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|Mother 2: Gyiyg Strikes Back
North American box art depicting the reflection of protagonist Ness in a Final Starman's visor
EarthBound, known as Mother 2: Gyiyg Strikes Back (Japanese: マザー2 ギーグの逆襲 Hepburn: Mazā Tsū: Gīgu no Gyakushū?) in Japan and alternatively titled EarthBound: The War Against Giygas!, is a 1994 role-playing video game co-developed by Ape and HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System video game console. It is the second game in the EarthBound video game series, following the 1989 Japan-exclusive Mother. It was directed, produced, and written by series creator Shigesato Itoi. EarthBound was first released in Japan on August 27, 1994 and then in North America on June 5, 1995.
Despite its poor sales figures, the game has been lauded by gamers for its humorous depictions of American culture and parody of the role-playing video game genre, and has since become a cult classic. A sequel to EarthBound for the Nintendo 64DD, titled EarthBound 64, was in development for many years before finally being canceled. This project later resurfaced as a Game Boy Advance title called Mother 3 and was released only in Japan. A compilation video game containing both Mother and EarthBound was released in Japan as Mother 1 + 2. EarthBound was re-released on the Wii U Virtual Console in Japan on March 20, 2013 and was released for North America and, for the first time, Europe and Australia, on July 18, 2013.
EarthBound features many traditional role-playing game elements: the player controls a party of characters who travel through the game's two-dimensional world, which is composed of villages, cities, caves, and dungeons. Along the way battles are fought against enemies, after which the party receives experience points for victories. If enough experience points are acquired, a character's level will increase. This increases the character's attributes, such as offense, defense, and the maximum HP and PP of each character. Rather than using an overworld map screen like most console RPGs of its era, the world is entirely seamless, with no differentiation between towns and the outside world. Another non-traditional element is the perspective used for the world. The game uses oblique projection, while most 2D RPGs use a "top down" view on a grid or an isometric perspective.
Unlike its predecessor, EarthBound does not use random encounters. When physical contact occurs between a character and an enemy, the screen dissolves into battle mode. In combat, characters and enemies possess a certain amount of hit points (HP). Blows to an enemy reduce the amount of HP. Once an enemy's HP reaches zero, they are defeated. If a specific type of enemy is defeated, there is a chance that the character will receive an item after the battle. In battle, the player is allowed to choose specific actions for their characters. These actions can include attacking, healing, spying (reveals enemy weakness/strengths), mirror (emulate a specific enemy), and running away. Characters can also use special PSI attacks that require psychic points (PP). Once each character is assigned a command, the characters and enemies perform their actions in a set order, determined by character speed. Whenever a character receives damage, the HP box gradually "rolls" down, similar to an odometer. This allows players an opportunity to heal the character or win the battle before the counter hits zero, after which the character is knocked unconscious (although if the counter reaches zero as the battle is won, it will be set to 1 instead and the character will survive). If all characters are rendered unconscious, the game transitions to an endgame screen, asking if the player wants to continue. An affirmative response brings Ness, conscious, back to the last telephone he saved from, with half the money on his person at the time of his defeat, and any other party members showing as still unconscious. Because battles are not random, tactical advantages can be gained. If the player physically contacts an enemy from behind (indicated by a translucent green swirl which fills the screen), the player is given a first-strike priority. However, this also applies to enemies, who can also engage the party from behind (in this case, the swirl is red). If both enemy and player are facing each other, the swirl is grey. Additionally, as Ness and his friends become stronger, battles with weaker enemies are eventually won automatically, forgoing the battle sequence, and weaker monsters will begin to flee from Ness and his friends rather than chase them. While most RPGs up to the mid-1990s primarily used swords and other traditional weapons, the characters in EarthBound use less conventional weapons such as baseball bats, yo-yos, and frying pans, with the exception of Poo, who can actually use a sword.
Currency is indirectly received from Ness' father, who can also save the game's progress. Each time the party wins a battle, Ness' father deposits money in an account that can be withdrawn at ATMs. In towns, players can visit various stores where weapons, armor, and items can be bought. Weapons and armor can be equipped to increase character strength and defense, respectively. In addition, items can be used for a number of purposes, such as healing. Towns also house several other useful facilities such as hospitals where players can be healed for a fee.
