Author Topic: EarthBound & Down: Why This Quirky JRPG Is Still Important  (Read 3417 times)

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Offline tylerohlew

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EarthBound & Down: Why This Quirky JRPG Is Still Important
« on: April 17, 2013, 07:33:33 PM »

Why should you care about EarthBound? The staff of NWR (and a special surprise guest!) let you know.

I've made many assumptions in my lifetime, and like the saying goes, I haven't always been as on the nose as hoped.

One thing I thought I knew was a universal love for EarthBound. We're Nintendo fans, damn it! Of course we all admire and respect the stinkiest of games.

But, much like the time I assumed fellow Nintendo fans wouldn't cheat online (Mario Strikers Charged threw that out the window), I was completely off the mark.

Zach Miller, NWR senior editor, informed me that "EarthBound was never good; it was just incredibly niche and gained some kind of legendary status among people who clearly haven't played it." I was shocked. Was I tucked away in some sort of PK Bubble for all these years? Had I completely forgotten that other people have differing opinion?

Luckily, it wasn't a distaste for the work of Shigesato Itoi that opposed my belief the most, but it was none the less surprising. As it turns out, there's still many folks who simply haven't played the game yet. Kimberly Keller, one of our staff writers, put it simply, "Absolutely never played it, heard all about it from everyone I know, so I guess since I knew so much about it, I never had a burning desire to go out of my way and play it." 

Interestingly, Kimberly heard so much raving about the title that it no longer seemed like an experience she needed. The notion popped up again when Nate Andrews, managing editor, echoed those feelings, "I have no excuse for not playing it. Maybe because the adoration and Internet word of mouth for it is still so constant and so effusive and so widespread. It's hard to find someone who doesn't have a soft heart or peculiar love for EarthBound. After a while, I think that positive, anecdotal atmosphere—the stories relayed and embraced by those who've played it—becomes the legacy of EarthBound for people like me who have not. And that's often just as good."

Problem is, I think EarthBound necessitates a genuine playthrough. Despite releasing in 1995, its mechanics remain as fresh as ever, and its visuals age perfectly thanks to a simple and effective aesthetic. Justin Berube, staff writer, finds two of EarthBound's mechanics specifically appealing, both of which are rarely duplicated in today's titles. "First, enemies will run from the player if they are much lower level than the party," Berube says, "Second, I really love how it's possible to instantly win against these weak foes just by running into them. No time wasted."

If viewed as nothing more than a game, it's aged perfectly. But EarthBound is more than that, it has a lot of soul to go with that handsome body.

"I think a big reason that EarthBound remains relevant after all this time is that the game is just full of heart and actual personality - many parts of the game come from bits of Shigesato Itoi's personal life, for example," says Clyde 'Tomato' Mandelin. As the creator of fansites and, Mandelin certainly wears his love for EarthBound on his sleeve (perhaps alongside a Franklin Badge). His passion even led to the fan translation of Mother 3, a Game Boy Advance sequel to EarthBound that never saw release outside of Japan.

"Plus, now that gamers have grown up since the 90s, they can appreciate games on a deeper level than before," Mandelin continues. "It used to be that being bloody and gory and violent was what was important for games, you know? But now that gamers can connect with games on a deeper level, EarthBound and other games full of creativity are being rediscovered and passed around by word of mouth. I actually think that's what's also been sparking the rise of indie game stuff lately - people just discovering, 'Look at all this stuff we can do with games!'"

