News Article

EarthBound's Virtual Console No-Show Could Be Down To Sampling Issues

Posted by Damien McFerran

Not music to our ears

Hirokazu Tanaka — better known as "Hip Tanaka" — is something of a legend in Nintendo circles. He was with the company in the very early days, creating the sound effects for games like Donkey Kong, and would later find fame composing soundtracks for classics such as Metroid, Balloon Fight and Wrecking Crew. He was also involved with the creation of the soundtrack for cult RPG EarthBound, which was unique in that it featured a heavy use of sound samples.

EarthBound has been one of the most requested titles for Nintendo's Virtual Console, and rumours of its impending release have surfaced and faded on a regular basis for the past few years. We could finally have a reason for its continued absence, and rather disappointingly, it could be the ground-breaking soundtrack that is to blame.

Speaking in an interview with 1UP's Jeremy Parish, Tanaka touched upon the lack of a North American Virtual Console launch:

"The sampling issue is a little sensitive, because... well, I don't know for sure, but it sounds like that is one of the reasons EarthBound is not able to come out in America. It's a topic we should probably avoid."

The interview is packed with other cool information, and is well worth a read — assuming your eyes aren't clouded by tears at the thought that EarthBound may never be re-released outside of Japan, ever.


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User Comments (67)



edhe said:

I'd still say the primary reason it isn't on the Virtual Console is the music.

Anyway, what is this "sampling" Hip Tanaka refers to anyway? Is it like the sampling of the Monty Python theme in the track "your name please"?

In the case of the Monty Python theme, that was a library track. Are there any examples of tracks explicity sampled?



JJGenesis said:

It's been a well known fact that the soundtrack has been the major issue for some time now. Shame really, would love to be able to play this game in the UK without emulation.



Tsuchinoko said:

But see, I'm totally not getting i then, because in Japan we've been wanting this game on the VC forever too. Its not out here either. Sampling issues wouldn't be the same country to country, and there are times when an issue like that would mean that a game couldn't come out in North America, but might come out in Europe. But regardless, none of the Mother series is out on the VC anywhere.



Stuffgamer1 said:

@Tsuchinoko: Nobody can ever agree on the reason the game hasn't been released...and when they can, they routinely IGNORE the fact that the Japanese VC doesn't have it either. THAT remains a great mystery...although I maintain the fact that Mother 3 includes a couple of tracks that were clearly based on Mother 2 tracks yet altered to sound less like other music THOSE tracks were based on (Good Morning and the Skyrunner/fridge track, to be specific) is EXTREMELY suspicious. It implies that even Nintendo of Japan is concerned about SOME of the music in Mother 2.



Tsuchinoko said:

@Stuffgamer1 That's what I've been thinking. Anyway, its a big pain, and while we have the GBA games, those have long been discontinued and are getting harder and harder to find. Also, I have a problem with the audio quality of the GBA version of Mother 2. Some of the music and sound effect just sound awful, which is funny because Mother 3's music sounds amazing, so its not a problem of the technology. There was a serious downgrade from the SNES version.



Stuffgamer1 said:

@Tsuchinoko: Bad port, then; I've heard such complaints before. It's a real shame, but there you go.

@sykotek: That's...actually pretty brilliant! It would satiate the fans, get the game legally into the hands of the public, and be a total win for everyone!

...It'll never happen.



ajcismo said:

The issues surrounding music copyrights in North America are nothing new when it comes to these things. It happens fairly regularly with TV shows trying to get on syndication or home release, ie: The Drew Carey Show. Literally dozens of people have a copyright stake in something and they all want a cut of the pie when it starts generating revenue again. A huge game featuring a ton of different music samples, all with different copyright owners, is no different.



SkywardLink98 said:

Considering most gamers play the games for the gameplay not the music, I think most of us would choose to have the game without select tracks if that's what it took to get it on the Virtual Console.



Gridatttack said:

Wonder if this the reason why some of the earthbound music was cut for SSBB?Along the files of the game, people have found one named eight melodies. Dunno where it comes, since I never played the game. Also the Hippie battle them was discovered.Anyway, its a shame its foggy to see a release of the game on VC. I want to play this RPG since it seems awesome. Its just there, teasing us



photofool83 said:

Make the game completely silent then. I'll still play it. Please Nintendo bring this game to VC for all to play!!



