EarthBound

EarthBound

[urth-bound]

|genre=Console role-playing |modes=Single-player |ratings= |platforms=Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy Advance (Japan-only port) |media=24-megabit cartridge }} EarthBound, known in Japan as , is a role-playing video game designed by Shigesato Itoi for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System video game console. The title was developed by Ape, Inc., Pax Softnica and HAL Laboratory as a sequel to its Japan-only predecessor, Mother. EarthBound was published by Nintendo and released in Japan, and months later in North America. Despite being successful in Japan, the American version was released to a poor commercial response. Years later, the game is now lauded by gamers for its humorous depictions of American culture and parody of the RPG genre, and has since become a cult classic.

Taking place in a modern day world, players assume the role of a young boy named Ness who awakens to discover a meteor has plummeted to the earth near his home. Upon investigating the meteor, Ness encounters an insect-like alien named Buzz Buzz who claims to be from the future. Buzz Buzz proceeds to tell Ness that an evil alien, named Giygas, has overtaken the world in the future and that Ness must undertake a journey to prevent this event. However, this won't be easy, because Ness's neighbor, Pokey, is in on Giygas plans through the majority of the story.

A direct sequel to EarthBound for the Nintendo 64, entitled "EarthBound 64", was in development for many years before finally being cancelled. This project eventually resurfaced as a Game Boy Advance title called Mother 3 and was released only in Japan. In 2006, Mother creator, Shigesato Itoi, declared that there were no plans for any more installments in the Mother series. However, with the release of the Wii, many expect that EarthBound will be re-released on the Virtual Console,, and the game has even gotten rated by the ESRB with "Wii" as its console. while rumors have also been circulating regarding the release of the Mother trilogy for the Nintendo DS.

Gameplay

EarthBound features many traditional RPG elements; the player controls a party of characters who travel through the game's two dimensional world, which is composed of villages, cities, and dungeons. Along the way, battles are fought against enemies, after which, the party receives experience points for victories. If enough experience points are acquired, a character's level will increase. This increases the character's attributes, like strength, defense, and health. EarthBound breaks traditional RPG features by not utilizing an overworld map. Instead, the world is entirely seamless, with no differentiation between towns and the outside world. Another non-traditional element is the perspective used for the world. The game uses oblique projection, while most 2-D RPGs use a "top down" view on a grid or an isometric perspective.

EarthBound does not utilize random encounters. When physical contact occurs between a character and an enemy, the screen switches to battle mode. In combat, characters and enemies possess a certain amount of hit points (HP). Blows to an enemy reduces the amount of HP. Once an enemy's HP reaches zero, they are defeated. In battle, the player is allowed to choose specific actions for their characters. These actions can include attacking, healing, or the use of items. Characters can also use special psionic attacks that require psychic points (PP). Once each character is assigned a command, the characters and enemies perform their actions in a set order, determined by character speed. Whenever a character receives damage, the HP box gradually "rolls" down, similar to an odometer. This allows players an opportunity to heal the character or win the battle before the counter hits zero, after which the character is knocked unconscious (although if the counter reaches zero as the battle is won, it will be set to 1 instead and the character will survive). If all characters are rendered unconscious, the game ends. Because battles are not random, tactical advantages can be gained. If the player physically contacts an enemy from behind, the player is given a first-strike priority. However, this also applies to enemies, who can also engage the party from behind. Additionally, as Ness and his friends become stronger, battles with weaker enemies are eventually won automatically, forgoing the battle sequence.

Currency is indirectly received from Ness' father, who can also save the game's progress. Each time the party wins a battle, Ness' father deposits money in an account that can be withdrawn at ATM machines. In towns, players can visit various stores where weapons, armor, and items can be bought. Weapons and armor can be equipped to increase character strength and defense, respectively. In addition, items can be used for a number of purposes, such as healing. Towns also house several other useful facilities such as hospitals where players can be healed for a fee.

Plot summary

Characters

See also: List of EarthBound characters
EarthBound takes place on Earth in the year 199X. Throughout the game, four characters, known as the Chosen Four, come to compose the party in the game; Ness, Paula, Jeff, and Poo. Ness remains the lead character, a silent protagonist (with the exception of a monologue near the end of the game), for the entirety of the story. He is a young boy from Onett and is characterized by his love of baseball. He also possesses psychic abilities strong enough to affect cosmic events. Paula is the second main character in the game. She is a young girl from Twoson where her mother runs a preschool out of their home. Like Ness, she also possesses powerful psychic abilities. Jeff, the third character to join the party, is a young boy who resides at a boarding school in the northern country of Winters. The son of the famed professor Dr. Andonuts, Jeff is a child prodigy who can fix almost anything. The last character to be acquired is Poo. He is the oldest of the group, a residing prince from the distant land of Dalaam. He is presented as a powerful martial arts master.

