Whenever I hear the phrase “cult classic,” my thoughts immediately go to “EarthBound”. Released for the Super Nintendo in 1994, “EarthBound” is a Japanese role-playing game developed by Ape Inc., the same studio that would eventually go on to create the “Pokémon” series. It is a wonderfully strange little title set in a wild and surreal world, and it is easily one of my favorite games of all time.
Players assume the role of Ness, a young boy from a nowhere town who possesses extraordinary psychic powers. When the fate of the Earth is threatened by the evil alien entity Giygas, Ness leaves his family home to embark on a journey to save the planet, making new friends and learning to control his psychic abilities along the way. The game’s story is a well-written, heartfelt tale about love, growing up, and learning to make sense of the world around you, and it is easily one of the game’s biggest strengths.
“EarthBound” is no slouch in terms of gameplay, either. As far as JRPGs go, this is one of the best that the genre has to offer. The turn-based combat is a bit slow at the start, but as you level up, meet new party members, and master new psychic powers, it becomes a lot of fun. Each member of your party (of which there are four) has their own strengths and weaknesses, making how you decide to strategically manage them vital to your success, which in turn makes defeating a large mob of enemies all the more satisfying. There are few feelings better than executing a battle plan that wipes out everything on screen in a single turn.
Another thing that “EarthBound” absolutely nails is pacing. This game is a journey that begins with a boy standing up to the local gang of bullies in his hometown and ends with four friends using the power of love to kill an alien god, but it is constructed in a way that feels perfectly natural from both narrative and gameplay standpoints. This is a very weird game, and there are times where it seems completely unhinged, but never at any point did I think that anything I experienced felt out of place. That is because the game does a fantastic job of gradually easing the player into the realm of the weird throughout the course of the story.
The game’s pacing is also helped along by the near complete absence of backtracking and grinding for experience points. Whenever your party’s stats completely overpower those of an enemy, that enemy will be automatically defeated and its experience added to yours. While it is possible to return to previous areas in order to grind up some experience by doing this, the game actively discourages that by constantly introducing new enemies that grant significantly more experience, hence making them more rewarding to fight. As a result, the game actively incentivises its players to keep pushing forward along their journey and avoid backtracking unless it is absolutely necessary to progress.
In my opinion, “EarthBound” is a timeless classic that deserves far more recognition that it gets. It was good when it came out 24 years ago, and it is still good today. It has a unique connection between its world and gameplay that I have seen seldom few other JRPGs even come close to matching, and it is just a great time from beginning to end.
If “EarthBound” sounds like a game you would be interested in, it is available on the Wii U’s Virtual Console for $9.99, and is also one of the 21 games included on the Super Nintendo Classic plug-and-play system. Even if you’re not a fan of the genre, I would still recommend taking a look at it, since “EarthBound” offers an experience that you simply will not get from other games.