EarthBound (Super Nintendo) Review

By Joshua Callum Jeffery 11.01.2014 6

Review for EarthBound on Super Nintendo

There's quite a story behind EarthBound's hype, but in summary, this localisation of Japan's Mother 2 on the SNES only saw one rare release back in 1995 in the US. In mid-2013, finally, after all the years with no sign of any remakes or re-releases making it across the pond from Japan, the oft spoken about master of bizarre RPGs is now available around the world on Wii U. Just in case you forgot about it being on Virtual Console, Cubed3 is here to remind you why EarthBound is worth that hype…

EarthBound is a 1994 Japanese RPG, originally released in Japan as Mother 2—the sequel to NES game Mother. Despite Mother never releasing officially outside Japan, that didn't stop thousands of western gamers becoming entranced by EarthBound in their childhoods. Speed ahead to 2013, and even today those new to the series are becoming fascinated, captivated, and completely immersed by the war against Giygas for the first time. EarthBound tells the story of Ness, a young boy with a psychic power called PK (translated in EarthBound as PSI), and his quest to save the world from a malicious alien entity named Giygas. Ness went on to become extremely popular and well known through the widely loved Super Smash Bros. series, which is partially responsible for EarthBound's strong modern interest.

While EarthBound's story seems simple in synopsis, it is the execution and writing that makes it so special. From the moment the player is thrown into the game, wandering around in the dark in naught but pyjamas, putting up with the insufferably rude Porky Minch, and being accompanied by a fly from the future who can talk (yes, a fly from the future who can talk), all the signs are there from the outset that the impending journey won't be like any RPG you've played before.

Screenshot for EarthBound on Super Nintendo

Still, an RPG is an RPG, and at first glance the battle system and game mechanics don't seem to be anything an RPG fan won't be unfamiliar with, which is mostly correct. EarthBound has the player, Ness and pals, wandering around an overworld, interacting with peculiar objects, equipping weapons and accessories or levelling up to improve stats, and a lot of exploration and intrigue in what the rest of the journey may hold. The battle system initially seems to be very standard, too. Viewing the trippy, psychedelic enemies from a first-person perspective gives a retro feeling of immersion, and the battles don't feel nearly as cute without the adorable player sprites present; there's nothing between the player and the bizarre foe but attack options and peculiar music.

There's the typical attack and the PSI 'magic' system; each character (Ness, Paula, Jeff and Poo) using their own unique set of PSI abilities. Ness, for example, specialises in healing magic and supporting the team—it's a safe bet that later on in the game he'll be getting KO'd the least; Paula and Poo use offensive magic—some extremely powerful; and while Jeff can't use PSI, he can use an array of gadgets, like bombs and rockets, that other characters can't use. There's also the usual item and run options, allowing use of supporting and healing items or running away from a tough battle (no running from bosses as one might expect). Unfortunately, there's a bit of a steep difficulty near the beginning of the game where only Ness is present, making it difficult to make progress quickly for first time players, but after Paula joins the party it becomes much easier to avoid being KO'd.

However, there's also a very interesting way to prevent party members from dying; the main unique aspect of EarthBound's battle system is the 'Rolling HP' system, and as the name suggests, this means the HP rolls as it drops or rises... and if the rolling can be stopped, it stays where it is. While the game may initially seem nothing more than strictly turn-based, the timing of turns is actually the key to understanding this system. For example, the most common scenario is having a powerful enemy perform a lethal move on a party member. Ouch! But it is possible to stop them from dying completely if they KO the enemy quick enough or heal them quick enough. Their HP starts counting down quickly from where it was, all the way to 0, but if the player is fast enough with moves to either finish the battle or heal them before their HP reaches 0, the character's death can be prevented. It takes a little getting used to, but getting used to it and using quick thought in battle can mean battling efficiently without anyone getting too hurt. Don't forget! Even if a character is dealt a mortal blow, quick thinking and timing means the party can interrupt their HP's descent altogether! This turns what is otherwise a very standard turn-based system into something exciting and unique, and can become a real life-saver (pun intended) late in the game.

