Earthbound – Week 01

It’s been a long break from writing for me, but I’m finally back at it. I’m going to be doing things a bit differently this time. Instead of the weekly full articles, I’m going to try a more average blog posting style with this game. I’ll be playing for maybe 30 minutes a day, and posting daily updates as I play. I’m hoping that will be a bit more manageable and I’ll have more fun doing it. For the first game with this new posting structure, I thought I’d go full out and play the cult classic Earthbound!

Before we get into the game, let’s start with a brief history. Earthbound, known as Mother 2 in Japan, was first released for the SNES in 1994. It’s the sequel to Mother for the NES, another great game which unfortunately never found its way out of Japan until 2015 when it was released on the Wii U Shop as “Earthbound Beginnings”. During its original US release, it sadly received little praise from reviewers and was somewhat overlooked. However, Ness’ inclusion in the Super Smash Brothers Series brought renewed interest into the game, and Earthbound became the cult classic it is today. Now it seems to pop up within the top 5 games on every “Best of the SNES” lists I ever happen to see. It was also a key inspiration for Undertale, one of the most well received indie games in recent years.

One final note before we get started. I refuse to review games that I don’t physically own, but the average $300 price tag on Earthbound has put it a little out of my reach at the moment. I do however own a Rom Cartridge of the fan version “Earthbound Uncut”. So likewise, I will not be playing the official US version of Earthbound for this playthrough. Instead I will be playing a fan hack known as “Maternalbound” which is the closest equivalent to Earthbound Uncut. The differences between Maternalbound and Earthbound are minor, and aim to make the game closer to the original Mother 2 release. It removes much of the North American cencership and restores the game to what it was supposed to be. So the basic game will be the same, but there will be a few subtle sprite and dialogue changes compared to the official Earthbound release.

Now that that’s all out of the way, lets dive into this SNES classic, and see what I have been missing all my life!

–DAY 01–

In typical RPG fashion, the game starts with you naming your characters. Less typical however is stating your favorite food and thing. I picked Pizza, because pizza is delicious, and you can have infinite different kinds of pizza, making it the best food ever. Then of course my favorite thing is gaming. For the characters themselves however, I left them all at their default names. Maybe if I knew something about them first I would have customized their names. But I think their default names are fine.

The year is 199X, and something big is going to happen in the small town of Onett. One night, young Ness is startled awake from a loud noise outside. Naturally, that means our young hero must go investigate the disturbance.

Amazingly, the police have already arrived and set up road blocks throughout the town. While that would be inconvenient for the residents, it does make it easy to not get lost this early in the game. After talking with a few of the police officers, we discover the origin of the noise. It would appear a meteorite has crash landed just outside town. Also the town is apparently infested with sharks?

With no other path to follow, we venture up the hills outside of town until we’re almost at the peak. Unfortunately, the police have blocked off the final stretch to the top. It would seem we won’t be able to get any closer to the meteorite after all. We are however introduced to our neighbor Porky, who I believe is named Pokey in the official release.

Even from just the brief interaction I had with him, he comes across as the brown nosing weasel type character. I don’t think I’ll be able to trust him. Also, can we take a second to look at his character sprite? I’m sure the intent was that his eyes are hidden in his hair, but it looks like he’s some kind of Cyclops. Anyway, he also seems to be annoying the police officers at the hilltop and they wish I’d do something about him.

With nothing else to do since the roads are closed off, I’m forced to simply go back home without starting some grand adventure. Or so I thought. Shortly after returning to bed, there is a loud frantic knock at the door. Maybe we’ll have an adventure tonight after all.

It’s Porky. Apparently the police suddenly left the site of the meteorite to deal with the Sharks going wild in town. He also clears up that the sharks are a gang, not actual sharks. Anyway, in the confusion, his little brother Picky has gone missing and he needs my help finding him. If anything happens to Picky, their father is going to spank him 100 times! As much as I feel like I can’t trust him, I’m willing to help him find his little brother.

At my mother’s request, I take the dog with me to search for Picky. Now that I have some backup, the game allows me to actually enter combat, and I love the way it is handled in this game. Rather than using the typical random encounters of most RPGS, it utilized monster in the world map that you could avoid if you so desired, but would enter combat with if you came in contact with them.

I also love the humor present during the battles. The enemies are very fun looking, and all have their own distinct personalities. Even if it’s just subtle changes to the dialogue, they enemies aren’t just “Attacking”. The Runaway Dog will make a loud piercing howl, or the Spiteful Crow will peck at your eyes. Your own party as well can have some humorous actions, like when Porky plays dead, or uses Ness as a shield. I knew I couldn’t trust him.

