EarthBound Beginnings (NES) Review

By Albert Lichi 28.06.2015

Review for EarthBound Beginnings on NES

A quarter of a century has passed since the original Mother released on the Famicom in Japan during the Summer of 1989. While it was never officially released in the West, the English prototype, which Phil Sandhop oversaw the localisation of, leaked on the net as a ROM. For years, this emulation was the only way possible for the legions of EarthBound (then unofficially titled "EarthBound 0") fan to play this lost game. With three Mother games out and only the middle game available in Western territories, compounded by the rising popularity of the series due to the representation in the wildly popular Super Smash Bros. series (Ness and Lucas), EarthBound fans - after their endless demand - can finally play the original Shigesato Ito game that the West missed out on over 25 years ago. Has the unbelievable wait been worth it? Find out in the belated review of EarthBound Beginnings.

When the original EarthBound was put on the Wii U eShop, it was a momentous occasion for many RPG fans. Some people even bought a Wii U system for the sole fact they can finally play it (or replay it) without having to shell out massive wads of cash for a working EarthBound cart and operational SNES console. There was always the issue of the missing first game, but as of June 14, 2015, Nintendo finally released Mother as EarthBound Beginnings on the Wii U eShop as a NES Virtual Console title. All over the world, men cried, women cried, and even babies probably cried because, finally, a game so many have waited for and had not been able to play through legal means can play a game that was cancelled.

EarthBound Beginnings is "EarthBound 0." this is the same ROM that was from the prototype that Phil Sandhop worked on and that Shigesato Ito himself approved of. The story of EarthBound Beginnings is almost like a skeletal version of EarthBound on SNES with some differences. Both games involve a quest to find melodies and both journeys involve an insurmountable alien force that is beyond human comprehension that cannot be beaten by conventional means. Sentimentality is strong in EarthBound Beginnings, and while it won't reach the heights of the SNES' EarthBound, it is every bit as silly and wonderful with its own memorable moments and wonderful characters.

Screenshot for EarthBound Beginnings on NES

Playing EarthBound Beginnings can be an emotional experience, which is to be expected from a game directed by the multi-talented writer, Shigesato Ito. It is said that Ito got inspired to make his own game after playing the original Dragon Quest, but, Ito being Ito, he put his own spin on the RPG genre of the time. Set in a modern day version of America, "Eagleland" is a surreal caricature of how Ito saw the U.S. Every RPG today features random NPCs experiencing an existential crisis, bemusing the idea of loneliness and the nature of "existing." Sure, many remember fighting hippies, exploding trees and weird aliens in these games, or the times when a zoo had its animals run amok - but EarthBound Beginnings manages that sweet spot of absurdity and genuine emotions.

There can be some pretty heavy concepts and ideas, but it is never too ponderous or pretentious; it definitely feels like a very personal game that Shigesato Ito put a lot of effort into writing. It creates a fascinating atmosphere that takes place in one large continuous map with only caves or houses that require transitions, which does make the world feel more immersive. For an RPG in the late 80s, this was pretty impressive. With its large arrangements of music, which help a little bit from the game descending into monotony, EarthBound Beginnings' atmosphere is top-notch.

Shigesato Ito may be an excellent writer, but game designer he is not. To be fair, it was the late 80s and Shigesato Ito was still very much too close to his Dragon Quest inspiration, compounded by the fact he was still very green to concepts like game balancing and convenient interface. Before EarthBound Beginnings, Mother did not have a run button - this was a very good inclusion in the prototype and was considered so genius that it was included in the Japan-only Game Boy Advance port of Mother 1+2. The simple act of checking basic objects and talking to NPCs are given extra steps, since the game opens up a menu of various options, two of which are the aforementioned verbs.

Screenshot for EarthBound Beginnings on NES

This division and extra step of these simplistic actions will typically result in the hero, Ninten, talking to things he meant to check, since decades of muscle memory have conditioned RPG fans to have a basic action button that generally is contextual and gets the job done without all the menu busy-work. Why the publisher didn't bother to reprogram the controls and get rid of these pointless steps will be a mystery for all time, especially since Mother 3 solved this issue and EarthBound did in fact have a contextual check/talk button. The simple act of getting money is rife with extra steps and fiddling with the menus. Money is acquired from Ninten's father, who sends child support money (maybe it's allowance?) straight into his bank account and requires Ninten to use a whole item slot to carry around a bank card, as well as having to once again screw around with menus. While conceptually poetic, it is supposed to make users feel a bond with parent. Sadly, the side effects add many extra steps and is inefficient for standard RPG gameplay.

One of the major problems of EarthBound Beginnings is its balance. The very beginning of this game is pretty rough and requires quite a bit of grinding before Ninten can even get 100 steps away from his own house! Enemies are really powerful and hurt Ninten almost as much as he hurts them. Grinding is aplenty throughout the game, mostly because encounter rate can be outrageous to the point it becomes laughable how quickly it can happen. Thankfully, the game evens out after its initial hours, and things are made more convenient when Loid, Ana and Teddy join Ninten, and it's not just because they are great assets to have in combat, but because of the highly limited inventory space.

Screenshot for EarthBound Beginnings on NES

Each character has pretty much their own tiny backpack, which is probably as large as a shopping bag, since they can't hold much and items do not stack. It isn't too frustrating, but in the later parts where the difficulty spikes to preposterous levels and the game requires hours of tedious grinding with very difficult enemies, the overall experience becomes mentally and physically exhausting. Even when new party members join they need to be levelled up to an extent, so they can hold their own in combat. Thankfully, losing in EarthBound Beginnings is a minor inconvenience, and Ninten just has to retrace some steps and loses half the amount of money he is carrying.

While EarthBound Beginnings may not be for everyone, any fan of old-school RPGs will adore it, and it goes without saying any fan of EarthBound would be doing themselves a disservice for not experiencing it. It is important to understand the historical context when playing this game, since it is technically a cancelled NES game, so some things like the simplicity of the graphics and much slower pace of the gameplay are apparent, but for those who can look past these, they will find a very rewarding RPG with a legitimate emotional ending.

Screenshot for EarthBound Beginnings on NES

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

EarthBound Beginnings has a lot of choice moments in it that do not directly tie to the game's core plot, but it is these little things that make the adventure so memorable. Sure, the game does have a lot of grinding and the encounter rate can be quite annoying, but, really, these are just minor peeves, and the fact the Wii U version has save state features does ease some of the inconveniences, such as not knowing where the nearest save point is, so these things get evened out. It is a shame that EarthBound Beginnings took about 25 years to finally be published, since this is a game that would have made so many people happy if it was released on schedule. On the other hand, this game can make people happy today for a whole new generation to enjoy.

Also known as

Mother

Developer

Ape

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

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

Comments

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Being an old school RPG gaming grinder this game is right up my ally. I enjoyed grinding through the first Final Fantasy.....never made it through Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest) on Nes though...

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