Ness has tamed the Sharks gang of Onett, reclaimed the Sanctuary location of Giant’s Step from a monstrous ant, and proven himself more effective than the expert road-blocking police force. This entry of the diary will see him enter Twoson, where Paula has been kidnapped, spore-spreading mushrooms ramble about the outskirts, Cultists of Happiness threaten to kick your butt, and a Mondo Mole guards itty-bitty footprints. This step of the journey concludes with the Blues Brothers-esque Runaway Five rocking so hard even the ghosts blocking the tunnel to Threed are knocked out cold.
A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS
One of the aforementioned goals of this diary was to examine whether a player would truly need a strategy guide or not. Now, I am certainly close enough to this material that I cannot judge one way or the other if they would, but during the events surrounding Twoson I began to realize why Nintendo would err on the side of caution.
In Onett, all concerns need to be addressed in a linear fashion. You cannot leave Onett until the police remove the road blocks. There’s no option to remove those road blocks until the police want to fight you, and that doesn’t happen until you’ve visited the first Sanctuary. You cannot access the Sanctuary until you’ve gotten the shack key from the Mayor, and the Mayor will not give you the key until you defeat Frankie, the boss of the sharks. There is only one optional activity available in Onett, and that is to visit Liar X. Aggerate in the morning to see the Mani Mani statue.
In Twoson, this begins to change. There’s still a series of linear events that must be completed to proceed, but in what order the player proceeds and what’s optional can make a big difference. For example, the necessary steps to proceed beyond Twoson are to free the Runaway Five so that you may pass through to Threed. To free the Runaway Five you need the Wad o’ Bills from Everdred, who requires you bring Paula and, additionally, take her to see her family first. To free Paula, you must defeat Carpainter. To defeat Carpainter, you must enter Peaceful Rest Valley. To enter Peaceful Rest Valley, you must fund the Apple Kid.
Now, keep in mind that you never actually have to enter the Your Sanctuary location in order to progress through Twoson. You can actually skip right by without stopping by the Lilliput Steps, a decision that may not be so bad considering how difficult the dungeon is with a lower level Paula in tow. At the same time, if you don’t complete the dungeon now, it’ll be a while before you can return.
In addition, the game never informs you to obtain the Franklin Badge before facing off against Mr. Carpainter. If you try to confront him first then you’ll be struck by his lightning and killed. The only warning is a woman in front of the headquarters claiming that Carpainter will zap you.
Perhaps this is just a sign of the changing times. When EarthBound first released it was standard to talk to everyone in town. Perhaps the idea of beating a concept over the player’s head is just a symptom of adjusting to modern game design. One person alerting the player to the villain’s capabilities should theoretically be enough to have them considering their options.
Nonetheless, this is the first point of the game where a player can not only do steps out of the desired order, but doing so will get them killed. There is no blocker from having you face Carpainter, just from having you defeat him. Similarly, nothing is stopping you from visiting the second Sanctuary without Paula. Such a decision is not advised as fending off bears and bats without Paula’s psychic freeze and fire abilities is not recommended.
Even disregarding the order of operations, the number of things going on in Twoson is enough to clog a player’s brain and swiftly be overwritten in the process of playing the game. In Onett, the civilians aren’t really discussing much outside of the Sharks and other random inanities. It’s pretty clear that you’re going to have to beat them up before you head on up to Giant’s Step, the only other place to go once you’ve defeated Frank. Yet in Twoson the rumors are all about Paula, the Runaway Five, Happy Happyism, and the tunnel to Threed with a bit of lip service to the shady Everdred in Burglin Park. It’s a lot to take in all at once, and by time the player returns with Paula it’s possible they’ll forget everything that’s happening.
All of that said, the game still takes steps to ensure the player goes in the correct order. Their actions are still limited, and fighting Carpainter is unlikely to be too huge of a setback. Cash will be lost or the game will be reset, but considering the time period the game released, there’s no way the player would have ventured all the way through Peaceful Rest Valley without immediately seeking a save point after. That might only happen to a modern player that has grown accustomed to auto-saves.
