Like any right thinking person, I was elated last year when Earthbound finally hit virtual console. I don’t know what caused Nintendo to hold it back for so long; maybe it was the rumored problems with some musical sampling, maybe NOA President Reggie Fils-Aime loves to feast on fans tears. No matter what held it up, the game’s digital release was a cause for celebration. I quickly purchased it and got to playing. I didn’t finish, though.
I have finished Earthbound before. My brother and I borrowed it way back in the summer of ’98 or ’99. I was about fifteen, he was a year younger. We each had our own files and we took turns as best we could. I mean, we fought over who got to play and who got to play first, but we each got roughly the same amount of play time. The two of us play games differently. I am all about the experience. I like to explore, but I am generally about pushing the game forward. I want to get to the next area, to beat the next boss. I have no problem experimenting with strategies or different skills, but I don’t tinker just to tinker. If I have a strategy that works, I see no reason to change it. My brother, on the other hand, tends to master games. He loves to experiment with the game. If he gets a new attack, he will try to find a use for it, even if it doesn’t appear immediately useful. That also means that he has a tendency to grind. He will find out how everything works and how to game the system. What does that have to do with Earthbound? When we played I rushed ahead, speeding through the game to Magicant. There I promptly got stuck, dying repeatedly against Ness’s Nightmare. My brother was a little behind me, but he was also several levels higher. When he got to Magicant, me being the inconsiderate teenager I was, I played off of his save to the end of the game. I only saved once, but it was enough to rob him of some of the enjoyment of playing the game. I was an asshole, but an asshole that had beaten Earthbound.
Since then I have not been able to beat the game. It is not some sort of Karmic justice, just the reality of not owning the cartridge. I didn’t have the game, so I couldn’t play it. I did make several attempts at emulating it. The first time I spent a few leisurely weeks meandering through the first couple of areas of the game. I got to Fourside, and then my save disappeared. I don’t know what I did, it was just gone. I tried again a few years later, but my laptop died right around the time I reached Fourside. A few years ago, right around the time that the Mother 3 translation came out, I tried once more only to get distracted about the time I got to … Fourside. Just last year, when Earthbound finally reached Virtual Console, I played it right to the point where I got to Fourside.
I know the first half of Earthbound as well as I know any game. I could play through Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger or Suikoden II in my sleep. The same goes for Earthbound up to Fourside. After that, I am less sure. I remember parts of it, a desert, Magicant, Poo’s Cloudy home, but I am not sure of the order or the exact trials the player faces. The memories are there, but they are foggy. I feel like I’ve failed somehow for not playing this game more; like I am a poseur only pretending to be a fan. Especially now that I actually own the game. Now that I do own the game, I really should beat the game again. That is what I am trying to do before Bayonetta 2 hits later this month.
As for Karmic justice, that hit me as well. About five years ago now that friend that I borrowed Earthbound from was selling all of his old video games. He needed some cash. While he was more than happy to take the game shops offer for games like Ultraman or Eye of the Beholder for SNES, but their offer for Earthbound was insultingly low. My brother, who just happened to be with him at the time, offered him twice what the store was for the game. So he is now the owner of the copy of Earthbound we played as children. He deserves it.