View Full Version : Earthbound (SNES)

03-12-2014, 08:46 PM
The Anatomy of Earthbound - Intro - The Heart of the Matter

http://i297.photobucket.com/albums/mm224/silent_snake18/1c11b295-c0a1-4bb2-bdcc-f4b709090e02.png (http://s297.photobucket.com/user/silent_snake18/media/1c11b295-c0a1-4bb2-bdcc-f4b709090e02.png.html)

Earthbound stands as Nintendo's most popular unpopular game. As paradoxical as that sounds, the game managed to build a huge cult following despite clumsy marketing and poor sales. Whole communities sprang up around it, most notably the ever-present starmen.net. There are art books and albums entirely inspired by the Earthbound universe. In the grand scheme of things, not many people played it, but those who did fell in love with what they experienced.

Which seems a little strange if you just look at the mechanics on a surface level, because for all intents and purposes, it's nothing more than a Dragon Quest clone. Your party members level up and gain new abilities as you battle in first-person view, exploration uses an overhead camera, you have limited space in your inventory, etc. It's at times grindy and difficult. In a way, Earthbound is the very definition of boilerplate.

So why are so many people drawn to this game? It featured one of the few contemporary settings among games of its time. It mixed a surreal, colorful, truly weird journey with very personal, charming touches everywhere you look. It's funny, touching, disturbing, introspective, unusual, and familiar all at once. The feelings this game inspires is at the core of the game's identity.

In this series, I hope to unravel this core and identify how these seemingly-uninspired mechanics connect to form an experience unlike any other, tracing Ness's journey from his hometown to the edges of Eagleland and beyond. Earthbound's appeal can often be frustratingly vague to those who haven't experienced it – and those who have as well. Hopefully, this will give people a firmer grasp on the magic at the center of this game.

http://i297.photobucket.com/albums/mm224/silent_snake18/giygas.png (http://s297.photobucket.com/user/silent_snake18/media/giygas.png.html)

First, let's begin to delve into what kind of game we're getting ourselves into, so what better place to start than the attract mode? After the requisite publisher and developer logos flash by, two striking images The first is seemingly nothing but some strange red static accompanied by an ominous squeal. We'll see much later that this screen holds great significance, but for now, it sets an unsettling tone as a first impression.

http://i297.photobucket.com/albums/mm224/silent_snake18/eae50517-c5d7-42b1-9b1a-feadfef3b99c.png (http://s297.photobucket.com/user/silent_snake18/media/eae50517-c5d7-42b1-9b1a-feadfef3b99c.png.html)

The image soon gives way to a scene featuring a town being attacked by flying saucer and the words “THE WAR AGAINST GIYGAS” in big red letters as a thundering dirge plays in the background. This image is immediately evocative of classic 50s sci-fi films right down to the death rays firing at the ground. Compare to promotional images from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers:

http://i297.photobucket.com/albums/mm224/silent_snake18/saucer.jpg (http://s297.photobucket.com/user/silent_snake18/media/saucer.jpg.html)

This hints at the overarching conceit of defeating an alien invader, but it also sets a specific tone. We'll see hints of nostalgic Americana sprinkled throughout the game, an important element of Earthbound's appeal that's handled with a surprising amount of restraint, a rarity in games of the time. Still, one needs only watch this sequence to know the reverence with which the creator regarded its inspirations.

After flashing to the title screen, a second video plays, this time putting a “spotlight” on the main characters of the game wandering around different settings, such as a port, a swamp, and some sort of ruin with moving hieroglyphics. This gives the impression of a globe-trotting adventure, which was nothing new for a Super Nintendo game.

http://i297.photobucket.com/albums/mm224/silent_snake18/5980f45a-f2d6-4896-ab8a-b8068a6e3351.png (http://s297.photobucket.com/user/silent_snake18/media/5980f45a-f2d6-4896-ab8a-b8068a6e3351.png.html)

http://i297.photobucket.com/albums/mm224/silent_snake18/7ac7ff9e-a311-41d0-8a8e-bcbf7da6314e.png (http://s297.photobucket.com/user/silent_snake18/media/7ac7ff9e-a311-41d0-8a8e-bcbf7da6314e.png.html)

http://i297.photobucket.com/albums/mm224/silent_snake18/aed706dc-b39a-4339-b46f-a2d8ba4681ce.png (http://s297.photobucket.com/user/silent_snake18/media/aed706dc-b39a-4339-b46f-a2d8ba4681ce.png.html)

Most notable, however, is the scene of a bus crossing a kind of suspension bridge that you would find in any contemporary city. An RPG that takes place in a time and place similar to ours was (and is) an exceedingly rare thing, one which can't help but resonate with audiences. A shame that the marketing painted the game as being all barf and gross scratch and sniff cards.

