A look at various computer games inspired by the RPG Earthbound, particularly in their focus on modern kids saving the world.
Among the classic turn-based RPGs of the 1990s – Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger – the Mother franchise and its second game, Earthbound, stand out for their uniquely modern-day suburban setting, their blending of science fiction themes with epic fantasy quests, and their surreal homages to American culture and media as conceived by the franchise’s Japanese creators. A number game designers who played Earthbound during their formative years went on to create RPGs like Undertale in homage, more modern RPGs with the same mix of aburdism, humor, and horror.
Ness and Lucas, the kid hero protagonists of Earthbound (Mother 2 in Japan) and Mother 3, are most famous these days for being playable characters in the Super Smash Bros franchise, kid heroes who fight with a mix of sports equipment and psycho-kinetic powers. They look like cheerful Dennis The Menace-style cartoon characters, but the game they hail from, conceived by the infamous copywriter Shigesato Itoi, can be surprisingly mature and dark for all their color and whimsy.
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Earthbound, the only game in the Mother franchise to be released overseas, takes place in a modern country similar in shape to America, starring a young boy name Ness who, with his three chosen companions, must gather eight melodies of power, unlock latent abilities (psychic powers, martial arts, inventions, etc.), and defeat an evil entity called Gigyas that threatens to destroy the world in the future. The quirky, yet surprisingly mature hero’s journey of Earthbound – where players fight enemies like cops, hippies, robots, or gangsters and confront issues like childhood trauma and neglect – inspired adults who played this game as children to make their own sunny-yet-dark games about growing up and dealing with hardship.
RPG Like Earthbound: Undertale
Solo game developer Toby Fox (according to PC Mag) first explored the core concept of his cult classic Undertale RPG in an unofficial modification of Earthbound called “The Halloween Hack,” re-designing characters, sprites, and areas to create a whole new story. The final version of Undertale, its gameplay a blend of turn-based, bullet-hell mechanics, and dialogue trees, is a whole different beast from Earthbound, but retains the general aesthetic of “a fantasy hero saga in a world with modern technology and culture.” Much like how Earthbound transformed people’s ideas of what RPG worlds and plots could look like, Undertale’s story of a human child marooned in an underground world of personable monsters explores classic RPG concepts such as “leveling up,” “gaining XP,” and “reloading saved games” in deep, deconstructive ways.
RPG Like Earthbound – Deltarune: Chapter 1
Deltarune is Toby Fox’s spiritual sequel to Undertale, featuring characters with similar appearances and personalities to his previous game but with a more expansive, linear plot. Like Earthbound, a group of young kids from a contemporary small town community are chosen to save the world – specifically, to defeat the evil king trying to start a war between the worlds of light and dark. So far, only the Chapter 1 Demo for Deltarune has been released, making Toby Fox’s ambitions and vision for the final product still a tantalizing mystery.
Game Like Earthbound: Crossing Souls
Crossing Souls has elements of Earthbound, with the main characters being suburban kids saddled with the burden of saving the world, and elements of the many 1980s coming-of-age kids movies that inspired Stranger Things. In the year of 1986, in a California small-town, a quintet of friends stumble across an artifact capable of opening portals between worlds, then go on to discover grander secrets such as secret government facilities, terrifying monsters, and occult forces threatening everything they love.
Gameplay-wise, Crossing Souls is inspired by real-time platforming and beat’em’up arcade games from the 1980s, in contrast to the turn-based JRPG gameplay of Earthbound.
RPG Like Earthbound: Omori
The hybrid RPG/exploration game Omori has a setting similar to Earthbound – a modern suburban community – and Deltarune – a quartet of youngsters who enter a dreamlike world. Like Undertale and Deltarune however, the plot and themes of Omori are far deeper and darker than they seem at first glance. What at first seems to be the whimsical dreamland fantasy adventures of a boy named Omori and his friends swiftly turns into the slice-of-life story of a depressed kid named Sunny, then goes on to become an introspective journey into the depths of… well, that would be telling.
Next: Zelda: Link’s Awakening-Style Earthbound 3D Reimagining Looks Delightful
Source: PC Magazine
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