Fourside, Part 1: Death is Only the Beginning

Paula is gone. AGAIN.

When you come back from your spelunking adventure, the four-story (Wow!) Fourside Department Store is open for business. And it has everything you need! Every kind of healing item up until this point, and on the very top floor there’s brand new weaponry to equip – FINALLY! Certainly the best part, in ANY RPG, of coming to a new town is getting the newest gear.

And then, once you descend each escalator back to the ground floor and make your way toward the exit, the lights flicker and some… THING sweeps through your party and snatches Paula away. As the lights flicker again, every NPC disappears, and a voice over the intercom summons you to the office at the top floor.

So now a place that was once a haven of supply and demand is now one of the most devious dungeons in the whole game.

Paula is gone. She is the most versatile striker of the team, who can direct strong attacks at single targets or whole groups, and she was the only member with elemental skills. But you can’t use those anymore because she’s gone.

Also because she’s gone, all of Paula’s items are gone. PROTIP: Before this point, take important items away from Paula – explosives, Teddy Bears, and especially the electro-reflective Franklin Badge. In fact, if you have space, load up on Teddy Bears and Bottle Rockets. Probably shoulda mentioned this sooner!!

The enemies here are fucking tough. There’s a huge spike in difficulty here, so I hope you bought the best stuff before the blackout. Most enemies have a “regular” attack and a “strong” attack, but it seems most of them use their strongest attacks all of the time. The Mystical Records can heal each other with Lifeup, too. If you have the Franklin Badge, that should at least protect you from the attacks from the ambulating bass guitar pretty well.

The assortment of enemies could be a nod to the style of hip urban beatniks. Y’know, listening to their records and going to their clubs and playing their upright basses and drinking their scalding hot coffee? Y’know? The selection of enemies here seems too specific not to suggest something.

The environment works against you. While riding the escalator, you are robbed of control until you reach the top or bottom. This restricts your ability to scroll enemies away.

What do I mean when I say scroll enemies away? Well, if you have enough space, and you see enemies in the distance that have not noticed you yet, and you don’t want to fight them, all you have to do is walk in the opposite direction until the enemies scroll off-screen, plus a few more steps. When you walk back, the game will have basically “reshuffled” the enemies. Depending on the location, sometimes this technique will result in a different set of enemies, and sometimes you can make enemies disappear altogether.

Since each floor in the department store is connected by an escalator, there is no opportunity to reshuffle the enemies off-screen. So each time you ascend to a new floor, it’s very likely you’ll be bum-rushed by whatever the game wants to throw at you. So be prepared each time you step on the escalator.

The big boss on the top floor, who’s been taunting you over the PA periodically, is tough but simple, and if you let loose everything you have at him before he does the same to you, he should be taken care of pretty easily.

Being an alien, he clearly works for Giygas, but on defeat he says, At this moment, Paula should be… Monotoli… Gwaaaarrrgh!!, then dissipates.

Monotoli, based on NPC intel, is a Trump-styled self-made billionaire who seems to essentially run the town. Indeed, there is no city hall, but there is a giant skyscraper that says, “Monotoli” on it.

Investigating the Monotoli building will only lead you to find… Pokey! Apparently, he’s now Monotoli’s political and economic advisor. He insults your taste, and then has you escorted from the premises – again, another one of those rare, uncomfortable times that control is robbed of you. Fucking Pokey.

So, it seems you can’t just walk in to the office of the most influential man in Eagleland. However NPC investigation will reveal that Monotoli spends a lot at Jackie’s Cafe – an unusual dive for a man of means to patronize. The patrons at Jackie’s are pretty tight-lipped, but one will tell that she hears some kerfuffle outside.

When you go back outside, Fourside’s upbeat music has been replaced by something creepier, and you’ll find… Everdred, lying prone in the alley! He reveals that he stole the Mani Mani statue from Carpainter in Happy Happy Village – likely with the hopes of pawning it somewhere for a chunk of change – but he was hoodwinked and robbed of the statue by none other than Monotoli. The statue is likely the source of his newfound influential power.

