Saturday, May 20, 2017

Earthbound: First Impressions

I've struggled to find a new game that pulls me in since finishing Skyrim back in 2015.  Sure, I've enjoyed a number of games, really learning about retro gaming on many platforms, but I haven't experienced that feeling where I want to leave work to go home and play a game for hours.  Dragon Warrior was probably the closest I got to this feeling earlier this year, but even that was more of a feeling of "I'm in the living room.  I may as well grind some levels in Dragon Warrior while I watch Netflix."  This week I started Earthbound.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with Earthbound, it is a 16 bit Japanese RPG from the 90s where a group of kids wanders around trying to stop aliens, zombies, cultists, hippies, and who knows what else.  Some reviewers compare the characters to the Peanuts gang.  I'd say the characters are more reminiscent of something like Goonies, ET, or even Stranger Things.  Most people will recognize the main character Ness(or Ogden in my playthrough) from Super Smash Bros.  It's a game that was successful in Japan, but not so successful in the United States, though it has maintained a cult following that seems to have grown in recent years.

In many ways, it's easy to see a through line from Dragon Quest/Warrior to the first generation of Pokémon.  As these are two of my favorite games, that's definitely good news.  Mechanically, the game definitely feels like Dragon Warrior.  Combat is very simple and straightforward, and while you do end up with a party, you spend enough time with a solo character to get a feel for the balance and mechanics.  Also, the encounters aren't totally random like they would be in Dragon Warrior.  You can see and try to avoid the enemy sprites in the over world.  These little extra features give it a feel of being the next step in the genre.

The game's similarities to Pokémon are less concrete.  The story of a kid wondering around a weird sort of modern world creates a similar tone, but there's something more than that.  It's hard to put my finger on it, but the influences are there.  Unlike Pokémon, however, the story has more depth.  When my first two characters were locked in an underground dungeon and Molly(the female character whose canonical name escapes me) psychically reached out to a new character, I legitimately cared about the fate of those characters in a way that is rare in a video game.

Anyway, if you haven't played Earthbound, you should.  It's definitely a game that lives up to the hype.

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