I didn't have a SNES growing up. I didn't have a NES, either. I had an N64, though, so I'm not totally hopeless. Lately, I've been able to remedy the gaps in my gaming knowledge, since Nintendo's been adding a ton of games that I either missed (because of being a baby) or missed (as in, bemoaned the absence of) to the Nintendo Switch Online service.
But, well, a lot of them haven't aged well — even the ones I remember fondly, whose sharp edges can be filed off by nostalgic forgiveness, like Banjo-Kazooie. Listen, Banjo-Kazooie is a great game, but 25 years of playing constantly refined and perfected platformers make that game feel kinda bad. Sorry. [I... But... It's... *temple pain kicks in* - Ed.]
Playing old SNES and NES games is even more difficult, because I don't have the fond memories to soften the blow. I booted up Final Fantasy, a game I had never played before, and it just feels like playing an old game — like selling your fancy 2020 Ford Focus with Bluetooth and seat warmers and buying a car from the '90s with manual roll-up windows and no aux port. I am spoiled, but when it comes to games, I like having things like sensible camera controls and the ability to carry more than ten things in my inventory.
It's not just controls, either. Some games have aged poorly in terms of their writing and their quest design, and although I'd love to say that it's not really their fault, their age is no excuse. There were plenty of games in the '90s with whip-smart dialogue and humour that aged exceptionally well, and one of those games is... Earthbound. What do you mean you already knew that from the title?
When you don't grow up with certain consoles, you'll find that you have big gaps in your video game library of knowledge. People will reference beloved serieses like Halo, Uncharted, and F-Zero, and you'll just smile and nod and hope that you don't get outed as someone who doesn't know the difference between Master Chief and Captain Falcon.
That was me with Earthbound. It was one of those games that seemed universally adored, and there's a cynical part of me that just point-blank refuses to believe people when they universally agree on something, which is also why it took me 25 years to watch Die Hard.
I mean, yeah, sure, I'm sure Earthbound was great when you were a kid, but without that context, it's just another old JRPG, right? I've played Pokémon! I can extrapolate! Earthbound is probably just Pokémon with extra children and fewer animals designed for punching.
Anyway, to cut a 30-year-old story short, I picked up Earthbound as soon as it came to the Nintendo Switch Online library, because there's not much point in paying for the NSO service if you're not going to use it. I figured I'd see what all the fuss was about, and then move on to a modern game with tasty 3D camera controls and an inventory that has a "sort by value" button. Yum.
Why did nobody tell me how good Earthbound was?
Oh, right. Because I didn't listen to them.
From the very beginning, I was in awe of how weird this game was. Millennial and Gen-Z humour these days tends to favour the absurd, and Earthbound slotted right into that like it had been released just yesterday. I mean, in the first few minutes of the game, you find a special bee in a crater, and just when you think this bee might be a companion or a super-important character at the very least — he gets squashed, never to be mentioned again. That's still funny! And likewise, there are loads of items that don't do anything magical, like the ruler — which just helps you measure things. Because of course it does. It's a ruler. What did you expect?
It's strange to play games like this out of order, because having played a fair bit of Undertale and Deltarune, my first thought was, "Wow... this seems like a Toby Fox game." I know. Of course it does, it's one of his biggest influences! That's like going to a museum and saying, "Huh, a lot of painters were named after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." But you know what I mean.
my first thought was, "Wow... this seems like a Toby Fox game." I know... That's like going to a museum and saying, "Huh, a lot of painters were named after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
Being able to see the influence that a game would eventually have on an entire generation of developers is pretty cool in itself, but being able to acknowledge that a lot of the things you love about modern games were straight up ripped out of Earthbound is like finding a puzzle piece you didn't even know you were missing. Suddenly, a lot of things make more sense.
There are all these musical stings that I've been hearing for years, and it turns out that they're all from the same place: Earthbound, which has some utterly stunning sound design for its age. Same with the aesthetics, from the main kid's iconic cap-and-stripy-shirt getup (I called him "Egg") to the green/blue checkered background — references to these things can be found everywhere, once you know where to look. I told a friend of mine that it was like finding out that half of American celebrities are secretly Canadian, and then you'll start seeing secret Canadians everywhere, too.
And aside from the impact it's had on the industry, Earthbound is just a really good game. Sure, it has its flaws, which largely stem from it being a game from the mid-'90s — but I'm willing to forgive a lot of the problems, because they're so immaculately, cleverly flavoured.
Earthbound is a game that's about kids, and a lot of its design decisions stem from that. All the healing items you get are the foods that children dream of, or that might be packed into their lunches: Burgers, fries, boiled eggs, and sandwiches; sometimes you'll find more grown-up items like coffee, but the description specifically says "I guess it tastes good to adults." Your enemies range from strange monsters that make no sense, like a literal road sign, to corrupted adults with mundane names like "Extra Cranky Lady" — the kind of monsters that an 8-year old might come up with.
