Almost every time I revisit a review, the final score either stays the same or drops a bit. I can think of five games off the top of my head where this is true. Very rarely does it ever happen that I'll come back to a game, play it, and realize I originally sold it short. Well, that's the case for EarthBound. I dunno; all of a sudden I became a lot more excited about this game, and while I still see some flaws in the design, it's a much better game than I originally gave it credit for.
The story of EarthBound centers around a young boy by the name of Ness (which I still believe is a little tip of the hat to Nintendo's original console). A meteor crashes into his town, and upon exploring it, he finds that its passenger - a bee from the future - has assigned him the duty of amassing a party of three other friends to defeat the evil Giygas. Now, getting from Point A to Point B in this game is not entirely a straightforward affair (even if the game itself is extremely linear). There's a lot of sidequests and tangents that come up along the way, and many of them are not exactly your standard RPG fare. In some ways this helps give the game a lot of spark that many other RPGs lack, given the fact that it's a completely different setting with completely new conflicts. However, there are a couple occasions where the game tries to buckle down and get serious, but this gets lost in the sillyness of the environment. It's hard to empathize with the heroes when they're fighting New-Age Retro Hippies or bribing people with tuna-flavored yogurt.
You definitely have to get used to the presentation of this game, because it certainly is not aiming for the same kind of tone you'll find in an installment of the Final Fantasy series. Much of the scenery in this game is fairly crude when you compare it with other, more stylized art of other games, but after a while you realize that this was the style that they were going for. Meanwhile, the undulating backdrops for each of the enemy battles are quite mesmerizing all by themselves. The musical score of the game has a lot of very good selections, especially in the realm of town music. The variety of themes that play during fight scenes aren't quite as consistent, though, and while there are a few that have a decent beat to them, they all feel a little underdeveloped. Also, there are some instances - primarily in areas whose ambient noise is more sound effects that it is music - where you can hear the "seam" of the audio where it loops.
Controlling this game isn't too much of a problem. It may take a little while to get used to the A button being used for the menu if you've been away from the game for a while, but generally this isn't a concern while you're playing. The environments are given three dimensions much of the time, and this is handled quite respectably by using an isometric layout of houses and streets. Ness and his friends could move a tad faster, but I can live with the speed they are at now. Most impressive, however, is the use of the L and Select buttons as stand-ins for the Check and Cancel commands. This frees up the right hand for other RPG-like tasks, like shoving Doritos into your mouth. :)
Where I really sold this game short is in the Challenge rating. Playing through this game a second time, I'm amazed that I didn't give this game nearly as much credit as it deserved in this aspect. Put simply, this is the most intuitive game design I've seen in an RPG. Your HP doesn't instantly drop when you take a hit; it ticks off, and if you can stop the battle quickly enough, you stop the bleeding. You're not accosted by weak enemies anymore; if you can easily overwhelm a foe, they flee as you get close to them, and if you run into one the game simply cuts to the victory scene. You'll never enter a battle only to realize that they've scored an ambush on you; the angle which an enemy encounters you (or vice versa) determines the initiative. However, as much as I'd like to give this game a perfect 6, there are some pitfalls. For one, your capacity to carry items is entirely too limited. Second, there are too many status ailments in this game, especially since many of them have the same effect. Still, these are fairly minor detractions from what is otherwise a very well-designed game mechanism.
What's especially remarkable from the playability standpoint of this game is that this is one of the few titles where the Longevity score actually surpasses the Thrill score. This is a rarity, because it means that EarthBound actually gets better with age. I certainly thought it was a decent game to begin with, but when you pop it in after a long period of time and discover that it's even better than you originally thought, that makes you even more eager to play it again later on. This game likely won't change my life like it did with some people, but it probably will earn a bit more respect from me when I choose which games I'll refer to as being legendary material.
In short, EarthBound is one of the few games that actually improved in its standing when I gave it a second look. Hopefully when you give the game another look, it'll have the same effect on you.
|Play Control: ||
|Technical Score: 15
|Aesthetic Score: 21
|Overall Score: 86%|