Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Jun 102015
 
EarthBound: The War Against Giygas

Is “The War Against Giygas!” a part of the actual title?

For the two weeks my computer was down, I spent a lot of time browsing the Internet from my Wii U. Without Dragon Age 2 (my current in-progress PC game) or other computer activities to occupy my time, I finally finished EarthBound.

EarthBound is one of the first games I ever tried on my Wii U. I started it, enjoyed it, and took a break shortly after the first boss. When I returned to it, I started out confused, but re-familiarized myself with it quickly. Over the next two weeks, I plunged into the game and played it to completion.

I knew a few details about EarthBound from the start… mainly the infamous final boss battle. Most of it, however, was a mystery. The main thing I knew was that it’s a cult classic, often cited as one of the greatest games ever.

One thing that sets it apart from most RPGs is its use of a modern setting. As I played, I thought about that. A modern, realistic setting (minus the monsters and general weirdness) felt unusual, and it was Something in the back of my mind told me there is a prominent RPG series with a similar setting…

Pokemon.

I’m sure there are others, so chime in with other modern video game settings in the comments below.

Unlike Pokemon, which tends to be straightforward within the rules of its universe, EarthBound is quirky, silly, and often downright weird. Enemies range from animals to aliens to… sentient piles of vomit? Cranky ladies? Hippies? And while these enemies have the sorts of attacks and buffs you’d expect from an RPG combat system, they’re also equipped with moves that do absolutely nothing or even inflict negative status ailments on the enemies.

Earthbound-yellow-submarineThough sometimes surprisingly dark, the game’s atmosphere falls more on the lighthearted side of the spectrum. You may be afraid of the street sign or coffee cup because it’s going to kill you, but the majority of the game doesn’t carry the sort of tension you’d expect from a desperate quest to stop a force of ultimate evil.

Whether it was the enemies, items, comments from NPCs, or just overall sense of humor, EarthBound’s tone was probably my favorite part of the game. It consistently made me smile. Then there were several little references I enjoyed.

The combat system also has some great features. First, instead of random encounters, you can see enemies on the screen. Weak enemies will run from you, while strong enemies will chase you. Second, if you’re strong enough compared to the enemy you run into, the game simply gives you the experience. While I adore how Wild Arms 3 lets you skip weak battles, EarthBound’s method of just declaring it a victory without making you fight is even better.

Third, it features a “rolling HP” system. When an enemy attacks you, you can watch your HP decrease, and this is more than just aesthetic. A fatal blow, for example, isn’t fatal until your HP hits 0. If you have 100 HP and the attack takes off 150 HP, you won’t die if you heal yourself or win the battle while it’s still decreasing. Heal as fast as you can!

Other than that, combat is a fairly simple turn-based system. You have physical attacks, “psi” powers that are basically magic and consume your PP meter accordingly, usable items, and a special ability for each character. It can be challenging, but always manageable, especially since you retain any experience you earned when you die. The general gameplay, aside from these features and the unusual setting, is standard RPG fare.

Despite what some fans would have you believe, though, EarthBound is not a perfect game. As I played, I realized there were some aspects I downright disliked, namely:

  • Horrible inventory management
  • Needlessly complicated fast-travel (you can teleport, but you need a running start)
  • Sudden difficulty spikes

…and more than any of these…

Spoiler for EarthBound's final battle
How the HECK was I suppose to know to use “Pray” against Giygas?

Yes, Pokey gave a vague hint by suggesting we cry out for help, but I thought that indicated a scripted event like the previous changes in the battle. I turned it into a battle of endurance and kept fighting Giygas for… I don’t even want to think about how long it was…

I’d long since dismissed “Pray” as a useless command, to the point where when I (in desperation) looked up how to beat Giygas and say people asking about “Pray,” it took me a while to realize what they meant.

Disagree that these are flaws? Present your arguments in the comments.

Now, let’s talk about EarthBound’s story.

Earthbound-Ness-SSB4I have a serious question for all of you. Is EarthBound a story-driven game? People talk about its story being ambitious. They also describe it as subtle. But when you think of games with good stories, do you think of EarthBound?

I loved EarthBound’s atmosphere, but I didn’t really care a whole lot about its story. It was like a Zelda game, or every Pokemon game except Black/White–there’s a story framework to guide your actions, but you aren’t going to spend time wondering what will happen next.

Or really caring about the characters. Don’t get me wrong, I liked EarthBound’s protagonists, but they didn’t have a lot of dialogue or do much of anything except be party members.

I know a lot of older JRPGs are like that, back when the genre began to emerge, but EarthBound came out in Japan in 1994. That’s the same year as Final Fantasy VI, a game with excellent storytelling and characters, and three years after Final Fantasy IV, which I still need to play.

After I finished EarthBound, I read stuff online about its plot. Now I feel as though I would have cared more if I went into it familiar with the plot of the first Mother game. Granted, since Mother was never released in North America, most EarthBound fans never experience it… but it would have given me more insight into Giygas other than “evil,” and you know how I feel about villains.

But maybe it’s just that the storytelling it subtle, and it needs to sink in before you can really appreciate it. Let me know your thoughts on EarthBound’s story. For now, I’ll leave you with my closing thoughts on EarthBound: it’s an entertaining game and a worthwhile experience, but not necessarily one of the greatest games ever.

Still, if any others were localized, I’d play them.

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  4 Responses to “EarthBound: Quirky Adventures in the Land of Weird”

  1. I actually didn’t forget about Pray throughout the game (it could randomly heal you and status effects!), but I also knew from SPOILERS that Pray was necessary to use against Giygas.

    What I DIDN’T know was that you needed to use Jar of Fly Honey on Master Belch to be able to win. <.<

    • I used Pray a couple of times when I first got Paula, and it had effects I didn’t want. After that, I just ignored it.

      My fight against Belch was a disaster until I suddenly remembered I had that thing sitting in my inventory and decided to try it.

      • I was playing against Belch for a veeeerrryyy long time and I just wasn’t able to accomplish anything with all the status effects. >.> (That Pray helped fix. Sometimes.)

        I was fine with the running-to-teleport mechanic, especially since the upgrade power doesn’t require that and the game makes a point of having stronger versions of PSI.

        But yeah inventory management was my least favourite part of the game and I think diehard EB fans hear that criticism the most.

        • You still had to have space around you for the upgraded teleport, though, even if it wasn’t much. Then it just seemed frustrating to me, where the first form of teleport seemed intentionally difficult so you couldn’t just use it anywhere.

          The inventory management drove me craaazy. I can’t remember another game where it was that annoying. Not even Sticker Star. xD

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