Though this chapter “focuses” on Summers, it is yet another location that you don’t really spend a lot of time in. Instead, you essentially backtrack to several prior locations in order to blitz through three separate Sanctuary locations. At this point EarthBound has developed a sort of momentum, where Onett, Twoson, Threed and Fourside are all willing to take their time, but now that the numbered cities are done it’s time to push through towards the end. It might be one of the reasons my memories of the early part of the game are more clear. It feels as if more time is spent in each of those towns while Summers is more like a hub or gateway. There are only two characters of significance here, there’s no dungeon in the town, no malicious force running it. Perhaps the tourist-trap nature of a resort doesn’t need aliens to suck the blood of the citizens?
In any event, there’s not as much going on in this chapter in regards to story. This is, however, where you get Po.
TO THE PAIN
Back in 1995, Po’s chapter was a jarring shift in the game’s tone. The citizenry is still a gaggle of goofballs, and the admiration Po receives from the women must seem “quaint” at best to modern sensibilities. Let us not speak of the woman that wishes to play patty-cake with the prince, a game that Who Framed Roger Rabbit? has permanently sullied.
The completion of Po’s Mu training is what startles. He must climb high and meditate, avoiding all distractions in order to commune with an ancient spirit. What does this spirit wish of Po? Oh, nothing major. Just his arms, legs, eyes, ears, and mind.
If you allow yourself to be interrupted or refuse the spirit, Po must return to his palace, speak with his advisor, and then try again. If you have the strategy guide you are informed to go along with this process. When I was a kid, the sheer dark tone of this seemed incredibly awesome to me. As an adult, this feels so out of place.
Perhaps what makes it seem most out of place is that I’m not even sure what the point of it was. What enlightenment does Po find? Does he learn that all men must die? A bit of a grim lesson to include in such a game. Or perhaps is it that we are nothing without our mind? Or maybe that our mind is nothing without the body? Honestly, it’s so ill defined that you could interpret it a myriad number of ways.
Maybe that’s the point. That something so seemingly profound is actually without specific meaning. It would certainly fit with EarthBound’s sense of humor, poking fun at something that can actually be quite absurd. The tone is inconsistent with the rest of the game’s jokes and gags, however. As such, it is a tonal shift that feels out of place.
PAY THE HINT-MAN HIS DUE
As I stated previously, this is where my memory begins to get fuzzy. I first tried to cross the sea as soon as Po joined the party, only for my crew to be absolutely slaughtered by the Kraken. Without any other hints of progress I returned first to Winters, a move that offered me no real benefit but did help level Po up some. I honestly don’t recall why I tried to go to Winters, either. Perhaps I believed this might be when you get the Eraser Eraser, which I’ll be discussing in the next chapter.
Instead, the player is to return to Fourside and speak with the scientist at the museum. This is one of two seemingly insignificant characters who will only change once Po is added on your team, and are easily forgotten amidst all the other goings-on in the story and game. Whereas Onett and Twoson felt like tightly knit circumstantial processes, this whole segment feels as if it was scattered about without purpose.
You may remember that Fourside has a “special place” surrounded by walls that you cannot normally access, but will you remember anything about the scientist in the museum? Perhaps if you speak with one of the characters in the museum at Summers, but the dialogue doesn’t suggest a change in prior circumstances. The museum in Summers is also where a character guards a door, only moving if you bring a valuable gem to him. Perhaps if this character were attached to an attraction such as the debt of the Runaway Five he’d be memorable. Or if the game actually informed you that Po had a jewel of value in his inventory that someone might find useful. Some sort of clue that this character was important.
Inevitably I crossed the sea to Scaraba, got stuck, and resorted to paying the Hint-Man $150. At this point it’s a small price to pay as I have more money than I’ll ever spend in-game, but it leaves Summers a pointless city that even the game seemed eager to get me out of.
The sewer in Fourside was the last dungeon in a long time that I felt any real challenge, and that was largely because Po was under-leveled in comparison. He didn’t have a lot of PP at his disposal and, without a weapon, he couldn’t really contribute with physical attacks. It’s interesting that EarthBound is, in many ways, about the strength of friendship, yet every time you get a new friend their presence can actually make things harder for a while.
However, the Dalaam dungeon provided very little challenge at all. It began a trend of easy to conquer locations that continues into next week in Scaraba.