This is a very scary moment. Everdred has been very good to us, and we know how clever he is, especially when it comes to dealing with greedy behind-the-desk overseers. And yet Monotoli STILL got the upper hand on this guy. Clearly, Monotoli isn’t like the other politicians and businessmen we’ve run into. He’s clever, he’s rich, and he’s evil.

What adds to the gloom of the atmosphere, aside from the music, is that you have to push through a crowd of onlookers to get to Everdred; mostly one guy you can actually get to move out of your way if you give him something to eat. Though they don’t seem to hear the conversation, it’s a pretty intimate moment to share out in public surrounded by strangers.

Once Everdred tells you everything he knows, he asks if you’d like him to repeat what he said. This happens in the game whenever you’re presented with a chunk of plot information, as with Buzz Buzz’s final words.

Though paralleling Everdred with Buzz Buzz reminds me of a certain mystery. This sprite.

Its Everdred’s angel – the same kind of sprite that replaces characters in your party when their HP hits 0 and they need to be revived. This sprite is never used, but was found amongst other junk data in the game. This sprite leads to two possible conclusions.

At some point in planning, Everdred was supposed to die here in the alley. Just as with Buzz Buzz, an important NPC would die after telling you something very important. This would represent a big shift in scope, as it would lead to the first death of a human being, and would represent Monotoli as a reprehensible monster. If Everdred did not die in the alley, it’s possible his sprite would appear during the game’s credits. But I guess that was too much of a downer.

Everdred was meant to be a playable character at some point. This is not a popular opinion, and there is no other data supporting this possibility, but there is some context. Only members of the player’s party have angelic sprites; all other NPCs flicker or fade from existence if they’re killed or otherwise defeated.

Looking back at Mother 1 (Earthbound Zero), you can see that all of the playable characters in its cast were the basis for the playable characters in Earthbound – kid in red ball cap, cute blonde girl in pink, dorky smart kid with glasses. There’s also a fourth party member who joins for a period of time: a muscley, snarky gangster with sunglasses named Teddy, who is older than the rest of the kids.

While Everdred is a much older, possible dirtier version of Teddy, it’s pretty easy to see the connection. Most people say that Teddy was the basis for Frank Fly, which certainly makes sense. Even if the idea was discarded early on, I’m almost confident it was a possibility at some point during production. It seems Itoi has a weird respect for shady gangster tough guys.

Anyway, Everdred doesn’t die. What he does do is recite his “last” haiku poem.

When on your way out
Be sure that you say goodbye
then lock the door tight.

He urges you not to follow him as he stumbles away.

But before he goes, he tells you to check behind the counter in the cafe.

A Troll Too Far

Once again, the Runaway Five are in debt. They owe the Topolla Theater in Fourside a million dollars. I still don’t really get how performers get so mired in debt. I guess they just don’t read their contracts?

The manager suggests that you’d have to find buried gold to settle that kind of debt.

Say, didn’t we just meet some miners in the desert? Does that mean… we have to go back there?

I think this is the most noticeable mistake in pacing in all of Earthbound. After arriving in the fabled city of Fourside, a location entirely different from another town up until now… the only way to progress is to LEAVE this magical new place and go back to Dusty Dunes Desert, which you just finished scouring.

Unlike the Pencil Eraser troll from earlier, this double-back can result in quite the lengthy and possibly arduous detour, and it’s repetitive. It feels like only so long ago that we just took a bus and busted the Runaway Five out of a bogus contract.

However, like the Pencil Eraser troll, this whole scenario is basically the set up for a joke – one of my favorite long-form gags in the whole game.

When you head back to the desert, you’ll find that the miners’ dig has really come far, but they have to stop digging because they unearthed a maze filled with hostile critters, including five monstrous moles.

