EarthBound: Let’s roll another boulder up the hill, shall we?
I am two hours into a six hour evening train ride from Saint Louis to Kansas City. The long weekend has consisted largely of couch sleeping and liver-angering evenings. The sun has set, discouraging me to mindlessly gawp at small Midwestern towns, some dude, last stop, picked me to accidentally bump legs with for the next four hours and, just as I was typing this very sentence, somebody a few rows ahead of me farted. I am exhausted, aggravated, but I have an almost feverish desire to write something not shitty because every single keystroke, lately, feels like the singularly greatest illustration of a mediocre mind.
That last paragraph, farting included, is almost a perfect metaphor for the early game feel for Earthbound. I get carried along from town to town with hardly any sense of town’s history or people but a series of obstacles, a cave or a forest AND monsters, almost scaled too well for my level.
Every fight, boss or otherwise, feels identical, every town has only one distinguishing quirk.
But isn’t this true of nearly every other SNES RPG, is it? Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy II both had repetitive and/or random encounters and town-dungeon-town-dungeon plot spacing. What is it that made them feel different and unrepetitive? Why did the world feel open and connected, not narrow and disjointed?
My intial response was that they show, not tell, but I am not sure that would pass serious scrutiny. JRPGs, almost by nature, are textual games with the trappings of sprites. Even FFVII, with its bells, whistles, and cut-scenes fundamentally drove plot, giving it context and meaning (remember the Inn plot discussion at the first town out of Midgar? The plot explination was so long, it gave you a save point in the middle of it). Then again, all the greatest moments of these games are not the cutscenes and conversations, but the little moments of in-game spirit expression: a frog knight lies wounded on the ground, the excitement of an old man wizard who suddenly remembers the epic spell “Meteo,” the confused shrug of a spikey haired hero over a girl’s reaction.
Earthbound seems to have nearly none of this, with the exception of peace sign from the main character when a strange photographer shows up out of the blue. But, whether this will finally connect to the plot remains to be seen.
Speaking of plot, I still don’t understand anything substantial connections about the characters or towns. It all seems to center around one heavy-handed, quirky deus ex machina after another.
Take Threed, the zombie town Daniel talked about last week. You are simply presented with the solution by sending a new character through a forest and a chinsey dungeon (the developer makes you aware that he is aware of its lameness). How are you rewarded exactly? By having the Orange Kid, an inventor character from the last town, gives you a phone call and conveniently has “Zombie Paper” (you know, fly paper but for zombies) delivered to the town by a pizza delivery guy. There was almost no indication that I was even moving toward a solution, it just happened.
This not only seems to disjoin and obsucure the plot, but also makes obstacles feel like obstacles for the sake of obstacles which makes the proverbial train feel like it moves slower than it should. Still I already paid for the ticket, so I’ll finish the ride.
Where You At?: Saturn Valley
Sanctuary Songs Recorded: 2 of 8
Party: Ness, Jeff, and Paula.
Andrew Simone is writer, veloist, and video game enthusiast who spends too much time at a social network that isn’t one.