Death and ATM Fees

Ness gets money from his bank account, which is jointly owned by his father. For every enemy you defeat, Dad deposits the appropriate amount of money. With your trusty ATM card you can withdraw money from and deposit money into Ness’ account.

Why would you want to put your money away?

Well, get this. Here’s what happens when you get KO’d in battle.

If you accept the offer to continue, you’re brought back to your last save point, and,

1. All of your PP is gone.
2. All of your teammates stay dead and have to be retrieved from the hospital.
3. Any items you’ve used are gone.


4. Half of all money on your person is removed.


5. You retain all experience received up until your death!

So, if you remember to deposit your money when you’re headed somewhere dangerous, you don’t necessarily have to restart your game when you die. As long as you’re careful with your resources.

I love how the game indicates the death of your characters – suffering mortal damage, collapsing, becoming floating, ghostly images with halos.

And yet when you go to the hospital, reception will tell you that your “departed” have actually been there all along! You just have to pay money for their release.

It’s a pretty funny way for the game to have its cake and eat it, too. Even when using strong language and imagery to suggest the end your life, the same authority (the game) tells you that it’s okay, their parachutes deployed, they’re alive after all!

Dungeon anatomy – A Giant Step in the right direction

All right, let’s get through this shack and get to where we’re going to.

Giant Step is the first official dungeon in Earthbound, and several new elements come to light with the introduction of some new BAD DUDES!! All of them are rodents.

Rowdy Mouse’s thing is that it has a really high critical hit rate. So you’ll be bashing away at him like everything’s alright, being all like “No, thank you” to recovering HP, and then SMAAAASH!! Now you’re in critical condition and hoping you get the first action in on the next turn! Rowdy Mouse is here to punish you for being lazy.

Attack Slugs consistently attack in very large groups, prompting you with a decision: to either defeat them all with physical attacks, or using 10 precious Psychic Points to take them all out at once with Ness’ PSI attack move.

The worst dudes, though, might be these guys. Black Antoids usually attack in pairs. They do consistently more damage than other baddies in this damn cave, and they know Lifeup Alpha, the same recovery skill Ness has. Take these guys down fast.

So a beautiful thing about Earthbound is that all enemies can be seen before you fight them. There are no random encounters! Earthbound may be one of the first games to introduce the concept of gaining or losing the advantage in battle based on how the battle is initiated. If you tag the enemy’s back, you get a bonus turn! If the enemy gets the drop on you, you have to suffer a turn without any input.

If you haven’t figured it out by this point, Giant Step is the place where you may notice that some enemies move about differently than others. Some come out you in arcing paths, some careen wildly, some even teleport toward you at set intervals.

For the jerks in Giant Step: for every step you take, they take two toward you. With this in mind you can anticipate how far you can go before a battle is initiated, how far away you can lure a sole enemy to overwhelm them, how close can you get to loot, how far away the nearest exit is. You ain’t just walking around like some schmuck – yer ALWAYS thinkin’!

The other big difference between Giant Step and previous challenges, like finding Picky and the siege of the arcade, is that you have no idea where you’re going.

You find Picky somewhere you’ve been before, and you can SEE Frank Fly in the lot behind the arcade. But you don’t know for sure what lies at the other end of the cave behind the shack.


Titanic Ant is the first really tough fight of the game, every turn asking yourself, should I heal NOW?” PROTIP: At this point in the game, it’s better to hold onto that PP for healing than for attacking. This is especially true fighting Titanic Ant, who can suck away your PP with PSI Magnet. What a Titanic DICK! Though you will want to open with one PSI Rockin’ attack to get rid of the Black Antoids flanking him.

Once you do it, you gain access to your first Sanctuary.

And then you get to enjoy a walk back to town as all of the vermin cower – enemies will literally run away from you in fear.

Feels good, man.

The Minch Family

The Minch Family are classless assholes. Picky, as the youngest son, isn’t so bad, because he hasn’t been alive long enough to be indoctrinated. But Aloysius Minch and Lardna Minch, are all serving, two-faced jackasses.

