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One of my favorite genres in videos games is RPGs, and one of the titles that made me realize that is Earthbound. Back then, I used to rent almost weekly Earthbound from my local video game store. Because I was pretty young, I was still never able to get very far but always had fun in the starting town of Onett.
Then, about five years later, I would come back, and throughout one weekend, I would see Ness and his friend’s journey through to the end, and from that moment, I knew Earthbound was something special. But how does it hold up 26 years later? Let’s find out.
Before I get into it, though, I just want to give a heads up. Earthbound Beginnings was also released on the Nintendo Switch Online NES emulator. While it is a fantastic game that also deserves your time, I think it is best enjoyed after Earthbound on the SNES.
Like Final Fantasy, these titles aren’t connected, and the quality of life improvements brought to Earthbound make it a lot easier for everyone to enjoy. At the same time, Beginnings is a little rougher around the edges.
The year is 199X, and a meteor comes crashing down over the sleepy town of Onett and wakes up our unlikely hero: a thirteen-year-old boy named Ness. As you make your way to the meteor, a fly from the future comes out and explains the situation. An evil presence known as Gygas has turned everyone on earth mad, having them turn on each other. Our fly friend Buzz-Buzz tells Ness that he must travel to sanctuaries worldwide to collect sounds for his sound stone to prevent Gygas from taking over.
Ness meets some new friends to help him on his journey: Paula, Jeff, and Poo. While his journey starts small and simple, there is a point where you get a “coffee” break to almost signal a third of the game is done, and you realize how big this adventure truly is. But, of course, this is all to say when you finally come up to the conclusion. It is emotional and empowering with twists and turns that still land 26 years later.
Earthbound is known for its quirky style, and even now, it’s just as bizarre. Even if Blues Brothers-style jokes might not land as hard for newer players to the game, there is something here for everyone. The way all the adults talk down to the player as an early teen is something anyone who tried to get adults to take them seriously as a teenager can relate to.
Things get really interesting by the time you end up in the latter half of the game’s towns. Without spoiling too much, when you get to Fourside, your perspective is thrown through a loop. The variety in enemies is also impressively complex. Each new area has all-new enemy types and variations to older types. I swear there has got to be more enemy variation here than in Final Fantasy 6 or 7.
Gameplay in Earthbound is your typical RPG staples: you fight to level up, get better equipment and use magic (Known as PSI powers here), and nothing feels better than seeing those numbers go up. One thing Earthbound does differently is there are no random encounters. It is all done through enemies living in the world, so this also means if you see an enemy up ahead and you don’t want to fight, you can move just far enough away to have the enemy despawn. Sometimes this trick can be helpful, because trust me when I say Earthbound is a VERY difficult game.
You will need to grind. You will need to be careful because inventory space is limited, and items are tied to each character. For example, if you bought a hamburger to heal some precious HP and gave it to Paula and she falls in battle and you can revive her, you will not be able to use that item until you are finished with that battle. Yikes!
Along with enemies being present in the world, something that always piqued my interest was that once you beat the area’s boss, also known as a Sanctuary Guardian, enemies will start to run away from you. Of course, if you run into them, there is a chance for an auto-win, where the screen will flash, and you immediately win the fight and get a bit lower experience. However, this makes grinding out battles really easy.
The music and sounds in Earthbound are outstanding, and each enemy type, be it enraged hippy or UFO, has its own theme, and they are all bangers. You know when the eccentric photographer is coming when you hear his swell of music. Of course, many things from Earthbound have stayed the test of time, something like “Fuzzy Pickles” and the entire Saturn Valley section is just exquisite, and there is a reason people have wanted Earthbound on the Switch for so long.
Overall, Earthbound is by far one of the best games on the SNES, and now that it is widely available on the Nintendo Switch Online. Anyone who has had even the slightest interest in Earthbound should absolutely play it.
While we are still waiting for the fabled Mother 3 to get a port over in the West, now is a great time to play Earthbound. With Nintendo’s commitment to filling out their online library, I’m excited to see what they add next.
Combat is fun and refreshing
Music is stunning
Story is strong and emotional
Nintendo at its weirdest is the best
Difficulty can be off-putting