So it makes sense that you have a really tiny inventory, and half of it is filled with key items you can't get rid of. You're a child. You have tiny pockets. It also makes sense that you save the game by telephoning your dad, and that towns are the only place to do so, because again — you're a kid! And likewise, fast travel being done via buses, a tiny village inhabited only by weird little guys who all have the same name, and the fact that a significant portion of the game is about exploring caves — it's all prime '90s kid stuff. I didn't live near a cave, but if I did, you can bet I would have spent a lot of time in there imagining I was a pirate or whatever.
(So, listen, game developers: If you're going to make a game that has some slightly irritating design choices, you can totally get away with it as long as you theme it.)
I'm sorry that it's taken me so long to listen to the horde of people telling me that Earthbound is a good game. To be fair, people recommend things all the time that turn out to be pants, so it's healthy to have a little bit of cynicism. But it's also good to know that some games are eternally great, no matter how old they are, even if you don't have a cushion of nostalgia — so on this Mother's Day I'll be working my way towards the end of Earthbound. 30 years too late is better than never!
Earthbound's great, huh? Tell me your favourite bit (and what you named your characters!) in the comments.
Kate, please play Beginnings too. After all, the Japanese name of Ninten's hometown is Mother's Day!
I still need to start this. I said I would during last week's Backlog article but alas I got distracted by.... Banjo Kazooie, ironically enough. Definitely want to try and play it at some point though since it looks like the kind of thing I would love: a really weird yet also extremely emotionally driven game with great character interactions.
Then again people have said it's gross so maybe I'll give it a miss....
....I'M JOKING I'M JOKING.
Super Mario RPG is way better than Earthbound. You have to time your attacks, and you choose to fight an enemy.
Playing Beginnings at the moment. I think it would made a good candidate for the opposite article: ‘Games that Definitely Have Noticeably Aged’.
Still, if Earthbound/Mother 2 is a fascinating glimpse into origin of modern games such as Undertale, then Earthbound Beginnings/Mother 1 is an relatively interesting glimpse into origins of Mother 2.
Probably worth playing, but it hasn’t exactly aged gracefully.
I know the feeling, when I play Skyrim I get real BotW vibes.
Earthbound was a game so far ahead of its time, that it's never too late to jump in and enjoy it for the first time 💖
@RadioShadow Super Mario RPG is a wonderful game, but in comparison to its ilk, has a real "baby's first RPG" feel to it. Just way too easy.
How dare you say that to Banjo Kazzoie 😡
I beat this game for the first time this year. It's been on my bucket list for a while and I'm glad I got to cross it off.
I played Earthbound for the first time around 2014, I enjoyed the visuals and sound but I found the battle system meh and many times it got frustrating. With a guide it became easier but also a chore.
I gotta say though, the edisnooM part of the game is my favorite. If I ever replay it I would prefer it be a dumbed down version so I can just enjoy the fun dialogue.
There is a part late in the game where the music sounds broken and it's just great, you know, the feeling it creates.
EarthBound is good.
Please play the Mother 3 fan translation next. If you enjoyed EarthBound you'll get so much out of it.
Wow, I never realized before reading this article, but there really ARE a lot of painters that were named after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!
I mean that's because undertale pretty much ripped off of Earthbound and spurred the clone movement.
@kurtasbestos This is why I hate when they do retro reviews it's like yeah we were there already
I played this when I ived in a shared house in the 90s. Folk wondered what the heck I was playing lol. Everyone thought it looked rubbish It was a difficult game to recommend (well, easy for me to try, but hard for folk to believe me lol). Much easier now that the ebay prices are ridiculous. (smh)
It is - and always will remain - a great game accessible regardless of its age (most 8 and 16 bit games by contrast are very hard to recommend to newcomers).
Of snes rpgs the only other one I’d put in the same category is Chrono Trigger.
Ignore the talk about Mario RPG. It’s obviously a great game but very much of its time. FF6 is also great but needs a real going over from Square (it would be amazing in 2d-HD with some QOL changes).
Earthbound gives me Deltarune vibes.
Same here, I'm playing Zelda ALttP now, and I'm having some serious Tunic vibes. I see the influence there.
Why do you name things egg so much? Your Animal Crossing island and now Ness? Where does it end lol?!
"being able to acknowledge that a lot of the things you love about modern games were straight up ripped out of Earthbound is like finding a puzzle piece you didn't even know you were missing."
