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The Ones I Finished Video Games

Game 241 — Earthbound

I’ve finished my 241st video game. Here are my thoughts:

Earthbound is a JRPG unlike any other you will find on the Super Nintendo. Rather than featuring a sword-wielding warrior in a fantasy world, this cherished classic follows a group of children as they travel a place that I can only describe as a nostalgic—but utterly preposterous—reinterpretation of late-twentieth century America.

Earthbound lives and dies by its childlike whimsy. At times the game breaks too hard in this direction, warping into a cartoonish representation of the world that becomes nonsensical. It’s almost as if the game is being absurd simply for the sake of absurdity. It’s for this very reason that I’ve bounced off of the game anytime I’ve played it.

Most of the time, however, the game manages a much better balance. Earthbound invites the player to remember what it was like to be a child: when the world seemed big and confusing and dangerous and… you know what? Sometimes it really does seem like life is absurd simply for the sake of absurdity. In its best moments, not only do I understand why this game is so beloved. I can feel it.

There’s one example of this razor-edge balance that lingers in my mind. Toward the end of the game there is a moment when the protagonist’s thoughts become externalized. There’s no explanation as to how or why this happens. It just happens. Ness’s internal monologue scrolls across a cave wall like an electronic billboard. It’s a beautiful moment that reminds you that—after hours spent becoming increasingly powerful—you are still a child on the ever-advancing edge of the unknown. I don’t think Earthbound earns that moment of sincerity, but it worked on me nevertheless. For a fleeting instant, I felt that feeling. I was a child nearing the end of a series of events that were unexpected, perhaps all the more because of the game’s aforementioned verisimilitude-breaking silliness.

In my opinion, Earthbound‘s weaker moments are just enough to undermine the game as a whole. There is certainly a charm to this world, but it doesn’t quite resonate with me like its Japan-only Game Boy Advance sequel, Mother 3, which is a near-perfect expression of many of the ideas that are present in Earthbound. Regardless of what I consider to be a few fumbles, I highly recommend playing the game and judging for yourself.

I’ve tentatively ranked it 132 out of 241.

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