In June of 1995 developers Nintendo, APE, and HAL Laboratory released Earthbound for the SNES in North America. Ever since then fans everywhere have been enraptured by the humor, quirkiness, and unique visual style and gameplay of this classic title. Earthbound is a role playing game quite unlike any other and certainly one of a kind during its day. Gamers (in North America) had already been introduced to the ever popular and classic Final Fantasy series with three of its titles before Earthbound came around but this sleeper hit would soon wrestle it's rightful place alongside the Squaresoft juggernaut as not only one of the best RPGs on the Super Nintendo but arguably one of THE best titles for it in general. The aim of this article is not to compare games against Earthbound but simply to extol the brilliance of this memorable and very funny game and also examines reasons why this title has not be re-released like so many other games have.
Earthbound fans are unlike any other fans of RPG series. As gamers in North America we were only ever exposed to one game in what would be a three-part series - the other two being Japanese-only releases. One motivated fan took "Mother 3", as it was called in Japan, and provided a full English translation for download to play on a ROM. For the majority of gamers who didn't get their hands on the other Earthbound installments we had to make due with what we had - and we had gold and we wanted more.
As a kid I remember going to various video/game rental stores with my brothers and parents and picking out a game for a week. I have several memories of seeing the curiously gigantic box that had a gold robot of some kind on it and didn't know what to make of it so I always passed it by. It wasn't until a few years later that I would actually get the chance to finally give the game the many hours of attention it so rightfully deserved. And when I finally did play it I never knew such wonderful gaming.
My brother wrote an article here on Retro Junk about his fond memories as a little kid watching our oldest brother play Final Fantasy II (properly IV). He couldn't read so he relied on the excellent soundtrack and the images on the screen to tell the story - I COULD read but I left the gaming to my brother because I thought RPGs were way past my ability to manage - battle commands and frenzied music can be a little daunting for a child. What I mean to get at here with this small back story is that Earthbound took my breath away unlike Final Fantasy because it was the first game that I alone undertook and it was my adventure alone. I discovered the magic, humor and antics that Ness (whom I always named "Rocky" for whatever reason) and his pals got themselves into by myself. Later I would share these memories and stories of parts of the game with my brothers and friends, too.
Earthbound was a game that really involved the player in a way that was seldom (never to me at the time) seen in video games at the time. The game took a brief moment at the very beginning to ask you to name certain things like your dog, and even ask you what your favorite thing and food was - cleverly masking it's true intentions of actually juxtaposing these personal favorites with real in-game themes! Even at the end of the game when the credits roll (and very entertaining credits they are) long after any player even remembered he/she entered their name during the introductory phase we are treated with a heartfelt "Thank you, (your name here)". It was a fantastic final touch to a game that had already won me over in everything it had already done up until that point - just icing on a very delicious cake that was all too soon devoured.
Fans of Earthbound have been craving a sequel or at least a remake for 15 years now; and even if you wish to count Japanese releases its just not the same. Earthbound fans are loyal, all too patient, and motivated to see their beloved game get the retrospective attention it deserves. For fans of the game there is no argument about which is the 'best game' of the series, there is no "Kefka or Sephiroth" debates, no evolution of battle systems to adapt to and discuss, and only four characters to play with (but only one main character - Ness) so no "Cloud vs. Squall vs. Cecil vs. Lightning" character arguments either. Like a mother who could only ever have one child that yearned for more - Earthbound fans have no choice but to make due with loving just the one masterpiece we were given and its high-time a game developer put it back in the spotlight.