Turns out, I also shouldn’t have trusted the dog. No sooner do we make it to the top of the hill does the coward run off on us. But that’s ok, we found Picky alive and well. He was napping behind a tree, tired out from searching for Porky. According to Picky, it was Porky who went missing after the police left, and not the other way around. Whichever story is the truth doesn’t really matter, either way we now need to make our way home before their parents notice they’re missing.

We don’t make it far before Porky starts to hear a buzzing noise. The source of which is a small bee like creature sent from 10 years in the future, a future where Giygas has sent the world into the horror of eternal darkness. However, there is a well known legend handed down from ancient times about a boy who will shatter the nightmare and restore the light. The bee believes this boy to be Ness, and thus my quest to save the world officially begins.

And so, Buzz Buzz joins our party as we make our way home. However, we are quickly stopped by one of Giygas’ henchmen, The Starman Junior. From the sounds of it, Buzz Buzz was once a hero who opposed Giygas Now that he’s only an insect, the Starman Junior plans to get rid of him once and for all.

Even as an insect, Buzz Buzz proved to be exceptionally powerful, at least in comparison to Ness. He cast powerful shields around the party to protect us from the Starman Junior’s PSI attacks. He was also doing 125 damage with his attacks, compared to Ness’ 9 damage. Our victory against the Starman Junior was really all the work of Buzz Buzz.

There’s no way I would have been able to defeat the Starman Junior on my own. But we have a long road ahead of us now. Giygas will surely send more henchmen after us. On top of that, Buzz Buzz warns that Giygas’ influence will drive both people and animals crazy, so we’ll have to fight them as well. We’ll have to get stronger quickly if we plan to survive.

So thank you for reading so far, and be sure to check in on my progress as I defend the world from Giygas’ evil!

–Day 02–

With the Starman Junior defeated, there’s nothing left to do now but guide Porky and Picky home. If we’re lucky, we’ll get them home before their parents notice they were gone. Sadly, that is not the case. Both their parents are home and OH MY GOD WHAT IS WRONG WITH HER FACE?!?!

Ahem, anyway, their dad seems normal enough. He apologizes for the trouble his kids have caused and warns them that they’re going to “get it now”. Both children run off upstairs to their room, quickly followed by dear old dad. Then WHAM! They get it. I guess Porky was serious when he said his dad would spank him if he found out they were out so late.

It’s amazing how quickly the tone changed after that. No sooner does their father come back downstairs is he asking me to leave. Not just the house, which would be reasonable considering the time of night. No, he’s asking me to leave town forever, me and my whole family. Apparently he has loaned my father quite a bit of money, possibly $100,000 by now. It might have been less, but either way, the loan is what is causing them to live in poverty now.

To this, his wife interjects about how he is much too lenient with the children. Too lenient? He just followed them to their room and beat them for being out at night. Should he have killed them instead? Buzz Buzz clearly has the same thought process as I do, and he quickly attacks her after hearing such an insane comment. On top of being insane, she’s also very stupid, mistaking Buzz Buzz for a dung beetle of all things. How do you mistake a bee for a dung beetle?

Without warning, she strike Buzz Buzz down with such swiftness that it puts the Starman Junior to shame. Clearly she is the true agent of Giygas! Poor Buzz Buzz. I was just getting to know him, and already he is struck down.

With the last of his strength, he tries to relay his final words of wisdom to young Ness. He tells that Ness must unite his power with that of the Earth, letting the planet channel and multiply it to defeat Giygas.

To do this, we must visit eight points around the world and make them my own, whatever that means. One of the locations is actually near Onett. It’s called “Giant Step” and it’s going to be our first stop towards saving the world. With these words of advice given, he dies, leaving us alone on our quest.

Or not, he apparently has more to give us. This time it’s a present, the Sound Stone. With this, we can record the melodies from the eight locations we have to visit. I’m not sure what good that is going to do, but as the first key item in the game, tradition dictates this will be the most important item I will receive throughout the entire playthrough. So I shall cherish it always.

With those final words, Buzz Buzz fades from existence, and the quest to save the world is truly underway. Before we leave, I thought it would be best to check in on Porky and Picky upstairs. Sure enough their father beat them good. They don’t even want to sit down their butts hurt so much.

Upon leaving their house, we found that it is already morning. Before we can even set out on our adventure some guy in a top hat and suit literally falls out of the sky to talk to me. He is apparently a photographer and wants to take my picture, which he does. Then as quickly as he came, he vanishes once again into the sky. That’s apparently the type of game we’re embarking on here.