The first mole you find in the labyrinth introduces himself as one of the five master moles of this hole, and declares that he is the third strongest. It seems like coincidence that you happen to find the most average of all of the moles. When you challenge the next master mole, it says,

I’m really the third strongest master. I’ll destroy you now!

Uhh. I and then the next one says,

My strength falls between the second and fourth strongest masters. Do you
wanna test me?


I’m truly the third strongest master of this hole. I’ll demonstrate the power of being third to you!

And then,

Ha. You’ve fought the strongest master of this hole, the second strongest master of this hole, the fourth strongest master of this hole, and the weakest master of this hole! I’m truly the third strongest master of this hole. Now you see the true advantage of being third!

I love how all of these terrifying moles – they are pretty scary, their big sprite charge at you when you get close – revel in their average-ness. And yet, as average as they are, they’re all too dumb or lazy to realize who really is the most third of them.

The dungeon itself is rather devious. As long as one of the master moles still stands, baddies will keep swarming throughout the hole. Not only to you have to defeat them all, you have to find them in the genuinely confusing underground labyrinth, doing your best not to cover old ground. It’s a very old-school, dungeon-crawly sort of dungeon, a battle of attrition as you slowly burn through all of your PP and restorative items.

My friend Mike watched me play through this dungeon, having heard of Earthbound but never having seen it in action.

“Looks pretty boring,” he said.

It was a harsh thing. The whole point of this blog is to point out why Earthbound is technically a rather good game. And yet, I couldn’t immediately disagree with Mike’s assessment.

The truth is, this is the part of the game where you might start asking yourself, “Am I playing a boring game?” Now, part of it is because you’ve had the same resources available to you for awhile: the same three characters, the same combat items for Jeff, roughly the same PSI skills. Go-to strategies have solidified by now, and one battle tends to go the same way as another. The tenacity that Ness needed to win his fights when he was alone is not quite so necessary.

A big part of it, though, is that as clever and funny as this dungeon is, it suffers a surprisingly dull and annoying assembly of enemies. Not only are they largely color swaps of old enemies, most of them appear by themselves or with weaker enemies, obviating the need for strategies more complex than basic attacks and PSI Freeze. The real difficulty comes in the sheer amount of times you’ll be poisoned by these enemies, forcing you to hold back on Ness’ PP.

Read that last sentence again without giggles.

So, yeah. It’s a real shame that such a clever dungeon design and such a great joke has to be bogged down by a sudden lack of variety and repetitiveness.

Once you’re down, though, you’ll be rewarded with a giant diamond for your efforts, with which you can pay off the Runaway Five’s debts and finally explore the rest of Fourside.

And then: shit gets real.

Everybody hates Dusty Dunes Desert but me

When you defeat Master Belch and liberate Saturn Valley, you can take the bus to Fourside, where the Mani Mani Statue has apparently been taken.

But before you reach Fourside, your bus hits bumper to bumper traffic in Dusty Dunes Desert.

Click to embiggen

Most people hate Dusty Dunes Desert because, as video gamers, they know there’s some way to trigger the traffic jam to end. The most logical thing to do would be to let time pass by and go to sleep – the old drug store nearby will let you sleep on the floor for a fee.

But when you wake up, the traffic jam is still there! It’s a forever jam!

So clearly there’s something you’re meant to see or do somewhere in the vastness of the desert. So it’s time to strike out.

If you click up on that image provided by, I can give you a little tour.

Above the drugstore, there’s a shady guy who sells weaponry. Clearly some ex-CIA guy or something hawking confiscated goods. I think it’s a pretty clever way of providing Jeff with firearms and explosives.

Above that guy, there is a hole in the ground. A monkey sage lives there, clearly some kind of parallel to the dalai lama or the Saiyuki legend. He doesn’t do much, yet.

