Welcome the next installment of my year-long look back at a decade defined by its extremes. Rap versus grunge; mullets versus pixies; Saved by the Bell versus NYPD Blue – the 1990s had it all, and then some. Every other week I’ll be reminiscing about some facet of the 1990s, potentially drowning in some ill-forgotten nostalgia despite my best efforts otherwise. Serving as inspiration is an utterly ridiculous but nonetheless intriguing list created by Huffington Post — 1990 Things from the 90s to End the Nostalgia Once and for All – and I’ll be using a random number generator to pick each week’s “topic.” So don’t have a cow, man, if I ask you to talk to the hand while take this sweet ride through the 90s. Word to your mother.
Week 14: HuffPost list #1863 – “Earthbound”
There we go again with putting game names in quotations. I’ll refrain from being an ass about it this time, because that seems to just be a thing with this list.
I once enjoyed thinking that I had played a lot of SNES games. But, with time, the truth has seeped in. Yes, I played a lot of Mario games on the SNES, but the fact of the matter is that I didn’t even scratch the surface of the SNES’s offerings. Mario, Donkey Kong, Super Metroid, Street Fighter, a little Castlevania and Mortal Kombat…oh, and Earthworm Jim — that was pretty much my SNES experience. Platformers and adventure games were my cups of tea. The term “role-playing-game,” as far as video games went, didn’t really enter my personal lexicon until Mass Effect. So early-ish RPGs like Earthbound never entered my insular gaming circle.
But while I had at least heard of some SNES RPGs during the console’s 1990s hey days, like Chrono Trigger, I must admit that I had zero knowledge Earthbound until…until…? Until I started blogging. Or, blog reading, to be more precise. Indeed, the blogosphere really opened up to me the vast landscape of games that I had missed over the years. Figuring myself something of a “gamer,” taking in the wealth of gaming from others was quite humbling. While I knew what I “knew,” I was far from knowledgeable. And because I’m a sucker when it comes to history and learning, I set about educating myself.
One of the best RPG-centric sites I found when I first started blogging was The RPG Square. This site didn’t lead me directly to Earthbound, but it did provide a ton of information about games in a genre where my comprehension ran only as deep as Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and The Legend of Zelda. It was (and still is, though not recently updated) a fantastic resource, one that inspired me to take up the likes of Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Chrono Trigger. That last is what eventually led me to finally try Earthbound.
To say, personally, “I’ve played Earthbound” is to say “I’ve read the complete works of Shakespeare.” Yes, I’ve read a few plays here and there, but I have never picked up my 1000-page edition of Shakespeare’s works and read to its last iambic pentameter. This might sound like blasphemy to some, but what I’m about to say about Earthbound may be even more upsetting. And that is…I didn’t really like it.
The story goes something like this. My Chrono Trigger game project turned out as such because it had narrowly beaten out Earthbound in a small poll I conducted on this here site. But I had downloaded (via an emulator) Earthbound, along with my other potential choices, just so I could be prepared for whichever game won. After successfully finishing Chrono Trigger for the first time ever, that high lasted long enough for me to try out the non-winners, one of which was Earthbound. I eagerly set off with little Ness and his neighbor, Pokey, as they investigated a strange happening in their small town called Onette. And…
…that’s about as far as I got. Didn’t even make it out of Onette.
Earthbound quickly fizzled primarily because I didn’t enjoy interacting with the game on my tablet. The emulator’s on-screen controls didn’t function very well. But I also didn’t feel immediately curiosity about Ness and his town’s predicament. I know now that the Ness’s story takes an extraordinary turn, that you eventually adventure alongside other characters, and that events lead to some rather sci-fi occurrences. But in the moment, Earthbound and I didn’t bond…and my tablet died soon after.
I’ve since watched a Let’s Play of the game, and I could tell then that I didn’t have the internal means to stick it out. Much like with Chrono Trigger, there’s something intimidating in accepting the challenge of playing beloved works of the pasty. And when you finally work up the courage to try and the experience proves to be less than great, it can be tough to rectify it against past praise. Maybe I’ll give Earthbound another go sometime, and maybe I won’t. It’s not a game that needs my justification, by any stretch.
Huh. That wasn’t much of a “1990s” post, was it? It turned out to be far more introspective than I thought it would. Probably because I still harbor guilt for not liking Earthbound. Welcome to my therapy session, ha.
But y’know, much to its credit, when I was playing Earthbound, or Chrono Trigger for that matter, it didn’t immediately telegraph as an 90s game. And it still doesn’t, for whatever reason. Could be that with the current proliferation of “retro” style games, something about its general mannerisms, its preposterous but charming story set in an otherwise normal and mundane world, feel more timeless than not. And it undoubtedly paved the way for many of the RPGs that we play today. A modern classic, indeed.