This review originally went live in 2015, and we're updating and republishing it to mark the arrival of EarthBound Beginnings in the Nintendo Switch Online NES library.
If you were an early adopter of EarthBound fanaticism in the West, you likely caught wind of a previous title made for the Famicom. Translated into English and perfectly playable, it oddly never made it to retail release on the NES. And yet, like from some urban legend, a group of fans managed to buy a beta cartridge of the RPG off eBay in 1998 and released the ROM onto the Internet as "EarthBound Zero."
It's pretty surreal, yet the fact the game took so long to appear officially on an honest-to-goodness western Nintendo console somehow feels even more so.
EarthBound Beginnings is the localized version of the original Mother for the Famicom. Its official Virtual Console appearance on Wii U eShop back in 2015 marked a victory for EarthBound lovers who had maintained a persistent current of petitioning and support for many years, but it's also somewhat of an anachronism. Given the order most have played these titles, Beginnings can feel like a loving demake of the SNES game at times, as much as the parent it truly is.
Similarities between Beginnings and the SNES EarthBound are many, with a number of concepts and themes transferred from the first to the second. There's the psychic, bat-wielding boy and his three companions, the consumption of burgers and other foods to restore HP, the collecting of a melody, and an alien threat. The overall plots are different, but both are interesting and even surprisingly emotional at times, joined to the same quirky heart of creator Shigesato Itoi.
That's not to say the playing experiences of both are an exact match, however. Beginnings plainly shows its colours as an '80s era RPG, with its sequel refining or improving upon many of its elements. Patience is absolutely necessary to make progress in this game. There's little to no hand-holding, and enemies are quite capable of taking your character out as soon as he takes the first steps out of his idyllic rural home. Dying will be common while grinding up to better levels and equipment, but the system doesn't punish defeat too severely as long as money is kept stored in a handy ATM instead of on your person. New party members will also have to be babied while they gain their footing in levels.
Interactions are made through the menu system, and unfortunately there's no one-hit shortcut for actions or communicating as there is in EarthBound. At least there is one-press access to the status screen and map, which is nice, and this western version includes a "run" option by holding down the 'B' button. It actually just increases the speed of the entire game, but it works.
The translation of Beginnings is more than serviceable, but feels flatter compared to the spirited localization of EarthBound. Certain other aesthetic and cultural changes were made for the West: the crows still don't smoke cigarettes.
The contemporary world is colourful and presented well for the NES era, although veterans of the series will know by now not to expect any action during battles. Static enemy portraits are all you get, but it's an intriguing gallery of often cute and/or bizarre rogues to discover. By now it's a big part of the charm the games are known for, but won't win over anyone who'd rather see animation.
The soundtrack — a cooperative composition by Hirokazu Tanaka and Keiichi Suzuki — really brings the best out of 8-bit audio technology, offering up songs ranging from catchy and bubbly to mysterious and atmospheric. It stands the test of time, although the bizarre Magicant theme might get grating after a while based on the time that tends to be spent grinding through it (especially true if you're familiar with the beautified remix in Super Smash Bros.).
It feels like parts of this review might read more like a documentary, but much of the significance of EarthBound Beginnings — of Mother — lies in its spirit and the influence of such on subsequent games. EarthBound is absolutely the overall better title available to folks right now, and those who have yet to play either should definitely start with that. If you do enjoy EarthBound, however, then Beginnings is well worth investigating, especially given mod-cons such as save states and rewinding which help take the rough edges off a formative but less refined game. Sticking through its older style of play, with its difficulty and occasional fluctuations in balance, will yield a fine story and a strangely transcendental sense of nostalgia, like a letter of love written to a child who hadn't even been born yet.
The first time I played this was for a few minutes on an emulator when I was deployed to Iraq. It was actually okay but I lost interest since it was at work and I really wasn't supposed to play video games. Fast forward to now, I've played it since it dropped on Wednesday and I can absolutely see the similarities between it and Earthbound. Beginnings is playable when you look at it through the lens of an Earthbound appreciator and that it's from the 80's. With those caveats, I'm having a blast with it and made it to the cemetery. Also, I've already gotten more than one laugh out of it so I see that as a win.
@IronMan30 Now THAT'S a story!
I'm so happy Nintendo is making the game even more accessible for more people to try out so they can experience more of the EarthBound/Mother series. It was always so odd to me that they localized a perfectly fine RPG (that was acclaimed in Japan) back in the day, just to shelve it before release in North America. I understand they were afraid they were going to lose money releasing it late into the NES's life, along with the hit-or-miss reputation of RPGs in the West at the time, but still.
