EarthBound: The end is the beginning is the end

It took longer than I expected (I blame Thanksgiving, and Mysterious Cities of Gold being on Netflix Watch Instant), but I finished playing through EarthBound over the weekend. This was only my second time completing the entire game, and the first time since I was in my early-mid-lower-teens.

Now, the big question: When will ALF get a new show? What did I think of EarthBound this time around?

First, let’s compare to my Final Fantasy VII play through.

I noticed a lot more subtext and thematic elements while playing FFVII as an adult, which is why I think the game still holds up very well. The plot, while a tad complicated, is filled with themes which still ring strong in 2011: availability of natural resources, terrorism, powerful corporations running the world, and yes, even cross-dressing.

But what of EarthBound? Did I notice more subtext and themes? Not really, save for the final battle (I will elaborate below). Something I did notice this time around, were aspects of the game which drove me bonkers:

No multiple save slots. Yes, you can have different “games,” but you cannot save the same game in a different slot, allowing you to backtrack if you screw up.

The static battle screen. While I am usually a fan of simplicity, the battle screens in EarthBound were as visually engaging as a postage stamp (although I did enjoy the character design and names). Battles became a chore, and by extension, so did the game.

The item system. Sweet Batman-on-a-crutch, this was perhaps the most infuriating aspect of the game. I spent too much time juggling items between characters and Escargo Express, the “storage locker” business.

The very linear, hand-holding, deus ex machina-filled plot. The game goes out of its way to tell you where you go and what you should do.

I could nitpick EarthBound apart for another thousand words, but I still enjoy the game. I enjoy EarthBound because it is so different — it is not the typical role-playing game of that era (the early-mid-1990s).

Now, on to the final battle. Here be Spoilers.

Spoilers Start Here

In order for the gang to battle Giygas, they must travel back in time — but, the time machine cannot send back living tissue (the opposite of The Terminator). What’s a hero to do?

Dr. Andonuts transfers the “minds” of the heroes to robots, which are sent back in time. This is done by way of a scene of each character laying down with their eyes closed, while sounds of chainsaws, drills and hammers play in the background. Creepy.

Speaking of creepy, theories abound that the final battle against Giygas is some sort of thinly veiled abortion: You go back in time, before Giygas is a threat (fetus), enter a cave (vagina), travel up a fleshy path to the Devil’s Machine (uterus/cervix) and kill him — with metal, robots. Ahem. You can watch for yourself, here.

Yes, you do go back in time and kill Giygas when he is weaker — not unlike the plot to kill John Connor’s mother before he is born in Terminator (called “retroactive abortion” in the film). I found an image online which points out a fetus-like image later in the battle, and connects the dots of the theory. Part of this theory also suggests Giygas is only attacking Ness and the others in defense, and he was not evil during the fight (he was just a fetus, or at least not evil ‘yet’).

Do I buy into this theory? Not really. I am a firm believer in “if you go looking for something, you can find it.” I once wrote a (terrible) film theory paper on how The Breakfast Club represented the American Revolution, and another (even worse) on how Gremlins can be seen as an allegory for Western Capitalism run amok (I can lay on the BS when needed, as you have learned by now) .

Final Thoughts

While EarthBound can be frustrating, it is none the less a very original, genre breaking RPG. Yes, playing became more of a chore toward the end, but I am glad I finished. Despite the game’s annoyances, I am happy I took the time to replay this quirky Super Nintendo classic — because, all of my friends are in there.

Daniel J. Hogan is the geek half of Ginger and the Geek. Follow him on Twitter, @danieljhogan.

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