Weekly Game Music: Get on the Bus (Earthbound)

This time around, I’m introducing a medley from Earthbound, Get on the Bus, arranged by virt. This combines the following themes from the SNES classic, originally composed by Keiichi Suzuki, Hirokazu Tanaka, Hiroshi Kanazu, and Toshiyuki Ueno: What a Great Picture, The Metropolis of Fourside, Title Screen, and Good Friends / Bad Friends. I specifically chose this remix because it best captures the original game’s theme and composition, while heavily improving the sound palette from the outdated SNES midi set.

If there were the king of cult-classic games, Earthbound would easily take the crown. The original English copies auctions for $100+ on Ebay, and it’s direct sequel, Mother 3, is still one of the most requested game for English translation by it’s official producer, Nintendo. If that weren’t enough, the popular Nintendo fighting game, Super Smash Bros., consistently stars the game’s psychic protagonist, Ness (a play on SNES). So what’s with all the hype?

One of the strongest part of Earthbound is its well-translated story and its sense of humor. The game starts fairly simple: a meteorite falls in a small town, Onett. After weeding through grumpy cops and groggy neighbors, Ness finally approach the meteorite to encounter an alien emerging from it. The alien, Buzz Buzz, informs that he comes ten years into the future, where the universe is about collapse under the rule of Giygas. However, there is hope: the future predicting computer, Apple of Enlightenment, informs that Ness and three other talented children are capable of destroying Giygas, after they gain power from Earth’s eight sanctuaries. Thus begins Ness’ quest to find his three loyal allies, and the eight sanctuaries on Earth.

Despite it’s seemingly epic plot, the game art design is similar to the Sunday comics, Peanuts. Set in the 1990s US, the enemies Ness encounter (mind-controlled by Giygas himself) includes signposts, fire hydrants, stray dogs, cranky old women, and of course, the new age hippie. The weapons are equally generic, such as bats, yo-yos, slingshots, water-bottle rockets, and frying pans. Even the music collection — being heavily inspired by the Beatles and occasionally including clips from Monty Python — gives that humorous 90s feel.

Unfortunately, as an old-school, turn-based JRPG, Earthbound lacks any compelling gameplay. Combat mode only shows the enemy you’re fighting with — not your own characters — so the special effects are rather uninspiring and merely flashy. Indeed, it was marketed back in Japan as a game designed by a Japanese celebrity, Shigesato Itoi. From the US perspective, that would be like Steven Spielberg designing a video game (nudge, nudge; wink, wink). While the game sold very well in its home country, the translation back in the US was met with poor sales. During the time when it was competing with Final Fantasy, Earthbound stood no chance: its terribly uninspired gameplay must have phased many buyers.

Yet, Earthbound’s story still stands strong even by modern standards. A simple, yet compelling coming-of-age story, it starts with a weak, mute boy named Ness, who lightly accepts this epic task, only to become homesick frequently in his travels. After making various encounters and befriending Puala, Jeff, and Poo, Ness eventually gains the courage and understanding of his role as a hero. Finally, in a dramatic climax, Ness and his party fights against Giygas, becoming one of the most disturbing and emotionally draining moments in gaming history.

Earthbound was originally released in the US for the SNES. Only one Japan-only reprint for the Gameboy Advance was produced, titled as Mother 1+2. An English patch is available for the latter game.


Extra!

Title: Flying Man
Game: Mother (Earthbound 0)
Composer: Keiichi Suzuki
Vocals: Louis Philippe
Comments: A medley with lyrics of The Jolly Flying Man and A Bad Dream.

Title: Welcome to Mother 3 World
Game: Mother 3
Composer: Shogo Sakai
Comments: A medley of Fun Naming, Welcome!, and True Welcome!

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