Earthbound Beginnings

This is a video review-thing I've done for Earthbound Beginnings. Below the video I have posted a blog I wrote on IGN ages ago about why Earthbound is fantastic. Enjoy.

 

The Brilliant Subtlety Of Earthbound

When you think of the game Earthbound your first thought is probably the wacky sense of humor. Sentient fire hydrants, extra-terrestrial bees, characters called Poo, it's all a bit silly and stupid. That's not a bad thing for a game to be by any means, games that revel in their own stupidity can be glorious, such as my favorite game of last year Bayonetta 2. But what Earthbound does is uses this zany sense of humour and surrealism to mask the dark underbelly of this game. It features some of the most on-point satire, some of the bleakest mini-stories and some of the most disturbing imagery I have ever seen in a game.

To start off with let's look at the ending of the game. Much has already been written about the final battle with Giygas, so I won't talk for too about this section. The battle itself takes place on what looks like a massive intestine, which is unsettling enough in such a previously light-hearted game. Giygas itself also appears as nothing more than a demonic background in the fight, which is initially a bit of anti-climax but as the fight goes you realize why it looks that way. He can only be defeated by praying to people you had helped a long the way, which is a little bit corny but just about gets with it. What is so amazing about this point in the game is how it strays from generic JRPG convention. Normally at this point the main bad guy finally reveals his 'true' form and explains his evil plan while saying "muhahaha". But here Giygas makes even less sense than before. The words it says sound like its mind is being scraped of any remaining humanity, its just pure pain and anger. Nothing is explained, because Giygas cannot be explained. I like to think that it is a metaphor for humanity as a whole and how it will always tear itself apart for no discernible reason it pure rage and bloodlust. The picture of Ness on the front of Giygas' first form shows that, as it is just reflecting the dark side that is in us all.

But one of the stories in the game that I find truly bleak is the story if Dungeon Man. The premise of dungeon man is that he is a man who wants to turn himself into an RPG dungeon. Nothing remains of his human body except for his face stuck to a wall on the highest level of the dungeon. Now first of all, this is hilarious. Not just because of the idea behind the character but also some of the weird things inside his dungeon, such a constantly occupied toilet. But after you manage to help him move again your party moves with him for about 3 steps before he gets caught up in some trees and can't move further. He gives the party a submarine to help get the next area of the game and he is never seen again. It is hinted that is mind dies in that spot and his dungeon body remains there forever. I find this deeply sad in the same way the story of flute boy in A Link To The Past is so sad. His story is simple told with no sentimentality or overt emotion. The matter-of-fact way the game deals with mortality is fairly brutal. Dungeon Man became so obsessed with what his form would be after death he destroyed his life and his mind to be stranded in the desert a lone, only to be entangled on the only trees in the desert never to move again.

Equally distressing is the plight of Everdred. Much of Everdred's character is strange, but possibly most perplexing is his morals. It is never quite clear what exactly he wants from Ness and the gang. He, much the rest of the adult population, seems irresponsible but does have important information for the heroes. He allows them to enter the parallel surrealist world of Moonside to get to Monotoli. But that is the end of him as he is found wounded in an alley before running off never to be seen again, with the game again insinuating that he has died. No long emotional goodbye, he just runs of the screen never to be seen again, leaving the player scratching his head about his character was all about. Mysterious he may be but he was invaluable to Ness saving the world, even if he did initially try to rob him. Everdred may be a criminal now but his knowledge suggest that he was powerful and knew the bosses in Fourside before he fell on hard times. He spent the rest of his life fleeing, robbing before being left to die in an alleyway.

The game is also capable of some pretty decent satire of American and capitalist culture. As with a lot of RPG's, Earthbound focuses on a group young people writing the wrongs of the previous generations. However, it takes this idea to it's extreme. The party you control are all kids, not young adults. Most adults in the game act irresponsibly and it is up to the younger generations to sort the world. I feel like with the current climate of the world this is particularly apt. Corruption and greed is rife. The police are useless and even try to beat up Ness, touching police brutality and corruption, equally hot topics today as they were at the time. The offices and stores in Fourside are run by evil aliens, an obvious piece of anti-establishment satire, but fun nonetheless. The golden statue that re-appears throughout the game exposes peoples inner lust for power and greed, a symbol of capitalism itself. Even normal citizens are driven to hysteria by the world of Earthbound and attack Ness and the party. Through out the whole game there is a feeling of existential angst felt by the characters in this world which is preyed on by the golden statue and Giygas. Nobody knows what they are angry about, all the know is that they are angry, and those feelings are turned to evil doings by Giygas. Pokey (or Porkey) seems like a perfect distillation of the potential evils of this generation, a want-it-all and want-it-now child with no morals driven purely by greed and power.

The genius of Earthbound is that in never shoves any of this down your throat, it lets you discover what you want about these characters by drawing your own conclusions for the random of assortment of background information on them that you have. Very few games have managed to have the emotional impact on me through its story as this game did. Is that because the core story is amazing? No. On the face of it, it's just a generic JRPG mute boy saves the world story. But it's the brilliant balance of imaginative environments, mini-strories and nuanced incidental characters that gives this game more personality and heart than any other JRPG that I have ever played.