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Earthbound (SNES)

Don't you hate it when this happens? You're lying peacefully in your bed, all warm and snuggly in your pajamas, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a meteor crashes onto a hill by your house. With that kind of commotion going on outside, who can sleep? So, out of your bed you hop to go investigate. Before heading out the door, however, your mother reminds you that it's not really a good idea to go wandering around town at night in your pajamas, that the least you could do is change into some clothes. So, after you hop upstairs and change, off you go to find out what's going on.

You end up discovering that the meteor contains a messenger from the future, saying that the world is being destroyed, and that you (and three others you'll meet up with) are the future's only hope. Why does it always have to be you? Why couldn't it be your neighbor, or somebody else, and you just go home and go back to bed? Plus, it's still a number of years off, what's the rush? Things are never that easy though, so, you'll just have to get used to it.

All of this may sound rather familiar to people accustomed with RPGs. A plot where the world is going to be destroyed and you have to save it? So what else is new? Well, Earthbound is definitely very different from most any other RPG out there. In Earthbound, you're not wandering through some medieval area filled with castles, but through normal towns filled with houses, drugstores, concert halls, hotels, and other modern conveniences. Instead of relying on Tonics and Healing Potions to recover your life, instead you can eat a Hamburger or call out for Pizza. Instead of Trolls and Orcs and Goblins, you'll be facing off against Stray Dogs, Crazed Signs, and New-Age Retro Hippies (Oh no, run!). Instead of swords and daggers, you'll be armed with Baseball Bats and Frying Pans. While not the first RPG to be located in a "modern-day setting," Earthbound definitely takes a couple of steps off the beaten path.

Of course, there are still many things that will be returning that are familiar to RPG fans. You still have your array of magic spells, your occasional damsel in distress (although she says she would've busted her way out if you hadn't rescued her anyway), and a few mysterious happenings here and there. The solid core of RPG elements is definitely present. The way Earthbound takes that and mixes in so many new, different and interesting elements of its own, however, it really wonderful.

As you wander around the towns and countryside of your adventure, you'll come across many different things which aren't exactly in a talking mood. All enemies are present on screen, and you have the option to walk up and engage them or to walk around and avoid them. Enemies which are stronger than you will run up to you when you get close, while enemies who know they're much weaker than you will try to run away. How you enter the battle affects who gets the first attack. If both you and the enemy are facing each other, the battle will begin as normal.

Once in a battle, the setup is a fairly standard turn-based action common to many RPGs. One twist to the formula is that, your HP and PP are on a rolling meter. That is, if, for instance, you had 100 HPs and got damaged for 60 HPs of damage, instead of just jumping from 100 to 40, it would count down through 99, 98, 97, 96... While this may not seem like too big a deal, where it comes into play is, say you had 200 HP, and were damaged for 250 HP. Needless to say, this would cause you to die. If, however, while it's counting down through the numbers, you defeat the enemies while it's only at, say, 45 HPs, the battle ends and you win. Likewise, if you're able to heal the person while the numbers are still counting down and you heal enough HPs where it's more than the damage that would kill them, it will cause them to still be alive with that number of HPs.

One other difference with battles is, while defeating enemies causes you to get experience points (which, like in other RPGs, add up to gaining levels, which lead to increased statistics), enemies don't drop gold or money when you defeat them. Really, what would a Rat be doing carrying around 200 Gold Pieces? Or, in this case, a Stray Dog with $200? Instead, your father (who you never actually see, you only call him on the phone when you need to save the game) will, as you're out fighting enemies, deposit money into your ATM account. At hotels and drugstores and other such locations, you can access an ATM and withdraw money from your account. One specific advantage to this ATM system is, when you die, you lose half of the money you have on you. So if, instead of just withdrawing all of your money as soon as it's deposited, you leave some of it in your account, that money will be protected in case something unfortunate should happen to you. These little twists may not seem like much, but, it's just these small things here and there which add up to make Earthbound such a different game.

Another thing about Earthbound that's different is its graphical style. Even for someone who's played the game a number of times, if it's been a while since you played, sometimes it takes a bit of time playing before you really adjust to how this game's graphics look. It's not that they're bad (not by a longshot, they're extremely good), it's just that, like many other things about this game, it's just so different from what you're used to in other games. Just looking at still pictures of the game, one might not see the appeal to how it looks right away. As one gets into playing the game however, over time experiencing the game, one really gets the feeling that the graphics match the mood and feel of the game perfectly. They may not have the same "wow factor" that other games try for, but, after playing the game, it's hard to imagine them looking any other way. As well, all of the different areas that you explore have different looks and styles to them. It's not just moving from one town to the next, but different towns with different looks and presentations. Not just towns either, you'll encounter many different areas on your journey. You'll make your way through deserts, swamps, caves, lakes, and all sorts of varied locations which, even aside from whatever your goal is in the area, are just fun to look around and explore. Likewise, the music in the game always fits the areas and moods perfectly. As you enter new towns and places, new background music will start up, fitting the overall feeling of the town very well. There isn't just one set background music for all the battles, even among the "normal" enemies certain different ones will have different background music to go along with them.

