A lot of good RPGs throw you right into the thick of things, in media res. Final Fantasy VI, VII, Super Mario RPG, and Vagrant Story all begin almost immediately with the player in the midst of combat. These games want to immediately familiarize you with the things that you’ll be doing for the next 30~60 hours.
Earthbound, on the other hand, actually delays your adventure so you can get to know one aspect of the game which you actually don’t have to interact with that often, but hopefully never forget: your family.
Ness is first awakened by the meteorite that lands on the tallest hill in Onett – which almost looks like it was designed to have a meteorite land on it. You can go out into the night and explore the hillside, talking with Onett’s overzealous and overtired police force, as well as townsfolk who can’t get home because of the road blocks. Your “friend” and neighbor, Pokey, who is suspiciously focused on finding out everything he can about the meteorite, tells you to go back home and that he’ll update you in the morning.
So despite the fact that the meteorite is set up as your ultimate goal, Pokey turns you back to where you came from. I think this can be seen as a microcosm of your relationship with Pokey through the rest of the game.
However! The household is awakened once again when Pokey bangs on the door – clearly actual recorded knocking, nice going, sound design! – to get your help to find his lost brother, Picky.
If you refuse me, I’ll say something that’ll cut you like a knife.
-if you say No to Pokey’s request
Which bring us back to the family! Your Mom heals you by feeding you your favorite food – which you identified at the start of the game – tells you that you’re her “natural born fighter”, and reminds you to put on clothes before you leave the house.
She also tells you to get the Cracked bat, your first weapon, from your sister Tracy‘s room. Tracy also offers to hold onto your spare stuff, which might be the first time you realize that your inventory is limited.
Before you can leave home, the phone starts ringing, and your Dad is on the other end! Dad’s place in the game is the most suspicious, mainly because of his physical absence. What does he do? Where is he now? Anyway, he records you game. He also tells you the amount of experience points you would need to get to the next level; which is an unusually useless feature considering you can do the same thing from the status screen.
Remember to “Go for it!”
“Work to exhaustion when you’re young…” Have you ever heard of a weird saying like this?
I think it’s very funny that both parents give Ness platitudes that sound tired, but seem to come from a place of legitimate caring anyway.
You meet your family, especially your Mom, several times during the first 10 minutes of the game. But as time goes on, you’ll see them less and less, talking to them on the phone only, just as with your dad.
(If I knew this was going to be such a scary place, I wouldn’t have come along… I’m outta here!) -the dog
I nearly forgot your dog. I named mine Bro, after my dog in real life. The dog is the first time the game defies an expectation it sets up for you. Even though you named him, just like any other member of the party, he only joins you very briefly on the quest to find Pickey, after which he runs back home to continue being a lazybones.
But, then, he’s your dog, so why wouldn’t you name him?