Earthbound and down

Earthbound makes me smile. I don’t really know why. It seems to be a franchise that people either love or hate, but the vast majority of people do neither because they never gave it a shot. I can see why though. It’s very odd, with writing that mixes strange japanese storytelling with a rabid obsession for americana. I’ve been recently playing through Mother 3 (or Earthbound 2, as we call it in this continent). I’m about halfway through, as far as I can tell, and I’m enjoying every weird bit of it.

I can’t really tell where the story is going at this point in the game; it isn’t laid out nearly as traditionally as the previous Earthbound game. It involves a happy little town in the forest that gets invaded by a bunch of strange men who wear pig masks that have a thing for technology. There are some pretty obvious satirical pokes here and there, such as when you play as a monkey named Salsa. (YEAH. A MONKEY NAMED SALSA. HE’S ENSLAVED BY A MIDDLE EASTERN MAN WHO STOLE HIS MONKEY GIRLFRIEND.) Anyway, you play as this monkey and you have a mission where you need to deliver “happiness boxes” to several of the people in the village. It turns out later on that you were delivering big pink TVs that emit bright colors and make people docile and happy. You also find out that the houses that don’t have happy boxes get struck by lightning over and over.

Hmm… curiouser and curiouser.

The charming little satirical story is interesting enough to keep you involved. Even if the subtext is completely transparent, the storytelling really does have some balls in terms of just how long it makes you wait before you take control of the main character, how callously it kills off characters, and how it doesn’t care about stringing you along for two hours before telling you what the point is. I actually consider all those good things, since most rpg storylines are incredibly predictable and dull.

Wow, I talked for 300 words about STORY!? What the hell kind of gamer am I? Well, the gameplay is a somewhat improved version of the classic Earthbound gameplay. They tightened up the combat a fair bit. There aren’t nearly as many pointless messages and everything moves much more quickly. There’s some type of “rhythm system” that is something like the timed hits from Super Mario RPG, where each monster has a different musical rhythm that you can time your button presses to and get combo attacks. I seem to pull them off with luck and luck alone, but I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it by the end. If that real time button pressing throws you off, don’t worry about it, I’m sure you can get through the game just fine without it. Oh, and they also made the inventory system way more manageable. Thank God.

So, I absolutely recommend Mother 3 to fans of the original Earthbound. If you haven’t played Earthbound, you should probably do that one first, since it’s kind of a classic. The stories don’t seem to be directly related though, so I guess it’s up to you. As for Mother 1 (Earthbound negative one?), you can ignore that one unless you’re REALLY hardcore.


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April 2009
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