Oh blimey, another NES game, one that's even on the Switch, talk about going mainstream. Next thing you know we'll be writing about Super Mario Bros., finally achieving our goal of completely selling out. Anyway, usual nonsense about covering NES games applies here, the screenshots are taken with the palette recommended by The Cutting Room Floor's Taking Screenshots page for consistency. As for the size, the internal resolution of the NES is 256 x 240 which looks more like a square than a proper CRT display. Thus, we've decided to stretch the images to 292 x 240 to slightly better simulate how these games would look when played on contemporary monitors, as assisted by visually comparing with Nintendo's own '4:3' screen option on the Switch rerelease. We tried putting them in 320 x 240 but they looked a little too wide. This screenshot resizing will be the death of me.
OK, next, this review is based on the original English translation prototype that was eventually released officially by Nintendo on the Wii U Virtual Console and the NES Switch Online app as Earthbound Beginnings (titled Earth Bound in-game, as the game was intended to be released) and not the original Japanese release which has some changes we'll look at briefly later, nor any other versions or hacks that alter the game's balance. We'll be discussing that kettle of fish later but for now, let it be known we wanted what the kids of the '90s would've got. Oh, also, title confusion: Nintendo stylises the SNES game as EarthBound and the NES game as Earthbound in official materials. You can see the difference, right? So, that's what we're gonna type out. It's not us being inconsistent, it's totally Nintendo's fault.
Finally for now, a few shoutouts. If you want more information on the Mother series in general, I highly recommend Starmen.Net which was my writer lackwit's introduction to the series back in The Day. Also, thanks go to _sharc and Palazzo for always being happy to chat about this game when my writer fool brings it up. They're heroes, so they are.

Finally, a classic-era JRPG appears on Gaming Hell, almost certainly the oldest and most famous we'll ever see here!

No crying until the ending, it's time to talk about the original Mother, later rechristened Earthbound Beginnings for its Western debut 25 years later.

There's a little journey to make before getting there, though, as establishing some context is necessary... At least, as best I can, because not only are RPGs not especially within Gaming Hell's wheelhouse, but this site comes to you live from England where literally none of the games about to be mentioned were released back in the day. Still, the game under discussion today is very close to my heart and worthy of a place here, so I'll do my best to provide a potted history, to bring the original Mother into the context of its release. So, it is the late '80s in Japan and on the Famicom, RPGs are the in thing thanks to a pair of games you may of heard of, some little upstarts called Dragon Quest from 1986 and Final Fantasy from 1987. They were not the first by any stretch of course- you can read more about primordial RPGs over on The CRRPG Book Project- and Dragon Quest apparently took a little time to really take off, but they were milestone releases and popularised a lot of trends and traditions even if they weren't necessarily the first to get there. Hell, Yuji Horii did give nods to several Western games a few years before Dragon Quest's release! This is probably the only time I'll get to mention Questron on this site, so make the most of it. Anyway, such is their impact that even my little website, that never ever talks about RPGs, had to bring up the influence of Dragon Quest, however briefly, to talk about The Wing of Madoola! A swathe of imitators and those who would try to claim the throne followed, and '87 to '89 in particular was jam-packed with Famicom developers getting in on the genre, producing figurative horror-shows (Hoshi wo Miru Hito), literal horror-shows (Sweet Home), games that would beget dozens of follow-ups and spin-offs (Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei) and others that weren't so lucky (Jajamaru Ninpou Chou, which missed out on a US release as Taro's Quest).

Weirdly, Nintendo themselves didn't try their hand at it immediately. Action-adventure games like The Legend of Zelda, hewing closer to The Tower of Druaga than Ultima, was more their bag, and if you look at their most RPG-adjacent series in the decades since like Fire Emblem, Mario & Luigi and Pokémon, you'll notice they're all by external or closely-associated developers like Intelligent Systems, AlphaDream and Game Freak / Creatures rather than any of Nintendo's internal R&D divisions. The only game in the Famicom era created by Nintendo that fits the description of a traditional JRPG is 1989's Mother, and even then the inception of the game was found outside the company, from a famous Japanese copywriter called Shigesato Itoi. As recounted in this manga interview drawn by Keiichi Tanaka, he played Dragon Quest II and was so blown away by it that he wanted to make his own game, scribbling down his ideas for a modern-day RPG (at least partly inspired by American culture like the works of Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, explored more in this 1989 interview), and then essentially waited for his chance. A chance would arise thanks to Itoi's appearance on a television show talking passionately about video games, which got the attention of Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi who wanted a meeting with Itoi to talk about a game Nintendo were developing alongside Square, Idol Hotline: Nakayama Miho no Tokimeki High School. He was able to present his idea to Shigeru Miyamoto who gave him some advice but basically said, "Don't call us, we'll call you". Fortunately, they did call, arranging for a development team in Ichikawa, Ape Inc. where Itoi would have a hands-on role in creating the game, as well as support from Nintendo Tokyo R&D and Pax Softnica, releasing the game in 1989 complete with a live-action advert. You can find some more behind-the-scenes info in a 1989 interview translated by shmuplations where he explains the specific advice Miyamoto gave him and that he feared the developers might see it as a vanity project like Takeshi no Chousenjou and felt he needed to prove that idea wrong. I think it's fair to say he did, and while he's since moved on after finishing the Mother series to running Hobonichi creating products like life planners, it's fair to say he and the development staff that gave his ideas life made their own mark on video game history.