GeminiSaint said:

Um, this isn't new. This has been a known fact for a long time now.
A few years back, NOA asked NOJ to dummy out the offending music samples for a Virtual Console release, but NOJ was all like "lol nope", and that's why there's no Earthbound in the west.



Rensch said:

I'm so curious about this game, but I'll guess we'll never see it over here.



MrWezzle said:

Earthbound's soundtrack is nearly as iconic as the game itself. Changing the music (and you'd need to change quite a bit to be rid of these issues) would be just as jarring as changing any other aspect of the game. Plus, they'd never actually do it.



shinpichu said:

@everyone saying "just change the music"

Come back and say that when you get a degree in composition. You can't just make new music, you need to put time into it or it'll turn out to be garbage.

Also, this is and RPG, so the things like music often contribute to the experience, so changing the music might rub some fans the wrong way.



TheDreamingHawk said:

Simply change the music, replace it with another song, do whatever. This game needs to be on the VC, and if not in america, then at least Japan to prove that it CAN be rereleased in it's current form.



Tsuchinoko said:

@StuffGamer1 Yeah, I mean I'm glad to have it, and it's a good game, but Mother 2 has some serious audio issues. Another thing I had a problem with was that they released the three Mother games for the GBA it at the very end of the GBA's life cycle. There's even notices on the back of the box that it could be played on the various DS systems. I think it contributed to the games not selling as well as they could have.

Hey TheDreamingHawk, I'll follow your example

@Everyone I don't buy it, at all. I think there's something more to this than just music copyright issues, or else this game would be on the Japanese VC as well. Whether or not Tanaka knows the real issues or not, its up to Nintendo, and I highly doubt they would change music for Mother to have a foreign release, if they have no plans for a domestic Japanese release either. There's other issues here, and I doubt it will be resolved anytime soon. Just like the Star Fox/Yoshi's Island issue.

@Gridatttack I doubt that's part of this same issue. Actually, a lot of music was cut from SSBB. There's files for many things in that game, from characters (Dixie Kong, various pokemon that I can't remember since I don't play that game), to other music (Super Mario RPG is another game that had songs represented but were cut).



FluttershyGuy said:

Boy, I didn't know this was even still an issue. Since you never even hear anything, I thought it was generally accepted that this is about as likely to ever see the light of day on VC as a Rare game like Banjo-Kazooie, or old licensed game like TMNT IV: Turtles in Time. In other words, no chance in Hades... Pit... Hades... Pit... HADES... PI... um sorry, got sidetracked.

Fact is, while it COULD be done, Nintendo/third parties aren't going to spend any money making changes to an old game in order to release it in the West. It's not worth it to them, or whatever. Sometimes, we're lucky to see ANY VC releases. Bothers me too, as I'd love to see English-translated Final Fantasy II & III for NES, and IV & V for SNES. That's never going to happen either.

Plus, there is no interest from Nintendo to do anything Mother-wise in the West. They don't think it's a money maker here, or whatever. So, sadly a retail release seems as likely as a VC release. In some areas, we're just never gonna get anything from Nintendo, and this is one of them. They do what they want for sure.

After news like this saying "don't hold your breath", those of you who own an Earthbound cart could make a killing on Ebay!



Big_A2 said:

Eh, this is old news to me. It was clear after the failure of PK Callin' back on 2009 and the posts on EB Central about the issues with getting it on Virtual Console.



Tsuchinoko said:

@Fluttershyguy From what I've seen, Nintendo doesn't think its a money-maker here in Japan either. Its more of a cute niche-type game that they make references to sometimes, but nothing they want to invest in. Most Japanese people know what Mother is though, and many like it.

Nintendo has a habit of leaving behind old series, I'm still surprised that they haven't made another F-Zero game in a long time. Hey, I'm glad they're really pushing Fire Emblem these days though, and I am hoping for a Pikmin 3DS.

Anyway, the one big thing that separates the Mother series from most of the other Nintendo franchises is that they were all written and produced by one guy (Shigesato Itoi), so its essentially his series.



Big_A2 said:

One thing I forgot to mention; interestingly, Mother 2 is on the Japanese Brawl under "Masterpieces". Apparantly with some hacking you can actually play the whole game on the JAP Brawl's disc.