EarthBound takes place in Eagleland, a country similar to the United States, during the 1990s. Eagleland has four major cities: Onett, Twoson, Threed, and Fourside. Other areas include the icy Winters, beach resort Summers, East Asia-influenced Dalaam, and the ancient Egypt-influenced Scaraba.
EarthBound features four playable characters, three of which possess PSI abilities. The game begins with Ness, the main protagonist, as the only character in the player's party, characterized as a 13-year-old boy who lives in Onett. Ness is destined to defeat Giygas, the main antagonist. Paula, the second playable character, lives in Twoson. Paula is first seen as a captive of the Happy Happyist cult; she joins the player's party upon being rescued by Ness. Jeff, the next playable character, is a mechanical genius from Winters who can rebuild broken objects into items useful in battle, but does not possess any PSI abilities. Paula telepathically summons Jeff when she and Ness are held captive in a secret room in Threed; Jeff joins the party shortly after rescuing them. Poo, a martial arts master from Dalaam, is the last character to join, doing so upon learning that it is destined that he should accompany Ness to defeat Giygas.
Non-player characters include Ness's parents, whom the player contacts to cure Ness's occasional homesickness (a condition that occurs automatically and reduces Ness' abilities) and to save the game. The Runaway Five, a revivalist blues band, is a recurring group of characters whom the player aids. Giygas is an alien with the power to influence people and animals using their own evil nature. Pokey Minch, Ness's next-door neighbor, antagonizes Ness and allies with Giygas over the course of the game.
The story begins when Ness is awakened by a meteorite that has crash-landed near his home. Investigating the crash site with Pokey, Ness encounters an alien named Buzz Buzz, who informs Ness that he is from the future where Giygas dominates the universe. Buzz Buzz instructs Ness to embark on a journey to defeat Giygas in the present, because he is too powerful in the future. Ness then proceeds to seek out eight "sanctuaries", to unite his own powers with the Earth's and gain the strength required to confront Giygas. Buzz Buzz is later killed by Pokey's mother, who mistakes Buzz Buzz for a dung beetle. Dying, Buzz Buzz gives Ness the Sound Stone, an item that is vital to the completion of his quest.
Ness eventually activates all of his "Sanctuary" locations, discovers a land called 'Magicant' within his own subconscious, and defeats his "Nightmare", which represents all of the evil hidden away in Ness' heart, unlocking his true power. Jeff's father, Doctor Andonuts, creates a device that will allow them to travel to the past to battle against Giygas - however, they are forced to transfer their souls into robot bodies, as organic material cannot withstand the warp through time. In the past, they encounter Giygas and Pokey (commanding a giant spider mech), who informs Ness and the others that Giygas has consumed so much evil power, that his mind was completely destroyed and is being held in a somewhat stable form using a machine called the "Devil's Machine." After defeating Pokey, he deactivates the machine, unleashing Giygas' power which destroys the machine and creates a chaotic, bizarre dimension, trapping himself and the four children in darkness. Giygas uses psychic attacks that Ness and the others can't comprehend, and speaks in a confused babble. Paula then prays reaching out to a variety of people on Earth, such as their family and friends, who all pray for their safety, and eventually, she reaches out to the player, whose prayers defeat Giygas, due to his weakness to human emotions. Pokey escapes into a time warp, and Ness and his friends manage to have their spirits returned to their bodies, and they all return to their homes (with the exception of Paula, who Ness escorts home). After the credits, Picky gives Ness a message from Pokey, daring him to come looking for him.
Development on EarthBound took place as a joint effort between Ape and HAL Laboratory and was designed by Shigesato Itoi, Ape programmer Kouji Malta and HAL programmer Satoru Iwata, both of whom were the main programmers for EarthBound. The total development time for the project was five years, much longer than was initially expected. Of this, Itoi has stated that many times he felt the project was "doomed". Because two companies were working on EarthBound, responsibilities were spread out between the two studios. Ape had more people working on the title and oversaw the data aspects of the game while HAL worked on the programming. Because the two studios were based at separate locations, employees would regularly have to travel between the studios to work.
Initial gameplay features that Itoi had in mind involved an unconventional level structure and hit points system (HP). Itoi decided to exclude an overworld, because he wanted no distinction to remain between towns and the outside world. This resulted in each town being carefully designed to be unique.
The first design concepts for the HP boxes were to make them like pachinko balls and have them fall off the screen whenever a character was damaged. However, this was later changed to the "rolling counter" HP boxes because the pachinko balls did not work so well when characters had large amounts of HP.