Classless really is the word. Like, how classless would you have to be to accuse a kid’s dad of welching on his debts? Especially if that kid lives next door and just rescued your son from an uncertain fate?

And way to make me doubt my father! I always assumed my allowance came from the bad guys I defeated in combat.

And way to be purposefully ignorant of your place in the world and of what’s going on in your husband’s mind, Mrs. Minch.

Y’know what? I think Buzz Buzz, a noble and dignified creature from the future, was not killed by the flabby hand on Mrs. Minch, but by her sheer lack of class.

Giygas is a long way off. Right now, these people, standing opposed to everything I stand for – are the closest to villains that we’ve met.

God, what negative, loveless people. They probably just don’t like living next to a loving family like mine.

Ha ha, yeah, Mom! I love it when my mom hates people that I hate, too.

Also, dig this trivia I found.

His name [Aloysius Minch] is most likely a reference to Atticus Finch, the character from To Kill A Mockingbird. Strangely, compared to Atticus, his personality is completely different.

In the Japanese version of Mother 2, when Ness takes Pokey and Picky home, Aloysius takes his sons upstairs to punish them by spanking them. In the English version, he takes Pokey and Picky upstairs, but does not spank them. Instead, Pokey says that his dad isn’t letting him have dessert for the rest of the decade.

If you enter Pokey’s house directly after the meteor crash, both Pokey’s parents are not in the house. Picky tells Ness that they went out to an elegant restaurant.

Man, screw the Minches.

EDIT (7/27): Another lovely bit about the Minches in this great piece.

To begin with, you get a peek early on into the home life of your rival and neighbor, Pokey. His father, rendered clearly even by the limited graphics as a portly, perhaps ursine man, audibly strikes his children off-screen. Later he talks about how much money he has loaned your family. Pokey’s mother defends her husband adamantly and then murders the bee-guardian sent back from the future to protect you. The entire thing, right down to the nightmare-circus music that plays while you are inside their house, is a harrowing picture of suburban hell.

Onett: Bad kids and dumb adults try to ruin summer for everyone again

I said before that it’s impossible to write about Earthbound without writing about your personal experience with it. Well, I’m punching my card right now.

Ness’ hometown of Onett is tied so closely to my hometown in my head that I sometimes I think the developers took a trip to Bergen County, New Jersey for research, like how Disney animators went to Africa to research for the Lion King. Or how Sonic Team went to Mayan temples for Sonic Adventure. It could be a thing!

Ness and I both live in walking distance of the library, the police department, and town hall. The townsfolk are by turns very nice or weird jerks. And suburban cops mostly just flex their authority at you without being very helpful.

And like in any beautiful suburban town in the summer, there are delinquents with too little to do. These punks call themselves The Sharks. They’ve caused a lot of trouble around town and have holed themselves up in the local Arcade, using it as their headquarters. The police clearly have their hands full with setting up road blocks, so the Sharks are running loose.

Interestingly, the only town with a street gang in Earthbound is also the only town with a mayor. The only policy this guy seems to have is getting re-elected, so it’s up to the general public to figure out what to do with this street gang.

Some suspicious-looking kids are hanging out in the woods north of the
library. I wonder if they are members of the Sharks. To stop the spread of the
gang, someone should shut down their gathering places, don’t you think? I’ve
started a movement that will stop all of the bad influences on the children of
Onett. I call it the “Fresh Breeze Movement.” Hum de dum dum…

– the general public

The “suspicious-looking kids” are just children in a treehouse, friends of Ness. [PROTIP: one of them gives you a hat that boosts your defense.]

You've grown since I last saw you. You're beginning to look like a man. You're so cool! I... I think I really like you. Well...

Adults planning policies to punish an entire age group because of a few bad apples? Yep, I remember growing up in suburban America. Itoi and gang definitely did their research.

