Earthbound – Review (SNES)

Well that was definitely an interesting experience, both the game and the way I was chronicling it. It seemed to have worked out well for me to keep up with the task of writing about an RPG, and I’m sure I’ll end up following this up with more in the future. But for now, we need to finish off our adventure here with a proper review.

Verdict

Gameplay – 8.5 / 10

I don’t want to start this review off with negativity, so let me get this out of the way first. Earthbound was an amazing game that i greatly enjoyed playing. There were so many fun little details scattered throughout the entire game that make you really want to hunt them down. I’m looking back to the sesame seeds in the desert in particular. Just two individual pixels in the vastness of the game that tell a fun, silly, romantic story and it’s a treat just to find them. Then the verbiage used when fighting the enemies makes every character feel somewhat unique. It’s not just hour after hour of “the enemy attacked you”. Instead you get “The Spiteful Crow Pecked at your eyes” or “The Beautiful UFO shot a Strange Beam”. It’s a small detail but it adds so much personality to the game.

With that being said, the few things that soured the game as a whole were almost entirely gameplay related. The menu system in particular felt very clunky, even by retro RPG standards. Other games at the time had managed to streamline the menu to a better degree than what was presented here with Earthbound. I’m looking at the Final Fantasy series in particular which I always felt had a very intuitive menu system, so it’s not like the console wasn’t capable of a better menu system. The inventory as well was quite the hassle, though this could really be a point for or against the game depending on your opinion. The incredibly limited inventory space for each character made it nearly impossible to actually feel prepared for anything. I’m so used to being able to have stacks of 99 of nearly every item in the game and just tearing my way through the enemies. To hell with the danger, I can heal myself for hours. In Earthbound however, running from battles often became preferable largely because I was incapable of recovering from a risky encounter. In a way it made the game more realistic, since most people would only be able to carry a small number of items around with them. It also made every action more impactful, since you didn’t have an endless supply of items to recover from any mistake. On the other hand, it made the game feel somewhat artificially more challenging. It also made money almost worthless since you never buy new items if you never actually use them.

The real stab in the back from the whole game though is unfortunately the way the final phase of the final battle played out. I guess in a way, Porky taunting to use our telepathy to call for help was trying to hint towards praying, but the hint was far from hitting its mark. Something along the lines of “Say your prayers, losers!” would have been better. It’s still something that bad guys are known for saying as taunts, but it makes it clear that there is no way to defeat Giygas without using Paula’s Prayer ability, which up until that point had been useless at best and detrimental at worse. Like I said during the gameplay articles, the few times I did actually test out her prayer ability, it ended up causing negative status effects to the whole party and I nearly got a Game Over because of it.

Actually, speaking of Game Overs, we might be able to end this section on a high note. The game does a fantastic job of handling a Game Over. Instead of throwing you back to the menu screen and losing all your progress since your last save, instead you are sent back to the last hospital you visited and just lose about half your money. Add to that the fact that most of your money is in the bank rather than in your pocket and you really aren’t punished much at all for losing a battle. It’s a welcome change to the formula that makes this game much more approachable to a wider audience.

Graphics – 9 / 10

The graphics in the game are excellent for an SNES game. All of the sprites are very detailed and have a lot of personality. There’s also the interesting choice to give all interiors a vanishing point rather than the typical squared off rooms you see in nearly every other game. As innovative as this was, the attempt to make areas look more realistic also came with its own problems. There were several times when I found myself momentarily trapped in the narrow gaps between objects. For example, when I first examined the casket at the top of the pyramid, I walked up the stairs and to the left of the casket. After seeing there was nothing I could do there it took me a minute or two to navigate back to the stairs around the casket because I just kept hitting some invisible wall. This never happens in the more traditional tile based designs. On the other hand, the tile based designs don’t usually look as good as Earthbound does, so you take the bad with the good I guess. It was annoying when it happened, but it was a rarity, so I don’t want to dwell on it too much. Other areas of the graphics more than make up for this minor shortcoming. The backgrounds during battles for example are an eye catcher throughout the entire game. Admittedly they are rather generic, but they are a welcome change to the equally generic patch of grass background you often get during RPG battles. Then of course there are the wide varieties of enemies you end up facing throughout the game. Most of which have rather large and detailed designs. It’s a shame they don’t move at all during battle, but static enemies in RPGs was still kind of the norm back then. All in All I can’t really find anything to complain about as far as the graphics are concerned.

