If you’re reading this (and you’re not Dawid), chances are that you’re a fan of playing old classics and reliving some old memories. The games from yesteryear are put on a pedestal and they’re hard to knock off. There’s that memory that we connect with and hold on to. But, for those of us outside Japan, some games were never given that chance to connect with an audience. Earthbound Beginnings is a perfect example. Until recently, it’s never been released outside Japan. So, will anyone actually play and enjoy it? I thought I’d be one of them…
Having only played Earthbound (the second game in the series) I was actually looking forward to seeing how things really started. Earthbound (also known as Mother 2) was one of those games that opened my eyes to the world of JRPGs. It had an unusual set of characters, weapons and a brilliant story. So, as much as I didn’t want to, it did set the standard quite high.
Earthbound Beginnings starts off on a very bleak note. A man and his wife disappear from the face of the earth. A few years later the man returns alone and becomes a recluse. The wife is never seen or heard from again. Fast forward 200 years and you’re in the bedroom of Ninten, the great grandson of the mysterious man from 200 years ago. Ninten’s house suddenly becomes haunted and a poltergeist attacks him and his family through dolls and lamps. Even though he’s only eight, Ninten fights off the possessed items and restores the house to normal.
After beating the ghost, Ninten’s dad (who’s only available over the phone) tells him that his great grandfather (George) was conducting research into psychic beings and powers, and that Ninten is a psychic. His dad then elaborates saying that Ninten is needed to investigate the paranormal anomalies across the world, which he thinks are signs of an alien invasion.
As mad as that sounds, it does add a lot more context and reasoning behind Earthbound (Mother 3). After that, your journey is basically one that requires you to find eight musical notes, which are scattered over the world. The purpose of the notes is unknown for the time being and I’m not going to spoil it for you. Finding them is not easy and there are very few clues to help you out. But that’s not the problem I have with this game.
Like you’d expect, this game has aged a lot. It was originally released on 27 July 1989 – that’s almost a month before I was born. However, even though I know it’s 26 years old, I still can’t get to grips with the visuals. It’s very plain and very simple. I decided to play most of the game on the gamepad as it looked a little better and easier to visually digest.
Along with the graphics, the music is also quite dated and sparse. It almost sounds like you’re listening to the same tracks over and over again.
The battle system, like in Earthbound, is turn-based and pretty good if you know what you’re doing. Having prior knowledge of the battle systems and attack names, I found it rather easy, but it might prove to be difficult if you’ve never played any of the games. You have the basics, like attack, goods (items), guard, run and psi (magic). The psi option is only available to psychic characters, in this case Ninten and Ana. They learn psi abilities over time and after battles. Figuring out what does what is the problem. Healing alpha, for instance, treats poison, while Healing beta treats paralysis; PK Thunder beta is stronger than PK Thunder alpha; so on and so forth.
You also have the option to select auto, which automatically continues the battle for you. This is pretty good for grinding in areas where the enemies are weak, but shouldn’t be used with tough enemies. Here’s where my next issue lies. The difficulty of the game is wickedly unbalanced. It’s bad throughout the game, but definitely more frustrating at the start. It’s a long time before you meet your second party member, so you’ll do a lot of fighting alone. The problem is when you come across an enemy that’s too tough for you to fight. At the start, you can fight snakes and centipedes without too much trouble, but the second a Wally or a hippie appears, you’re in trouble! The same applies to the end of the game when you see grizzlies (a bear) and Kelly & Nancy robots. So enemies in each area (dependant on your level) are either weak or very tough to beat.
Then there’s the random encounter rate that you have to contend with. It seems like you jump into a battle every few steps, which really hampers your progress and makes exploration a nightmare. This is, unfortunately, crucial as finding all the melodies and figuring out where to go, requires a bit of wandering.
Whilst playing this game I’ve been hit with a lot of negatives. But there are some positives too. For example, it’s been a long time since I’ve actually had to plan an attack in an RPG or actually feared running into a certain enemy. Then there’s the joy of levelling up a character because it meant that tougher foes are now slightly easier to handle. I wouldn’t say the story is the highlight as I did think it was a little daft, but some of the characters in the game were a little nuts.
It’s amazing to see what an old RPG used to be and how they’ve evolved into what they are now. I have no doubt that 26 years ago this game was a visual and technical marvel, but it hasn’t aged as well as other games, making this game very tough for me to score. Playing Earthbound Beginnings was a very humbling experience. I don’t regret playing it, but it’s definitely not a game for the average gamer. The difficulty and lack of visual appeal won’t sit well with most people. I’d only recommend this if you’re a fan of Earthbound and you don’t mind what you see in the images above.