Throwback Thursday: Earthbound BeginningsJune 25, 2015
It’s Throwback Thursday here at GCE, and this week I’m bringing you the classic JRPG Earthbound Beginnings (aka Mother in Japan). If the name sounds familiar, then congratulations, we can be friends. Earthbound Beginnings gets its name because it is the prequel to the cult classic Earthbound. Initially released in 1989 for the Famicom, Nintendo saw fit to reward fans crying for them to release Mother 3 in the west by giving us the prequel that not many people seemed to be clamoring for. However, if you get over the saltiness of being denied Mother 3 (yet again) and open your minds to a world of innocence and exploration, then you’re bound to enjoy Earthbound Beginnings.
For those of you familiar with Earthbound on the SNES either by playing this stellar example of JRPG or through playing as Ness in any number of Super Smash Bros. games, you’ll likely know that the series has a reputation for being a bit…odd. This is because the creator of the series, Shigesato Itoi, set out to eschew JRPG gaming tropes at the time, choosing to set the game in a modern era instead of a medieval-esque period with dungeons and castles. Thus, Itoi created a game that played on western culture while replacing swords and spells with wooden bats and telepathy.
Whether it was the quirkiness of the characters (children fighting lamps and teddy bears) or the innocence expressed by the main characters being mostly children, the game gathered a cult following. I personally love the series because at its core it takes itself seriously with the ramped up difficulty and underlying adult themes, yet on the surface it’s almost like a caricature of JRPGs. Even the descriptions of the enemies contain great tongue-in-cheek humor (e.g. – Bag Lady: “Her refrigerator-shaped body holds a heart of ice.”). The game is filled with eccentricity like this, and simply stumbling upon them while playing is a treat.
As for the plot, it’s also a bit strange. Those who’ve played Earthbound will find familiarity in the set up. You play as a young boy, Ninten, living in Podunk, USA. You wake up one day with once inanimate objects now running around terrorizing your family. Using your trusty baseball bat, you fight evil enemies like Lamp and Doll until they go quiet. You’re then given your great grandfather’s diary that apparently holds secrets of mind powers called PSI, which you have the ability to learn and use. Is it all a bit forced? Possibly, but because the game is so silly it doesn’t seem out of place.
What unfolds is a large adventure that includes multiple cities, haunting and powerful melodies, more strange creatures, and the power of innocence versus forces of evil that aren’t truly understood until the very end of the game. The goal of the game is for young Ninten to almost single-handedly unravel the strange occurrences and help bring peace to the land. It’s a common JRPG trope, but Itoi and his team hit a home run by flipping the script and putting things in a modern, western society where you eat burgers and fries instead of drinking potions.
Still, as much as I love the series, Earthbound Beginnings isn’t a perfect game. Like many early JRPGs (Earthbound included), there’s a huge imbalance in difficulty. This isn’t a game for the light-hearted, as it will require grinding from the moment you step outside your door to the final credits scene. This will likely turn off some casual gamers or those unfamiliar with traditional JRPGs. However, if you’re willing to put in the time and temper your frustration at the inconsistency of random encounters, you’re bound to have an amazing time.
Sure, you’re going to die some cheap deaths, and even the most dedicated grinders can find Earthbound Beginnings’ massive difficulty spikes unfair, but nothing worthwhile is easy. If you’re curious about this amazing prequel to the cult classic Earthbound, I highly recommend you pick it up from the Wii U Virtual Console for $6.99. The game contains over 20 hours of gameplay, and the more you explore the more the game will reveal to you. It’s a solid deal for a classic JRPG that’s never seen an official English translation until now. Just stay away from crazy Hippies and hillbilly Willy on your quest to save the world.
[Images via Nintendo]