Earthbound: The Giygas Strikes Back

Introduction: (Disclaimer: There may be a few spoilers)

The year is 199X. In the depths of the night, the citizens of Onett are sleeping soundly, unaware of the strange things that are going to start this very night. Our chubby protagonist, Ness Quik, sleeps within his small home in his blue pajamas, when suddenly a loud boom shakes the earth. The ambience of the outside world is now accompanied by the distant sounds of police sirens blaring into action, coming closer as if the source of the sound is near. Ness wakes up, along with his agitated family, and decides to check out what has occurred. His younger sister, Tracy, gives him a cracked bat to arm himself, and so the boy goes out to the cold world.

“Don’t you just hate it when a meteor from the sky wakes you up from your glorious sleep?”
Image from FandomSpot

He goes over to climb the mountain, meeting up with several officers along the way who are tired an agitated, especially with the gangs they have to deal with on a daily basis. He talks with a strange man who lives on the mountain, who asks him to see his billboard he worked hard for, and then meets up with one of the neighbor’s son, Pokey (renamed from Porky for obvious reasons) who is chastising with the police. The police have blocked the way. Up above, a scientist and a cop study the meteorite. Pokey tells Ness to go home and stop bugging the cops. With nothing left for him to do, Ness goes home and back to sleep.

Suddenly, he’s ripped from sleep by the sound of knocking at his door. Ness storms downstairs and opens the door to see Pokey, who had lost Picky when they checked the meteorite after the police left. With bags under his eyes, and a call from milk-getting pa, the boy, his “friend,” and dog named King, they set out to the top of the mountain while beating up snakes and crows. Stupid nature. Once on top, King leaves in fear and the duo find Picky. Before leaving, a strange and controllable pillar of light breaks from the meteor toward the sky. The trio bask in the total disbelief as a fly, bee, rhino-beetle looking thing descends from the heavens. Buzz-Buzz tells of an evil future brought by Giygas, the universal destroyer who used to go by the name Giegue, and a prophecy that the chosen 4 will beat them. Spoiler, its not porker and his brother.

“Awaken, my Buzz-Buzz!”
Image from Earthbound Fandom

The gang leave, when suddenly Starman.net arrives to defeat Ness. Buzz-Buzz and Picky help in the fight, while Porky does nothing. The first of many enemies. Ness delivers the brothers to their parents, hears their father beat them, and then witnesses their mother one-shot Buzz-Buzz. With the thing dying in his hands, Ness is given words of courage and the Sound stone in order to record the music of his 8 “Your Sanctuary.” After sleeping away the trauma, our chosen one steps out to the beautiful sunrise of a new adventure.

The World of Earthbound

“Cue that Upbeat Onett theme”
Image from Nintendo Life

Earthbound is the wacky story of a young boy who must travel cross-country, from Eagleland to Foggyland, with friends in order to stop an adopted universal evil. Along the way, they must beat up cops, help the Runaway Five band out of debt, fight 5 number 3 moles, and even deal with living barf.

Each town, city, and tourist trap they visit is based on a theme. Onett, Twoson, Threed, and Fourside of Eagleland are an obvious one. Foggyland has Winters and Summers based on the seasons. Summers also fits with the number theme combined with Chommo’s Tenda Village in the Deep Darkness. 1+2+3+4=10.

“See, it is the Blu Blux Klan. The only left to do after seeing them is getting the hell out.”
Image from Starmen.net’s walkthrough

At the time, it was a parody of many JRPG’s at the time, which were mostly set in an old fantasy world rather than the more modern fantasy one the Earthbound franchise would be known for. While the game can be quirky in many moments, it also tells the serious themes of childhood, friendship, and love for one another. Ness grows up throughout the game, eventually defeating the evil in his heart that could corrupt him. It’s also known for the various dark crap that happens to these kids, even if some are played for laughs.  You know you’re a dark game when you have a boy stop the blue Klu Klux Klan from sacrificing a young girl and painting the world blue. The blend of satire, fun, and disturbing moments makes for a unique journey.

Gameplay

Unlike the other RPGs at the time, with their magic potions and mystical swords of insert thing it does, you heal with food, like hamburgers, and equip with a bat or a frying pan. Trash cans and present boxes replace treasure boxes, castles are replaced by suburban towns, and you’ll ride the occasional yellow submarine. Everything has a modern mix to it, making for a pseudo-realistic feel.  At the same time, there are elements in the game that make you feel that you are in the imagination of a child, such as the pencil eraser item that erases pencil-shaped statues (no kidding).

Rather than magic spells, the game has characters use PSI. PSI is more explained in Earthbound Beginnings, but for now all you need to know is that it’s a psychic power that some people, animals, and machines have. Like magic, it runs on PP. The more the characters with it gain experience points, the more they learn new PSI powers and even stronger versions of the ones they have based on Greek letters (like PK Freeze Omega).