Actually, it’s kind of awesome that, while this lady condemns the activities of these kids, she is at the same time giving their location, so you can find them and get a sweet hat. THAT’S how you write a video game!

So, anyway, it’s up to a good kid like you to beat up the bad kids. Why?

1. You need to get to Giant Step, the location of the first Melody.
2. Passing through the traveling entertainer’s shack is the only way to Giant Step.
3. The Sharks trashed the entertainer’s shack.
4. The mayor locked up the shack so no more funny business would occur.

So you have to reassure the Mayor that no more funny business will occur by taking care of the jokers that call themselves The Sharks.

I thought I’d stop the post there. But No! Let’s go the whole way.

As you approach the arcade, Sharks begin to appear, and you may end up fighting a bunch at once. The trickiest thing about the Sharks is that they’re the first enemies to call OTHER enemies to join them in battle, leaving you fighting multiple dudes at once for the first time. So put ’em down quick!

A lot of assholes who think they’re funny in here. And who’s this kid that they let in here? Are they just impressed with how good he is at pinball? Is he THAT kid??

When you finally reach the lot behind the arcade, you meet the ringleader, Fail-proof Frank Fly. Look at this guy’s style. Like the Big Bopper or some shit. He’s tough, too! You’ll basically be healing every other turn. Buy a couple of hamburgers, and keep enough PP to use Lifeup. Use your bat to smash him rather than your psychic attack powers.

But even when you beat him, he sics his attack robot on you! Wow, this guys dresses slick and makes robots. Maybe he deserves to run this town after all.

The Frankystein is funny, because it wastes turns pretty often, but when it does hit you, it hurts! Keep your HP high.

When you beat Franky, he admits that he is no longer failproof and gives you a whole spiel. Tells you about the mayor, about Giant Step, and how he’s gonna change his ways. He turns out to be a really decent guy! PROTIP: Frank will now heal you for free. FUCK the Hotel!

So let’s head to speak with Mayor Pirkle himself.

Hey hey hey! I’m Mayor B.H. Pirkle. It’s so nice to meet you.
You beat up the town bullies,
punched them out big time, kicked their butts, bit their heads off,
spit in their eyes, and made them wet their pants.
Then you forced them to promise not to make any more trouble. Thank you!
What? You want a key to the touring entertainers’ shack?
For someone as great as you, giving you the key could help keep the town
However, if you encounter a dangerous situation,
please don’t ask me to take any responsibility.
I’ll be able to avoid any responsibility, right?


If “No”:
I’m a very important man in these parts. Do you think I’m important?

If “No”:
Look, I’m the big cheese around here,
and a brat like you should realize when someone is trying to be nice.

If “Yes” to either:
You’re such a smart kid… Here’s the key to the shack.

Yeah, no, asshole, even if I weren’t a silent protagonist. And I HATE when Pirkle says, “a brat like you should realize when someone is trying to be nice.” That’s exactly the kind of double-faced shit an adult would say.

This is a HUGE deviation from traditional RPG scenarios. In a game like Dragon Quest, the king might ask you to deal with the local villain, and when you do the king says thank you, and give you a boat or some such.

In the end, the street gang leader Frank Fly is more genuine and charitable than Mayor Pirkle. Frank learns something and changes. The Mayor learns nothing and stays the same.

And, honestly, what can he learn from behind that desk shielded by Yes-men? As always, the one true place to educate yourself is in the School of Hard Knocks, Class 101: THE STREETS.

Maybe if you beat the Mayor up he’d change his tune.

PROTIP: Get all the cookies

So here’s the first real trick you can pull in Earthbound. I’m not sure if I’d suggest this for first time players, because it kind of breaks up the flow of the beginning of the game, and you might end of a little over-leveled. Some people might like that.

What you want to do is fight a lot of Spiteful Crows. Spiteful Crows, as you know, always drop cookies. What you want to do is fill your inventory with cookies.

Once your inventory is full, then you can head for the meteorite and trigger the rest of the events that will lead to Buzz Buzz’s sad end.