Now that the police barricades are gone, we can finally head down into Onett. We could, but I have some exploring I would like to do first. For example, there is a house up on the hill towards the meteorite where some weird treasure hunter guy lives. He mentioned last night that he wanted to talk to me in private, so what better time to check in with him than now.

The treasure hunter has dug quite the elaborate tunnel underneath his house. After following him to the deepest part of the cave, he shows me a life size golden statue that he has unearthed. Interacting with it reveals that it is “glowing strangely”, however that is the only information I can gather at the moment. I’ll have to make a mental note of this however. I’m sure it will become important in the future.

After a bit of training against the random animals on the hill, it’s time to head down into the city. The first stop is the library. I’m very happy to have stopped in here, because the receptionist is handing out maps of the town. Now I won’t have to worry about getting lost.

The people in the library were also all very informative, and gave out some helpful advice for my quest. Um, everyone except this guy in the mask… he’s just creepy… Anyway, the other more helpful people told me about, among other things, the location of the Giant Step. It’s in the North West corner of town.

Knowing this information, it’s my job as the savior of the world to go absolutely everywhere there is to go in town before even considering going to the Giant Step. Visit every house, talk to every person, and search every garbage can for food. Don’t judge me! I’m a young child setting out on my own. I need to take food from wherever I can get it.

After searching a few houses, it’s time to settle in for the night at the hotel. But a room costs $35 for the night, and I’m not exactly desperate for health at the moment. Instead I think we’ll just use the complementary desk phone to call dad and have him record our progress. Oh yeah, that’s how you save in this game, you have to call your dad.

Join me again next time as we continue exploring the town. We might even head up to Giant Step if there’s time.

–Day 03–

After the call to dad, I leave the hotel to continue exploring the town. It isn’t long before I encounter some suspicious looking people who end up chasing after young Ness. Sure enough, these are members of the Sharks Gang I’ve heard people talking about. I thought maybe I could handle them, but I was wrong, so very VERY wrong. Even just that single gang member was more than poor Ness could handle.

Death Count: 1

And so it would seem young Ness has died. We barely even started our adventure. I guess I should be glad that I literally just saved my progress and haven’t even had a chance to do anything yet. How about we start over and try that one again.

So obviously I’m nowhere near ready to try fighting the Sharks, which means I’m DEFINITELY not ready to try to fight whatever boss might be waiting up at the Giant Step. I guess the best thing I can do is try to level grind a bit against some of the random animals running around town.

Naturally, all that fighting really works up an appetite. Maybe we can get something at the bakery. I’m hearing good things about this Lucky Sandwich. Apparently it’s similar to a fortune cookie, except the fortune is a prize, and it’s a sandwich instead of a cookie… Ok, so it’s not really anything like a fortune cookie. And at $128.00 each, I doubt I’ll be trying one any time soon. Who has money to spend $128.00 on a sandwich?! Even a $7.00 cookie is expensive. Unless it’s one of those giant 12” cookies you see at the mall. Guess I’ll just buy a skip sandwich for $38.00. Honestly, this better be one amazing sandwich.

Maybe I can find something cheaper at the Burger shop to snack on after that sandwich, even if it’s just something off the dollar menu. Sadly, we’re not going to be getting any cheap food here either. How can they even think to charge $14.00 for a hamburger? Now I’m glad I found that discarded one in the trash the other day. Poor Ness is going to be bankrupted just trying to feed himself in this world.

Not that I seem to have money anyway, but we might as well check out the selection at the drug store as well. In this game, the drug store apparently doubles as the weapon & armor shop. They have a decent collection of items, though I’m not really sure what the stats are on anything. I’ll have to collect some money and come back to buy one of each item.

On the plus side, I haven’t really gone that far yet. I can simply run home and have Mom make me some Pizza whenever I’m in need of healing. No reason to throw money away this early in the game if I don’t have to. Thanks Mom, you’re the best.

In between battles with the local wildlife, I finish exploring the rest of town. That is, all except for the area around the arcade where the Sharks are hanging out. Apparently I’m not the only one frustrated with the Sharks. The police officers at the station seem to have their hands full just trying to deal with them. A quick stop to the Town Hall reveals that even the mayor is looking for someone to put a stop to them.

If only there were some place I could go and just relax for a while. Luckily there is! Just to the west of town is a small cottage for sale overlooking the ocean. It’s even very reasonably priced at a mere $7500.00. That’s of course out of my price range at the moment, but it’s not an unobtainable amount. I’ll have to come back here later in the game and see if I really am allowed to buy it. I hope I can. I love when you get to buy your own house in games.