Giygas returns from Mother as the game's main antagonist. He uses his powerful influence over people and his army consisting of a bizarre variety of aliens, robots, and animals to prevent Ness from uniting his powers at the eight sanctuaries. His goal is to conquer the Earth and, ultimately, destroy the universe. Pokey, Ness' overweight neighbor, helps carry out Giygas' will and oversees his plans. On the other hand, the friends and family members of the Chosen Four try to help their loved ones as much as they can. They offer the chosen four a variety of services, from cooking steak, or sneaking out of school, to building time machines, and teaching them powerful psychic techniques.

Story

The story begins when Ness is awakened by a meteor that has plummeted to the earth near his home, whereupon he proceeds to investigate the crash site along with his annoying next door neighbor, Pokey, who later on asks if Ness could help find his little brother, Picky. After arriving, Ness encounters an insect named Buzz Buzz, who informs Ness that he is from the future where a hostile alien, Giygas, dominates the planet. Buzz Buzz instructs Ness to embark on a journey to defeat Giygas in the present, because he is too powerful in the future. Ness then proceeds to seek out eight "sanctuaries," to unite his own powers with the Earth's and gain the strength required to confront Giygas. Buzz Buzz is later killed, and sends Ness on his mission to defeat Giygas.

Ness proceeds on his quest through a variety of locales, including the town of Onett, an icy land called Winters, an oriental land called Dalaam, and a dream world called Magicant. As he goes on his journey, he encounters a variety of characters, including the other three chosen ones, Paula, a blond girl from Twoson, Jeff, a book-smart boy from Winters, and Poo, a young monk from Dalaam. There are several enemies that Ness encounters in EarthBound, including Giygas' top men. The group often runs into a blues band called the Runaway Five, helping them out and being helped out in return. Throughout the game, Ness runs into Pokey, who had joined with Giygas to take over the world. Ness eventually activates all of the "Your Sanctuary", travels to Magicant, and defeats his "Nightmare", unlocking his power. Jeff's father, Doctor Andonuts, creates a device that will allow them to travel to the past to battle against Giygas - however, they are forced to transfer their souls from their bodies into robot bodies. In the past, they encounter Giygas and Pokey, who informs Ness and the others that Giygas has become so powerful that his mind was completely destroyed. A device called the Devil's Machine is activated by Pokey, causing Giygas' body to be destroyed, but his spirit remains intact. Paula then prays to a variety of people on Earth, including their friends such as the Runaway Five who all pray for their safety, and eventually, she reaches out to the player, whose prayers defeat Giygas. Pokey escapes into time, and Ness and company manage to have their spirits returned to their bodies, and they all return to their homes. After the credits, Picky gives Ness a message from Pokey daring him to come looking for him.

Development

Development on EarthBound took place as a joint effort between Ape, Inc. and HAL Laboratory, Inc. and was designed by Shigesato Itoi. The total development time for the project was five years, much longer than was initially expected. Of this, Itoi has stated that many times he felt the project was "doomed." Because two companies were working on EarthBound, responsibilities were spread out between the two studios. Ape had more people working on the title and oversaw the data aspects of the game while HAL worked on the programming. Because the two studios were based at separate locations, employees would regularly have to travel between the studios to work.

Initial gameplay features that Itoi had in mind involved an unconventional level structure and hit points system (HP). Itoi decided to exclude an overworld, because he wanted no distinction to remain between towns and the outside world. This resulted in each town being carefully designed to be unique. The first design concepts for the HP boxes were to make them like pachinko balls and have them fall off the screen whenever a character was damaged. However, this was later changed to the "rolling counter" HP boxes because the pachinko balls did not work so well when characters had large amounts of HP.

Some of the difficulties posed by the development of EarthBound were the data restrictions imposed by the SNES cartridge size. It was initially designed to fit on an 8 megabit cartridge. However, it was later pushed to 12 megabits and then finally pushed onto a 24 megabit cartridge. This can partially be attributed to the large amount of music composed for the title. Other aspects of the project that remained difficult were programming concepts. The oblique projection techniques proved difficult to program and were time consuming as well. The bicycle and delivery man systems posed problems as well due to their own complex programming schemes.

Some aspects of the character designs remain very personal for Shigesato Itoi. In an interview on his website, Itoi describes how his inspiration for the final battle with Giygas resulted from a traumatic childhood event. When Itoi was a young boy, he accidentally viewed the wrong movie at a theater, a Shintōhō film entitled The Military Policeman and the Dismembered Beauty. According to Itoi the film featured a graphic rape scene near a river that traumatized Itoi so much that his parents began to worry about his wellbeing. Years later, Itoi integrated the experience into Giygas' dialogue for the final battle.

Nintendo eventually announced a release date of August 27, 1994 for Japan, and invested a large amount of money into promoting the new game. One of the marketing campaigns involved Japanese celebrity Takuya Kimura of SMAP, who was heavily featured in Weekly Famitsu promotional ads. Other efforts included bundling a full length strategy guide with the game, complete in a bigger box, and affixing a price much lower than other titles at the time. Scratch and sniff stickers also came bundled with the game. EarthBound was released in Japan on August 27, 1994, and was well received. The North American version was released months later on June 1, 1995, and was met with lukewarm responses.

