EarthBound is finally released in Europe through the Wii U Virtual Console.
EarthBound (or Mother 2 if you are from Japan) is essentially just a JRPG like all the rest. However, despite its low sale rate of under 150,000 copies and the fact it was only released in Japan and America, EarthBound has one of the largest and most devoted fan bases in game history. Unless you were willing to fork out over £150 for an original SNES cartridge, it was practically impossible to play the game legally, until now.
The Fuzzy Pickle of a game was released on the 5th of June, 1995 and was the sequel to the popular Mother 1, released only in Japan. As the two games didn’t have any obvious relations, Nintendo deemed it appropriate to expand the franchise to other parts of the world, but only ended up releasing Mother 2 in America, where it was re-named EarthBound.
The game flopped in regards of sales due to their advertising campaign, which included the EarthBound ‘Scratch’n’Sniff’ cards, stating ‘THIS GAME STINKS’ as a humorous pun on the fact that the cards smelled so bad and related to many quirky and silly in-game enemies like piles of puke and the dreaded Plague Rat of Doom. That was not the only problem Nintendo faced; sales figures were especially low partially due to the fact that they had decided to package the EarthBound cartridge with an enormous strategy guide retailing at $70 or more. At the time people felt this was just too much money to invest in a game that was from an unknown franchise with a terrible advertising campaign.
Yet people that purchased EarthBound back in 1995 came to realize what an excellent choice they had made, and although the game did not sell well at all during its release, its fanbase grew larger and larger over the years as word of its greatness spread through word of mouth and positive reviews online, developing large fanbases like Starmen.net and eventually leading to the price of any original EarthBound cartridge potentially being auctioned for well over £500.
Nintendo made no comment on the possible revival of EarthBound and coverage outside of America and Japan, maybe suffering war wounds from its failure of a release. However, the cast of EarthBound made numerous appearances in other Nintendo games such as the Super Smash Bros series. Japan even got another game in the series, Mother 3, which was never released outside of Japan, but also had its characters and settings featured in Super Smash Bros Brawl, proving that the Mother series was still in Nintendo’s heart. Some fans speculated the lack of re-release in earlier years was due to a lot of iconic pop culture and religious references that may not have been approved for a release after 1995, and a lot of other legal problems. However these rumors were never truly confirmed by Nintendo and over 15 years have since EarthBound’s release. Now, Nintendo have finally cut the fans some slack and re-released the game onto the Wii U’s Virtual Console system, allowing dedicated fans to enjoy the SNES cult classic and bringing new players into the wild world of Mother.
So what exactly makes this game so loved by players? The game is set in a 1980’s Americana themed world called Eagleland (an allusion towards the United States) and you start off as a young boy named Ness (or a custom name of your choosing if you desire), who lives in Onett, a small town. EarthBound’s American based settings were a real kick in the teeth for other Japanese RPG’s, as most were based in very mythical and magical worlds. This is one of the reasons that EarthBound was so popular, it didn’t take itself too seriously. Instead of going to a potion shop in the mystical town of ‘magic-ville’ in order to restore your health, you can go to a burger shop and buy fast food, or a bakery, or a regular department store. The games down to earth setting certainly made it easier for players to relate to the character and their story.
You are no ordinary boy though. Ness throughout the game obtains special magical powers called PSI, and that’s not the only thing the boy has been given. Ness has also been given a massive destiny to fulfill – he must destroy an evil alien threat that plans to take over the world, this alien being named Giygas. Throughout the adventure you will meet up with three friends-to-be who are part of your destiny – Paula, Jeff and Poo. Each of them bring different skills and attributes to the battle and story, and throughout the adventure the game will make you understand the importance of friendship and love – the main meaning behind the story. You and your child friends will travel all over the world, encountering many different quirky enemies and many, many memorable NPC’s.
EarthBound was written and directed by Shigesato Itoi, a famous writer and celebrity in japan. His influence in the game is why it was shaped out to be such a great adventure. His writing style and sometimes absurd thoughts lead to hilarious speech from the NPC’s in the game, meaning unlike many JRPG’s, you will really enjoy spending your time talking to everyone in each city and location you go to, and the peculiar conversations and characters will stay in your mind for as long as you remember. This is one of the things that make the game such an enjoyable experience, you feel as if you are really growing with the characters and following them in their journey.
During the journey, you will bump into overworld enemies in the game and a battle will initiate. The battles are certainly all different – each enemy in the game was given a different song and there are many different forms of the same enemy, and tons and tons of monsters! Enemies in general are another reason this game stands out, many videogames tend to try and make their enemies seem something to be afraid of, deep and dark and mysterious. Yet EarthBound decided to once again not take itself too seriously and the enemies are also what makes the game so unique, enemies like the Spiteful Crow, the Rowdy Mouse and the Annoying Old Party Man to name a few, not to mention the ‘Unassuming Local Guy’ whose appearance and name led fans to question whether this really was a game intended for kids.
The battle system is set out like many JRPG’s. However, instead of a health bar, the characters are given a number which corresponds to how much of their health they have, and the number is set in place to have the appearance of a mini slot machine. So as your health decreases after a blow from an enemy, the health will go down in an arcade fashion. But even after you have been dealt a mortal attack, due to the nature of the numbers decreasing, there is still time if you are quick to use a potion, or knock out an enemy depending on how much health you have. This gives the in-game combat a unique twist that can make battles much more strategic, and much more fun. The combat system isn’t to everyone’s admiration, and many prefer the combat style of Mother 3 (the sequel) which features many new styles of combat and perfected a lot of things EarthBound got wrong. But for a game released in 1995, the combat in Earthbound is fun and challenging, not to mention having a certain loveable 90’s feel about it.
As I stated earlier, the music in EarthBound uses over 15% of the space on the cartridge, which makes the music one of the largest aspects of the game, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. I sit here listening to the official EarthBound soundtrack and I’m reminded of all of the great songs of the game, each enemy having a different tune, but also each town, store, and more! One of the main objectives in the game is to visit eight sanctuaries around the world and obtain parts to a song that can help destroy Giygas, and each sanctuary adds a little bit of the song ‘Eight Melodies’ which is one of the most peaceful and enjoyable bits of game music I have ever heard. The Mother games have always been known for their incredible music, the creator Shigesato Itoi being a musical fan, even the title of the games ‘Mother’ is based off of a Beatles song. You’ll constantly be reminded of certain in-game settings and scenes when you hear one of the songs and it will bring back great memories or sad ones.
In regards to differences between the original SNES version and the Virtual Console version of EarthBound, you won’t find many differences. One of the main noticeable changes they made was to the visuals of the game – the saturation in the colour has been dialed down a bit to make it less bright and difficult to look at, and some of the animations when using PSI powers have been made slightly transparent and less bright and flashy, most likely to avoid seizures and other problems. As for text and in game content, only one line was changed in the entire game, which is a very huge success in the eyes of EarthBound fans.
The price to buy EarthBound on the Nintendo Virtual Console is £6.99 in the UK, which some might consider very expensive compared to other Nintendo SNES games released on the virtual console. However Nintendo has based the price of their games dependent on their success and popularity rate, not to mention the quality of the game. So in this respect you really are paying more for a greater game, and £6.99 is a small price to pay considering the cost of the original cartridge online.
I consider EarthBound one of the best video games ever created for numerous reasons, and am glad that Nintendo have finally listened to fans and given them something they have wanted for years and years. I am very pleased to see this game hit the big screens once more and urge you to enjoy it for yourself to see the true quality of the game.