In hearing someone talk about EarthBound as Mandelin does, its clear that games like it don't come along very often. EarthBound is something special, its continued reverence can't simply be chalked up to nostalgia or rarity. Its achieved something special for many people, our own Scott Thompson included, "I think what makes EarthBound so unique is its defiance of genre trope, which is still noticeable today, even almost 20 years later. Though the core gameplay isn't too far off from that of Dragon Quest, it is the setting that defines EarthBound's legacy. You have this weird, satirical recreation of American life through the lens of a Japanese developer. Weapons are baseball bats, yo-yos, frying pans, toy guns, and more. Teddy bears can be brought along to soak up damage. Baseball caps and ribbons are equipped as armor. It is beautifully convicted to its theme. And the humor! Beatles references, breaking the fourth wall, a Blues Brothers tribute, and more! EarthBound is a love letter to Americana; a quirky and lovable spin on one of gaming's oldest genres that is still without rival today. If you haven't played it,  you are sincerely missing out on one of the best games ever."

If you haven't had the chance to play EarthBound, hopefully we've pushed you over onto our side of the fence. Nintendo has failed to release and reintroduce many games throughout its history, but EarthBound stands out for good reason. Luckily, you won't have to wait much longer thanks to Nintendo's announcement of a digital release on the Wii U Virtual Console. Then you can impart your adoration of the game to your children, and your children's children, and the EarthBound legacy will live on.

Offline GrabMyBoomstick

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Re: EarthBound & Down: Why This Quirky JRPG Is Still Important
« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2013, 08:26:05 PM »
So glad this is FINALLY coming to the VC. Earthbound has always been one of those "Holy Grail" games that I have heard so many good things about over the years, without ever having seen or played it for myself.

Offline AwesomeUnicorn

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Re: EarthBound & Down: Why This Quirky JRPG Is Still Important
« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2013, 08:34:13 PM »
Absolutely agreed!  This is a game that helped shape me through my formative years. It probably doesn't stand out from the crowd as much these days, thanks to the prevalence of indie games with similar quirky, modern atmospheres (that feel like they owe much directly to this game), but it still feels like the best made of all the copycats. Also, I still have my Earthbound pogs, and they are amazing.

Offline Sarail

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Re: EarthBound & Down: Why This Quirky JRPG Is Still Important
« Reply #3 on: April 17, 2013, 09:19:26 PM »
My strategy guide still stinks!
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Offline tylerohlew

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Re: EarthBound & Down: Why This Quirky JRPG Is Still Important
« Reply #4 on: April 17, 2013, 10:31:10 PM »
My strategy guide still stinks!

Mine has a bunch of pages missing...I bought it like that...I wonder if that is where the stickers were, and some dummy tore out a bunch of pages with them or something.

Offline Shaymin

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Re: EarthBound & Down: Why This Quirky JRPG Is Still Important
« Reply #5 on: April 17, 2013, 10:50:25 PM »
I like what Justin mentioned about the run away mechanic, but I think my favourite innovation is the rolling HP meter that I think only Mother 3 would go onto use. The race to get the HP up after a massive, mortal blow is one of the greatest adrenaline rushes in a RPG.

Also Miller, you're dead to me.
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Offline StrikerObi

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Re: EarthBound & Down: Why This Quirky JRPG Is Still Important
« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2013, 10:21:36 AM »
I'm almost famous for my distaste of this game, but I think I will re-buy it and give it one more shot when it comes out on virtual console. Truth be told, I have never been able to stomach it for more than a few hours, so perhaps I am missing something that lies beyond them.

Offline Ian Sane

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Re: EarthBound & Down: Why This Quirky JRPG Is Still Important
« Reply #7 on: April 18, 2013, 12:27:15 PM »
The game's style is amazing though the gameplay is very Dragon Warrior-like, which I find somewhat archaic compared to what Square was doing at the time.  The theme is so unique that it really makes the game notable.  If you put this gameplay in some fantasy setting Earthbound wouldn't stand out enough to matter.

However I think the game's legacy in North America is partially based on its obscurity.  I didn't know anyone who talked about it until Ness showed up in SSB and then everyone was wondering what the hell game he was from.  I only knew it existed because I happened to have a Gamepro subscrition during the time that Earthbound came out, but having never played an RPG at that point in my life I didn't get how the game would even play.  Earthbound is the Nintendo game that got away.  As Nintendo fans went online during the N64 era they interacted with other Nintendo fans and found out that while they had played Mario, Zelda, Metroid, etc. they had missed this one and were naturally curious.  And there is also the fact that the first game was officially translated by NOA and was cancelled at the 11th hour.  It's a Japan-only game with an official English translation.  That just adds to the mythical status of the entire series.

