Like many people who were around and playing video games in the 90s, I remember the marketing campaign for a strange new SNES title called EarthBound in 1994. Also like many of you, I didn’t bother to play a game whose marketing simply said, “This game stinks.” It also didn’t help things that EarthBound cost more than the average Super Nintendo title, owing to the fact that it came with a full strategy guide.
EarthBound sold poorly, received few positive reviews, and quietly disappeared from the minds of most people. It did, however, find fans in its western release, and those fans built a definitive example of a cult following. It also helped spark interest in the game when protagonist Ness became a fixture in the Super Smash Bros series.
The game is now considered one of the best SNES games ever, thanks in no small part to all of the above, combined with the game being made available on a variety of platforms. I finally got a chance to play when I picked up the SNES Classic. The game almost immediately won me over with its earnest, brave child characters, unusual sense of humor, and visuals that combined American suburbia with aliens, monsters, interdimensional travel, and even the will of the gods themselves.
EarthBound tells an expansive story on a wholly unique world, quite different from contemporary SNES RPGs like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III/VI.
No, the game isn’t perfect, with its mostly-traditional JRPG approach featuring some memorable difficulty spikes. You’re also going to learn to become ruthless with which items and weapons you keep amongst a party that begins with young Ness and eventually expands to include three more kids. EarthBound for all its singular charm and humor can be an intensely frustrating experience at times.
Any frustration you might find with EarthBound is worth it. From the moment you begin your journey by investigating a strange meteorite that has crashed in your town of Onett, you’re immersed in this unique world. There’s an element of something very real and grounded in this place, but EarthBound will also introduce you to bizarre creatures and humans who are at best eccentric. In the tradition of the best RPGs, half the fun of EarthBound comes down to the cities, dungeons (one of the game’s dungeons is an actual living being), and other locales you’re going to visit. Every destination has secrets, challenges, and characters who serve to only add even deeper layers of richness to this relentlessly surreal, surprisingly good-natured classic.
Playing EarthBound recently for the third time in less than five years, I’m still finding new things within this game, which is packed almost beyond comprehension with jokes, references, and a certain attention to detail and uniqueness that remains consistent as you head towards your showdown with the mysterious and frankly terrifying Giygas.
EarthBound is easy to get into as RPGs go, but that’s just one part of its appeal. The fun and style, including one of the best soundtracks of the 16-bit era, never ceases to catch you by surprise. It’s a delight that combines with good gameplay and visuals to create an experience any RPG fan or gamer period should attempt at least once.
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