Developer: HAL, Ape
Platform: SNES, WiiU
Considered a cult classic, I have never known anyone personally to dislike this RPG. In fact, I am not sure I know anyone who doesn’t love it like crazy. But when the market for RPGs was still trying to gain steam in America, Earthbound had no place and the sales figures were awful. Released in a huge box with a huge strategy guide, Earthbound was obviously quirky from the start. While on the surface the game seems little more than a goofy parody of American culture and other RPGs, therein lies a high-quality adventure with a gripping story and superb game mechanics.
Billed as a sequel to the Japanese NES game Mother, it’s more of a remake. Controlling a kid named Ness, you unwittingly go on to save humanity after a meteorite crashes in your hometown. Along the way you pick up some of your friends and hobnob with aliens, dinosaurs, talking moles, and ruthless businessmen. With weapons like baseball bats (and in case you haven’t noticed, it’s the only game in this entire countdown where a sword isn’t in the box art) and healing techniques like prayer and eating hamburgers, it is obvious the game is not concerned about the typical fantasy world RPGers play in. You call your parents to save your game. You access ATM booths for cash. And for the most part, the kids you control talk and act like kids. It’s charming as hell.
Unfortunately, I think the unconventional theme along with simple (but colorful) graphics and music turned a lot of people away. But there’s more to like beyond its originality. It was the first RPG I played that had a rolling hit point meter, meaning if your allies could heal you before your HP got down to zero, you’d be okay. The learning curve is gradual, but the game is certainly not easy. Battles have to be planned, and there’s a few spots, especially late in the game, where’s there an ass-kicking (yours) or two in store. There’s also some high-quality, dynamic puzzle solving involved, thus the game doesn’t mindlessly send you from point A to point B from beginning to end. And quite unlike most RPGs, the last half of the game isn’t nauseating side-questing-until-you-completely-forget-to-go-beat-the-final-boss nonsense.
There really is little more you could ask out of Earthbound. If you love RPGs and you haven’t played this, it’s a damn shame. You’ll spend a lot of time grinning from ear to ear when you do.