Usually I reserve my writing for this blog but on Pong and Beyond I did a lot on Earthbound (found here) so here is what I wrote:
It is a curious thing that Earthbound has never been available in Europe and Oceania yet was made available in the American market (as well as in Japan obviously). I say this since one thing the game is widely known for in the gaming community is its satire on what is typically viewed as American values. The fact that most of the buyable health items in the first town you visit are typical American fare (french fries, cookies, hamburgers etc.) are just the tip of a game where hippies have been brainwashed to kidnap a kindergarten volunteer. Now pretty much everyone in UK is game for a bit of satire; especially at the expense of our friend’s across the pond. Now I can not speak for the people of Australia but I can imagine them feeling the same way. Anyway, we can play it now. Good thing we didn’t bother trying to play it at the beginning to the blog all those years ago.
As a role playing game Earthbound doesn’t take itself too seriously and is a very obvious influence on the recent release of South Park: The Stick of Truth. You take on the role of Ness, a child with psychic abilities who (despite being 13) is out on an adventure to save the world from aliens. I raise the point of him being 13 since neither of his parents seem to really care that their son is battling brainwashed human and aliens armed with a tennis racket and his ever-growing PSI powers.
Seeing how this is a 2D RPG from 1994 the battle sequences are fairly stationary compared to what we are now used to (we are truly spoiled) but one thing I do like is the absense of random encounters. It is always the bane of RPGs like Final Fantasy and Pokémon where all you want to do is go from point A to point B and suddenly the screen gets sucked into a black hole and you are faced with some form of lizard creature. What Earthbound does is instead is place the enemies on screen so you have at least have some warning of impending battle. What this also means is that if you can run into their back you get a surprise attack (and vice versa also happens). My favourite thing about the combat, however, is that once you reach a certain level not only do enemies run away from YOU but you don’t even have to battle them, the experience points are just added to your total.
On the whole, Earthbound is able to balance a seriously constructed game with a good sense of humour. We all know of games that take them far too seriously and, as such, it is a breath of fresh air. The fact that this plays so well after being released 20 years ago (only the battle screen and some graphical things reveal its age) is so incredibly impressive and is why it will probably be one of the games we play for a while after covering it.