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Earthbound - Retroview

All Heart, No Brains
By: Michael Beckett

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 4
   Interface 4
   Music & Sound 8
   Originality 3
   Story & Plot 5
   Localization 6
   Replay Value 1
   Visuals 4
   Difficulty Very Easy
   Completion Time 25-30 Hours  
Overall
4

Simple graphics add a bit of backward flare to this otherwise unremarkable game.
Simple graphics add a bit of backward flare to this otherwise unremarkable game.
Earthbound

   Earthbound is an RPG with lots of heart, but not much else. The music is good and the visuals are unique, but the interface is clunky, the difficulty is almost non-existent, and the plot - though it has a good message to it - is neither unique nor particularly interesting. In attempting to make a simple, upbeat RPG, what APE and Nintendo actually produced is more akin to a cardboard cutout of an RPG; it resembles the thing it imitates well enough from a distance, but up close it's just a pale copy.

   For starters, the battle system is lifted almost directly from the Dragon Warrior series, with the only difference of note being the use of PSI and PP in place of Magic or MP. Fights are turn based, with turn order determined by the speed stat. This lends the game a simplicity that makes it appealing to a beginning gamer, but shallow and uninteresting for everyone else. Most battles will require only the minimum of strategy to survive.

   The game's interface possesses it in the same way that an unlucky mobster is possessed by his new concrete footwear. In combat, the interface works effectively, but that's about as good as it gets. On the map, the check/confirm/talk button is the L button, making the controller somewhat uncomfortable to hold onto for an extended period, though I give APE credit for an interesting and innovative one-handed play option. The alternative to the L button is to open the menu and go through the windows, which gets very tedious. In stores, the interface becomes increasingly brick-like. In order to purchase each item, you have to select the item, select the character, and then go through the dialogue if you want to buy or sell another item. In short, the interface sucks dirt like a Hoover.

   Luckily, the music is very good. Composer Keiichi Takahashi sets Earthbound to a jazz and techno soundtrack which fits the overall style of the game. The battle themes in particular are very unusual - instead of the usual rock, pulse pounding, excruciatingly overdriven guitar theme, Earthbound's battle music tend more towards trance-ish techno themes or frivolous ear-candy tunes. All in all, the soundtrack is one of Earthbound's high points.


These guys are known as the Runaway Four. There are five of them, and they frequently get trapped in cities. Applause.
These guys are known as the Runaway Four. There are five of them, and they frequently get trapped in cities. Applause.

   Originality, however, is not. Earthbound's approach to its world is very simple, like the rest of the game, but instead of coming off as free and uncomplex, it just comes off as cramped and overly linear. In particular, parts of the game seem lifted from other games, adding to the feeling that Earthbound is actually another game in a cheap rubber suit.

   Plot is where Earthbound comes apart. You play as Ness, a very young boy from Onett (the idea to make the world of Earthbound a parody of Earth was an idea that should have been taken further. The decision to make all the town's names a bizarre corruption of its order of appearance in the game makes it seem even more the generic, hyper-linear RPG, instead of the satirical result they were hoping for). One night, a meteorite crashes into a hill near your house, which then disgorges a bee named "Buzz Buzz" who claims to be from the future, and tells you that you are (Duh duh-duh DAAAAH!) the Chosen One. And then it gets really weird. As it stands, I really like Earthbound's simple message of friendship and hope that, while it's nothing new, manages to make this jaded old man smile. It's truly unfortunate that such a worthy message couldn't have had a better delivery.

   Localization on Earthbound was done fairly well, but I get the definite feeling that the game was a lot funnier in Japanese. The Japanese love puns and plays-on-words, so much is lost when you translate the script into another language. Still, the translators did their best, and the end result is above average, and as far as I can tell, typo free. The game gets an A for effort, but a B- for finished product.

   In the end, Earthbound is a very simple yet appealing game that, due to one thing and another, I probably won't be playing again. There are no sidequests that I know of, no minigames that I could find, and a New Game + feature would be too much to ask. Add to that non-existent challenge and a cast of 1-D personalities, and you've got a great candidate for dust collector of the year.


The Photographer follows you around, taking your photo, for reasons which may or may not become apparent. This is the sort of thing that passes for plot in Earthbound.
The Photographer follows you around, taking your photo, for reasons which may or may not become apparent. This is the sort of thing that passes for plot in Earthbound.

   After all that, visuals should be a minor point to deal with, right? Well, visuals in Earthbound are actually a bit of a sticking point for me. The original Mother that Earthbound is based on had very good graphics for the NES, and it bothers me how much Earthbound resembles Mother. I expected visuals in Earthbound to really be more impressive than they were. The battle animations are decent, but outside of battle, everything has a highly pixilated tone to it. I can respect APE's decision to make the game simplistic to fit its overall tone, but things just look far to blocky to be able to rationalize it like that.

   Earthbound's difficulty is Very Easy, and it's recommended for beginners. It's time to complete is fairly low, only 30 to 35 hours long, which, again, is recommended for those just starting on RPGs. More advanced gamers will doubtless become bored with its non-existent challenge and plot, but for everyone else, Earthbound is a decent introduction to the world of Role-Playing Games.

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