Reviews: Earth Bound

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Presentation is part of content, and this proves it
Presentation is a big part of what makes this game. The graphics are simple yet charming. The rest of the presentation is what clearly had a ton of work put into it. The trippy backgrounds during fights, the stylized music, and the use of sampling - taking actual recorded snippets from other songs - all make Earthbound have a unique style unlike anything else out there in any genre.

And speaking of genre, it's an RPG set in the real world rather than a fantasy world. Well, "real" in that it's clearly set in the United States (plus India, Scotland, Egypt and Italy), although it seems to blend time periods together, being not quite set in the 1990s in which it was made. You don't fight lizards and dragons and so on - you fight wild dogs, snakes, cranky elderly women, "overzealous cops", anthropomorphized stop signs and taxi cabs, and more. The Ultimate Evil is actually a space alien, and his right-hand man is... your bratty next-door neighbor, who shows up from time to time to taunt you along the way.

The game feels like something that only an individual with a very personal imagination could create. No marketing committee would design a game that starts out light-hearted and cartoony, contains elements of spoof and parody of the real world (including a variation of the Ku Klux Klan that obsesses over painting everything blue), and then suddenly switches moods at the end to have you fight an unholy abomination that can only be killed with prayer.

But style is all over the game. The dialog feels very casual, and is only improved by Nintendo of America's translation, which gets somewhat loose when naming the enemies (it was NOA who named the enemies things like "Rambling Evil Mushroom", "New Age Retro Hippie" and "Mad Taxi"). The music can best be described as "unconventional" and "experimental". The gameplay introduces some odd elements such as the "rolling HP meter", where your hit points slowly roll down or up as you take damage or heal, allowing you to survive a fatal blow if you can heal in time, adding some action to the turn-based fighting. And the mood is all over the place, ranging from light to dark, upbeat to sad, serious to parody.

It's an experience worth having, not just watching on YouTube, and one of the very few turn-based RPGs I've ever liked.
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The SMiLE of video games BOING!
When you're sitting down to play a game like EarthBound (I'm just gonna initialize it from now on because the constant Wiki Word bypassing stuff is a pain to do) what is most important is to come in with an open mind, akin to the blank slate of a child's mind. There's gonna be some strange shit, brother. Strange, yet wonderful, for minds properly attuned to it. On the surface, it's a simple-looking, basic RPG. But, does not a pickle bring joy to those who choose to look past its fuzzy surface to discover the juicy treasure within? Judge ye not a tree by its cover, lest it judgeth you (and suicide bomb you with fiery death!).

As far as gameplay goes though, EB is strictly average. Typical leveling and equipment system. There are some cool special attacks and all, but you'll want to save them for more dangerous situations than a mere mook, reducing most battles to a bit of a repetitive slog. The enemy level scaling is also badly balanced; you could get raped by, I don't know, a scalding coffee cup or something, without being given even the slightest warning. This is, of course, all completely immaterial. You'll be too busy laughing your ass off at the wacked-out enemies and their strange attacks to ever feel much repetitiveness at all. This is somewhat of a masterstroke and I have no idea how to explain why it works. A good old Nintendo Hard feeling might go a long way in explaining.

Always walking a taut line between dadaistic humor and horrifying visions of Hell, it always manages to get its point across despite (what I presume to be an intentionally) simplistic translation. And that music... goddamn. One of the a-number one soundtracks in video gaming right here. Bold and experimental, it showcases why the SNES' sound processor is the best in the business. And those basslines... Christ! The things I would do to those basslines if given physical form through some future technology. I'll be waiting. The Mrs. will understand. She's heard it too. We'll all have fun together...

In short, I am as good, and as bad, a choice as anyone to explain EarthBound in our lacking human language. There are so many things I could say about this game but in the end, you must take that journey yourself. If you go to Eagleland, and your mind is in tune, the change in you will be visible to all. Nothing needs be spoken.
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Let it in
I recently finished playing through EarthBound again and, as always, I'm struck at just how amazing a game it truly is. Which is odd because, by all accounts, as a "game" it's far from perfect. The actual gameplay is fairly straightforward (albeit with a certain amount of complexity), the graphics are nothing too outstanding for the system, some elements are so nonsensical that they defy description and there are so many weird and obscure things you need to do to advance the plot that your brain just might rocket out your right nostril.

But despite all of that, it also has one of the most simple yet profound stories ever told in a video game. You, the hero Ness, are called upon by a messenger from the future to save the universe from complete destruction at the hands of an Eldritch Abomination known only as Giygas. Along the way you meet a ton of quirky characters who either have something important to say that advances the plot, or nothing of any real importance beyond giving you a chuckle, a belly-laugh or maybe even a lump in your throat or a tear in your eye. You also meet three other youngsters who combine their abilities with Ness to face the terror and save the universe, all the while being accompanied by one of the best and most diverse soundtracks ever to come out of a SNES cartridge.

I really don't know what more there is to say about this game that hasn't already been said better by people like the Happy Video Game Nerd or Roo from Clan of the Gray Wolf, but what I do have to say is this: Let it in. Even if you find it unbearable going up against the repetitive turn-based combat or get frustrated at the insane amount of Event Flags that the plot railroads you through, keep playing because EarthBound is a gaming experience like no other. If you're a fan of a good RPG or just video games in general, you owe it to yourself to find a copy of this game in some form and play through it, if only once. It isn't perfect and it might not look like much on the surface, but let it in and you'll find that there's far more than you could ever have imagined. Put simply, EarthBound is a masterpiece and unlike anything else you will ever play.

Fuzzy pickles ^_^b
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Oh, yes, Earth Bound!
Where to start? Earth Bound is an amazing game, through and through. In danger of angering its cult following, however, I believe the start of Earth Bound is.. slow, to say the least. The battles and interface are simple, but they don't really take shape until later in the game. This game is about single-player strategy and teamwork, not just bashing through enemies left and right. In my opinion, the game does not truly begin until you get your first partner, Paula, and level her up a bit. Then the fun starts. By then, you have a good set of PSI (basically magic spells) abilities and plenty of options.

While its a great game after you get your partner, Earth Bound REALLY hits its stride after you have all four heroes. In my playthrough, in a battle against a gigantic rat in a sewer, I had Paula freeze the rat while Ness went to work on raising everyones shields and defenses. Jeff hit the rat with a bottle rocket, and after some more of this amazing show of strategy and teamwork, we defeated it. Simply amazing.

Did I mention this game is hilarious? To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, there are many running gags and jokes in the game. For example, I didn't catch this at first, but most managers of buildings have food related names (Mr Poochyfud, Mr Fork, Mr Spoon..). Characters are incredibly quirky while still developing as people (If you're anything like me, you'll enjoy watching the complication of Ness and Paulas relationship through the game).

The storytelling is great, too, but a thorough understanding of the canon isn't really needed. You can just have a blast fighting and battling through the game without knowing why you're doing it. If you do pay attention, though, you'll be amazed. Tons of blood, sweat, tears, love, and detailing was put into this game, and oh boy does it show.

Earth Bound has a notorious ending, for good and for bad. I'm not going to ruin it for any to-be players, but let me just say that the final fight is surprising and actually kind of creepy for an old school nintendo game. The music is great, too - I found myself humming battle themes well after completing the game.

In a nutshell, Earth Bound may start slow, but quirky characters, hilarious moments, an awesome soundtrack and a thrilling ending make it worth it. Don't pass this game up no matter what you do!

9.5/10
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