Audio – 9 / 10

I really enjoyed the music in Earthbound. It’s a lot different from what I’m used to, but that’s to be expected considering the much more modern setting compared to most games. All of the game’s tracks worked well to elevate the mood in their respective areas. There were a few times I actually caught myself just wandering around admiring the music. Then of course the few stage shows with the Runaway Brothers or Venus were a great joy to watch. I always seem to enjoy when games include actual mini stage performances in them. It’s such a rarity and they’re usually fun to watch.

Story – 10 / 10

As with everything else so far, the story in Earthbound is fantastic. What makes it so great though is really the pacing. You’re always pressing forward in the story with purpose. As soon as one challenge is overcome, you’re right away brought straight into your next challenge. This is perhaps most evident in Fourside after defeating the Mani Mani Statue. Having just completed your current task you leave the Bar and are instantly assaulted by one new objective after another as several people come to you all at once. This makes it so the game never feels like it’s beginning to drag and makes the whole game more enjoyable. Then having Paula pray for help at the end was a wonderful idea that really brought the whole story together. It’s actually very sad that the implementation missed the mark because the idea itself is a very good and rarely used plot device. In the end, the best way to judge a story is by how much you want to see what happens next, and the whole time I was playing I was just chomping at the bit to push forward in the story.

Total Playtime – 37h 39m

It’s a very good length game, and more importantly it was almost all quality time playing. If you’ll recall from my playthrough, there were only a very few rare instances of level grinding throughout the whole game. Normally I feel compelled to grind a few levels before nearly every major boss battle, but I never had that feeling with Earthbound. Right at the beginning of the game when Ness was weak, right when Paula joined the party, and right when Jeff joined the party. Those were pretty much the only times when I ever even felt the need to level grind. Other than that, the normal progression of the game seemed to keep everyone rather appropriately leveled for the areas we were in. This lack of grinding also helped to prevent the game from ever feeling like it was dragging and kept the whole game interesting.

Total Deaths – 8 Deaths

Naturally, party members were being knocked out left and right throughout most of the game. However, I only had eight instances of an actual Game Over, which I consider to be a pretty good playthrough. I do want to note that the game felt rather difficult most of the time, largely due to the lack of inventory space which made it hard to heal between battles. However, the game made several attempts to alleviate this problem, mostly in the form of magical butterflies. Nearly every large area had a butterfly flying around just ahead of the area boss. This allowed you to heal up before a big battle so you’re well prepared. These butterflies also usually spawned endlessly if you were willing to leave the immediate area and come back. So you could in effect completely heal yourself if you were willing to make several trips. As I mentioned before, the game also does a fantastic job of how it handles Game Overs compared to other games. You never lose hours of game time because of one bad battle, you only ever lose a few minutes of progress through an area and a few bucks. It definitely made the game more enjoyable as I’m sure all gamers know the sting of losing hours of progress.

Overall Score – 9.25 / 10

I’m not sure what more I can say about the game that hasn’t already been said. Let’s just start by saying I honestly regret waiting so long to have played this game. In fact, I can now see why Earthbound has become one of the most expensive and sought after games for the system. At an average $300 for just the cartridge it will be one of the crowning jewels of anyone’s collections. I’m actually planning to save up the money now to buy my own official copy of the game to sit alongside the Homebrew copy I currently own. While the game wasn’t perfect, the only real complaints I ever come back to are the clunky menu system. And really, if the only bad thing you can say about a game is that you don’t like the menus, then you have a pretty good game on your hands. Without question I would recommend anyone to play this game. Find a copy for yourself. Buy a homebrew like I did if you can’t afford a real one. Or maybe you’ll actually manage to buy one of the soon to be released SNES Classic consoles. Earthbound is one of the 20 few games Nintendo chose to represent the system, and for good reason. After having played it, it really is one of the best games the system has to offer.

I hope you enjoyed Earthbound. If you did, like and follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Also leave your comments, suggestions, and recommendations. If you’re feeling real generous, you can even Donate to help me keep the site going. Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next time.