Gendo – The Day The Earth Stood BoundSeptember 10, 2009
Just recently Starmen.net held an annual event that they like to call the EarthBound Funktastic Gameplay. I don’t much about it personally since I’ve never really followed the goings on of Starmen.net too closely, but by chance I found out about it through Lyndis of The Backloggery. I’ve always been a fan of EarthBound and an annual playthrough of the game sounded like a lot of fun. Personally I hadn’t played Earthbound since I was a kid so I figured this would be a good chance to get reaquianted with the game. People seem to throw around a lot of praise for EarthBound, lamenting it as beeing underrated and perhaps one of the best RPGs of all time. This recent playthrough reminded me why EarthBound truly is one of the greatest RPG experiences out there, and why more people need to play this oft ignored gem.
Way back in the day I was completely obsessed with role-playing games. I don’t know what it was about them, but I couldn’t get enough of them. I can’t really pin-point the start of my obsession but I’m willing to believe it was Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar on the NES. That game mesmerized me, and it was RPGs for me from then on. In 1995 Earthbound hit and this was one year after I was completely arrested by Final Fantasy VI which still to this day is my favourite game. EarthBound dropped in June, but right afterward in August was Chrono Trigger, and I’m sure you know what all the role playing game fans were salivating for! EarthBound really didn’t stand a chance, and looking back it really wasn’t fair. I kinda brushed it off at first, but as a kid that couldn’t get enough RPGs eventually I decided to rent EarthBound.
What I got in EarthBound was something completely different from anything I’d ever played before. A modern day setting with kids setting off to save the world with their psychic powers? Absolutely antithetical to the traditional settings of swords and sorcery in your RPG. It was a bit of a shock at first, but once I got to playing it I realized it wasn’t that much different from what I was playing before, it just had this awesome and quirky presentation, that could be serious at times but joke around at others. The graphics aren’t the most amazing on the SNES, but it has a style and runs with it, and it works well with the setting. The gameplay is very much identical to something like Dragon Quest, all the way down to the way the battles are handled in first person. Although instead of fighting with swords you fight with stuff like baseball bats, laser guns and frying pans. And instead of magic you have psychic powers which heal your party or damage your enemies. It feels kinda standard I suppose, but the quirkyness of the enemies (Retro-Age Hippies?) and the weird battle music makes it stand out. Speaking of music…
One of the absolute best parts of EarthBound is its soundtrack. The range and depth of the soundtrack is stunning (over 150 songs!) but besides that the music is quite simply amazing. I can’t really explain in words how good it is so I think now is a good time to post a few links to some of my favourite tracks. I’ll just post a few as to make sure you don’t gloss over them, but take a listen because its of my humble opinion that EarthBound has one of if not the best soundtracks in an RPG that I’ve ever heard.
First off I’ll link the Sanctuary Boss theme. One of my favourites, it really instills a feeling of uneasyness needed for fighting a boss character. Instead of being like driving rock as a lot of RPGs use, its kinda mellow but paranoid, I suppose.
Next up is Winters White. Picture a boarding school in a town of perpetual winter, and a young boy escaping to help out his comrades. Probably my favourite track of the bunch. Such a pretty song.
Next is The Metropolis of Fourside. The tune really fits the town which is a very modern one full of skyscrapers and a giant mall.
This one is really short but its one of my absolute favourites. Sampled from The Beatles – All You Need Is Love, although twisted and completely distorted into something that sounds very unsettling, gloomy and downright scary. The Cliff That Time Forgot, which fits the mood so perfectly when its used in the game.
Last I’ll link to a song called The Power. Imagine a point in the game where you unlock the final reaches of your characters inner strength, and realize the true power behind your destiny. This piece complements it perfectly.
So what about the story you say? Every great RPG needs a good story right? Well EarthBound may not have the deepest story out there but it gets the job done. Your characters are destined kids on a journey to stop an evil power known as Giygas from coming to Earth, bent on destroying humanity. Cliched, yes, but it works! Along the journey our characters Ness, Paula, Jeff and Poo visit key points of power in the world known as Sanctuaries. Here Ness has the power of the Sound Stone which records the melodies of the Sanctuaries in order to unlock the power necessary to defeat Giygas. They travel the world over visiting many exotic locales in search of these points and the journey never gets dull, there’s just so much variety and although the story isn’t deep, it’s entertaining and fun. You really feel for these kids and the awesome journey they’re on! There’s even a point near the end of the game which gets me all misty eyed every time. This game has so much heart, seriously!
In closing I’ve got to say that if you’re an RPG gamer or someone who loves old school style RPGs then you’re doing yourself a mighty disservice by not experiencing this classic. The game oozes a style unlike any other game out there. It has so much heart and soul, you can’t help but fall head over heels for its charm. If you haven’t played this game, do so right now (It’s a shame this will never see a Virtual Console release; see: http://starmen.net/ebvc/, but I’m sure if you’re resourceful enough you can play it). Be prepared to be treated to one of the most underratted, amazing and incredible RPG experiences out there. Eat your heart out Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy, EarthBound is on your level or better dammit!
I give EarthBound a perfect 10 out of 10 (0 being Pokey, 10 being Rockin’ Ω and 5 being Unassuming Local Guy).