Screenshot for EarthBound on Super Nintendo

Still, the KOing is inevitable before getting used to this system, and the fact that weird tiny alien spaceship enemy explodes and smiley happy tree enemy spontaneously combusts. Luckily, getting a Game Over is also quite painless, as it just teleports the party to the last place the player was healed, so while it may mean re-entering a dungeon, overworld puzzles and such don't need to be redone. Oh, and the party loses half of their money. Still, the money system is designed to make this easy to deal with; Ness can access an ATM machine in many towns and buildings in the game, and the smart thing to do is leave the bulk savings in Ness' account, only taking out what's needed to buy equipment and items. Using the phones dotted around towns will also allow Ness to call his distant father, who's working hard making money to help Ness and his mother out. Strangely enough, beating up tons of enemies means Ness' dad makes way more money, but it's probably best to not think too deeply into that, right? Be sure to call him often so he can put money into Ness' account, but seeing as calling him is also the only way to save the game there's no worry of forgetting about that.

The towns of Ness' world are weird but have many essentials within them. When only some party members get killed, but not everyone, they'll appear in the party as ghosts and need to be taken to the hospital to be properly revived… for a price (what a corrupt society we live in!). Later in the game, proper revival items are easier to come by, but until then, expect to pay regular trips to the hospital when party members fall in battle.

Screenshot for EarthBound on Super Nintendo

Speaking of corrupt society, the meat of the game is the atmosphere. EarthBound makes its adventure out of the real world, with mystery and intrigue hidden in plain sight. It can sometimes be easy to get lost and have no idea where to go next, and the lack of signposting sometimes exposes a badly aged factor of the game, but it also encourages the player to look in every nook and cranny. Ever thought as a kid that the teacher's lounge in school was some magical place filled with cool things? EarthBound takes that feeling of curiosity and capitalises on it; the police station, the back room, edgy bars, expensive restaurants, they all hold more secrets, mysteries and darkness than we originally thought… and Ness faces it all. That weird little cave behind the warning fence is actually a huge labyrinth with ferocious monsters inside. It's those little curiosities and expansions of the real world that make EarthBound so magical and unique, and it manages to do it with everything.

Every other NPC treats Ness with abhorrence or pity, almost as if they're brainwashed by the malicious mundane of life—seriously, it's shocking how corrupt and almost alien the human world looks when viewed through the innocent (but smart) eyes of Ness and crew, and it cannot be recommended enough to talk to each and every NPC to see what kind of fantastically silly or satirical dialogue they'll supply. It's not all bad, either; allies appear from the weirdest places, but it's up to Ness to expose the genuinely good from the corrupt, as well as discovering all his world's secrets. Luckily, he's pretty much the coolest silent dude in Onett—so cool that even the almighty Giygas has a vendetta for him. In reality, those little hidden places and truths may be boring, but in EarthBound they contain adventure and excitement hidden away from the every day world, and it's so fascinating to see what EarthBound has to offer that it rekindles that curiosity for even the most veteran gamer.

Screenshot for EarthBound on Super Nintendo

Cubed3 Rating

10/10
Rated 10 out of 10

Masterpiece - Platinum Award

Rated 10 out of 10

Believe the hype—a buried 90s masterpiece has finally returned! Almost two decades later, despite some small gameplay aging problems, EarthBound is still unbelievably fresh in terms of tone and themes, and offers up a unique experience that can only be satisfied by the few equally bizarre and unique games out there. For any RPG fans around, this is an absolute must play, and even those with a passing interest will likely find something special and impressive about it. EarthBound is not just special because it's an RPG with a weird HP system, EarthBound is special because in retrospect, all these years later, gamers can look back on it and genuinely wonder why something so old still feels so fascinating and unique. Just hold onto your arms, legs, eyes, and mind; wouldn't want to lose them during the eternal wait for Mother 3

Also known as

Mother 2

Developer

Ape

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10 (5 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

This game kinda blew me away when I played it within the last couple of years. It's crazy to think it's one of the best JRPGs I've played. So quirky, so full of humour, and surprisingly deep. It's just plain criminal it's the only one in the series we got here.

I love this game! I had never played it before it came out this summer on the Virtual Console. It reminds me of playing Pokemon Red (one of my all-time favorites).

Josh (or Az, Sonic_13) - any of you played the fan-translated Mother 3?

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

No, I completely forgot about that! I am getting on that right now...

Need to get my hands on this - played it emulated years ago and got creamed by those clowns on pogo-sticks and never really went back to it, alas.

Cubed3 Admin/Founder & Designer

This game truly is an absolute masterpiece. I just finished the game and it has a vast amount of gameplay value. It's long, but not so long it feels endless; they seriously timed it just right. I have to agree with Azuardo that it's basically criminal we only received this one of the three because I'm certain the other two are just as good if not better.

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