“Why take the bus? I got legs! Um, don’t tell the Runaway Five that…”
Image from Earthbound Fandom

The party walks around the vast world of Earthbound, and I do mean walk. There isn’t a run option in the buttons, but you can eat a Skip Sandwich to move faster. You can talk to anyone and check everything through the menu, accessible with the press of A. Talk To for people and the like, and Check for objects and other things (check things you might not think would work. A surprise is always around the corner).

Besides those options, there’s Status to check on your party’s states, PSI to check the PSI your party has, Equip to put equitable objects on the party, and Goods to check you inventory. The inventory is notoriously small, with only a few items to hold for each party member, and items don’t stack with each other. Under the menu is the amount of money your party has, and the HP and PP they have.

Characters

Image by Wolf Electric from Pinterest

Ness

Ness is the main protagonist, healer and tank of the game, a great contrast to the standard typical “Main protagonist must be a full on fighter.” A baseball fan, his main weapon in the Bat and equipment a baseball cap.

He is a PSI user like Paula and Poo. His only offensive attacks are PSI Rockin, a powerful attack exclusive to him that can hit all enemies, and PSI Flash, which can inflict a random effect like crying or even instant defeat. As the healer, he gains each of the upgrades for PK Life up, which heals Hp, and Healing, which heals status affects. He also has other assist moves such as shield for physical attacks, hypnosis which gives enemies the sleep he lost in the beginning, and paralysis to paralyze people. He is the leader of the group.

Paula

Paula Dean is the offensive glass cannon of the group and the only female character in the party. Her main attacks come from her PSI, but she can do physical attacks with a Frying Pan. Like any magic user, she has the PK attacks of Fire, Freeze, and Thunder (because Japan likes the name better than the actual lightning that strikes). Her only “Recover” PSI move is Magnet, shared with Poo, in order to heal her PP (it’s so good). Her assists are PSI Shield, the magic shield equivalent to Ness’s Shield, Offense Up for the whole party, and Defense Down for enemies.

While the fastest and strongest attacker on the group, Paula’s special skill is the ability to Pray, which I believe to be a pseudo reference Ana’s(Paula’s counterpart in Earthbound Beginnings) Christianity. It induces a random effect during battle from healing everyone in the party to inflicting a status affect on everyone. I guess this is God’s way of interacting in the world? I don’t know. The ability is limited, and I never really used it myself, but it is a pivotal ability during the final battle.

Never used solely in the game.

My Name’s Jeff

Jeff Bridges is the geeky support and I guess thief of the party. He is the only one in the party to not be a PSI user, which makes it seem he’s the weakest link. However, looks can be deceiving. His main weapon is a gun. Not a toy gun, an actually freakin magnum. This kid packs heat to the highest degree, since he has 2 of the best special traits in the game. The first is his ability to repair and use gadgets that only he can use (such as the bottle rockets and shield killers) due to his IQ. Yes, that’s a stat. Once Jeff gets the Multi Bottle Rockets, he can easily deal massive damage that can end a battle swiftl y. He also has the Spy ability, which allows the player to know the stats and weakness’s of the enemy, while also being able to steal from them.

He’s used solely by himself during his introduction in Snowman.

Poo

Poo Puri is the Prince of Dalaam and I don’t know what he’s supposed to be. As a PSI user, he’s a balance between Ness and Paula. His offensive skills are Freeze and Thunder, the former never going to omega. He can use Lifeup (never omega), Healing, a Shield like Ness, and Magnet like Paula. He does have his own special skills exclusive to him. He is the only one in the party to use PK Starstorm, a powerful attack similar to Ness’s PK Rockin, and Brainstorm, which puts strangeness on an enemy. He also the only one to use the technique called Mirror, which makes him become an enemy except bosses.

Poo, like the prince he is, is a very picky poo. He cannot equip any of the equipment available in the game, as it makes him weaker. He can only equip the “of Kings” set (good luck getting his damn sword). Also, he has a special diet where only water and stuff from his kingdom will increase his HP and PP to a high degree. Anything else does less.

He’s used solely during his introduction when the rest of the party get high on cake.

Other important characters include Buzz-Buzz, Dr.Andonauts (Jeff’s Dad), Picky, the Mr Saturns, and Pokey Minch.

“Anyone else feel bad for Picky?”
Image from Wikibound

Pros

The Story: I chose to make a small novelization of the introduction just because it’s one of the best openings to a game I’ve ever come across. The story is the classic good vs evil, yet the wacky humor and dark themes flesh it out. The journey is nothing short of a children’s tale, filled with swift setting changes and weird enemies to fight. Yet it’s that children’s aspect that makes the game unpredictable and fun to playthrough. Many moments in the game are memorable, from the lights out of Fourside’s department mall to the final battle with Giygas. One of my favorite moments was when you switch over to Jeff’s side after Ness and Paula are captured. I didn’t expect it to happen, but the mystery of this new character and the humble setting of Winters made me intrigued to what would come. Once you get into it, it’s a story that’ll keep you guessing and entertained.

