Friday, April 8, 2011

Retro Review: Earthbound

Earthbound is one of those games that doesn't have much of a middle ground. People either hate it, or they are a rabid Earthbound fan boys. I have to admit that I was in the latter camp once upon a time. I played through the game as a kid and I loved every minute of it. I remember crashing at JSJ's place listening to and do remixes of the game's amazing music. Towards the end of college, I decided to try and play through the game again ... but I couldn't do it. Not because I didn't have time or anything like that. It was just an incredibly painful game to play. I brushed the incident off and still maintained that it was in my top 5 favorite games of all time.



Then towards the end of last year, Luke started playing through Earthbound. While watching he and Juliana play, I started to have some of the same gripes I had with the game during that last year of college. My position became solidified: I just didn't care much for Earthbound anymore.

GASP! SHOCK! BOING!


Don't get me wrong, I still like a lot of aspects of the game. I really really appreciate the light hearted nature of the game. The story line is cute while remaining complex. The character designs are adorable, and the monsters are amazing (you fight Scalding Cups of Coffee at one point!). I like the departure from the typical fantasy setting to a more of a paranormal modern setting. I loved some of the supporting characters like the Mr. Saturns and the Bubble Monkey. The dialogue was well written and meta. The game has a lot going for it ... until you leave town.

My biggest complaints about this game revolve around the battle system and gameplay. You can have the best story and characters in the world, but at the end of the day the game still needs to be playable. The battle system is straight out of NES era RPGS. Its combat system used to be standard in RPGs in the 80s and early 90s, but more advanced combat had been being utilized by the time Earthbound came out. In fact, Earthbound is contemporary (1994-95 era) with both Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, and yet Eathbound manages to feel like a step backwards from the norm at the time. 

This looks straight out of Dragon Quest 1 ... which came out for NES in 86 ...

So what exactly is my problem with the battle system besides it feeling dated? Well, you have to input all of your character's moves at the beginning of the combat round all at once. If one of your characters kills an enemy that someone else was about to target, the character won't adjust and hit something else, they will just do nothing. Because you have to input everyone at once, its harder to adapt to what the enemies are doing. Healing is more difficult because of this too, since you never have a chance to heal in between enemy attacks during a round, you have to wait to the next round. This makes the battles harder in general, and encourages grinding. Lastly, the game initiates encounters by having enemies run towards you on the map. This is usually a preferable means of initiating combat, however the enemies move so fast that they are almost impossible to avoid. They might as well be random encounters. Also, the enemies re-spawn as soon as you move to the next screen, so good luck trying to get back to town if you need to retreat. 

Inventory management is another problem I had with the game play. I understand that its realistic that a little kid could only hold so much in his backpack. I understand that everyone would have to carry certain things and trade them amongst themselves. I get it, but I hate it. Inventory management is one of those aspects in gaming that I prefer to be as unrealistic as possible, because its just too annoying otherwise. You spend a good deal of time in this game shuffling items among characters to make room for stuff, and waiting for your storage guy to come over and take things from you. Its irritating.

Awww Bubble Monkey is so cute

When I was a kid, I was more willing to fight repetitive battles and grind for experience points. I had all the time in the world and it was easy for me to look past rpgs that made me do that. As I grew older though, my tolerance for grinding plummeted (which is why I never finished Dragon Quest 8). I think this is the reason I just can't play Earthbound anymore. If I had to give a modern day metacritic score to Earthbound, I would give it something around the lines of a high 70s/ low 80s. While it a funny game with an amazing story, I just have no tolerance for that kind of old school gameplay now days. 


2 comments:

  1. All here are Mr Saturn. Even the girls.

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  2. My interest level in this is negative two. Now, if this were a post about Earthbind (http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=1288), then I would be much more interested, because that's some sexy bondage.

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