Earthbound: A story beyond video games

Originally Posted on The Lode via UWIRE

So, I try to keep my articles at least somewhat interesting to most people, but this time I’m gonna talk about video games, so if that’s not your thing look away now.

When I was around 10, I came across a game called Earthbound. Its gameplay is pretty run-of-the-mill RPG style gameplay, but the story, music, and writing are incredibly unique.

If you were to ask anybody who’s anybody what the most underrated Nintendo property is, they’d likely say Earthbound. Have you ever played Super Smash Brothers? You know that weird kid Ness who spams “PK Fire” repeatedly and wears a striped shirt? He’s from Earthbound. This is honestly the extent of what most people know about the series.

Ok, enough background. What is this game and why do I think it’s so special? Earthbound is the story of a young group of friends banding together to save Earth from some unknown evil called Giygas. The game is set in 1990’s America, which is noteworthy because when the game came out, 1994, almost every RPG game was just about medieval wizards and dragons and stuff.

Earthbound is remembered because it is a bit of a story-writing anomaly. It features pastel colors and smiling characters. Your characters fight trees and mischievous crows. Simultaneously though, there will be shockingly dark storylines sprinkled in unexpectedly. One scene features one character, a young boy, entering a psychic trance with a disembodied head. The head tells you it will break your legs, take your eyes and ruin your ears; all the while you, a preteen boy, must sit there and agree.

Keep in mind this is an “E For Everyone” rated game. This scene comes totally out of the blue. This is the same game where you have to tussle with stubborn police, who say “Get ready for my super ultra mambo tango foxtrot martial arts.” One moment you’re trapping cartoon zombies in flypaper and the next you’re infiltrating a cult to rescue a kidnapped girl.

By far the biggest shock though is the final boss. This mysterious, vague, evil figure is mentioned throughout the game. They never mention what it really is. In the end, you eventually reach its lair, a dimension outside time. You walk along what looks like entrails until you see a reflection of your face coming out of a giant cervix (I want to remind you this has for the most part been a lighthearted E for Everyone trip with some childhood friends).

You then enter a fight that, even by modern standards, is among the most shocking and uncomfortable moments in gaming history. Giygas is not really a being, it is only shown as an illustration of a face in agony. It says strange, eerie things like “I’m h..a..p..p..y” and “It hurts, Ness.” The head designer of the game, Shigesato Itoi, said in an interview that the Giygas fight was a reflection of the fear and confusion he felt when he was young and witnessed what he thought was a rape in a movie he accidentally watched.

I could go on about Earthbound all day. If you’re at all interested there’s, like, a billion hours of video essays on YouTube about it. If you’re at all interested in good writing in general, or video game history, I can’t recommend it enough.

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