Wednesday, August 31, 2011

8-Bit Banter - Earthbound

It's Wednesday night.... so time for 8-Bit Banter! If you missed out on last weeks 8-Bit Banter, you can check it out here. Tonight I want to discuss a very special RPG. No, I'm not talking about Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger, tonight I want to babble on about a modest little game called Earthbound!

If you're not familiar with Earthbound (how sad...), it's a turn based RPG for the Super Nintendo. The story, which is very simple as a whole, can get complex as you progress through the game. You play as Ness, a boy who plays with yo-yo's and crushes baddies with his super brain. In the middle of the night, a mysterious meteor crashes into Ness's hometown. Very quickly the entire town, along with all the neighboring towns are infested with strange aliens and smelly hippies. Along his journey, Ness discovers he has telekinetic powers and makes friends with some other cool kids.

I wont spoil the plot, but on Ness' long quest he visits the pyramids, meets Nessie, befriends a gum chewing monkey, hangs with cavemen and becomes a jazz sensation. If that short summary doesn't make you want to play this game, maybe this will:

So what makes Earthbound so super rad?  It's really hard for me to answer that because my opinion could be construed as being biased (considering I literally worship it's creator) but what I can tell you comes from nearly 15 years of play throughs and scrolling through fan sites. Ever since it's release in 1995, I've obsessed with this game. This game caused a feud between me and fellow contributor J. Tagmire. We both love the game, I just had issues giving it back. So I could literally write a novel on why Earthbound is so significant, but I'd rather throw out a few cool notes and let you find out for your own!

Alright, so lets talk about the actual game! Earthbound had a MASSIVE world. It had a handful of large towns, tons of small paths, a major city, a Miami-like beach, Egypt, an underground world and a futuristic dream world... plus tons more places. Earthbound is not a quick game to complete, but with Ness' telekinetic powers he can teleport (which is really fun!) and it makes travel faster. Each area had so much detail and character. In Onette (Ness' home town), you can access a hidden tree house where Ness gets into a really weird conversation with another school kid. In the town of Twoson, there's an arcade with skateboarding punks! 

Earthbound's creator Shigesato Itoi discussed it's influences in a bunch of interviews over the years. American pop culture was the influence for the game's setting while television added to it's "edgy" attitude. I hesitate to use the word edgy but it was the 90's after all. There are tons of Beatles references and other nods to classic rock groups. Check out the picture below, you'll know exactly what I mean. Even the title was inspired by a former Beatle. In Japan, the game was released as the title "Mother". Creator, Shigesato Itoi told an interviewer that the entire series was inspired by the John Lennon song "Mother". Nintendo took a huge risk with this one. Earthbound is an extremely Japanese RPG. It has humor that struggled to find a home in America and it's gameplay just wasn't widely accepted upon it's release. The strangest thing is that the landscape and culture within the game is SO American. Cheeseburgers and jazz musicians everywhere! But it's oddities made it a tough sale and it didn't catch on. Years later, it's among every game sites top 10 lists and definitely earned it.

Some things I find cool...
  • Actually the second in a series. (First was unreleased outside Japan)
  • Designed to play using one hand
  • 24 megabit Cartridge was used due to the big soundtrack
  • A Mr. T lookalike is in the game
  • Most of the game was made in a basement
Earthbound's legacy lives on through Itoi's newer projects. As producer of the Smash Bros. Series, he includes some of Earthbound's most memorable characters. Earthbound is also one of, if not, the most collectible game for the Super Nintendo. A loose cartridge can run from $80 - $140 and a boxed copy can be priceless. I was lucky enough to snag a mint copy off eBay before it went even higher in value. My copy came complete with all the goodies: game, strategy guide, scratch n sniff cards and all warranty/warning papers. A collectors holy grail. But even though it's so rare, you can still play. If I'm correct, I think it might be on the Wii Virtual Console. 

So before I finish this up, I want to explain why Earthbound means so much to me and why I picked to
chat about it. When I was little, I loved cartoons and stories about aliens, bigfoot, and monsters. Earthbound was a game that was able to include all these things in a fun, goofy way. There's robots, puke monsters and cultists and everyone out to stop Ness. I loved that the hero was a 12 year old boy. To me, it felt like I could skip school one day and go on a life long adventure. It almost felt like I was Ness, and each Saturday morning when I powered up my Super Nintendo... I was the hero that day!


  1. You had me at "designed to play using one hand". WINK!

  2. Earthbound is one of my favorite games of all time. What made it so great for me is a combination of the art style and story. It's super cute and super ballsy.

    I don't think it's out on virtual console yet though. If it was I'd be playing it right now.

  3. never heard of it but it sounds cool

  4. Have always been intrigued with EarthBound, but never actually played it. Will have to check it out at some point, you make a convincing argument.