Some of the difficulties posed by the development of EarthBound were the data restrictions imposed by the SNES cartridge size. It was initially designed to fit on an 8-megabit cartridge. However, it was later pushed to 12 megabits and then finally pushed onto a 24-megabit cartridge. This can partially be attributed to the large amount of music composed for the title (as an example, there are ten different music tracks for regular and boss battles). Other aspects of the project that remained difficult were programming concepts. The oblique projection techniques proved difficult to program and were time consuming as well. The bicycle and delivery man systems posed problems as well due to their own complex programming schemes.
Some aspects of the character designs remain very personal for Shigesato Itoi. In an interview on his website, Itoi describes how his inspiration for the final battle with Giygas resulted from a traumatic childhood event. When Itoi was a young boy, he accidentally viewed the wrong movie at a theater, a Shintoho film entitled The Military Policeman and the Dismembered Beauty. According to Itoi, the film featured a graphic rape scene near a river that traumatized Itoi so much that his parents began to worry about his wellbeing. In actuality, the scene shows how the titular beauty was murdered. Years later, Itoi integrated the experience into Giygas' dialogue for the final battle.
Nintendo eventually announced a release date of August 27, 1994 for Japan, and invested a large amount of money into promoting the new game. One of the marketing campaigns involved Japanese celebrity Takuya Kimura of SMAP, who was heavily featured in Weekly Famitsu promotional ads. For its North American release, efforts included bundling a full-length strategy guide with the game, complete in a bigger box, and affixing a price much higher than other titles at the time. Scratch and sniff stickers also came bundled with the game. EarthBound was released in Japan on August 27, 1994, and was well received. The North American version was released on June 5, 1995, and was met with lukewarm responses.
North American release
Mother 2 was translated from Japanese to English for Western audiences, and became the only game in the Mother series to receive a North American release. The game was retitled EarthBound to avoid confusion about the rest of the series. Nintendo's games are developed in Japan, but the American office localizes each game for English-language release, which includes translation and bug fixes. At the time, localization was handled by a single person in contact with the headquarters and not a full department of localization. Thus, the localizer had more latitude when making decisions.
The English localization of EarthBound took four months to complete and was led by Nintendo of America writer Marcus Lindblom, who worked previously on Wario's Woods. Lindblom joined the EarthBound localization project in January 1995 to replace Dan Owsen, who had already completed a tenth of the English script before switching to another project. Lindblom credits Owsen with coining some of the game's "most iconic phrases", including "say fuzzy pickles". Lindblom worked with Japanese writer Masayuki Miura to rewrite and contextualize a roughly-translated copy of the script for the mood originally intended, which he described as "a glass half full kind of game." Lindblom recalled that he was given freedom to make the English script "as weird as [he] wanted" but sought to retain fidelity to the original translation, though he did not communicate with Itoi directly. Lindblom stated that the workload was immense, recalling "grinding-out" for about 14 hours a day and once working for 30 days straight including weekends.
Lindblom stated that contextualizing "an outsider's view of the U.S." for American players was the most difficult part of the project. Lindblom rewrote jokes and puns to make sense in English and applied his own humor to the script alongside cultural allusions to Bugs Bunny, comedian Benny Hill, and This Is Spinal Tap. Outside the game's script, Lindblom was responsible for writing the item and weapon names as well as the combat prompts. As one of many Easter eggs placed into the writing, he named a non-player character after his daughter Nico, who was born during development.
The localization team worked with the Japanese artists and programmers to minimize or remove visual allusions to intellectual property and trademarks, including similarities to the Coca-Cola and Red Cross logos. The team was not concerned with music licensing issues as they were protected under parody; Lindblom stated that the music did not require many changes. Various graphics or aspects of the script were modified to comply with Nintendo of America's policies: references to alcohol were replaced with coffee; Ness does not appear naked in the Magicant area; and most religious references were removed. The Happy Happyist blue cultists that appear in the game were changed to less resemble Ku Klux Klansmen. The graphical changes were not completed until March 1995, and the game was not in a fully playable state until May.