Opening Theme - Earthbound (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jjFUgKiaiw&list=PL74EE7E6C2A3439BD&index=4)

One more important thing to note is the music that plays during this sequence. It's an upbeat chiptune, but pay close attention to the bassline here. The soundtrack to Earthbound is one of the more forward-thinking game scores in that it looked beyond what games were already capable of. One of the keys to this is a pronounced bassline, which is featured in more than a few songs. This touch gave the songs a more modern, funky feel to match the game's tone.

Next: Getting to Know You

(Let me know what you think, guys! I want to make this good, so feedback is appreciated!)

03-12-2014, 10:37 PM
One of my favorite games! Looks good so far, looking forward to more.

03-12-2014, 10:51 PM
Whatever you did to blow up that second image is what you should be doing to blow up the others; it looks much crisper. The others have unsightly interpolation blur.

03-13-2014, 02:39 AM

Edit: Confession - never played through Earthbound. Have played Mother 3 though.

03-13-2014, 03:28 AM
Whatever you did to blow up that second image is what you should be doing to blow up the others; it looks much crisper. The others have unsightly interpolation blur.

Yeah, the camera man says 'Fuzzy Pickles', not 'Fuzzy Pixels', crisper images are better images.

Nitpick aside though, I'm really looking forward to this!

03-13-2014, 11:49 AM
I'm as excited as a kid with a super-soaker at a birthday party.

03-13-2014, 12:07 PM
I'm glad I clicked on that music link, since while it has callouts to some of the more familiar tunes in the game I'd all but forgotten that particular track.

03-13-2014, 07:02 PM
Earthbound is one of those games I absolutely appreciate the love/respect/etc. that it gets, but I personally don't "get" it. I played it well after the SNES era (on emulation not long ago), and found it to be a decent DQ clone, but didn't finish despite getting to the last area (my difficulty spiked like crazy, which maybe was one of the infamous piracy protections, or maybe I was just underleveled).

Anyhow, it's a game I enjoy reading about more than playing, so I look forward to this series :)

03-13-2014, 11:01 PM
If it was copy protected you wouldn't have gotten to the final area.

03-13-2014, 11:05 PM
If it was copy protected you wouldn't have gotten to the final area.

He could have. There are only three points of copy-protection:

1) A "piracy is bad" screen when you start a new game.
2) Massively increased encounter rate, including putting monsters in areas that didn't have encounters before.
3) Crashing the game and wiping all of the save files when Pokey turns off the Devil's Machine during the final boss.

03-13-2014, 11:13 PM
Yeah it's that second one that's the sticking point. It reduces the game to an awful unfun slog that takes herculean dedication to get through. It's not something a casual or first-time player would put up with.

03-14-2014, 02:28 AM
So, stupid question; is this one of those games that's actually unplayable via emulation? All these years I never knew.

03-14-2014, 03:54 AM
No it's very playable. The only way you're going to hit the copy protection is with a legit pirated cart or if something very buggy and wrong happens with your emulator.

03-14-2014, 04:32 AM
I just love the utter trolling on display with Nintendo there in that third point, though. You actually slog all the way through the game with the absurd encounters and actually make it to the final boss and your reward? LOL! Save delete!

They could have easily put that at the start of the game, or close to it. They could have had that happen when you fight Franky or something. But no, they hold off on their ultimate middle finger to the cartridge pirates until the very end. I don't know if anyone who pirated a copy of the game legitimately played through it only to have their save deleted at the very end, but just the fact that Nintendo did it like that is something I find hilarious.

03-14-2014, 11:48 AM
There's really an enemy in this game that will wipe your save? How impressively dickish! I knew Earthbound had some surprising crap in it but I didn't think it would go that far!

03-14-2014, 11:49 AM
There's really an enemy in this game that will wipe your save

Only if you're playing a pirated copy.

03-14-2014, 12:16 PM
Only if you're playing a pirated copy.

How does it know it's pirated?

03-14-2014, 12:28 PM
How does it know it's pirated?

Probably through some kind of checksum that they didn't think hackers would be able to spoof (haha yeah right).

Your cue that your emulator can't run it properly (unlikely unless your emulator's from 199X) is that first point.

Also, that third point really amazed me when I thought about it, specifically because of what's happening in the game when the crash happens. Pokey turns off the Devil's Machine. Then your emulator crashes. Nintendo is almost literally calling emulators a "devil's machine" here.