At any rate, the game still holds up fairly well today. Though the grindy nature (as were most RPGs of the day) is pretty frustrating. It would have been nice if Nintendo went the extra mile this time and added an easy exp option like the fan translation of the game did, but I'm not going to complain too much since I'm stoked to see the game get more attention landing on NSO! We are one step closer to Mother 3 getting an official release in the West 😎
Simply put, it's unplayable without any mods or patches. "Grindy" is a compliment for this game.
It’s genuinely impressive for the time but has definitely aged. Still worth a look!
@rushiosan That was my experience with it. But there are plenty of people out there online that will tell you that's not the case. So I dunno, Maybe I played it wrong? :Shrug:
Greatest game of all time, beautiful music, open world, excellent writing, and all somehow on the NES.
It's an unbelievable game for NES standards. I can't go back to play FF1 to be honest, it's just too basic. But this one, with its combination of RPG and adventure elements, even to this day would be a fantastic indie title.
Finally went back to play this last year after buying it the day it hit the Wii U. Honestly had a lot of fun with it, though I'll probably never play it again.
Played this one a few years ago to see what the hubbub about this series was about. It was fine, it had an interesting vibe to it with the weird enemies and the soundtrack was quite spectacular. For a NES RPG it was fine, but it didn't really inspire me to continue seeking this series out. Lategame enemy balancing was also completely wack.
@Xenobound94 Trying telling that to Mother 3 LOL.
Y'all need to update the screenshots, those Wii U screenshots make the game review look unappeal.
I think Mother gets too much hate for its flaws. Pulling off what they did with a NES cartridge is pretty miraculous. If you think about it in the context of a NES game and how it stacks up compared to other games on NES and not how it compares
as a Mother game you can appreciate it more IMO.
Nintendo is leaving a lot of money on the table for not making this a purchase option. A lot of people would download these two games. I would have. But I guess Nintendo is saving us money by giving us access to a bunch of games we would have paid for only $20 a year so I can’t complain.
Probably the best RPG on the NES… that isn’t technically an action RPG, at least.
Actually, as a hardcore Earthbound fan, the only game I liked in the series was the second one. 1 and 3 were huge misses for me; the second one was perfection.
in all my 33 years of gaming, Earthbound Beginnings (aka Mother) is the biggest waste of time I've ever encountered, and my biggest gaming regret is playing it all the way through.
It's aged like a milkshake left in the sun, with its CONSTANT need for grinding, obtuse progression, and absurdly cheap difficulty.
To say "oh well that's just how RPGs were back then" is wholly disingenuous. The NES had gems like Final Fantasy I and Dragon Quest III with good senses of progression and comparatively clear direction.
Do yourself a favor, reader. Skip Earthbound Beginnings and just play Earthbound instead ❤
This one I bought back on Wii U and never finished. I will definitely give it a go after I finish the SNES game; I had a good time with it back then.
It's definitely a product of the 80s, but I'm all for that.
Have a Earthbound Zero NES cartridge, before the official name, and I love the hippie music. Almost like the mirror B. music in Pokemon Colosseum
I genuinely like this game, but yeah the random encounter rates are ridiculous. I also don't see why we couldn't have had Teddy and Lloyd? 4 person teams weren't an impossibility.
@Don Hear hear!
@PokemonDMG Mirror B’s theme is a total bop!
Random encounter, walk two steps, random encounter. 8/10
@CharlieGirl I'm doing that anyway LOL, I new it was going to act like a really old RPG (Sorta), nice to know i'm not wrong.
Tried it for about 5 minutes but it's just too simplistic to get any enjoyment out of for me.
@Don Yeah but the game also goes POOF when you stop coughing up the cash monthly/they flip the switch.
Played it on the Wii U, made it as far as having Ana join the team, then gave up on grinding to have her in a competent level.
May give it another go one day.
EarthBound, on the other hand, is an amazing acid trip that should be experienced by anyone who wants an RPG not set in a medieval/fantasy setting.
Question. As a massive RPG fan will I enjoy earthbound beginnings? I don’t mind grinding...ok that’s a bit of a lie considering I had to grind a lot of enemies just to beat the final bosses in DQ4 and that was a bit annoying. But I still enjoyed it.
I didn't have to stop and grind at a single point in the game... At least in the classic sense where I just find a spot and battle over and over again, that's just something I refuse to do anymore.
But there was a ton of going to the place, going back to heal, going back in again and so forth. And the final dungeon was so incredibly broken difficulty wise that it basically boiled down to just shielding and having to run away from everything.
Which version of DQ4 are you talking about? If you mean the NES version, then I would say that EarthBound Beginnings is MUCH more tolerable and playable than any of the NES DQ games, in my opinion.
