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Old 01-31-2021, 04:37 AM   #1
MMDisaster
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Default So I just finished Earthbound for the first time.

There are gonna be spoilers in this post!

I'd been aware of the game since the late 90s when I read about it in magazines, and of course I knew Ness from Smash. I'd always heard about how it was an unappreciated classic, but the game wasn't available anywhere near me when it came out, and in 1995/6 you wouldn't have been able to convince me to play any game that wasn't named Final Fantasy III/VI, Chrono Trigger or Super Mario RPG so I never made a serious effort to seek it out since my money for games was very limited (I was too young to work and never got large allowances). By the time I could have afforded to buy it it wasn't available any more and you couldn't have convinced me to play any game that wasn't Final Fantasy VII, Xenogears, Goldeneye or Ocarina of Time. I never made an effort to emulate it either.

When the SNES Classic came out a few years ago I started to get interested in the game again since it was one of the preloaded games. A few weeks ago I finally sat down and started to play through it for the first (and probably only) time. My final verdict on the game is: I don't think it's really a 'classic' because it's just not very fun to play for many reasons and the humor doesn't get me anywhere as strongly as the LUNAR games did because it's largely gross-out and fart jokes and I've never found those funny, but I don't regret spending 30 or so hours on it.

You can tell the game is inspired off Dragon Quest because it plays practically the same. Other than the rolling HP counters the battle system is a carbon copy. It also has the same horrible item inventory system that DQ has, except it's worse here because you wind up with so much single-use or useless crap that you can never sell or get rid of because the game won't let you, and unlike DQ which tended to have places you could stash huge amounts of items in, here Escargo Express runs out of space very easily. Key Items should not take up spaces in your main inventory and neither should your equipment. Did it stop me from beating the game? Obviously not, but 'not unwinnable' is not a high bar to clear. Again, LUNAR did this much better, having pack mules in Nall and Ruby who could carry tons of crap for you and letting you get rid of equipment that you didn't need any more. I lost track of how much time I spent just shuffling items around and rearranging and frequently wasting consumables and even skipping treasure chests just because I had no space. The kidnapped Paula part and Poo bailing for training just makes this worse. It isn't hard for me to see how this game got bad reviews, the Final Fantasy games spoiled us with their vast Bags of Holding and if you have to stack this game up against Chrono Trigger which came out around the same time the gameplay cannot compare. CT is on a completely different level, it's utter bliss to play. The only thing the two games have in common is visible enemies on the map.

I'd spoiled myself about some of the bigger twists in the game (such as what Giygas really looks like and how it has to be defeated by praying) because they're practically unavoidable on the internet and the game is 25 years old, but I largely went into the story not knowing many of the minor details or the overall arc of it. I never watched any Let's Plays or even any gameplay videos, I never even watched anyone else play the game live. Even knowing those things, and taking into account how much I disliked a lot of the gameplay... the story still hit me harder than I expected it to. The game does a very good job of integrating its storyline with its soundtrack, while the music doesn't have a lot of 'epic bangers' it always matches up with what's happening and uses sentimental melodies at key times to tug at your emotions without ever getting overly sappy. Ness and his friends are right at the age where you're just about to stop relying on your parents and do things yourself, and when you're older it's easy to get pulled into nostalgia for that time.

The storyline doesn't have a lot happening for the first 75% of it, you're just going from town to town doing fetch quests followed by Sanctuary boss, Pokey shows up to be an asshole and runs away, repeat. Belch is the only thing related to Giygas in any way that you encounter until you're nearly at the last town of the game and you're not really getting a sense of things changing in a macro sense. You start getting the sense that things might take a fucked-up turn during Poo's "Mu training" for reasons anyone who's played it will know, but the game still seems pretty lighthearted and cartoonish. Then all of a sudden when you go to Stonehenge things start happening rapidly and then the Magicant sequence and everything after it goes completely batshit crazy. As jaded and emotionally detached as I am today, I got really shaken by what I was seeing.