A sequel was announced three years later for the Nintendo 64DD, entitled EarthBound 64 or Mother 3. However, the game became plagued by problems as release date pushbacks occurred, as well as failures to appear at popular gaming conventions, like E3. Nintendo eventually announced its cancellation on August 21, 2000. Years later, Mother 3 resurfaced as a Game Boy Advance title and was released only in Japan. On May 5, 2005, Shigesato Itoi announced that he had no plans to develop the Mother series any further. After the development of the Wii system, it is expected that EarthBound will be released for the Virtual Console, and the game has even gotten an ESRB rating with "Wii" as its console. Rumors have also been circulating regarding the release of the entire Mother trilogy for the Nintendo DS.

Critical reception

EarthBound became a great success in Japan, eventually rising to #1 on Weekly Famitsu's top 30 chart along with hearty recommendations by the magazine reviewers. Commercial reactions in America, on the other hand, were much lower than Nintendo had anticipated. The game sold 140,000 copies in North America, and about twice that number in Japan. American audiences were largely indifferent to Japanese RPGs, and would remain this way until titles like Final Fantasy VII took the genre into the mainstream. Years later, many American critics have praised the game for being ahead of its time, as well as for its storyline, graphics, and particularly, its humor. In the June 2008 issue of Nintendo Power, EarthBound was revealed to be the #1 "Readers' Most Wanted" Virtual Console title, with Mother close behind at #4. Then in the July 2008 issue of Nintendo Power, EarthBound was yet again the #1 "Readers' Most Wanted" Virtual Console title, with the original Mother now placed in second.

Reviews

Reviews of EarthBound have generally been positive. In Allgame's review, EarthBound was declared "one of the most original role-playing games of the 1990s." The site then went on to praise it's storyline, humor, music, and characters. A point of contention between critics were the simplistic graphics. In All RPG's review of the game, the graphics were described as "horrid," while Nintendojo and 1UP enjoyed them, with 1UP going so far as to say "regardless of what anyone tells you, the graphics are awesome." 1UP also criticized the title's similarities to Dragon Quest, but in the end declared EarthBound a game "worth experiencing." Nintendojo and Gamasutra also criticized the similarities to Dragon Quest, with Gamasutra declaring EarthBound an "unabashed Dragon Quest clone..." Despite the criticism, Gamasutra regarded the title as "as one of the greatest RPGs on the SNES." The game's audio was also praised, with All RPG declaring it "some of the best music on the Super Nintendo." Of all EarthBound's elements, however, the most lauded was its humor, being universally praised by all critics for its comedic, albeit confusing, depictions of American culture and parody of the RPG genre.

EarthBound is regarded by critics as one of the greatest RPGs on the SNES,[48] as well as one of the best of the 1990s.[41] The game has also become a cult classic and possesses substantial fanbases in both Japan and America. As a result, the game regularly appears on readers' choice polls in both countries. In a 2005 readers' choice poll of the top 99 best games of all time conducted by IGN, EarthBound was voted 46th on the list. A year later, IGN conducted a similar readers' choice poll where EarthBound moved up to be 33rd on the list. The game has also appeared on lists conducted by the Japanese. In a 2006 readers' poll conducted by Famitsu magazine, the game was voted the 37th best game of all time on a list of 100 titles. In an introspective of the 20 essential Japanese RPGs, Gamasutra featured EarthBound on the list.

EarthBound has also been featured in all of the titles of the blockbuster Super Smash Bros. series. Since the first title in the series, Ness has consistently appeared as a playable character. In the first Super Smash Bros., Ness is hidden as a secret character. In Super Smash Bros. Melee, Ness is initially available as part of the roster, and in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, he again appears as a secret character. Onett and Fourside appear as battle arenas in the Melee, while only Onett appears in Brawl. New Pork City, from Mother 3, appears in Brawl as well. In addition to Ness, trophies for many other characters, such as Paula, Jeff, and Poo, can be collected in the two latter games. Jeff is also featured as an Assist Trophy in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, using his Multi-Bottle Rockets to home in on opponents.

EarthBound's soundtrack has also been completely remixed by fans and released as a free downloadable tribute album entitled Bound Together. The album encompasses 48 tracks and includes performances from well known video game cover bands, such as the OneUps, as well as various artists from remixing communities like OverClocked ReMix.

Soundtrack

Mother 2: Gyiyg Strikes Back (マザー2 ギーグの逆襲) is the soundtrack for EarthBound. The album was composed by Hiroshi Kanazu, Keiichi Suzuki, and Hirokazu Tanaka, and was released by Sony Records in Japan on November 2, 1994.

Development of the music for EarthBound remained much easier than its predecessor. In an interview with Weekly Famitsu, Keiichi Suzuki commented on how the SNES gave the composers much more freedom to compose what they wanted. Suzuki also cited John Lennon as an influential figure to all the composers while the soundtrack was being developed.

References

External links

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