Offline EasyCure

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Re: EarthBound & Down: Why This Quirky JRPG Is Still Important
« Reply #8 on: April 18, 2013, 07:23:57 PM »
I haven't been on the forums in some time because life has been good to me, but I happened to catch one of Neal's tweets which broke the news and.. well life just keeps getting better! 2013 is an amazing year for me haha

Back to Earthbound specifically; I was one of the lucky few who got to play this back in the 90's, dumb luck though really. My best friend, a dude I knew since kindergarten, had a copy of the game that was given to him by his older brother which was given to him by a friend who played it and didn't like it. Since my friends older brother wasn't playing video games like he used to, he gave the game to my friend who played it and thought I would like it. This was the days of borrowing each others games wasn't a hobby, it was a necessity because neither of us had the kind of money (or rather, had parents with the kind of money) to buy all the games we'd want. There were very VERY few games we had in common, which after awhile became intentional, just so we could try to experience a little bit of everything the SNES had to offer..

So yeah, I borrowed the game on a friends recommendation and liked it immediately. At first, it was just intriguing. At that point in time, I had never played an RPG before so the gameplay was different than all the other games I've owned or played. Plus it was the story/setting. You're woken up in the middle of the night to this loud obnoxious banging, just a boy in your pj's with crazy bed-head in your dark room.. what the hell do i do!? explore, naturally.

The game progresses and the game gets quirkier and quirkier. Sure some of the jokes flew over my head at that young age, but it was still enjoyable. Going back to it as a teen and then again as an adult with more life experience, you really appreciate some of the stuff you miss when you're a kid.. the game really does have heart. It's the first game where I ever felt emotionally connected with the characters, even on my first play through. I think the setting has something to do with it. Most of the game you're in a regular world; you don't go to potion shops, you go to the drug store. You don't get our weapons from a black smith, you go to the dept store or in some cases, a shady black market arms dealer! As an American kid growing up in a small city, not too huge but not too suburban, the thought of going on a crazy adventure in your own backyard was so simple yet amazing. Before then all these games were fantasy based, and while exploring Hyrule or racing through the Mushroom Kingdom were cool, the thought of going on a mysterious journey just outside your home town with nothing more than a baseball bat and newly discovered psychic powers was fucking epic. Besides the psychic powers, it felt like something you could actually do, ya know?

By the end of the game, as quirky as some of the stuff you go through is, the game still hits you on a personal, relatable level that makes you realize; as strong as you could possibly become, you  still need people in your corner to pull you through the darkest times (another Beatles reference perhaps? All you need is love? Nice). Seriously, I'm trying my hardest not to spoil anything because I know a ton of people have never played the game, but I challenge you to grind your characters to max level and take on the big boss with brute strength alone. You can't do it ;)

About the gameplay mechanics that are done very well in EB; the weaker enemies who run away felt like such a natural thing but then again this was my first ever RPG. I grew to appreciate it when I played other RPG's that didn't have this feature and had to endure annoying battle animations against something that had no chance against me. Someone else brought up the rolling HP meter, also something brilliant that I didn't appreciate when I first played because I never experienced anything similar. Trying to heal yourself, or finish up the battle, before your character dies really is a rush and I'm surprised more games don't like you do something similar. You can literally walk out of even a boss battle by the skin of your teeth if you're smart or lucky enough... lol 1HP wins :D.

One thing I don't see getting mentioned about Earthbound though, one of the simplest most overlooked game mechanics is.. the controls. You  can play the whole game with just your left hand if you so desire. It made snacking during gaming sooooo easy, and what's more American than that!? hahaha
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