Review by bobotheking

Reviewed: 07/13/06

Nothing says "coming of age" like wandering around, beating up random animals with a baseball bat.

To ensure that no one reads this review, I have devoted the first half to general musings about video games.

Almost every video game that is hailed as an innovative masterpiece has a predecessor that is overlooked. The example that first comes to my mind is Final Fantasy VI. I took FFVI to be the first video game that dealt with a dark, serious subject matter in a mature way, and I’m sure I am not alone in that opinion. Unfortunately, because FFV was not released in the US until it was ported to the PlayStation, gamers overlooked it almost entirely, even though it was an important transition piece from the mindless romp of FFIV to the dark and serious tone of FFVI. This seems like an interesting little case of an overlooked predecessor, but it can be extended to many other games. FFVII introduced many people to RPGs and although it is a fine game, it would not be what it is without FFVI. Some insist that we should praise none but the original Final Fantasy for its innovation, but other purists remind them that Dragon Warrior preceded it. This can be traced back ad infinitum. My point has nothing to do with where we should credit innovation. Rather, I think we are too eager in general to label a game as an “unprecedented masterpiece” when, as good a game as it may be, it merely built upon the games before it.

I could also extend this idea to other media, but this review should develop to be more specific to EarthBound Zero, not more general.

The analogy between Final Fantasy VI and Mother II is particularly relevant here as both were released in the United States and hailed as a refreshingly innovative game. In both cases, the preceding game was later released and with it came the realization that our praise for innovation should be divided between two games, not showered on one. I love EarthBound for what it is, but knowing the game before it makes it seem far less revolutionary.

A sweet, somber tune accompanies EarthBound Zero’s title screen. Although it isn’t used anywhere else in the game, I found it instantly captivating, contrasting with what was sure to be a hilarious game. Both “Mother” games are filled with humor and excitement, but eventually turn somewhat serious and end with a sort of nostalgia for the adventure. It’s hard to convey, but the title music made me nostalgic for the game before I had pressed a single button. The title music may be irrelevant to the game, but I feel compelled to applaud the decision to begin the game with a plain, understated tune rather than a fantastic one.

As far as the actual game goes, there is surprisingly little to comment on. The sequel virtually encompasses the original game. In both games, the main character is an average boy in a red baseball cap, living in rural America. One day, things go haywire and he must go on an adventure to set things straight. He will meet one girl who is more gifted in psychokinesis than he is, one brainy friend who enjoys gadgets and either fixing or destroying things, and one “tough guy” who doesn’t quite fit in with the others. The battle system is mostly the same, many enemies are the same, the music is the same, the humor is the same—there really is very little difference between these two games. EarthBound is a much more polished and fleshed-out game, but much of what makes it great comes from the game before it. More than you might expect.

Concerning specific matters, whereas its sequel had somewhat simple graphics, EarthBound Zero’s graphics are outstanding for the original NES. The pseudo-isometric projection is much more pleasing to the eye than the overhead view that was standard in Final Fantasy and other RPGs for so many years. The sound is appropriately quirky and synthetic.

My only criticisms are that the game is too linear and that it is poorly paced, although these are common problems among NES-era RPGs. EarthBound was such a rich game that it made me want to explore the world that the characters inhabited. With EarthBound Zero, it is hard to miss much in a single playthrough, so there isn’t much replay value. Also, it is somewhat difficult to begin and end the game. At least thirty minutes must be spent leveling up initially before you can advance the plot, then the game goes at its own pace until the end, where the player faces several hours of leveling unless they plan the final boss fight very carefully.

I hate to use a cliché term, but EarthBound Zero puts its sequel in perspective. Many people believe EarthBound is a great and revolutionary game. Great? Yes. Revolutionary? No. Neither game is revolutionary once you have played them both. They’re just stepping stones from where we were to where we are today.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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