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Monday, July 27, 2015

Currently Playing #25: EarthBound Beginnings

The RPG genre is one I've been wanting to leap back into for some time now. I got into RPGs back in the mid 1990s and fell in love with the genre thanks to games like Super Mario RPG, Illusion of Gaia, and Final Fantasy VI. To an extent, even EarthBound played a role in helping me to appreciate RPGs. When I say EarthBound, I'm of course talking about the SNES EarthBound, also known as MOTHER 2, which was the first game in the series to be released outside of Japan. Most of my interest in the first EarthBound stems from watching my friend play it. True, I played a very small portion of the game myself, but most of my time spent with the game was from watching him hold the SNES controller. Still, that alone was enough to spark some interest in the game and the modern day setting of EarthBound really did set it apart from other RPGs that were released in the west at the time.

Over the past few years, I've had a falling out of sorts with RPGs. I can't even remember the last one that I've completed. I thought I'd get back on track with Xenoblade Chronicles when I picked it up in 2012, but alas, it still sits on the shelf, unplayed. So I guess it's fitting that the RPG that gets me back into the game is not only a JRPG, but an old-school JRPG at that. When I saw that the original MOTHER game, was finally going to get an official release outside of Japan under the name EarthBound Beginnings, I thought I'd show my support and fork over the $6.99 for a digital copy on the eShop.

A few weeks after purchasing the game, I decided to fire it up. I didn't come into the game unaware of what I was getting myself into.  I know that EarthBound Beginnings is one tough cookie. With this in mind, I've decided to use maps to help me through the game as well as Chuggaconroy's Let's Play. EarthBound Beinnings does not hold your hand and like a lot of old NES games, there are some things you just have to know, otherwise, you'll remain stuck. I'm no stranger to level grinding and without dying, I quickly caught on that the enemies outside of Ninten's front door could put him to sleep if I did not take the time to beef him up before heading to my next destination. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to sweat bullets because running away isn't working, you have low HP and the enemy keeps dodging your attacks. Its the kinds stuff old RPGs love to do, 

Right now, I've invested more time into EarthBound Beginnings than any other EarthBoung game. I've played through the first chapter of MOTHER 3 and put a few hours into EarthBound, but last week, I sent the better part of my day off putting in work on EarthBound Beginnings. I suppose I have to admit to liking that old-school flavor of RPG since I love retro games, but I'm also playing this one for story purposes. Just what happened to George and Maria when they vanished? How come only George came back and why did he become a recluse? What happened to Maria? All that stuff happened nearly 100 years ago and yet, it holds relevance to what's happening throughout the world in the game. Given the EarthBound series' history with aliens and the fact that I've already fought a Starman Jr. at the zoo, its a safe bet that they were the ones behind George and Maria's disappearance. George is most likely the one who wrote the diary that Ninten found in his basement, so that would make Maria and George his great grand parents. Still doesn't explain why they were abducted and why Maria never returned. It may not seem like much, but its more than enough to drive my curiosity. It really says something when a game can hook a player with just a few opening paragraphs.

Ninten may seem like a pretty flat protagonist even taking into account that he has physic powers (you're not an EarthBound central character without that, right?) but giving him asthma makes him a bit more human and relatable. I actually didn't know Ninten had asthma at first until I talked to one of the NPCs in Podunk and she mentioned that truck exhaust causes her own asthma to flair up. Why do I get the feeling trucks will be part of the random encounters later on? I already had Ninten's asthma get outta hand during a random encounter on Magicant. It almost lead to a game over.

Speaking of Magicant, the place has to be one of my favorite locations in EarthBound Beginnings. I was a little familiar with the place thanks to Super Smash Bros. 3DS, which has Magicant as a selectable stage along with a beautiful remix of the Magicant theme, but to actually go through the area that inspired the Smash stage is pretty amazing. Even before I spoke to Queen Mary and deduced that my gathering of the Eight Melodies was partially for her sake, I knew that Magicant would play a significant role in the game. The spiraling sea shells and color palettes give the place a unique look to be sure and there's the fact that you have to warp to Magicant, suggesting that it exists in some other dimension, but even without taking those things into account, Magicant is clearly no ordinary place.

Its nice to see that much of the humor the MOTHER series is known for is present and accounted for in EarthBound Beginnings. When I caught a cold from a girl in Merrsyville, I went to see the doctor and when I didn't want to pay the insane amount of cash he was charging to be cure of a common aliment, he said "Fine, go die all on your own. I'll phone a mortician." OK, so that one may be leaning more towards black comedy but after I did pay, he told me to hurry up and get hurt so I can pay him another visit.  Why isn't he one of those characters I can crack over the head with my aluminum bat in a random battle?

Unbalanced as it can be, I really do enjoy EarthBound Beginnings. I'm happy that we have two out of the three MOTHER games and hopefully, MOTHER 3 will be released somewhere down the line. It feels good to be playing an RPG again. Well, I gotta be off. That kid that was hiding in the trash isn't gonna level himself up. 

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