Many of you may recall I once tried something called the “JRPDiary” over on my YouTube channel. I had hoped that creating smaller, more bite-sized videos would help increase the amount of content I could produce within a year, but in the end it only increased pressure and delayed my regular videos even further. So I’ll be retiring the concept from my channel, but am testing the waters for it as a way to produce more content for GamersWithJobs or this very blog. I have already written some entries over in the forum threads over there as a sort of test pilot, but would like to also publish them here on my blog.
This entry here is the introduction to Calling Home, the name I am giving my EarthBound entries of the series. Each Saturday after, expect to see me posting a new entry covering some of my thoughts on a portion of the game played.
EarthBound doesn’t begin with a burning village or an amnesiac hero. There are no goblins or slimes to slay outside of a hillside hamlet. It instead begins with a meteor crashing outside of a young suburban boy’s home, the soundtrack a mixture of crickets, police sirens, and the percussion of tom-toms. Rather than an old mentor granting you a training blade with which to jab and stab giant spiders, your mother reminds you to change out of your pajamas and arm yourself with your sister’s cracked tee-ball bat to fend off spiteful crows and runaway dogs.
EarthBound was not the only game to be taking place in a modern or sci-fi setting, but it certainly took a jarring approach to the genre. Compared to the straight-faced Final Fantasy and Breath of Fire series, EarthBound seemed an unusual entry into a genre that otherwise fancied itself quite sophisticated and mature. Or perhaps that was just me? I was, after all, quite the arrogant little shit.
Many today write about its absurd and unusual humor as a captivating charm, but upon release it really just came off as weird to many. And it is! It is weird, and it revels in that weirdness, because it is a game pointing out the absurdities of both video games and reality. Frank Cifaldi has also documented the games press response from 1995, most of which balked at the game’s art style (thanks to GWJ forum member ClockworkHouse for pointing out the blog!). As the blog notes, the SEGA Saturn and Sony Playstation were around the corner. Nintendo also released Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest that very same year, a game that used 3D character renderings to create 2D sprites with smooth animation. Next to that, the childlike drawings of EarthBound seemed quaint at best and an ugly mess at worst.
As a result, EarthBound became a cult classic. The reverential attitude of the fanbase turns the game into some underlooked treasure, as if several wealthy estates kept passing the Holy Grail from hand to hand without realizing what it is they truly had. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that this even holds true with younger gaming enthusiasts. In 2013, I met a 19 year-old at PAX East wishing upon all of Mario’s stars that Nintendo would just release Mother 3 on Virtual Console. This past year I met an 18 year-old at Minefaire singing the praises of EarthBound and EarthBound Zero. An 18 year-old that wasn’t even born yet when the game first released.
I myself grew up with EarthBound as a defining game in my childhood. I was roughly ten years old at the time, placing me at roughly the age of the protagonists. In some ways, EarthBound is the RPG I had been sketching out in my notebooks. Alien invasion? Check. Me and my friends trawling around the suburbs using supernatural and sci-fi abilities to take out impossible beasts and terrifying tyrants? Also check. It was essentially the game I had spent my entire second and third grade years dreaming I could make.
As such, I’d like to go back and really dig deep into what makes this game tick. What allowed it to resonate so strongly? Is it simply a case of rooting for the underdog? Or is there some special, unrecognized magic to the game even today? What causes it to still resonate with young players? Did this game really need to include a strategy guide? Or does it, as the marketing campaign implied, stink?
Next Week: Onett and Giant’s Step