EarthBound Beginnings: Deep Focus
The cries from the fanatic few ring the loudest. In the video game scene, several classics started as “cult classics.” And it is these games that touch the lives of the few they reach. It is these folks that cry like the masses.
Of all these cult experiences, none are quite as impactful, memorable and inspirational as Shigesato Itoi’s SNES classic: “EarthBound.”
The love of “EarthBound” bleeds into the entire series. Fans have created and released fan translations of Earthbound’s region-locked sequel, created difficulty tweaks and even made an updated version of the original game's graphics for its 25th anniversary.
Perhaps most telling of the fan’s dedication has been their ability to move Nintendo to officially release the first game in the “EarthBound” series worldwide more than 20 years after the original 1989 release. “Earthbound Beginnings” is the first game in the “Mother” series, as it is dubbed in Japan.
Even still, “EarthBound Beginnings” rests in the shadows of Earthbound and the yet-to-be-localized “Mother 3”. Many play “Earthbound” and then pick up Itoi’s romp smash controllers in frustration. Why is a series with fanatics dedicated enough to make a fourth entry in the first game marked as the black sheep?
“EarthBound Beginnings” is difficult, antiquated and slow.
Beneath the layers of frustration and spider pinch, random enemy battles lie one the most charming 8-bit adventures in Nintendo’s increasingly dated library of NES games.
Much of the title’s charm derives from its odd simplicity. The player takes control of Ninten, a boy who leads an everyday life in late 20th-century America. Until he is attacked by a possessed doll. His father then calls and tells Ninten to use his psychic powers to save everyone.
From that point on, the game lets the player roam free to uncover dream-like lands, assist corrupt politicians and fight gorillas from the perspective of a psychic 12-year-old. The world exists in a distorted reality—like looking through a mirror while squinting.
While Itoi created an eclectic over-world, players often lose their way, forcing aimless wandering through the towns and cities. But as this is a role-playing game, wandering around and speaking with the colorful towns folk is part of the immersion. It allows time for the player to form their own story of the game.
Loose connecting plot points allow for a deceptively large world that is contained in less memory than one song on an iPhone. It makes the player wonder what secrets and bizarre occurrences hide just off the beaten path and when a hidden item is found, it creates a sense that the player found the item.
Another complaint filed against “Mother 1” is that fights happen every four steps. Unlike exploration, there is no defense against monotonous battles. Modern games tone down encounter rates making the seventh fight against enemies “Nancy” and “Mr. Batty” less frequent.
Like far too frequent brawls, the comforts of modern gaming, like infinite inventory space and easy level-ups, kindly wait until after this game’s release to exist. Managing the whopping eight slots for healing items and necessary progression pieces becomes a logistical nightmare until more party members are scored.
Even a top 24 slot doesn’t make deciding between carrying the vital cup of life noodles and the one-time use key needed for the next area much easier. There is a reason this old design philosophy stayed in the NES and SNES era of gaming.
Besides the gameplay nags, “Mother 1” has some crisp enemy sprites which do ease the repeated viewings though only slightly. The enemies are colorful and full of expression like Starman, who with one look conveys cold, alien intellect.
Undeniably the best part of the presentation is the music. It grabs a hold of the player despite the NES’ inability to play more than four notes at once. Gamers at any age will feel the compulsion to nod their heads and tap their feet, just as quickly as tracks like “Eight Melodies” evoke watery eyes and heartfelt introspection.
Despite its shortcomings, “EarthBound Beginnings” tells an incredibly touching story of love that defines its meaning only by those who pick up the controller. Through the good and the bad, the funny and the odd and the touching and the grim, it provides an experience capable of making players cry out of frustration as much as joy.
Luca Miceli is a first-year student majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, please email email@example.com.
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