It’s a bit weird to be reviewing an NES game 26 years after its first release, but that’s the wonders of modern gaming for you. Earthbound Beginnings—or Mother, as it was known in Japan—is one of those legendary JRPGs that you hear about but have probably never played. Although the game was translated into English way back then, it was never officially released in the west because that era was the dawn of the Super Nintendo. We in South Africa never got this game, nor its sequel, Earthbound. Thanks to the Wii U’s Virtual Console, now you can play this NES classic, but is it worth playing 26 years later? Let’s find out.
Earthbound Beginnings, unlike most JRPGs, starts in the middle of America, somewhere between the 1980s and 1990s (technically 1988, but the game tells us it’s 198x, because specific dates are SO passe). The main character, Ninten (but you can call him whatever you wish), is plagued by poltergeist activity within his house near the town of Podunk, and he soon discovers that he possesses latent psychic powers. His father (via strange telephone calls) tells Ninten to first discover his family’s legacy, and then investigate the growing strangeness across the world. This puts Ninten on a path to a bizarre journey that will change the fate of humanity.
The first question I bet you’re going to be asking is “has the game aged well?” and the answer is…kinda. The game’s modern-ish setting notwithstanding, it’s a fairly standard JRPG as far as the gameplay and tropes go. Battles are turn-based, and you spend a large portion of your time wandering around the game world, collecting things and killing things in random battles. And that’s about where the similarities end. The things you’ll fight are not the standard fare, and will range from hippies to bag ladies to psychotic trucks. The weapons you collect and use range from baseball bats to boomerangs, and the great evil that’s plaguing the world…well…spoilers. Would it be too much of a spoiler to say keep the tissues handy when you come to the end?
It has to be noted that the game is really effing difficult unless you do some level grinding here and there, and it might be easy to lose sight of the fact that this was a thing in NES games to give them longevity. Still, an hour or so of grinding here and there isn’t so bad, and in fact is better than some more recent games. There’s just the insane difficulty spike near the end of the game that you have to watch for.
Obviously this game is for the crowd who enjoy archaic JRPGs and who don’t mind the 8-bit graphics and sound. It sounds hipster-ish, but this game is truly for the cultured, distinguished video gamer. Which is not to say that others won’t enjoy it, because it actually is a really fun experience–you just need to get over the idea that fun games must be cutting edge. Earthbound Beginnings will set you back around 30 hours, which is fairly tame by today’s standards, but there’s something to take away from a game that isn’t set in a typical fantasy trope. You’d hope that more studios would come up with games that are set just left enough of mundane to make it interesting, but it’s something you truly seldom see. And I think we need more of this sort of game in a world where high fantasy IS mundane.
Final Score: 7 waterbound prawns out of 10
Platform: NES (Wii U Virtual Console)
RRP: R91 (Wii U eShop)
Age Rating: 3+