At the top left of the desert, beside the water and the present with the Cup of lifenoodles (very valuable, the first item capable of reviving fallen characters), there is a single black pixel – this is a talking sesame seed. It will express its desire to see the white sesame seed again, to apologize for some unnamed wrong in the past.

The white sesame lies directly southeast, past the oasis with the present containing a Skip sandwich DX, by the impenetrable bank of rocks by the highway. It stresses the fact that it still loves the white sesame seed. If you go back to talk to the black sesame seed, it barely believes that the white sesame seed still loves it, and cries (actually its says, “Weep, weep…”)

I have to stop right here to talk about this.

What I love about the sesame seeds is how easy it is, because they’re so small and featureless, to consider them as a microcosm for the complexity of human relationship.

Consider how gender neutral they are, even thought the black one is called “he” and the white one “she”. It’s easy to assume that the black sesame seed is male – black being the “bolder” color, and males usually being the gender that has to apologize for past transgressions.

And yet, when you deliver the white sesame’s message of love back to the black sesame, it weeps in an open show of emotion.

It’s also possible that you might find the white sesame first, in which case you would deliver the black sesame’s message back to the white one. The white sesame, after finding out the black sesame is okay, says, stoically, “…Hmm, I see.”

We never find out what went on between them, how they truly feel about each other presently, or what will happen to them in the future. Despite their size, we are not given the option to physically reunite them. They stay where they are, destined to drift on the grains of desert sand like ships at sea.

Ships in the night. Sesame seeds in the desert.

This is the boldest depiction of romantic love in Earthbound, and the dangers thereof. Like many serious things in this game, it is swathed in absurdity.

Itoi, you will find, is very good as concealing crises within silliness, making you forget how dire a situation may actually be, and then suddenly, when you least expect it, make you realize the gravity of everything all at once.

These sesame seeds are like a magic trick. There’s a pledge and a turn, but there is no prestige. It’s too early for that yet.

Where were we? Oh yeah. Northeast of the last oasis, near the present with the Double burger in it, is a Contact lens. I’ll tell you now that there is a man in Fourside who is missing this Contact lens. If you return it to him, he’ll reward you with a single, consumable, combat item: a pair of stinky socks, which will stun an enemy for one turn in battle.

South by southeast of the Contact lens, you’ll find a shack acting as the HQ for a pair of miners, the Geldegarde brothers. They haven’t found anything yet. Funnily enough, they’ll let you sleep on their busted couch for free. Beats paying for the wooden floor at the drug store!

One of the miners will ask you for something to eat. Be kind. Once you give it to him and spend the night in their shack, the traffic jam will be gone.

If you head east around the rock bank and then south, you’ll end up back on the road. (PROTIP: You can get suntroke in the desert if you spend too much time out there, but you can’t get sunstroke on the road!) If you follow the road west, you’ll come across a broken slot machine. However, if you want to play slots anyway, the three guys dressed as mariachis will spins in circles for you, simulating the actual game.

I’ve spent a lot of money here and only won once. I won a can of fruit juice. Evidently you can win a PSI caramel, which is pretty good, but not worth the time, honestly.

Not much further west of the three amigos, there is a present with a thousand dollars inside.

There are great items throughout the desert, including a Big bottle rocket and a Sudden guts pill. There are also two piles of bleach buffalo bones, one which says,

(…I’m just a pile of bleached bones. I can’t talk.)

And another which says,

(Even though I’m just a pile of bones, I can talk and I’m lonely out here in the desert.)

So I don’t get it! Look at all of these things I pointed out, all in one area, without transitions. Why do you guys hate Dusty Dunes Desert?

Oh, well, it could be all of the baddies. They’re really tough around here. They do a lot of damage, and some even poison you!

But the rewards are so worth it! Not only will you get a lot of neat items and experience points, you’ll get a lot of experience. The sesame seeds are worth the price of admission alone!