EarthBound was released in June 5, 1995. Lindblom recalls his and his team's devastation at the release's critical response and sales. He remembered that critics placed a high importance on graphics quality propelling the industry, and that popular reviewer conception of the game's graphics as "simplistic" hurt its reception.[note 1] Lindblom felt that the game's changes to the RPG formula, e.g., the rolling HP meter and fleeing enemies, were ignored in the following years, though he thought it had aged well at the time of its Virtual Console rerelease in 2013. The 1995 North American release was ultimately viewed as unsuccessful within Nintendo.
Development of the music for EarthBound remained much easier than its predecessor. In an interview with Weekly Famitsu, Suzuki commented on how the SNES gave the composers much more freedom to compose what they wanted. This was an advantage, because one of the many problems the makers originally had was trying to get their music on to the cartridge.
Major influences harken back to the sounds of the 1970s Los Angeles music scene, which include the likes of Van Dyke Parks, Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, the Beach Boys, and their bandleader Brian Wilson. A cover version of "Good Vibrations" was recorded by Suzuki shortly after the game had been completed. Suzuki also cited John Lennon as an influential figure to the composers while the soundtrack was being developed. The game uses audio samples and borrows from sources including The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again", Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 9, Bimbo Jet, Ric Ocasek's "This Side of Paradise", the Dallas String Band, "The Liberty Bell", "The Star-Spangled Banner", the Our Gang theme, "Tequila", The Doors's "The Changeling", and "Johnny B. Goode". Other influences include the groups Can, Devo, A Tribe Called Quest, the Flying Lizards, Tangerine Dream, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Stackridge; along with composers Miklós Rózsa, Esquivel, Sun Ra, Brian Eno, Godley & Creme, Kurt Weill, Todd Rundgren, Yabby U, Beck, Thomas Dolby, DJ Spooky, Ben Neill, Prince, Lalo Rodriguez, and Frank Zappa.
The game sold 140,000 copies in North America, and about twice that number in Japan. American audiences were largely indifferent to Japanese role-playing video games, and would remain so until titles like Final Fantasy VII took the genre into the mainstream. Years later, many critics have praised the game for being ahead of its time, as well as for its storyline, graphics, and particularly, its humor. In the June 2008 issue of Nintendo Power, EarthBound was revealed to be the #1 "Readers' Most Wanted" Virtual Console title, with Mother close behind at #4. Then in the July 2008 issue of Nintendo Power, EarthBound was yet again the #1 "Readers' Most Wanted" Virtual Console title, with the original Mother now placed in second.
EarthBound is regarded by critics as one of the greatest role-playing games on the SNES, as well as one of the best of the 1990s. The game has also become a cult classic and possesses substantial fanbases in both Japan and North America. As a result, the game regularly appears on readers' choice polls in both countries. In a 2005 readers' choice poll of the top 99 best games of all time conducted by IGN, EarthBound was voted 46th on the list. A year later, IGN conducted a similar readers' choice poll where EarthBound moved up to be 33rd on the list. A 2005 GameFAQs poll of the 100 best games ever had EarthBound at the 37th spot. The game has also appeared on lists conducted in Japan. In a 2006 readers' poll conducted by Famitsu magazine, the game was voted the 37th best game of all time on a list of 100 titles. In a retrospective of the 20 essential Japanese RPGs, Gamasutra featured EarthBound on the list. In the January 2010 issue of Nintendo Power, editors named the game "The Ultimate Cult Hit."
Reviews of EarthBound have generally been positive. In Allgame's review, EarthBound was declared "one of the most original role-playing games of the 1990s." The site then went on to praise its storyline, humor, music, and characters. A point of contention between critics were the simplistic graphics. In All RPG's review of the game, the graphics were described as "horrid," while Nintendojo and 1UP enjoyed them, with 1UP going so far as to say "regardless of what anyone tells you, the graphics are awesome." 1UP also criticized the title's similarities to Dragon Quest, but in the end declared EarthBound a game "worth experiencing." Nintendojo and Gamasutra also criticized the similarities to Dragon Quest, with Gamasutra declaring EarthBound an "unabashed Dragon Quest clone..." Despite the criticism, Gamasutra regarded the title "as one of the greatest RPGs on the SNES." The game's audio was also praised, with All RPG declaring it "some of the best music on the Super Nintendo."