I understand this feeling perfectly. This was how I felt when I first watched Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Earthbound is one of my favorite 16-bit RPGs. I played it for the first time on the Wii U VC several years ago, followed by Beginnings about a year later. The former still holds up very well and is what I recommend people start with. Beginnings...hasn't aged the best, but it has a decent plot and is a very good reference board for what came later. I don't recommend it without a guide.
I first played Earthbound on a used SNES cartridge bought from the local GameStop in 2000. I'd learned about it from Nintendo Power magazine. Since I liked RPGs and weird humor I figured it would be perfect for me. I was right.
Doesn’t surprise me that Kate likes Earthbound. They both have a whimsical sense of humor.
Having played Beginnings and now starting Earthbound for backlog club I would say it’s worth playing both, but they are very similar. I’m about a third of the way through Earthbound and I love it for a lot of the same reasons as in the article, it really feels like a missing piece of gaming history has fallen into place.
The music is brilliant (Ness on his bike just makes me smile) and I strangely like that so many attacks miss, including your enemies, it actually makes the battles more entertaining.
I also have to mention here that playing Earthbound made me go back and hunt down the fabulous comic art of Zac Gorman (search Magical Game Time), lots of Lovely Zelda and EB pieces that breathe an extra dimension into those gaming worlds
It's interesting seeing how many people have got into Earthbound in recent years and loved it, because I played it for the first time on the SNES Mini and thought it was a decent enough game that was probably clever and unique for its time, but nothing special nowadays. Makes me feel like I'm missing out on something, but I guess everyone has at least one universally beloved game that they thought was just alright, so I can live with that.
I remember when this game came out (I guess I’m aging myself here) and was panned by critics. Had that terrible ad in Nintendo Power. I was sure it sucked, but I was curious too. I was never an RPG guy either, so it was a big step out of my own gaming comfort zone.
The sense of humour it sported allowed me to fight through the needless design frustrations… and when the game turned totally insane toward its conclusion, I felt as though I had stumbled on to something secret. That those who were too unforgiving of the more tedious aspects of Earthbound never had a chance to witness. The emotional rollercoaster of sadness, nightmare and abstract ideas that I had not only never experienced before, but that I’ve unsuccessfully searched for in other games ever since.
I still haven’t played it yet because whenever I’m at home I mainly just surf the internet and play phone games and watch random videos. And I haven’t gone anywhere yet...
@KateGray I'd say one of my favorite parts was when I got to Fourside. It really captured that "kids making it to the big city" vibe, and the theme is still one of my all time favs. As far as character names, oh jeez, it's been everything from me and my close friends to various Nintendo characters.
@KateGray Hiya Kate, hope you're feeling better. Maybe I should have warned you... please don't eat the entire box of Timbits by yourself. Kids develop those Superman delusions and jump out of second-story windows, and writers... well, writers produce articles like this. (I'm sure it actually feels like flying when you're writing it...)
I guess we've learned one thing from this: you won't soon be replaced by an AI, no matter what sort of input you feed the damned thing.
EDIT: I admit it, my knowledge of Timbit-delirium comes first-hand. We've all made that mistake once...
You know, upon deeper consideration, maybe this isn't just a reflection of a unique (albeit sugar-fueled) writer. Weaving a coherent article out of all that... it might be like dadaism, or a combination of Monty Python and Kids in the Hall. What the heck are Yoko Taro and Tetsuya Takahashi doing with their lives right now? Just imagine a scenario written by those two, with dialogue from Kate. It might break your mind... and be the greatest JRPG of all time.
@RadioShadow Earthbound arguably includes both of those features. The battles aren’t random encounters, and if you time attacks right you can survive battles you wouldn’t have otherwise.
But I do share your love for Super Mario RPG.
I can't believe I have to ask all the hard questions. So, Kate, how did you like Die Hard?
I played Earthbound for the first time at the beginning of the pandemic. And managed to finish Mother for the first time at the end of last year. Both experiences left me with a lot of nostalgia for those games. Didn't think it was possible, but I guess that's what makes them timeless
@Toshiro_Baloney I loved that ad! It was in my very first Nintendo Power, w/ the smelly socks and trash smelling stickers. So clever, considering the game, even looking back now.
Have I ever mentioned how great EarthBound is??
@Drew250 I think the thing I dislike most about EarthBound, is that once you get Paula, you no longer get to ride the bicycle around, hear that great music, and ring that bell.
Anytime I hear a bicycle bell in Real Life, that music immediately pops into my head.
@JasmineDragon it's pretty good! Honestly the way some people talk about it, I thought it was going to be a movie all about punching, but it's much more nuanced and clever than that.
@KateGray It is a pretty great movie. Don't bother with any of the sequels, though. None of them come anywhere near it.
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