Geonjaha said:

Lol Earthbound. Get over it guys. Quirky, decent RPG - not to be mistaken for god. Play some other classic RPG's and stop complaining.



Handy_Man said:

If I recall correctly, the XBLA and PSN port of Crazy Taxi had a very similar problem, and every single song has been changed in order for it to release.

So I think it's possible for EarthBound's soundtrack to be replaced, it would just take a lot of time.



Squiggle55 said:

Earthbound is probably my favorite game. I could easily play through it every year. This is very frustrating to hear - especially the line "it's a topic we should probably avoid." I agree with Tsuchinoko, it really seems like there is something else holding this up other than music, and it's very frustrating. This game, its world, its characters, and its style are all gold. I wish they would go through the effort it will require to release it, or just make a new one for the new consoles. Either way, it's frustrating for it to be brushed aside by saying "it's a topic we should probably avoid." I know absolutely nothing about it, but maybe it's something like Capcom wanting nothing to do with Inafune's mega man after he left.



Tsuchinoko said:

@Geonjaha That's the entire point of this thread. People are allowed to vent or share an opinion if they wish. Please don't tell them to not say what they want to say, its disrespectful.



SuperSinSlayer77 said:

@Tsuchinoko Agreed. Earthbound is easily one of the best RPGs ever and sadly one of the most overlooked games ever. The Mother series in general has suffered alot when it comes to an international release. Mother 1 was translated into english but was never massed produced because the Super Nintendo came along. Then Nintendo tried to get gamers to get Earthbound though their marketing efforts didn't help sales. Finally, Earthbound's poor sales is one of the reasons Mother 3 isn't making an international release. This series deserves more recognition and love!



LadyStarstorm said:

Those who said "if they can't sell it, give it for free..."

That's actually an incredibly brilliant workaround. A promotional giveaway or something Club Nintendo related. It would appease everyone, and avoid the issue of them profiting off samples of music that they don't have / don't want to pay for the rights to sell. o.o

I doubt it will occur to them, or actually happen, but... It's certainly clever.



Ryno said:

@SuperSinSlayer77: I think Earthbound has a ton of "recognition and love," that is not the problem.
Nintendo has determined that it is not worth it to release this game and/or series. Shigesato Itoi has moved on from Earthbound/Mother as well.



Morpheel said:

Well, I have never played the game, but even I know it is a copyright bomb ready to explode.



CanisWolfred said:

I'd rather they remade Earthbound, anyways. They don't need to change much, but it could use a graphical update.



scrubbyscum999 said:

Never played the game. I really wish I could though. It's a shame that the game is filled with so much copyright.



Onett said:

I would recommend buying a used copy online for $40.00 though I'm sure most people who still have a SNES already have Earthbound. There are other options however I don't condone it.



Onett said:

@Ryno My bad. I didn't bother to check how much they were running for these days. I remember getting my used copy from Game Dude for roughly that price back in 2001. It looks like it has gone up to $90.00 used to buy in store.



shonenjump86 said:

Never really cared much for Eartbound, but I feel for those who really want this. It sucks having a game you want not hitting the VC.



Emaan said:

I already knew about this. Its just a shame. Earthbound is such a lovely experience, its unmatched. I wish Nintendo cared about it as much as some of us fans do. I know its nearly impossible for them to do anything about it, but they could at least give some acknowledgement to the series and give it a try at re-releasing it. Remaking the game is also an option though, even making it a Club Nintendo prize like others have said.



Yanchamaru said:

Tatsunoko vs Capcom was a North American license disaster, but Capcom worked with all the companies who owned the rights to get the game released. Unfortunately, Nintendo is not willing to spend the extra money to get Earthbound on the VC.



