody, that will eventually get constructed and used against the game's final boss. It's probably the most memorable music in the game. But there are other ones that are memorable, like the world map themes, which hey, those of you who played Smash Bros starting from Melee might recognize as the Onett theme. That song is called Bein' Friends. The theme for when Ninten is alone is also a track that's possibly familiar, titled Pollyanna (I Believe in You). The Magicant theme is pretty memorable, and the dungeon themes tend to be ambient. What's rather cool is that there are different enemy battle themes, associated with whichever enemy you fight. It's cool because it's not unique to bosses either. Grade: A

Overall Grade: B+

Yeah I know, this grade probably sucks. But on the surface, this is really just a traditional RPG that is only really amazing due to its setting. It's significantly more likeable than Dragon Warrior games, however.