*Note: The following are just brief impressions about EarthBound Beginnings based on a couple of hours of gameplay. I’ll write a full review once I delve deep enough into the game.*
After a twenty-five year delay, the original entry in the Mother series has finally made its way stateside under the title “EarthBound Beginnings.” After two and a half decades of demanding an international release, EarthBound fans finally had their wishes come true through the Wii U Virtual Console.
The first thing I noticed with EarthBound Beginnings is its surprisingly somber tone. Its opening music sounds melancholic, and some backstory-filled opening dialogue give the idea that a tragic mystery is about to be unearthed. Of course, it doesn’t take long for the game’s sense of humor to kick in, as the player is almost immediately attacked by a lamp of all things.
I love the game’s juxtaposition of sadness and goofy humor. The series is often noted for its contradicting heart and humor, and its very apparent early on that the original game started this unique trend.
I find myself enjoying the story moments and overall tone so far, but I have to admit some aspects of the game do show their age, even with my currently brief playtime.
First and foremost are the random battles. That most aged of all RPG conventions rears its ugly head in a bad way. You’ll often find you wrap up with one battle, only to immediately find yourself in another after a step or two. As you level up and grow stronger, you’ll still run into weaker enemies within these random battles, which grant decreasing rewards for your efforts. The option to run from these battles is there, but rarely seems to work. And every time the run option fails, it leaves you more vulnerable to attacks.
The sequel, EarthBound, would fix both of these problems by having enemies appear onscreen, removing the random aspect from the equation, and by having weaker enemies run away from you once you’ve leveled up. You could even defeat some of the weaker enemies just by running into them once you grew strong enough. I know Beginnings is the first game in the series, but after being accustomed to EarthBound, it’s actually a little harder to jump into EarthBound Beginnings.
Another problem I’ve ran into is a strange difficulty curve. I’ll be fighting enemies that put up a decent challenge or weaker enemies one minute, then after walking a few more feet I run into an enemy that kills me in a few short hits. In one instance, I tried talking to an NPC who didn’t look any different from the other townspeople, only for him to turn out to be a zombie that took me out in two turns. Things like this have made the game notably difficult even in its first few hours, and when you’re just trying to get accustomed to the game it can get a little aggravating.
The gameplay itself is a solid, old school RPG. The NPCs are given fun dialogue, so you never really feel bored when you’re just talking to people around town, and the battles, while simple, are really fun once you get into the groove of them. It does feel less refined than EarthBound, but I suppose that should be expected.
The graphics have a nice NES charm to them, but they lack the timeless appeal of the 16-bit sequel. When playing EarthBound, you feel like the game could have been made today, but with Beginnings, it feels like you’re playing a retro title. Overall I like the look of the game and its wacky characters (something about them reminds me of Peanuts), but its visuals understandably don’t hold up as well as its sequel. The music is already showing a sharp sense of versatility, however.
Overall, I am having fun with EarthBound Beginnings and I hope it gets better and better. But the fact that I’ve already run into some elements that show the game’s age has me a little concerned for what lies ahead. It’s already a solid experience, but after such a long wait, I’m hoping for a great one.