Only one more stop in town to look into, and that is the hospital. Considering the beating I took from the sharks already, I expect I’ll be spending a lot of time in the hospital. To my surprise, there also seem to be magical healers in each of the hospitals for any sickness or condition that can’t be cured normally by the hospital. Conditions like being “Diamondized”, where your head gets as hard a diamond, or “Mushroomized”, where you grow mushrooms on your head.

I foresee myself becoming sick often in this game, so for my own mental health it’s best to stop now. Join me next time as Ness trains hard in an attempt to rid the town of the Sharks!

–Day 04–

With the town thoroughly explored, it’s time to really get serious about training. I need to get stronger, and I need better equipment if I’m going to ever hope to defeat the Sharks. So for now, I think it would be best to head back home and train in the hills for a while.

Along the way, I happened to find something interesting. There was a “Magical Butterfly” that made Ness relax. There was someone in the library that mentioned magical butterflies, but even after encountering one, I’m not really sure what they do. It wasn’t an enemy, and the message simply said Ness relaxed. But I don’t really notice anything different. Maybe this will become clearer as we get deeper into the game.

While training I started to notice a rather unique game feature that is actually very much appreciated. As Ness gets stronger, it’s eventually obvious to everyone that he’s going to just destroy the weaker enemies. So rather than bore the player to death with the random encounters with weak enemies, you just skip the battle entirely. Upon encountering a sufficiently weak enemy, the game will simply declare you the winning and award you the appropriate amount of experience. Honestly I’m surprised more games don’t have a system like this.

Another interesting feature to this game is the method by which you actually gain money. Normally you would fight enemies and after the battle you would be rewarded with experience and money. It’s such a common mechanic that no one really ever questions WHY the random stray dog was somehow carrying around $12 for you to collect after killing taming it. In this game however, you are still rewarded with money for every battle you win, just not directly. Instead, you need to call your dad and he will deposit money into your bank account based on how many enemies you’ve defeated. Then whenever you want it you can go withdraw the money from an ATM. It’s a small change, but it adds a nice touch of realism, which is actually ironic in this otherwise surreal game.

After a bit of training, Ness has leveled and is now level 5. Likewise, Dad has rewarded all my training with quite a bit of money. I can actually afford some of the equipment back at the drug store. I think it’s time for me to head back to town and upgrade all my equipment.

I manage to buy nearly everything at the store. The Cheap Bracelet and Baseball Cap both add quite a bit of defense to Ness, raising his pathetic 4 defense all the way up to an impressive 14. Likewise the upgrade from the Cracked Bat to the Tee Ball Bat raises Ness’s attack from 12 to a respectable 16. Now that Ness is properly equipped, I think it’s time to test our new strength against those Sharks.

This time around however, we get a little unlucky. When I engaged in battle with one of the Sharks, it seemed like a second one decided to join the battle. I’m not sure if I’m ready to be taking on two of them at once. Thankfully, my new equipment is better than I thought. The Sharks’ attacks are practically bouncing right off of Ness now, and it doesn’t take long before I defeat them both.

Not only does Ness win the fight, but we were rewarded with a hamburger that one of the Sharks was holding. It looks like we’ve finally discovered a good source for food. Why should I be spending $14 buying my own burgers when I can just beat up some punks and take theirs?

It’s getting late, so how about just one more before we quit. Interestingly, this one seems to be special. Rather than attacking me, I had to actually initiate conversation with them to start the battle. But who is Frank, and why would he want to beat me up? I guess we won’t be getting any answers today, because these punks are dead tamed, and it’s time to stop for the day.

So join me next time. Will we find out who Frank is? Will we rid the town of the sharks? Will we make it to the Giant Step? Only time will tell! See you next time.

–Day 05–

Now that I know I can beat the Shark Punks walking around the streets, I think it’s about time I help clean up this town. A task that is easier said than done. There are actually quite a few Sharks roaming around the streets. Not only that, but every time I fight one of them, they seem to just call in more reinforcements. Eventually it felt like I was fighting the entire gang all at once.

It took longer than I expected, but I finally cleaned the streets of all the Sharks. However, they aren’t completely eliminated. They still have their base inside the local arcade. Naturally, there are quite a few of them inside just waiting to avenge their fallen brethren.

Unfortunately for the sharks, the members in the arcade aren’t any stronger than the ones out in the streets. Ness on the other hand is getting stronger with every fight, eventually leveling all the way up to level 7. How can they even hope to beat Ness now?

The Sharks on the second floor of the arcade have a bit more confidence than the first floor, but they don’t put up much more of a fight. Really, all that’s left now is their boss Frank. But that will have to wait for another day.

Will Ness be able to beat Frank and put an end to the Sharks? You’ll just have to come back next time to find out. Thanks for reading.

 

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