Normally, the Sound Stone, like your ATM card, is not an item you can ever remove from your inventory. However, in these situation, Buzz Buzz simply has no other choice. Since your sister acts as your store box for extra items, she can keep it indefinitely for the entire game.

You have just permanently liberated a free spot in your inventory for the rest of your game. If you ever retrieve it from your sister, though, it will be permanently stuck amongst your stuff.

It delights me to no end that, not only is this possible, but it’s pretty illuminating for Buzz Buzz and the writer.

1. Buzz Buzz knows you have a sister willing to hold onto your stuff and is able to send things to her telepathically.

2. Shigesato Itoi, the creator, clearly did not want to have to disrupt the dramatic flow of Buzz Buzz’s death by making the player go through their inventory and throw something away, so he just rewards the player’s ingenuity by suddenly making up more stuff that Buzz Buzz can do.

I love this script.

The Coming of Buzz Buzz

Buzz Buzz is a bee from 10 years in the future who tells you of your destiny to cease the devastation of the universal cosmic destroyer, Giygas.

Pokey hears the buzzing before you do. If Pokey wasn’t around, you might have missed out on your destiny entirely.

What I love about Buzz Buzz’s appearance is how it’s the first subtle thing that happens in the game. He doesn’t come from the future in a Terminator-esque explosion of wind and electricity, but from a silent, golden pillar of light. It’s so peaceful and reassuring, it’s like the Assumption.

Buzz Buzz’s appearance seems to banish all beasts from the hills. The walk back home with Buzz Buzz is without incident, UNTIL–

This asshole from the future appears with a BOOM and a FLASH and says that he’s gonna kill us all. We get into a fight and HEY WAIT A MINUTE!

He looks like the guy on the box! Fucking expressionless alien robot creep with his arms akimbo! And, hey: look at the reflection in this guy’s visor – that’s Ness looking up at him! How tall is this guy? Is this SERIOUS BUSINESS?

Evidently not! Buzz Buzz puts a shield of light around the entire party, nullifying all of the Starman’s attacks, and then beats the shit out of him by hurling his tiny body into him.

The advantage to Earthbound’s Dragon Quest-style dialog box in combat is that it obviates the need to clumsily illustrate certain actions where the player can do it in their mind’s eye. Buzz Buzz’s feats are all left to your imagination, with blanks filled in by sound and some visual effects.

It’s important to note that Starman Junior is the first enemy to be “defeated” as opposed to “tamed”.

Finally we get Pokey and Picky home, and their passive-aggressive parents apologize for the trouble. I’ll go into more detail about these assholes later.

Buzz Buzz, maybe sensing some sort of evil, alights on Mrs. Minch’s head. She reacts quickly, and deals Buzz Buzz a fatal blow.

As the only person left in the room who understands Buzz Buzz’s intention, you stand over him as he finishes explaining your mission to save the future. He gives you the Sound Stone (where was he keeping it?) to record the eight melodies scattered in sacred sites across the earth.

He asks if you understand what he has told you, then dies with an “Argh!” and a gasp.

…I see.
I apologize. I guess I didn’t explain it well enough…

-Buzz Buzz, if you tell him you don’t understand him.

The walk to the meteorite and Buzz Buzz’s arrival and departure act as the perfect prologue to what will be a long journey, setting up your expectation by both literally telling you what’s going to happen and by showing you what almost definitely will happen.

First, Buzz Buzz tells you of a legend of three boys and a girl that will defeat Giygas. You’re not getting close to that dude until you can all unite as a team.

Second, Giygas has a shitload of dudes under his influence – his evil even permeates through time to affect animals and some people – and more of them are definitely going to get in your way. And if you’re going to stand up to them, you’ll need to be at least as powerful as Buzz Buzz.

Buzz Buzz serves the same purpose Zero does in Mega Man X. Both Buzz Buzz and Zero defeat an incredibly strong enemy for you by using abilities you don’t have.

