I just finished playing one of the strangest games I’ve ever seen. Earlier this year my wife bought me Earthbound for the Super Nintendo and now that I beat the game I can safely say that I’ll never play a game that crazy again. Why? Because no one will ever make a game quit like Earthbound.
One of The Best Games Ever
For those of you unaware what Earthbound is, it is an RPG on the SNES that stars Ness, a young boy chosen to save the earth from a space alien named Giygas and his hoard of baddies. During the game he’ll get the help of Paula, a psychic, Jeff, a genius inventor, and Poo, a prince from a mystic village. When the game first came out, Nintendo did all it could to push for a successful US launch, hyping the game with incentives such as a free players guide with the game and scratch and sniff stickers to entice fans with the weird factor. And few people bought the game.
Why was this? Well, the game is crazy. It’s an RPG but it isn’t like any RPG you’ve likely played. It gets cited numerous times for replacing the usual swords and spears as weapons with baseball bats and frying pans, but that’s not the big difference I saw. No, the game constantly does things that make you go, “Huh? Did they really say that?” Characters will point out that they’re in a game all the time, even referencing you as the player, asking for your name specifically every so often. You can expect a whole lot of crazy to befall you on your journey around Eagleland.
Focus On the Story, Not the Graphics
The problem with the game then and even more now is its lack of high-quality graphics. Earthbound didn’t attempt to push the SNES anywhere near its limits in ways that Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI had done, so people brushed the strange game aside as an inferior example of a game. Honestly, if you take a quick look at screens you may think the game was made as a class assignment.
But what the game doesn’t do with graphics it does ten times over with story, pacing, music, and innovations. In a typical RPG battle your health bar will instantly go up or down when hit by an enemy or recovered by an ally. However, Earthbound has a different take on this with a counter system. If an enemy does a huge hit to you that’d normally kill you, your health points rapidly count down, but if an ally heals you before you die then your health goes back up. It makes for a very quick-paced situation every now and then but it sure helps to keep the game from being monotonous. Plus, this game can get tough if you aren’t careful.
Still, the game is forgiving by allowing you to keep all your progress when you die. I was so happy to discover that all experience and money and everything I did before I was killed remained even when I went back to my last save point. This is a huge relief compared to what happens in Final Fantasy games where you could be a few hours from your last save, die, and lose it all. Kudos for that.
Fans This Great Don’t Come Along Every Generation
The best thing about Earthbound, by far, is its community. Go to www.starmen.net and check out the amount of devotion fans have for the Earthbound property. They love this game. The soundtrack has been remixed more than once with a special remix album given only to fans that truly prove their love of the Earthbound genre (like, maybe, posting an article about how great Earthbound is). Also, check out their deal on the Ness shirt, hat, yo-yo, and buttons. That’s sweet and I want them.
I told you all this to explain that Earthbound isn’t the only game in the series. Earthbound is actually the second game of three from the series known as Mother in Japan. The US got Mother 2 but never got the prequel or the sequel. Ever. Why the heck not?
Well, far as I can tell, Nintendo is extremely weary about making a risky venture such as localizing a property so random as Mother. They took the chance once, it didn’t pan out, and now they won’t do it again. We haven’t even received a re-release of Earthbound on the Game Boy Advance, DS, or the Virtual Console. Once again, why the heck not?
Here’s the problem: the soundtrack and tons of the references in the game come from copyrighted sources. The Runaway Five, a band that pops up a few times in Earthbound, is obviously a parody of the Blues Brothers. Also, you’ll swear you see Mr. T walking around every town. Even better, the soundtrack was inspired by The Beatles in a number of places (I can’t particularly point these places out), which leads to massive problems with what can and can’t be included in the game anymore.
Forget all that! The game is a parody through and through, which means all of these things fall under the coverage of the fair-use copyright law which states that you can pretty much use anything without worry of being sued as long as you’re doing so as a spoof, parody, or review (which, as a review writer, I love oh so much). It’s why Weird Al is able to make songs that sound exactly like other songs since he’s making parodies. The problem with copyright laws is still why Nintendo typically says they’ll never bring the Mother series back to the US, even in a re-released form.
Oh, but they tease us all the time. Ness has appeared in all three Super Smash Bros games, with Lucas, one of the main characters from Mother 3, appearing in Brawl. Jeff appears as an Assist Trophy in Brawl as well with multiple locations from the Mother series littering the stages such as Onett, Fourside, and New Pork City. Japan has seen both Mother 3 and a Mother 1+2 release for the Game Boy Advance, but since Earthbound, the US has got nothing.
Why is Nintendo still so scared of releasing these games stateside? Fans have been emphatic about wanting more Earthbound. Starmen.net has a full English translation for Mother 3 waiting for anyone that wishes to play it but doesn’t speak Japanese. Fans have already done the localization work! C’mon already! What more do you want?!