Awakened by a meteorite that conveniently collides with a nearby hilltop, young Onett-born boy Ness soon discovers that he is destined to save the universe from tyrannical cosmic destroyer Giygas – an all-evil entity that has destroyed the world in the future.
That we learn such fact from a time-travelling alien bee called Buzz Buzz demonstrates much of the quirk that permeates throughout the entirety of EarthBound, furthered no less after the intergalactic insect meets his untimely demise when ruthlessly squatted by Ness’ neighbour.
Nevertheless, Ness packs his snug little rucksack and meanest-looking baseball bat as he journeys across Eagleland to fulfil the prophecy set before him. This requires the whippersnapper to seek out eight sanctuaries so that he may channel his strength with that of the Earth, for it to be multiplied in order for him to confront, and defeat, Giygas. Hence the game’s title.
EarthBound’s idyllic towns and continual barrage of humorous dialogue and parody were at odds with the 2D RPGs that were populating the SNES at the time. Whilst Final Fantasy thrust you into battle with a merry band of experienced heroes, Shigesato Itoi instead chose to place the player in control of three boys and a girl – Ness, Paula, Jeff and *ahem* Poo – as they wander nearby cities and conquer dungeons in their quest to avert the impending cataclysm.
Enemies will seek to thwart your attempts, the player facing them off through a now well-trodden turn-based battle system that has readily been used in the genre. Baseball bats, frying pans and yo-yos are the weaponry used by your party, accompanied by more visually arresting PSI (psychic) abilities that grant access to the usual slew of offensive, recovery, and status-changing moves. It’s often a playful tussle between dealing damage and restoring your health to tackle wandering foes, the game’s balancing never requiring the player to grind up a few levels – even if the opening hours will largely see Ness travelling alone.
Whilst Itoi often touched upon how he felt the project was “doomed,” the end product became a shining beacon of RPG brilliance during the SNES era. That Nintendo has finally seen fit to grant it a European release some twenty years later will be much appreciated by many that were left unable to experience EarthBound’s unrepentant delight the first time around. And that opportunity is one that most certainly shouldn’t be missed.
Version Tested: Wii U
Review copy provided by Nintendo