What particularly hit me was what Ness and the others had to go through to even GET to the final dungeon. I don't flinch at blood, but body horror can get to me, especially involuntary transformations (part of why I never finished Majora's Mask). I didn't know about the part about them having to be put into robot bodies to time travel (how did Buzz Buzz and Pokey do it then?), and it wasn't some magical-zap-ray transformation, it seemed like Dr. Andonuts was surgically drilling holes in their heads to suck out their consciousness and it shook me up pretty badly, to the point that once I saw what happened to them--their robot bodies didn't even look remotely human, and you could only tell Ness apart from the others because he still had his baseball cap--I resolved that I wanted to get this over with as fast as I could, and I was glad the final dungeon was as short as it was. As far as I was concerned it felt like they were all dead and I was just controlling a team of ghosts uploaded into machines.

The Giygas battle... what can I say about it that hasn't already been said. I knew the gimmick and the memes but I still had to get to that part first and the nightmare factor absolutely went up to 11. When I finished everything I felt relief I hadn't felt from finishing a video game in years. I took my time during the ending, went everywhere and talked to everyone I could, because I knew I didn't want to put myself through that again. People who speedrun or LLG this game blow my mind. They are made of stronger stuff than me and I'm not ashamed to say that. Between the nightmare fuel and the irritating gameplay I don't want to subject myself to it any more.

In summation, this is a game I probably wouldn't have liked if I played it when it came out. If I'd paid $60 for it new (or more on eBay now), I'd feel like I'd wasted money. If I hadn't been able to get it on my SNES Classic I may never have played it at all. But what I will say is: It is a game that is absolutely worth playing through at least once. You may not feel it stands up to repeat playthroughs, but if you can get it digitally or as part of a compilation it's worth the price to experience. I don't think it's essential for everyone to play, but it's unforgettable for so many reasons. Huge props and respect to the late Satoru Iwata who was apparently the main reason the game ever got finished after taking five years to make.
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Old 04-10-2021, 07:04 PM   #2
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More spoilers about a well-known hack in this post!

So I didn't think I'd ever do anything with this game again, but on multiple recommendations I did play the "Halloween Hack" by Toby Fox (creator of Undertale). Gameplay-wise, it has all the original's problems up to 11 because you get no healing magic until you're almost at the end and your levels stay too low to really make use of it, and almost everything can kill you in one or two hits. Grinding is pointless because enemies are too strong and you don't get enough experience for beating them. Every boss fight was a skin-of-my-teeth affair, and that's not a fun way to play when I'm not trying to make it that way on purpose. He probably did that on purpose since it's a horror-themed hack but still. I was impressed by the new spritework he did, though. You can really see just how strongly Undertale (which I haven't played) was inspired by Earthbound, and how the game is commentating that "choice" and morality in a video game is basically just an illusion, which he would go on to reuse.

(If I had known about the walkthrough Fox wrote up for the game I might not have been so frustrated.)

What I found most interesting was that I apparently saw the Earthbound endgame very similarly to the way Fox did, since the whole plot of the hack is that the robot conversion killed the kids and Dr. Andonuts is going insane because of it. I didn't really think it was necessary for the fanficcy "Dr. Andonuts is actually gay and that's why his wife left him" implications. I'm not very good at noticing this sort of thing but there was nothing in the original game that implied that at all, and it doesn't add anything to the plot. There's lots of other reasons a marriage can fall apart. (In fact there's nothing in the original that even says Jeff's parents' marriage failed at all.)

Really the main reason I played the hack is so I could hear the "Megalovania" song as it was originally composed. It's pretty catchy, but it wasn't worth five hours of my life, I don't think. If you really love the original, or if you love Undertale, you might enjoy it, but I really didn't. The story is hit and miss and the gameplay is brutal. But if you like being creeped out by a video game, it will definitely hit that spot.

"PSI Bitchkill" hitting me for 17000 damage was funny in a macabre way too.
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