Normally, one wouldn't think of giving an entire paragraph devoted to controls in a 2D SNES RPG. I mean, generally everything is pretty straightforward, it's not like there's camera angles or combinations or whatnot to deal with. There is one thing about Earthbound's controls, however, that I feel is so noteworthy that it deserves to be mentioned specifically. Like in many RPGs, while you're walking around on the main area, there are various things you can interact with. People you can talk with, signs you can read, trash cans to look through. Pressing the A button opens your menu, from which you can select Talk or Check, as well as your other menu options such as Equip, Statistics and other selections. In Earthbound, however, if you simply want to talk to a person in front of you, or examine something on the ground, pressing the L button on the controller will automatically function the same as selecting either Talk or Check from the menu. This has two advantages. One, it's much quicker and doesn't require going through an extra menu. The other is that, while walking around towns, one only really needs to have their left hand on the controller, operating the D-pad and L button. This may seem like an insignificant matter, but, it's nice to be able to lean back on one arm, relax, and just control the game with the other hand. While obviously this would be impossible in certain types of games, it always surprised me that more RPGs didn't take this approach to the control scheme.

At the beginning of the game you're given your main plot which is, ostensibly, your goal for the course of the game. That's really more just some motivation to get your pajama-clad self out of bed than anything else though. On your adventure, you'll find all sorts of interesting problems and issues which need resolving. Things from a punk down at the local arcade causing problems, to a town full of zombies, to a lake monster and everything in between, there are all sorts of entertaining predicaments with which you'll find yourself involved. As you make your way through the towns, there are many townspeople around who you can talk with who will impart small bits of information about various plots, or just the fact that they don't like having you as a neighbor and wish you would move out. Walking around town and finding out all of the interesting things that people have to say is often just as entertaining as actually finding your way toward your next goal. Another thing is that often the people will change what they say once you do accomplish a goal, or talk to them a couple of times or show them an item. So, it's not just a one-time passing by of the people, but a constant exploration of all the different things they have to share.

Earthbound might not be the lengthiest game if one just goes directly through it. Probably in the area of around 25 hours would be a good estimate for if one already knows what to do and just skips anything else other than what's required. Half the fun of the game, however, is in doing the stuff that isn't required. In going around talking to everyone finding out all the things they have to say, exploring the towns and houses, wandering through caves and passages, down every path, just because it's so enjoyable to wander around for a while. One of the best things that I can say about Earthbound is, there isn't a second during the time one is playing it when one isn't enjoying what they're doing. No matter what it is that one is trying to accomplish, or if one is just randomly wandering around for no apparent reason, every part of this game is an absolute joy. It's one of those games where you wish it would never end simply because you're having so much fun with everything it has to offer.

Another thing is, without trying to spoil anything too much (and so staying fairly vague about things), Earthbound has one of the best endings of any video game. It isn't simply beating the final boss and, once he's out of hit points, going directly to the credits. There's so much to the "ending" itself, that it's really a wonderful experience. Again without trying to spoil anything, there's a great deal of stuff to do even after one is "done" with the game. Even once one has beaten the game, there are still many reasons to come back to it. Which, after experiencing one's way through the game, really isn't much of a surprise. It's just a culmination of the fact that, while Earthbound is a spectacular game on its own, it's so much fun to just wander around and experience everything the game has to offer, that it always seems there's something new to discover every time one plays through the game.

With Earthbound, what it really comes down to is, all of the elements come together perfectly to form one spectacular whole. There isn't a thing about it that doesn't fit in with all the other pieces. Granted, at its core it's still a turn-based RPG and, if you don't like those, you're still probably not going to like this. Assuming one does like that central base that everything is built on, however, all the parts of Earthbound combine to make it one of the most enjoyable, unique, rewarding experiences in any game. For anyone who likes RPGs at all, this is most certainly a must-play game. One of the best games ever created (and one could easily argue quite possibly the best), for any system. It's still just as fun today as it's always been. If you haven't had a chance to play Earthbound yet, get going. It's something different, it’s something enjoyable, and it's something that shouldn't be missed.

Gameplay: 10/10
Graphics/Sound: 10/10
Length/Replay: 10/10
Overall: 10/10