I should reiterate that the purpose of JRPDiary is to go back and make note of mechanics and concepts I find fascinating throughout the game. So rather than a step-by-step retelling of the story, I’ll instead be categorizing concepts that occur to me throughout each portion of gameplay. Today will be all the things that occurred to me while traveling Onett and reclaiming the Sanctuary at Giant’s Step, concluding with the fight with the Onett police department in order to open the road.
THE TEN YEAR OLD LEGEND
It’s rather stunning how little absurdities won’t even occur to a young child playing a game such as this. In all the times I played as a kid I took for granted that Buzz Buzz would have a prophecy in his time foreseeing the heroism of Ness and his friends.
His time being a mere decade later.
Legends and prophecies are the stuff that role-playing games and epic fantasy are made of, be they Eastern or Western in origin. Rarely do they have the same sense of ironic fate as Greek tragedies of old, instead turning them into a trope that drives a villain into such deep hatred of the protagonist, if for no other reason than they exist. Often these legends are written several lifetimes before the hero is even born.
Yet Ness would be twenty or so by time Buzz Buzz travels back in time to kickstart the young man’s adventure. He only travels back ten years. This means some prophet foresaw Ness’ actions in the present time or sometime later, but not nearly so long as to become proper legend. Not of the sort typically discussed in these epic world-saving scenarios.
Considering the absurd nature of the game – our Obi-Wan is a bee from the future that gets squashed by a rude neighbor, after all – I am certain this was an intentional choice. Just another way in which Itoi is playing with standard genre conventions.
THE ABSENTEE FATHER
Even after she started working my mother was around more than my Dad. Her earlier jobs were local and her shifts allowed her to pick us up as soon as school was out. By time she had an office job my father was taking night classes at least twice a week. While my father was in no way absent, I was used to the notion of the father having less of a presence at home. What’s more, my father was always very practical and emphasized the importance of saving money and working hard.
My impression of the father in EarthBound was different then than it is now because of how I viewed my own father. I saw the father in EarthBound as an exaggeration of gender dynamics, as my mom had gone from stay-at-home to a working-mom throughout the span of my childhood. Even after she worked, she was the one taking my sister to baton and hawaiian dance practice and me to my roller hockey games.
The funny thing about EarthBound’s father is that, despite the game’s perspective on Western culture, the father is particularly Japanese in nature. Fathers in Japan have historically been absent in the lives of their family. When you consider how much of a Japanese salaryman’s life is devoted to their job – even so far as being obligated to go drinking after hours with co-workers – the frequency of protagonists in anime and JRPG’s without dads or even with grudges against their fathers suddenly makes a degree of sense. Neon Genesis Evangelion should come to mind, a show where no character really has a positive relationship with a father figure.
To me the Dad in EarthBound is an exaggeration of my own, busy with work but caring enough to toss their heroic son some cash here and there to fund their adventure. On the other hand, it may be some Western warmth injected into a very real scenario for Japanese youth. I cannot even say that for certain, as I now have new images in my head of a father busy with work, repeating old sayings to their son without really hearing them, and giving the basic fathering necessities. “Here’s your experience, progress saved, and here’s the money I deposited. Dad duties officially complete”.
The only thing that makes the love certain is the Dad’s warning for Ness not to work too hard, and given the average salaryman’s life, it’s understandable why. Another ten years and Ness is presumably going to be stuck living the same life as his father. If that’s the case, perhaps it is better he enjoy his childhood?
Not that he really can, seeing as beating up street punks at the arcade is merely the start of his adventure.
THE SUBURBS OF ONETT
I’d say EarthBound is more a blending of Western and Eastern cultures than anything else. Onett is definitely styled after Western cultural aesthetics, but I cannot help but imagine there’s some Japanese observation in there. When your crime rate is as low as it is in Japan, how would you view the police? In the town of Onett, they’re essentially known for doing little more than setting up roadblocks.
Well, that and abusing their status of authority to try and pummel a kid into not going to Twoson. So… hrm, maybe it’s a bit more accurate to Western culture than I thought?
What I truly liked about the game was how it stuck its tutorial information in the Library. Final Fantasy IV had a similar location placed in every town in the American version, where scholars discussed combat tactics and status ailments. However, it always felt so artificial and willingly skipped over upon repeat playthroughs (well, everything but the treasure chests). The Library in EarthBound so blatantly breaks the fourth wall that it always delights me to return to.
This is also where you get the Town Map item, one that is unlikely to be missed since it is the first stop from your house. The path is quite linear until you reach the Library, and most players will be sure to enter and obtain this map pointing out all the major locations.
Of course, if nothing else spells out “Americana” in Onett, it is most certainly the “Fresh Breeze movement”. A group of suburbanites that decide they’re going to gather in a large crowd to protest the existence of rowdy teenagers, and then assume an innocent treehouse gathering is somehow related with the ne’er-do-wells. Having grown up in a conservative home where I spent my share of Halloweens in the Church gymnasium celebrating Not-Halloween, it’s a piece of comedy that reflects white suburbia better than a freshly Windex’ed mirror.
So one of my tests is whether I can proceed through EarthBound without really grinding, and so far I’ve succeeded. I did die once in the cavern leading up towards Giant’s Step, trounced on by those surprisingly strong Black Antoids. However, while I’ve certainly been challenged, I’ve also been more than capable of handling the threats tossed my way.
Of course, part of this is merely knowing what sort of threats I’m up against. Had I not been careful with my psychic power I may have wasted my healing capabilities against Captain Strong by using my Psi Special. As I was aware ahead of time of how strong he’d be, I made sure to keep some PP in reserve.
So in retrospect I know the game is possible without a strategy guide or grinding, but were I to be playing the first time, would this fact remain true?
In any event, my current theory is that the game intentionally boosts your stats to match the area you ought to be in at certain points. The experience required will often see magnificent leaps to reach the next level, but such leaps often coincide with sudden growth of numerous statistics. Grinding is thus discouraged as the lengthy effort to gain more levels often results in very, very minor stat growth.
I have completed Onett at level 12, which is typically what I originally would have gotten myself up to before fighting the Giant Ant at Giant’s Step. We’ll see how the road to Twoson treats me.