ATDI said:

Have you seen how much this game costs? It's not worth buying it only to risk having the save battery die. Sorry, Nintendo, but we have no choice but to play this game illegally. =|



MeloMan said:

Wow, tears on top of tears. Sound samples is "ONE" of the reasons... man, I guess the others are political and or B.S. related. As far as the sound sample issue, it's REALLY tragic because the music is one of the best things about Earthbound. Menu theme, Fourside... oh how I miss those songs. What bothers me is, why can't we at LEAST get Earthbound2 (or Mother3 if you will)? What wrong with THAT game? I don't know who I need to punch at Nintendo/HAL, Nintendo, HAL, the creator of the game, etc. There has to be SOMETHING SOMEONE can do...



geekypckid said:

@ATDI Actually because Earthbound isn't released on the Virtual Console there is no way for Nintendo to make money off of the game so it is perfectly legal to play the rom, however if Nintendo puts it up on the Virtual Console then yes it will be illegal to play the rom.



arrmixer said:

maybe with the wii u we will get an exclusive digital download of all the mother series... one can dream....

Like most people I'm over this issue.. maybe I'll get to play the series when the series hits its 25th......????

even I should play the rom version especially with all the translations available for FREE!!! I really like the system experience for some reason.. thus i haven't even played the series...



Henmii said:

It's known for some time now that the soundtrack is risky (it has to do with copyright and stuff, but I don't know the complete story). But Nintendo is always sooo lazy: Why not changing the soundtrack a bit and still bringing it to Europe? Ah well, it won't happen!



ElementalChaos said:

By now I don't think we'll ever be seeing Earthbound on VC in any shape or form, because changing the soundtrack is something too drastic to do.



Stuffgamer1 said:

@Mickeymac: He was referring to a well-known legal loophole in copyright law. You can't really prosecute copyright infringement if you can't prove it's hurting your profits. Nintendo obviously cannot prove that they're losing money because people who have been BEGGING them to sell the game are forced to resort to other means. Therefore, there's no harm in emulation as a last resort.

Nintendo's all but given us their blessing to take that route already; they've officially stated that they know the fan translation of Mother 3 exists (which obviously cannot be used without emulating Mother 3), yet they've made no effort whatsoever to shut it down. In fact, Reggie has claimed to be a fan of the series himself; if that's true, he's probably enjoyed the fan translation himself. At this point, it really is a case where the franchise has been so thoroughly abandoned, all parties are okay with whatever happens...except for those with an overactive conscience.



DrDaisy said:

I don't get how a movie like Meet The Spartans (a lazy rip-off of 300 with too many scat jokes and pop culture references) can be made with no problems, but games like Earthbound can't be protected as parodies.



jack49455 said:

They should just try to fix the sound. I play the whole series and i love the music. i wish it would come i would buy the day it came out. i wouldn't care what the prices was. Battling porkys a blast and his them is great. i also like f-f-fire from earthbound 2/mother 3.



Azaris said:

I wish people would stop blaming EB not being released do to music sampling.
Sonic 3 sampled music from Michael jackson yet it's seen like a million re-releases.
And besides since many copyrights are not international(music is big one) A japanese version of EB would be perfectically fine witout nintendo getting sued,yet nintendo of japan haven't done it yet. The real reason they haven't is they want to wait an x ammount of time plain and simple.



madgear said:

@LazyGamer - actually Sonic 3 came out before Michael Jackson's History album so either Michael Jackson wrote the music for the game or he was the one who sampled Sonic 3.

As for Earthbound - it wouldn't be a big task for Nintendo to alter the offending tunes. There must be another reason for it - perhaps the same reason they're holding back StarFox and Yoshi's Island (please don't say it's emulation issues when ancient mobile phones can even run those games). One answer is laziness, though - it may require a bit of extra work that they're just not willing to bother with. Sega have made changes to certain VC titles to get them a release, but guess it depends on if the right holder can be bothered.



SMW said:

Just buy it on SNES. If you don't have an SNES, Earthbound will more than makeup for the cost of the system and the cost of the game. Just don't emulate, thats not cool.

Also the Mother 3 translation patch CAN be applied to a Mother 3 cartridge. I wouldn't want to risk harming my precious Mother 3, though. I just play it in Japanese, which definitely makes it harder, but still fun.



eltomo said:

I got my copy for $125 a few months back. Pricey, but a massive part of snes and gaming history! Not like these "Prototypes"



Kurachi said:

i hope the rumor didnt wake up the copyright owners of the songs, which the samples sound like, so that it wont come on the wii's VC (forget the weeyuu)
that'd be sad, starmen FANsite causing it not coming to wii's VC..... hope thats not the case... and i hope it will come before they quit wii's services, which may be anytime after (maybe even before) weeyuu comes out

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