Though if you ARE having a tough time, and you wanna level up quickly,

look for this fucker:

If you find him, he will give you ten times the experience you would get in any given battle. He’s very elusive, but if you get the drop on him, you’ll kill him instantly. Here’s one way to do it.

Once the traffic jam has dispersed, you’re free to take the bus (or walk, actually, though it takes a while) to Fourside.

But don’t get too comfy.

Not Lackin’ Any Meat

It’s tempting to say that Earthbound has no cut scenes, because that’s not really true. But it robs control of the player very rarely, and only in specific instances.

• Introducing a new playable character (in the cases of Ness and Jeff)
• Carrying the player to a new location (when traveling by bus or the Sky Runner)
• When there’s a musical concert going on
• Otherwise showing the passage of time.

For the most part, events in the game are limited to dialog, which the player can advance at will, or battles, which require direct participation.

When the control is denied at any other points, usually these points are unusual and require our attention. And they stand out! As when Captain Strong leads you into the back room to get pummeled by cops. Or when you get captured by zombies in Threed.

Even some time sensitive events that you think would require some sort of cut scene – a beginning to end pantomime depicting a particular event – are instead presented simply through the suggestion by the placement of NPCs.

When you defeat Master Belch and liberate the Mr. Saturns of Saturn Valley (Belch was in charge of the zombie-siege of Threed, and the Saturns were slaves in a Fly Honey factory… Take my word for it), rather than cutting away to show some sort of exodus or mass escape, Ness and gang simply exit Belch’s lair and find Mr. Saturns lining the pathway, as they each express their gratitude for their freedom.

The layout of the Saturns kind of act as a static Zoetrope; each Saturn stands alone as an individual, but as you walk past them, they also representing a Saturn (or multiple Saturns) in motion, escaping from captivity.

The movement of many characters is made apparent without the use of complex programming, the denial of control, or the loss of meaning. As a result, the player keeps playing, meaning more game and less cut scene.

Earthbound’s not lackin’ any meat!

More about Dad

Ness’ dad is only ever present through a telephone. This is apparently representative of Itoi’s assertion that Japan is so work-centric you can never even see your children. I’d believe it!

Despite this, it’s likely that Dad will be the single character in the game you talk to the most, as he saves your game. Like many good fathers, his duties are vague and unknowable to a young mind, but incredibly important.

Every time you call Dad to save your game, he asks if you’re ready to stop playing and hit the hay.

If you don’t take him up on the offer, he says,

Ness, you like to work hard, just like your mother. But, I don’t think it’s good to work too hard.
(Click! Beep-beep-beep…)

Ness’ dad telling me not to work too hard is basically the reason the rest of my school career turned out the way it did. If you say Yes to his suggestion, he says,

We’re a great team, aren’t we? Well, you should turn the power OFF instead of just pressing RESET. All right?

And then the game just stops. The background music continues, but you can’t close the dialog box, you can’t move, pause, or do anything. All you can do is turn the game off, like you told Dad you would.

I never realized it until this current playthrough, but in turning off the game, you are hanging up the phone. That’s why there’s no Click! Beep-beep-beep at the end of that sentence!

I’ve gotten into the habit of whispering “Good night” when turning the game off.

Another funny thing Dad does is, once you have the Receiver phone from Apple Kid, he will call you if he thinks you’ve been playing too long. After a long period of time without saving, even if you’re in the middle of a dungeon, Dad will call and ask if you think you’ve played long enough.

Mostly, it’s just a reminder. He won’t save your game in the middle of nowhere, but he does tell you to get somewhere safe and get some rest.

What’s REALLY funny is if you play for a long time in one sitting, and then Dad calls while you’re playing as Jeff.

Hello, it’s your dad. You’ve been out there for a long time now… It may be none of my business, but don’t you think it would be a good idea if you took a

Ahhh… and this would be…? So, this isn’t Ness. Oh well, it’s okay…
Anyway, don’t strain yourself on your journey. Good luck… whoever you are.