I haven't even touched on the music of this game yet! The music definitely sets the mood for this game whether it be fun and quirky as is most of the game or dark and eerie as the plot thickens and zombies roam about in the haunted town of Threed! Great RPGs are always analyzed from every angle on every facet of their existence and music is often judged very strongly in these critiques. A great score defines a game and it has the power to make or break even the most well-thought out games and that holds true even today. Earthbound is no exception and it exceeds with flying colors any examination of how good this music is. Each town/area in the game has its own unique music that sets the tone for that stage. (The names of these towns, by the way, are ingeniously named in a fun way: Onett, Twoson, Threed, Fourside! How fun is that!! *see the numerical progression?*) The music in the game does such a wonderful job never taking itself seriously except when it needs to. For example, normal battle encounters have a certain this-is-a-battle-and-you-could-get-killed-but-hey-this-Earthbound-game-is-silly-and-fun style to it (it does!). But there are also times when you know something is wrong and something is a little too freaky, like when you go to a bar and its all dark and a woman approaches you and its just a little too strange and sure enough she turns into a zombie and the music is right there with you leading the way to illustrate further the presence that each scene/moment in the game has.
This game really has it all: great, memorable characters, a fantastic and easy interface, funny dialog, a great story, enchanting music, a die-hard fan-base that is legion - so why no remakes? Sure, we got a little taste to shut us up momentarily when Ness was introduced as a character on Super Smash Bros. but that wasn't enough and as that has been the only taste of Ness/Earthbound North Americans got in the past 15 years since the original release I consider that a real let-down to us loyal fans.
Final Fantasy is a popular series that has captivated gamers all over the world and so it rightfully warrants as many iterations and installments as the developers can milk (there are as of this writing already no less than FIVE remakes of Final Fantasy IV - that is one game alone that has five versions of it for your replaying pleasure). Pokemon is still a popular series going strong as evidence of its numerous and recent releases of brand-new games such as Silver, Gold, Platinum, Ruby, and practically any other gem or color you can think of...
...so why no Earthbound? Development was in the making for a sequel for release on the never-released N64DD and what came of that was a Japan-only release of Mother 3 (of which there is an fan-produced English translation for as mentioned earlier). It has been an extremely popular move to make sequels and reintroduce dusty, old properties in games, books, and video games alike. We see every year, for example, movies like GI Joe: Rise of Cobra, TNMT, the Transformers series, Alvin and the Chipmunks - the list goes on. What about books? Ever since Peter Jackson made the critically acclaimed and beloved Lord of the Rings trilogy the books have had a surge of renewed success but with the film's actors on the covers this time. And of course, what has already been mentioned in video games getting their time again in the spotlight - what does all this mean? What does it translate to?
There are basically two perspectives on this issue: that of the developer/creator, etc. and that of the consumer. Simply, if a developer/director, etc. thinks they can make money on something they will make it. Period. If
people like anything enough they will 'consume' it and this consumption has a direct relation on how successful a given thing will be, which influences if more of the same thing will be introduced (sequels, remakes, new editions of books, etc.). If for instance Ninja Gaiden sells 1 million copies on the XBOX and PS3 then Team Ninja/Tecmo/Sony know they have a golden goose on their hands and its in any developer's best interest to coax as many golden eggs out of that bird as they can as long as fans demand it.
I don't know why the simple economic law of supply and demand has not applied itself to Earthbound. It continues to baffle me even to this day. If developers could only be made aware of the gains they would most certainly make from developing even just a remake of Earthbound they would definitely jump right on it. Many of us gamers would agree that video game adaptations of movies are doomed to suck so why spend time on something so recycled as a "movie-video game" when one can just look at gems just waiting to be remade like Earthbound? I understand its a quick cash-in and the assumption is that the success of a movie will translate to the success of the video game (there's always SOME kid out there who wants to play Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs *author's note: I was one of those... adults... but its only because it took 4 hours to get a platinum trophy - don't judge).
Will Earthbound ever be remade or revisited by an ambitious and keen-on-fan-awareness game developer? Who knows. As time goes by things get forgotten. But then the TV shows that were made into movies mentioned above are all older than Earthbound by several years so there is always hope. In the meantime we fans will never forget what this magical and humorous game gave us. It is in our hearts, in our minds, and in the atolls of video game history as one of the best games ever - at LEAST in the RPG genre. Earthbound is and Earthbound will always be special and close to my heart and I will cherish the memories I have playing it. They just don't make em' like they used to - literally.