Nintendo (1995, SNES)
games have such a rabid cult fan base as Earthbound, known as
Mother 2 in Japan. The first game in the series, released for
the Famicom, almost left Japan, but never made it. Its sequel, this
game, is regarded as one of the greatest RPGs on the SNES.
a gameplay standpoint, there is very little new or interesting about
Earthbound. It is an unabashed Dragon Quest clone,
right down to the squat mini-characters and first person viewpoint on
The elimination of random battles is a nice touch,
but other than the HP counter (which slowly drains when you take
damage, potentially allowing for an extra hit before you fall), it
could easily qualify as one of the many Dragon Quest ripoffs
that flooded the Japanese market.
Earthbound succeeds almost entirely because it's something so
rare in gaming -- a parody. With all of its tragically melodramatic
plot devices and absurd coming-of-age stories, the JRPG genre is ripe
for hilarity, yet few games (outside of some fan-made games, like the
near-brilliant Barkley Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden) ever seem to
begins with a young boy named Ness, whose journey is spelled out by a
small alien the size of a house fly. Mistaking it for an insect, your
neighbor's mom ends up swatting it, as the tragic music plays and the
poor creature lays out the rest of your destiny in its dying breath.
From there, Ness adventures around the globe, gathering up party
members and fighting against both nasty invaders from outer space and
the equally kooky townspeople. The final stages culminate in a
weirdly absurd plot twist, and yet it almost completely makes sense
in the bizarre, backwards world of Earthbound.
much every aspect of the game is taken outside of the bounds of
absurdity. Ness and his friends look like they were ripped out of a
Peanuts cartoon, except they can wield psychic powers. One of the NPC
sprites looks just like Mr. T. At one point, you run into a band
that's a pretty obvious homage to The Blues Brothers.
Many of them
have bizarre, frightening, permanent grins on their faces. The
prologue seems ripped out of a 50s sci-fi TV serial. Some of the
first enemies you fight are hippies, whose primary method of attack
includes mocking you and calling you names.
The whole game is a
warped, confused tribute to American culture, designed by people
who've only experienced the country through books and movies. Yet
it's never offensive or misguided -- rather it's a lovingly-crafted
universe with a sly sense of humor that can't be found anywhere else.
all of the wackiness, there are some oddly poignant moments. As a
young child wandering far away from home, you're constantly calling
your father -- who only shows up as a voice over the phone -- in
order to save your game and replenish your funds. It's strange that
Earthbound can take something as impersonal as save points and
turn them into one of the few reassuring voices in a world gone mad.
its schizophrenic music, which bounces between "quaintly
touching" and "hypnotically grating", and drugged-out
psychedelic battle backgrounds, Earthbound occasionally feels
a bit too weird-for-the-sake-of-weird. But let's face it -- with
originality in short supply, it's hard to argue against that any of
these are bad things.