I am not a fan of most RPGs. I could never get into Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft bored me, and I never saw the enjoyment of Phantasy Star. However I have grown fond of one RPG that I was able to get to play last year and it overwhelmed me in how different it was from other RPGs. That game is Earthbound. Before last year Earthbound was a game I only knew through reputation. Back then all I knew about the game was that it was an RPG, you play as a psychic child named Ness who teams up with three other people in order to rid the world of Giygas (an alien hell-bent on destroying the world), and that it had a large cult following. Even knowing that I was still curios about the game and had many questions about it. Why did people regard the game so highly? Does the game deserve this amount of praise? What makes it so different from other RPGs? Why is it that it was sold for such a limited time in America? I now know the answers to these questions having done some research on Earthbound and playing the game myself. I can see why people love Earthbound so much.
So what is Earthbound? Earthbound is a JRPG released for the Super Nintendo and is actually a sequel to the Japanese exclusive NES game Mother and is referred to as Mother 2 in Japan. Mother was never released in the US due to many complications however Mother 2 was able to release both Japan and America in 1994 and 1995 respectively, however its life on store shelves was cut short due to a lack of success in sales which was triggered by possibly the most notorious advertising campaign for a video game in history. Despite this, the game itself was able to receive high acclaim among critics and players alike and is considered by many to be a cult classic. Earthbound would receive a second North American release in the spring of last year on the Wii U virtual console partially due to outcries from fans. 2006 saw the release of Mother 3 in Japan but the game never saw a release anywhere else.
Now after that history lesson, why is Earthbound so special to many people? First of all, it was far from typical and it challenged the norms most RPGs followed by at the time. Instead of a fantasy setting, it took place in Eagleland (a satirized version of the US) in the year 199X. Instead of fighting the typical RPG enemies of generic looking mages, dragons, trolls, the like, the enemies were everything from googley-eyed ducks, hippies, paintings, nightmare fuel (see bottom of post), and more. Its setting and plot were more lighthearted and humorous than most RPGs, but could still get an emotional response from the player when it needed to and could still hold some dark and depressing themes throughout the game. For example, the power and corruption is a theme heavily explored throughout the game through the character of Pokey Minch, a rival character to main protagonist Ness. Pokey is given power and authority multiple times in this game and every time he uses his position of power and authority to try and kill Ness. Yes it is dark but at the same time, the game makes the situation humorous. The first instance he is shown to be given power, Pokey is a highly regarded member of the cult of Happy Happyism, whose people worship the color blue and want to paint everything blue. Finally, it told a story that was much simpler than other RPGs released around the same time (like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger) all while having a charming and heartwarming feeling that no other RPGs could achieve at the time.
Earthbound is a fantastic RPG and most of all, it was important because it challenged norms of traditional RPGs and provided a different experience other RPGs did not provide by mixing a humorous and cartoony aesthetic with dark themes all in a modern setting. I am personally glad I played Earthbound and I would say that any gamer, RPG fan or otherwise, should play this game. In fact, now that Nintendo is getting into the business of smartphone games, perhaps we will see a port of Earthbound (or perhaps the entire Mother trilogy) for iOS and Android. Wishful thinking on my part but I still hope it happens.