Everyone has a favourite game; that special game that no other game has managed to even come close to or can replace. A favourite game does not have to be perfect, nor does it have to be one that many other people find enjoyment in, or even a game that has fantastic reviews. Favourite games are more than just special, they give you unforgettable memories when you think of them, hear the music from them, or see them. Favourite games can actually be a huge part of your life. While I have many favourites and special memories with different games, the one that stands out the most is Earthbound.
I first played Earthbound when I was six years old. The Super Nintendo was one of my favourite things and I loved playing games on it. One thing that I would look forward to was renting games from Blockbuster or Rogers Video because it allowed me to try so many different games, and trust me, I rented a lot of games. I remember skipping over a few beloved SNES games as a child because either they looked too advanced or just plain boring. Six year old’s do judge a book by its cover, and that is exactly what I did with Earthbound. The large over sized box in the SNES section of Blockbuster seemed gargantuan compared to the other games, and that made me intrigued. I remember seeing all of the characters and interesting box art on the back and I was sold. Why was the box for this game so much larger than the others? That must mean that it was an interesting game, according to six year me. I definitely skipped over games like Final Fantasy III (VI) and the Secret of Mana simply because the box art didn’t grab my attention. As an adult, the box art for those games definitely would have grabbed my attention, but my six year old self wasn’t sold. I had no idea what it was and never bothered to check them out. Earthbound; however, is a different story.
I remember starting the game up and creating what seemed to be like a profile. The music was interesting, the opening titles were interesting and creepy, and I was asked to name my favourite food, even my dog’s name. It’s funny how people don’t change that much, as my save file from being a child was pretty much the exact same as what I would say now, ie. favourite food: pasta/noodles. I basically am 6 year old me, just with more wisdom and self-confidence. Do we ever stop being 6 year olds? Think of your interests and passions and see if they are the same as when you were in elementary school, for me, not much has changed.
When the game started up, I was shown a town from an aerial view, it was nothing I had seen before. A game where I could walk around in a modern day town? I was intrigued. It was night time, the music was eerie and ambient, and I now found myself in a house. I was a young boy named Ness sleeping in my bed, when all of a sudden I heard a loud banging on my door… This is one of those defining moments in video games to me. I’ll never forget being in that dark bedroom at night hearing someone or something outside wanting to get inside my house. It’s actually quite frightening; it’s a child’s worst nightmare. As you are playing you get up, walk around the house and finally go to see who is at the door…and your adventure really takes off from there. To me, Earthbound has one of the best opening sequences in a game. The creepy vibe that you are exposed to right from the beginning is just a teaser for the rest of this amazing game. Right from the start, they have you hooked. You want to see what is going on. Why are there police everywhere at night blocking the roads? Why did a meteorite crash near your house?
More interestingly, this game is a RPG with children for characters. While that doesn’t seem that groundbreaking now, think of all your favourite RPGs…how many of them have kids as the main party? Usually characters in RPGs are adults or at least teenagers. They are definitely not children; children can’t go on adventures and save the world…can they? Think again, because Earthbound’s main party has four children in it who are ready to take on ANYTHING. I suppose that added to the appeal, because I was a kid playing it. I didn’t have to become an adult, I sort of could just be me. While Ness is pretty much a silent protagonist, most of the characters were. Games like Chrono Trigger, or Persona 4 have a cast of characters full of life and depth, Earthbound on the other hand does not. Each character has a back story, but personality wise, that’s kind of up to you to create, which was fine by me. The game makes up for this in so many other ways that it doesn’t matter.
The other reason I love this game is the amount of detail the developers put into it. Everything from the dialogue (which is brilliant), the way buildings looked, or even real world references. As much as the common fantasy RPG can be amazing and interesting, it was interesting to finally see a RPG in a modern day setting. Instead of travelling to some far away land, you travel to cities modeled after a 90s America. While some of the characters have special abilities, weapons in this game are not swords or guns, they are frying pans, baseball bats, etc. If kids were to go on an adventure to save the world, they certainly wouldn’t be wielding Cloud Strife’s sword; they would be using everyday items to defend themselves. While potions and phoenix downs are sure handy when you need them, they don’t really exist in the real world. To increase your HP in Earthbound you must find food! Go to a Burger Shop, perhaps a department store to stock up on items to increase your stamina, or have a slice of pizza. Characters in this game do not automatically come back to life after they have died in battle, so when you finish the battle, they appear as ghosts walking beside your party and in order to bring them back to life, a hospital visit is in order. Actually, in this game you will find yourself at the hospital a lot because you might catch a cold, or even a weird disease, and you better be willing to pay up. How do you save in this game when you’re ready to call it quits for the day? Call your Dad from any phone you can find, usually found at the drug store or hotel. He keeps track of your money as well and will make sure to deposit some more into your account when you need it. Need money? Check the ATMs that can be found throughout the game. Sound realistic? Well, it is! If you were really on a quest to save the world and you had to feed yourself and make sure your medical bills were paid, you would have to have money and be able to access it. In this game you can take a bus from town to town, stay at a hotel, call your Mom when you miss her, or even visit a farmer’s market. You travel all across the world, but a big chunk of the game is in what appears to be the United States.
This game was made 100% by Japanese developers, so their idea of what 90s America was like was always interesting to me. Some things they nailed, others were a bit questionable. One thing I found interesting was how they built the malls in the game. Malls in Earthbound have few stores on each floor with several floors, but in reality, malls in North America generally stretch out and are a maximum of two floors. It was interesting to me because it was obviously from a Japanese perspective. Honestly, this game is a gem.
One of my favourite parts of this game; however, is the music. The music is beyond phenomenal and highly memorable. Keiichi Suzuki’s quirky score sticks with you forever and when I listen to it, I am immediately taken back to 90s North America when my biggest worry was “Are we there yet?” While adult life is awesome, there was something special about being a kid playing video games all day, not having a care in the world, and this game takes me there. My boyfriend would argue that that’s all I do now, but I have work to go to, bills to pay, etc. Back then, it was just me and my Super Nintendo (and maybe some powdered mini donuts…). It is hard to describe the music in this game other than I recommend that everyone listen to the soundtrack. It is highly recommended, and even worth playing the game for.
A very special addition to owning this game in its original form on the Super Nintendo was the amazing guide that came with it. Not only did it come with scratch and sniff cards, but it was basically a travel guide to the amazing world that is Mother 2. Each page talks about everything in towns and areas as if it were real, from listing prices at the Bakery to warning you of UFO sightings in certain areas. It’s basically like a Lonely Planet for a JRPG. It also serves as a guide to the game telling you where to go next, but it is done in such a clever way that I have really only seen Grand Theft Auto do. So not only was this game highly creative, but so was the ‘instruction booklet’. This was very rare not only back then but even today. I love that the developers of this game spent time on such a small detail like the guidebook because I remember being a kid and just reading that guidebook as if it were, well, a real book.
There is so much to be said about this game, and now that it is available on the Wii U eShop, there should not be any excuses for not playing it anymore (the original cart in box can go for well over $600 USD!). It is an experience, it is a representation of gaming in the 90s, and it is a treasure that I believe everyone should try for themselves. I urge you to check out this gem of a game and learn who the PK Fire guy is from Super Smash Bros is. If you are as much of a RPG fan as me, this is sure to become one of your favourite games. Regardless though, Earthbound is my favourite game of all time, and most likely will remain my favourite game forever because of all the wonderful memories spent with it.