Of all EarthBound's elements, however, the most lauded was its humor, being universally praised by all critics for its comedic, albeit confusing, depictions of Western culture and parody of the role-playing video game genre. Ranging from trips in a yellow submarine to fighting a diamond dog, both of which are nods to British music, or the American national anthem, the game is rife with subtle cultural references. Described by Gamasutra as "a warped, confused tribute to American culture, designed by people who've only experienced the country through books and movies", the quirky humor of the game is one of the chief reasons for its popularity. Amongst the ranks of absurd enemies in the game, Ness must face down New Age Retro Hippies, Pogo Punks, Extra Cranky Ladies, and Big Piles of Puke throughout his quest. Much of the dialogue and plot of the game pokes fun at traditional RPG and sci-fi clichés. Even the advertising campaign played off its humor, with the slogan "This game stinks", referring to the scratch and sniff stickers that were included in the Player's Guide.
The character Ness is featured as a playable character in the Super Smash Bros. series of fighting games, where he utilizes psychic-based offensive attacks. Super Smash Bros. Melee features the Onett and Fourside towns seen in EarthBound as selectable stages. Pokey and Lucas, the main character in the EarthBound sequel Mother 3, appear in Super Smash Bros. Brawl as a boss character and a playable character, respectively. Other characters, such as Mr. Saturn and Jeff, appear as items used in battle or as trophies collected by the player as rewards for accomplishing certain tasks.
EarthBound's soundtrack has been lauded by critics and fans, including Alex Hall, a staff writer for the online music magazine The Tune, who named it the best video game soundtrack of all time.
EarthBound is known for having a "cult" following, which developed over time well after its release. Colin Campbell of Polygon wrote that "few gaming communities are as passionate and active as" EarthBound's. Wired described the amount of EarthBound "fan art, videos, and tributes on fan sites like EarthBound Central or Starmen.net" as mountainous. In 2013, prices for the game's cartridge alone were more than twice its retail cost at its 1995 release. IGN wrote that the game became a "cult classic" for its unique RPG and psychedelic elements alongside its reflection on American culture. Kotaku hypothesized that fan favorite aspects of the game would include its "feeling of innocence, ... sense of whimsical adventure", "humor", "charm", "wonder", and "beautiful 2D maps". Lindblom, the game's English localizer, cited its "cuteness, colors, and hallucinatory bits" as fan favorites.
Lindblom followed the fan community from afar and, in mid-2012, introduced himself at the Penny Arcade Expo Fangamer booth. When the game's Wii U rerelease was announced, the press became interested in Lindblom's experience. Lindblom had planned a book about the game's development, release, and fandom as a Kickstarter project before a reply from Nintendo discouraged him from pursuing the idea. He plans to continue to communicate directly with the community about the game's history. For instance, Lindblom struck down a popular ("infamous") "abortion theory" that interprets the game's final sequence as a metaphor for an abortion.
A sequel was announced in 1996 for the Nintendo 64DD, entitled EarthBound 64 or Mother 3. However, the game became plagued by problems as release date pushbacks occurred, as well as failures to appear at popular gaming conventions, like E3. Nintendo eventually announced its cancellation on August 21, 2000. Years later, Mother 3 resurfaced as a Game Boy Advance title and was released only in Japan. On May 5, 2005, Shigesato Itoi announced that he had no plans to develop the Mother series any further.
Virtual Console re-release
In 2008, Nintendo of America announced that the game would be rereleased on the Wii's Virtual Console. However, despite being rated by the ESRB, the game was never re-released for Wii. In December 2012, it was announced that the creator was planning a re-release of a Mother game. On January 23, 2013, it was announced that EarthBound (Mother 2) would be released in Japan on the Wii U's Virtual Console service starting March 20, 2013, but no mention was made of an international release. On April 17, 2013, Nintendo announced in its Nintendo Direct presentation that the game would be released internationally in late 2013, marking the game's first release in the PAL region. On July 18, 2013, Nintendo announced EarthBound's availability on the North American and PAL Wii U Virtual Console eShops and that the accompanying Player's Guide had been digitized on Nintendo's website, with a special version designed for the Wii U GamePad. ESRB originally rated the game as "K-A" (Kids to Adults; the former equivalent of the "E" rating) when it originally launched on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, but despite being fully identical, the Virtual Console re-release was given the higher "T" rating instead.
Notes and references
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Media related to EarthBound at Wikimedia Commons
- Official site
- Nintendo.com Player's Guide
- Official Nintendo Japan Mother 2 site
- EarthBound at Nintendo.com (archives of the original at the Internet Archive)
- Earthbound series at DMOZ