Release Date: June 5, 1995
Platform Played On: SNES
2018 Placement: #7 (-1)
What It Is:
Released in 1995, Earthbound was the sequel to a game called Mother, and while that game eventually did see a U.S. release, Earthbound was the first to see the western shore and became a huge hit (or a niche hit, depending on your viewpoint). It stars Ness, a young boy who goes on an adventure because an alien lands in his backyard. It’s quirky, it’s weird, and it’s really captivated. There weren’t many RPGs like it at the time: instead of a fantastical world with swords and demons and the like, you ride a bicycle, hit enemies with a baseball bat, and some of those enemies are hippies.
The game had its own weird humor that stood out from its contemporaries. But it also had a very strong plot that didn’t shy away from getting sad and philosophical. One minute you’ll be fighting a pile of vomit named Master Belch, the next you’ll be getting poignant advice from your mom or dad on a phone call. There are strange cults, policemen that arrest you for being a kid, and a nihilistic entity who wants to end everything. It’s a strange, strange game but it embraced its own style and because of it, it became one of the most memorable RPGs ever made.
Why It’s Important To Me:
As I mentioned in the Super Mario RPG entry, Earthbound was one of the first RPGs I ever played. I honestly can’t remember which of these two came first, but this game definitely deserves partial credit for getting me into the JRPG genre. I can also say the off-beat humor of this game was a definite influence of my own humor and creativity. Some of the boss designs are super memorable, even to this day: the Carbon Dog to Diamond Dog evolution, the simplicity of the Kraken design, that blasted New Age Retro Hippie. This is a game that oozes style from its pores, even in simpler 16-bit graphic times.
Of course, the music was another high point of the game. The hippie’s theme is just a classic battle track. The hauntingly eerie melancholy of the Sanctuary Guardians theme is another great song. As I keep saying, the game just has personality, and each boss theme just adds more on top of it: exhibit A, the oddly invigorating bop that is the Kraken’s theme. And of course, I’m not going to forget the all-timer of a final boss music.
My Strongest Memory:
Just to add to how bizarre this game was, one of the strongest memories I have of this game is not of the game, but of a smell. The strategy guide for Earthbound came with these scratch-and-sniff pages for different enemies and characters in the game. One of them was a monkey that smelled like the sweetest banana you’ve ever smelled. And then one was Carbon Dog and I still to this day cannot describe what it smelled like other than strange. It was like smelling spicy hotness, but with no actual good flavoring. Just…heat. It was weird as hell.
But they say olfactory sense triggers memories and let me tell you, I’ve never forgotten Earthbound’s scratch and sniff stickers. It’s the kind of thing that sticks with you. It’s great that the game was also fantastic, but the ad campaign for the game (“This game stinks”) was a weird one. Still, those stickers left an impression. Even just thinking about those odors is making me have trouble with coherent sentences and arguments.
Why It’s #8:
Now that the gaming library of RPGs has expanded to all kinds of types – fantasy, sci-fi, modern, western, vampire, etc. – it’s easy to forget that an RPG starring random kids that uses everyday stuff like baseball bats was a big departure from the norm at the time. But the game’s irreverence and willingness to stand out from everyone else was a big part of its charm to me. Even in the modern landscape where games have tried to capture Earthbound’s vibes, there hasn’t really been any RPG that’s truly succeeded. It’s a master-class of a game and not easily replicated. And I love it.