If you’re going to keep playing, you’re going to need to defeat bad guys like these. Which means you’re almost definitely going to have access to the abilities like Buzz Buzz has. You’re going to get stronger.

But now the training wheels come off. Buzz Buzz is gone. Even Pokey, Picky, and your dog are gone. As you step outside, a new day begins, and it belongs only to you.

Bad Guys in the Hills

Only once Pokey recruits you to find Picky and the Onett police have left do savage beasts appear on the road to the meteorite. There are only three kinds to start, but they teach you so much of what to expect.

The Coil Snake is the single weakest enemy in the game, and gives you 1 experience point on defeat. But he can wrap himself around you, anulling your next action! A very devious tactic in the right battle, but for now it’s pretty harmless: when it’s coiling around you, it can’t hurt you.

The Runaway Dog grants the most experience points of the first enemies (4!!! enough to level you up for the first time), but is also the only enemy that can waste it’s turn by howling harmlessly into the air. Sometimes, bad guys just do what they want to do.

The Spiteful Crow is a motherfucker. It’s so fast that, basically no matter how high your level is, the Crow will always get the first move. Although sometimes it does waste a turn with a big grin on its face, it can also peck at your eyes, which does quite a bit of damage at this point in the game.

Not only that, it can STEAL from you. And you don’t get the item back when you defeat it – it’s just gone. Fortunately, it only seems to go after food items.

Spiteful Crows give you just 3 experience points, but upon defeat they always drop a cookie. These only recover 6 HP, but until you learn Lifeup Alpha, cookies are the only way to heal yourself in the field.

What I love about these enemies is how different they all are. Even though your only attack option in battle at this point is to hit things with your bat – Pokey just wastes his turn cowering and your dog just does minimal damage – the bad guys already provide so much variety that you can never really be sure what the dialog box at the top of the battle screen will say next. And we’re just gettin’ started!

Ness’ Family

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?

Your Name, Please

I think what’s really exciting about the naming process at the beginning of Earthbound is the music. They don’t just carry over the same tune from the file select screen.

Not only does the change in music signify a new relationship, a collaboration between the game and you, but it’s also the first really good song you hear in the game.

Not only is it a great song, it introduces you to the kind of sound you can look forward to for the rest of the game. It starts with sampling (pretty advanced for the Super Nintendo), accompanied by a sweet bass line, chirping and percussive parts that almost seem like sound effects, and a legendary hook (01:00).

The song teaches you that, although the graphics seem to be low-fi, the sound design is actually pretty advanced and varied. It lets you know that the aesthetics are not a result of technological limitation, but a specific choice.

Naming your characters at the beginning of the game is unlike what most other popular (Squaresoft) RPGs of the time did. Usually you would not name a player-character until they appeared in the story. Instead, Earthbound does what it will turn out to be extremely good at doing: setting up expectations.

You know right from the beginning that you will meet a girl who likes music and hops straight into the air when she’s surprised, a four-eyed preppy who doesn’t always know what to do with himself, and a dignified and stoic warrior from a classical version of “the Orient”. In meeting your party at the beginning of the game, you are given the means to measure your progress.

Many of those who worked on Earthbound would join Creatures, Inc. and create Pokemon, another game in which you name yourself and another character (your rival) at the start of the game, intertwining your fates indefinitely.

Andres left for L.A.

He left some video games with us for safekeeping.

Including Earthbound.

I’ve played this game a lot. That’s because I really like it. I think it’s one of the best games ever, and it means a lot to me personally.

That’s the main thing about Earthbound, and all reviews and essays written about Earthbound inevitably tap into the memories the writer has of playing the game.

It’s been suggested before that it’s impossible to write about Earthbound without talking specifically about the feelings it invokes in a person. Which is part of the magic of Earthbound.

What I want to do is a close reading – or a close playing – of Earthbound, to see how, mechanically, Earthbound sparks these feelings, and how Earthbound as a game is actually just really good.

Here we go.