It will be interesting to see if the number of events occurring within one town begin to increase, decrease, or stabilize. On the whole I think each town having a series of interconnected events that the player ties together actually works in its favor, giving each town a bit of an episodic feel. It also helps each town feel a bit lived in, that there’s so many things going on that the people have to deal with. Thus far it feels like a strength of the game and is likely one of the reasons it is so memorable.
WE’RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER BACKPACK
Aside from an increase in goings-on, this portion of the game also begins to stress the player’s ability to hold onto items. I had to call Escargo Express several times to hold on to certain items, and even after getting rid of non-essentials I found myself running out of inventory in Peaceful Rest Valley. Should the player stock Cold Remedies so they don’t need to use psychic points? How many Teddy Bears should you pack? Even after these things are used, will you have enough space to carry every item you come across? I myself was unable, and only picked up several of the items on my way back out of Peaceful Rest Valley with Paula.
This may have been an intentional design choice, though. The developers had to have been aware how many items they were giving the player, as well as the sharp difficulty spike generated with so many foes causing new status ailments. Mushrooms causing confusing fungus to sprout on one’s head and UFO’s giving the player a case of the sneezes only make the valley more of a struggle, and deciding how best to deal with these new threats is only made harder when there’s a limited amount of space for resources in one’s pack.
By time Paula joins, having that whole new inventory is almost like a God send. Suddenly there’s ample room for everything! No shortage of space at all! While there will always be inventory considerations and a need for Escargo Express, the game puts enough of a strain on you so that you appreciate Paula’s recruitment even more.
I don’t have too much evidence of this being intentional, of course, but my support for this theory is, oddly enough, the snakes in the last cave of Peaceful Rest Valley. After struggling through one of the game’s sharpest difficulty spikes, the player is provided one of the first foes they encountered in the game. Not only are they reminded of how much more powerful they’ve become in such a short span of time, but the player also gets to witness how little experience they relied on to level up. Before the kind mole at the end of Peaceful Rest Valley confirmed this design decision I realized the developers wanted to assure the player of their growth. Remind you of how weak you once were and how capable you’ve become by facing these greater challenges.
Later on, EarthBound will more literally reflect upon the journey of Ness and his friends several times. That the game would do that with mechanics is no surprise, and thus I feel that the strain on inventory would also be a conscious decision so that, upon return through Peaceful Rest Valley, the player is reminded another way of how difficult it was to fight alone.
I still haven’t been grinding, and for the most part it hasn’t made a difference with when I had done grinding in the past. Ness has suitably balanced himself to any level I would have ground him to, meaning there has been very little difference in his strength or trials.
However, now that I have Paula, the story is a smidge bit different. I used to grind her quite a bit at the very early section of the second Sanctuary dungeon due to how vulnerable she was. In some ways this was an unwise decision as it guaranteed the death of her Teddy Bear before going deeper into the dungeon. In other ways it was also unwise because, through multiple levels, her hit points only truly rose by about fifteen. I might have lucked into doubling that health by time I reached the boss.
The greater trial was that of PP conservation. Any PP gained through leveling up is immediately added, fortunately, so even at lower levels I could have Paula using Freeze on the bear. This was important as, otherwise, the bear was capable of killing Paula with one bite attack. I barely managed to heal her in time in two fights and was forced to use the cup of lifenoodles obtained in Peaceful Rest Valley during the battle with Mondo Mole, a battle I almost did not survive.
I would actually say, even more so than Peaceful Rest Valley, that cave is one of the sharper difficulty spikes as Paula is going to be far weaker than Ness and unable to really match him. Once defeating Mondo Mole and obtaining the new tune for the Sound Stone, I took advantage of every fleeing foe to get a surprise attack and earn her some extra experience on the way out.
Twoson really cranks the difficulty up, and I can see a lot of people backing out here as a result. I always recall Threed being a pain in the ass, so we’ll see how next week goes.