The characters: Many of the characters are funny and complex. The protagonists each have their own character traits and story that go deeper than the surface value. Ness’s journey of growing up, Paula’s strong and tough personality thanks to the English localizers, Jeff’s relationship with his father and friend, and Poo’s journey to master Mu and help the others in their quest. Many of the important characters are just as well-written as the protagonists that allow players to theorize and go deep on their own to fill in some of gaps the game intentionally leaves out. Even the NPCs around the world are interesting due to their quirky lines of dialogue. A mix of fun and serious make each of these characters fun to talk to.

“It speaks for itself.”
Image from Ekostories

The humor and themes: In my opinion, the funniest things come from a serious story that has a sense of humor. Despite the dark and disturbing moments in the game, its mixed perfectly with a game that will make you giggle and laugh. It’s that fine line in the middle that gives the game a heart and soul. Without each other, I don’t think the game would have gotten its cult classic status and unique tone. There are such absurd moments in the game that will make you laugh. I mean you ride the Beatles Yellow Submarine to a place called the Deep Darkness. That is not where you find the sun. At the same time, the moments of police brutality, the kidnapping of Paula by the blue cult, the zombies of Threed, and a touch of alien invasion give a creepy atmosphere that demands you to take this game serious at times. To me, it’s a great comedy because it balances to good and bad that accompanies life.

The worldbuilding: From Onett to Tenda Village, each location stands out from each other and bring a memorable moment to the game. Each has a distinct atmosphere and a distinct look from each other. The metropolitan Fourside, the cozy tourist trap Summers, the small population of Winters, and the warm heat of Scaraba. The game transports you into this world and keeps you hooked in till the end.

“When a jam happens like this, pop in some ACDC and enjoy the-move it already!”
Image from Earthbound Central

The soundtrack: To me, music is everything and Earthbound nails it. The theme of Onett makes you want to walk down the sidewalk of a quaint little town, while the music of evil Threed makes you want to stay home and drown out the screams with Wipe Out. Atmospheric, chiptune, fun, and creepy, the Earthbound soundtrack is just as complex and fun as the game is. A good movie, tv show, and game must has the proper music, and good thing Earthbound got one.

The UI: Everything just flows well with the game. The menu is there with the push of a button, everything you need to know comes up in, and there is no confusion in what you need to know. The lack of random encounters is a godsend, and the mechanics of the overworld enemies is fresh and controllable. Battles flow well thanks to the rolling HP counter, allowing you to save yourself from certain defeat before it rolls to zero. With enough practice, even the hardest battles can be controlled by the player.

Cons

The inventory space: It’s a con that everyone usually points out, but it is a problem nonetheless. Inventory space is based on how many party members you have, so starting out with Ness gives you such little to carry. Since items don’t stack, you have to carry two of the same item and they take 2 spots in the inventory. Equipment items also take up space, so that’s 4 spots taken away including the required items you need to have.

Getting party members become a blessing in order to carry more, however, if they fall in battle that stuff is locked away from you both in the overworld and in battle. Imagine giving someone all the reviving items and they fall in battle? There is a storage in the game, through your sister with the Escargo Express, but along the way inventory is a pain.

“Back then, on my first playthrough, I think Hell’s bells were ringing for me” Image from Earthbound Fandom

The difficulty: It can be grueling at times. Many people have a hard time with the first part of the game, since it’s just Ness. Grinding is a must during Onett and the first part of Twoson, since you’ll be dealing with 4 bosses, enough with SMASH attacks (critical hits in the game), and the whole of Peaceful Rest Valley.

Me personally, I’ve had a lot of trouble with Threed and the Stone Hedge alien base. I entered Threed without grinding beforehand, and because you’re stuck there until you free it I was dealing with enemies’ way above level. I say grind before going.  The Stone Hedge Base is a current predicament, since many of the enemies are powerful PSI users. Earthbound is a game that takes time and effort to get into.

Lack of run button or speedup: The walking in the game can be slow at times, especially compared to the adding speedup in Earthbound Beginning, and the only way to run is stuck in the inventory. Everything is in walking distance, but when you’re doing a long dungeon and you can’t just speed it up it becomes unbearable, especially if you need to backtrack.

This goes into the point that some items are completely useless. The bicycle could have fixed the problem, but the bicycle can only be used when only one person is in the party. You get the bike in the town with the second party member, so you get to enjoy it for one town.

A nickpick: I don’t like that Onett never returns to its original state after the invasion near the end. I never like that when a game has this one area that just turns to crap and you can never experience it again until you start another file.

Conclusion

I didn’t get the chance to grow up with this game, but it became an easy classic in my game catalog. It’s was a unique RPG in its time, and it still stands out to the hearts of many to this day. This game is a cult classic, but I will admit that not everyone will probably “get it.” However, if you love a funny but dark game set in an alternate 90s America in the eyes of Japan made by a copywriter and his team, then Earthbound is the game for you. Fuzzy pickles everyone.

-Samuel Argueta

Published by penname2001

I am an aspiring writer working on one book, but also on a blog and short stories for my website. I like writing about horror, comedy, and fantasy, but I am not picky on a genre as long as it interests me. On my spare time, I like to read, play video games, watch anime and various shows and movies, and live life to the best of my ability.

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