Earthbound is an RPG for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. I am playing it on an emulator since I do not own an SNES. After my short playthrough of the game, I was surprised at how well it captures the excitement of exploration and the magical journey that ensues.
Unlike the other two games I am covering, Earthbound has a clear story that you follow. You wake up to a loud noise and you go outside to find out what happened. As you walk around your house to find the source of the noise, you can talk to bystanders and police and see if they have any information. You then find an asteroid that contains a visitor from the future telling you to stop an evil force named Giygas. It is up to you to find the songs scattered across the world in order to stop the evil monster.
When you first start the game, you are asked to name your character, three friends, the name of your pet, favorite food, and a favorite thing. The names you put are used in the game and this adds a real personal touch that many other games lack. You feel like you are on the adventure and that you have a real journey ahead of you.
Earthbound‘s main focus is talking to townspeople and interacting with the landscape in order to obtain information on the whereabouts of the songs. Unlike many other RPG’s, this one is not ENTIRELY based in a fantasy world. The first town you visit is reminiscent of a small city. There is a hotel, a restaurant, an arcade, and many other real world places. The game plays with the careful balance between fantasy and real world which helps add to the immersion. You can pretend to be in the game and still feel like you’re on a magical journey.
Adding to the realism of this game, the enemies you first battle are mainly wild dogs and the local town punks that took over the arcade. I think that Earthbound was trying to go for this sort of teeter totter of fantasy and real world gameplay in order to transport the player back to when they were a child. I remember pretending to be a mystical world in the woods and having to imagine new creatures and monsters out of the squirrels and deer that I would see. There is something nostalgic about reliving your childhood, back when times were easier for you.
At the same time Earthbound reels you in with its real world attributes, it also reminds you that you are in a fantasy land. One of the first boss battles is with a gangster named Frank that took over the arcade. The situation you are faced with is comical, what gangster would want to take over an arcade? The graphics add to the fantasy as well, the backdrop for your battles are trippy graphics that contrast the real world setting. And you have to remember, you are a kid in this game… fighting a gangster. The contrast serves to replicate the wonderment and mysterious world you faced as a kid. I remember one of the first times going to the state fair thinking that there was no way it was real- the flashing lights, huge rides, the masses of people, it was sensory overload for young me.
Perphaps Earthbound is relying on the nostalgia seekers looking for one more journey, one last shot to relive your childhood. I believe that this is what makes the game special. The careful balance between real world and fantasy world and ability to name your character is what really immerses the player into the game. I am looking forward to seeing what else Earthbound has to throw at me and whether or not it will become fantasy and ditch the real world all together.