EarthBound Beginnings does have some rather confusing dungeon layouts, and exploring the overworld might become a little bit overwhelming, since the game never goes into a larger-scale "world map" area like other classic RPGs. Everything stays the same scale for the whole journey, and the world is decently big.
But other than that, compared to DQ4 on NES, EarthBound Beginnings just feels much friendlier and more interesting.
It doesn't have the stupid AI-controlled party member system like in DQ4's Chapter 5, and unlike DQ in general, you can always choose specifically which enemy you want to target.
Walking around feels nicer in EarthBound Beginnings too, since the graphics aren't comprised of blocky tiles like in DQ4, so the environments in EBB feel more real and alive. And you can move in diagonals.
The Nintendo DS version of DQ4 on the other hand... is way way way more playable and enjoyable to modern gamers than any 8-bit RPG, so if you meant that game, then I dunno. EBB is definitely an old game, so you shouldn't expect it to feel modern.
Hoenestly, I think you should just give it a try. I think, if you're someone who's managed to beat an old DQ game, then you'll like EB Beginnings.
I played through Beginnings followed by Earthbound for the first time last year. Mechanically they felt very similar, with Earthbound improving on almost every aspect of the initial. Personally I loved them both (but I'm a pretty big fan of old school RPGs), you should definitely think of them as the NES and SNES versions of the same game.
@EarthboundBenjy yeah I’m talking about the ds version...I wasn’t around back in the nes or SNES days. Though I kinda wish I was around during the SNES days because of my love of RPGs. Also I know that it won’t be like modern day games. Heck I’m pretty open minded. Heck I actually enjoy quite a few of the older games.
I’ll start with Earthbound. If I enjoy it, that may motivate me to go back and play this.
Currently playing through it for the first time, despite owning it on Wii U since it came out there lol. I'm mostly enjoying it. I don't mind it being grindy with plenty of encounters, and the simplicity has a certain charm to it (the original Dragon Quest is a personal fav of mine too). However, like a lot of these early rpgs, the cryptic nature of exactly what to do and where to go can get tiresome. Like, how the bloody hell was I supposed to know I had to buy the baby bird and return it to its mother in order to get a music note in order to BEAT THE GAME? If I hadn't checked a guide to see what a particular item did and noticed that part, I would have gotten to the end of the game and been clueless as to why I couldn't finish it lol.
As long as you don't mind running into plenty of random enemy encounters, then EB Beginnings sounds like a great game for you to try. I think you'll find much to enjoy about it.
The guitarist in Magicant has clues about all the melodies if you're missing any by the time you've reached endgame, right? To be honest, I can't remember what triggers him to remember his song, but there definitely are hints in the game to point you in the right direction.
@EarthboundBenjy Well I'm not that far into it yet lol. But I would have likely gotten much further without realising what I had to do still.
The grind should definitely be acknowledged but not immediately regarded as making the game unplayable. I love a good grinding. It's a nice slow burn experience as a contrast to the almost ridiculous fast pace of current games. It's like a gigantic novel to very slowly crawl through over a year. I've been playing Final Fantasy II (not II/IV) for the first time over the course of the last few months and I'm loving that glacial pace. If you play a game like FFII or Earthbound Beginnings in short bursts instead trying to brute force it in a week, the gradual payoff is amazing. Earthbound Beginnings naturally isn't for everyone but it's still a wonderful experience as-is without the fan translation patch for a certain caste of gamer.
Played as Earthbound Zero some time ago. It was cute, but I'd be hard pressed to recommend to anyone who wasn't already big EB fan. Good lord, the grind.
@Greatluigi no. the entire game is a grind.
I didn’t really give this much of a chance back on the Wii U. I’m currently giving it another shot. I better get ready for this grind.
@Xenobound94 I'm so happy i found another Xenoblade Chronicles X fan
I just started playing this game and I'm surprised how much I'm enjoying it cosidering I could never really get into rpgs they just never caught me and seemed boring and repetitive but this one is really fun for some reason. Can't wait to play the sequel when I'm done cause it sounds like its just a more refined version of this game.
@IronMan30 Thank you for service brother. Sincerely. I personally, after playing both, like Beginnings a bit more than Earthbound. I don't know if it's the feeling of playing something special that I "shouldn't" be able to play or if it's that the game is actually better. I feel the same way about TMNT 3 on Nes and Mighty Final Fight. It's like I should like Turtles in Time and Final Fight 2/Streets of Rage 2 more but, I prefer the former. Same with Doom Eternal on Switch versus playing it on the more powerful console.
I know you were responding to someone else but thanks I will keep this in mind. I was wondering what that guy was about.
Hopefully we get a New Open World Earthbound Game for Nintendo Switch!
It may be your worst but it's probably not THE worst.
It is pretty typical of 8-bit RPGs to be grindy.
I've played several and consideration for the player just wasn't there as often in the '80s. They were still in the arcade "difficulty is always better" mindset.
NES Final Fantasy I is pretty busted, and it's kind of amazing it still works. It's a game that's definitely more palatable once you can learn to exploit the system. Surely you remember what it's like to buy 99 potions before each dungeon?
I couldn't finish Famicom Ys 1 because of, what I guess the kids these days call "generation damage", and also forced grinding before every boss (it's invulnerable if you don't hit a secret Level minimum). But seeing as how Falcom thought that was such a great feature it was still there as of Ys 6 (the last one I played) made 17+ years later.
And I've played certainly a number of RPGs where RNG almost completely dominates battle outcome. The Deep Dungeon series (only IV seemed like a relatively "fair" game). Monster Maker on Game Boy and Crimson on MSX2 are a couple more RNG-heavy RPGs I can recall.
About EarthBound Beginnings, I hear they basically created the ending during the localization development. I heard the ending the Famicom version shipped with is basically the bare definition of an ending so much more common in early titles when the idea of endings in video games was just being realized, but Mother 1 was basically a mid-era game.
i beat it without mods/patches or rewinds.
all i used was this fantastic guide:
@bigcalsworld the baby bird is no problem if you remember the golden rules of exploring everywhere and talking to everyone you see and doing everything they tell you to do. See the store clerk, get the baby bird. See the man in the bid village telling you about Laura, go find Laura. See the bird on its own outside the village, go talk to it just because it stands out; that’s Laura.
@Medic_Alert oh my God, don't start with this one! Try Earthbound instead. And that really comes into its own in the second town. If you haven't smiled then, move on! 😂😇
Never played any earthbound / mother game but didn’t own a wii u. Very happy I’m now able to play this first game before i’ll hop into the 2nd.
@Edwirichuu They exist! So no need to feel alone, fam. One day X will get more love- hopefully with a Switch port or something.
Never played any of the Earthbound/Mother games, but I feel like I would not enjoy them because of how much the spirit challenges on Smash for these character trophies annoyed me.
Why can't Nintendo redo this game like Link's Awakening with 3D graphics?
Oh my god a game from the 80s was a little grindy wah wah wah, I’m going to play Uncharted. 0/10
I'll give my own testimony toward those on the fence about Earthbound Beginnings. On the subject of grinding, which I felt was the only fault of Earthbound Beginnings, I felt it was worse in Final Fantasy I than this game (Cool, won 1000G, but X Sword costs 80000G, nm experience...), but I'm just no fan of yesteryear JRPG grinding. The difficulty spikes were a bit much too, but because I love the Mother series I trudged on, leveled up as needed, and it did pay off. It really will come down to your love for Earthbound and old school RPG patience to determine if you'll see credits roll.
@Don I think that putting it on NSO lets it reach a wider audience. Imagine you're a kid. You're not gonna shell out 5-10 bucks for some lame old game that you're not sure you're going to enjoy. But if you have NSO like most people, you might as well try it out because it's already on your Switch waiting for you.
@bigcalsworld I'm barely into the game and don't know about notes yet. I bought the canary in my first visit to the store. Why? Because I remembered using a cucco in Ocarina of Time to wake up Malon at Hyrule Castle... so I figured it must be important. When I "checked" the canary and saw it was sad, I knew my in-game objective was to make it happy somehow. I approach older games like I'm trying to unravel the designers' thoughts. It breaks the immersion sometimes but works more often than not.
While I am sad about this, I am glad they are at least giving us a year...
@Medic_Alert if i may make a suggestion for what i did playing Earthbound: i used an emulator on my Android phone. these games have simple controls, so even a gamepad purist like myself didn't mind the virtual touchpad.
with a Bluetooth gamepad though I mapped Save, Load and Fast-Forward to the buttons. game was great. but when it got "charming" i'd mash the Load button, and hold Fast Forward while grinding through repetitive battles. say what you want but i haven't got time for Game Over screens when old games try to get cute.
I was a huge fan of Undertale so I just had to play both of these — wanted the full experience; I've just passed the part where Ana joins the party.
The grinding I don't actually mind, but what has almost broke me is the sheer volume of random encounters - it makes being thorough or exploring/getting lost an absolute chore; especially when it's not completely clear what you're supposed to do or where you have to go.
Make a good use of save states for this one, edge of your seat action, and plan your monetary adventures beforehand. This game is amazing in which it feels like you against the World.
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