That's only the first half of the story though. The second half is even wilder- the English localisation of the game. Scheduled for a 1991 release in America and promoted in Nintendo Power with this blurb in Issue 18 (oh hey, there's another cancelled NES game on this page!), Mother was going to come to the US under the name Earth Bound but 1991 came and went without a release and the game disappeared, with the name (now EarthBound, all one word, capitalised B) being repurposed later for a localisation of Mother 2 on the SNES in 1994. We're very fortunate that Phil Sandhop, Localisation Producer and English Script Writer for this cancelled Western release, was interviewed about it and offered a lot of insight into how it was localised and their plans for the release. As was typical of JRPG releases in the US around this time especially from Nintendo themselves (remember, they published Dragon Quest / Warrior and Final Fantasy in the US) the plan was to bombard the player with information so there was no way they could get lost (see also: Sword of Vermilion and Phantasy Star II on the Mega Drive coming with player guides) via an 80-page manual / player's guide themed after the in-universe Great Grandfather's Diary that would take the player about halfway through the game (with it ending on what looks like a ripped-out page) plus a world map and enemy listing as part of a poster. Phew, that's a lotta info to give the player! To be fair, the original Japanese manual as translated by Reddit user Laterbot included quite a lot of info too, especially all the PSI abilities you could learn, but this proposed manual sounds like it was even more exhaustive. In the vein of the Dragon Warrior localisation, there were some big changes made to the game too and not just standard policy-adhering content changes like cigarettes and blood being removed. This included things like adding a run function (originally a debug function, Sandhop lobbied for its inclusion as a feature), an always-accessible map without the need for an item and even an extended ending! We'll cover some of those changes in more detail later, but the point is this was no bare-bones effort.

Sadly, the payoff for that effort would have to wait a long, long time. The main reason Earth Bound was not properly released in 1991 is pretty plainly stated in the interview- the release of the SNES in the US. While there were certainly post-SNES NES releases by Nintendo (and some bloody good ones too, like Kirby's Adventure) Sandhop says that, "I believe that the marketing execs just decided that [Earth Bound] would be too expensive to produce and unsuccessful without marketing" which makes sense given the uphill battle RPGs often faced in the West at the time- timing-wise, this made sense for Final Fantasy, but not Earth Bound. However, Sandhop also says that, "The Mother project and localizing it really opened up a few eyes at NCL. They began working closer with NOA and the other subsidiaries to produce artwork for games that would be appropriately received anywhere in the world and not need localization" so the effort didn't totally go to waste back then. Many years later, a prototype cartridge of the localisation was found in 1998- one of the first instances of a first-party Nintendo prototype being preserved- with its own backstory also documented by Lost Levels, and while it was speculated to be an incredibly-elaborate fake, that was definitively put to rest with the release of Mother 1+2 for the Game Boy Advance exclusively in Japan in 2001 which included many of the changes found in the localisation prototype. Finally, in 2015 and with a message from series creator Shigesato Itoi, the localisation prototype was released on the Wii U Virtual Console in the West under the title Earthbound Beginnings (this branding later being used for the NES Switch Online version of the game). Perhaps as a result of its long-delayed Western release, it's always felt to me like people overlook this one in favour of its more-acclaimed SNES sequel, but does it deserve that kind of fate?

So... Let's play the game and find out.

Actually talking about the game now, honest.

After naming four kids and your favourite food, you're given the following prologue text:

Then the main character- Ninten, according to official materials- fights off a poltergeist possessing his sister's doll at home.

That, apparently, is enough for Ninten's dad (on the phone, always on the phone) to tell him to go on a grand adventure to discover his PSI powers!

Can one kid and his friends solve the mystery of his great-grandparents' disappearance and save the world? That's up to you.

Earthbound Beginnings is laid out as you'd expect for an RPG of this kind, with a big ol' map to hoof around, towns to visit that have problems that maybe you can solve, and random encounters to battle. Let's start with the world itself and making progress, because it's big... And at the start, you may not really know what to do. The SNES sequel frontloads its exposition with Buzz-Buzz's prophecy, telling you about the impending threat of Giygas, the four chosen ones, the eight Your Sanctuary locations and so on. In this game though, there's nothing like that beyond your dad setting you off on a non-specific adventure, so the end-goal is initially more vague. You'll have to do a few odd-jobs for the Mayor of Podunk after gathering the necessary information from the locals- fighting zombies in the graveyard to rescue Pippi, getting trampled by elephants in the zoo- and lift the curfew around the town (the cops even tell you they don't know why there's a curfew which is pretty funny) before, in a mysterious cave, you get whisked away to Magicant. Assuming, of course, you have your Great Grandfather's Diary with you- it's one of the first items you get after all, so do hang on to it. As well as being the most fantasy-like place in the game- complete with seashell houses, riddle-talkers and cats who swim on the ground- Magicant is where you finally get something resembling a real objective, finding the Eight Melodies scattered across the world for Queen Mary.

Once you return to the real world, in particular once you blow up the rocks blocking the path to Union Station and the railways start running again, the world is fairly open... Perhaps a bit too open. The train can take you to three towns in the South-East now- Reindeer, Spookane and Snowman- and there's also the deadly Yucca Desert to the North-East which leads to the final two towns, Youngtown and Ellay as well as the imposing Mt. Itoi. The game tries to gently guide the player to the South-East area first, with a destroyed bridge preventing access to the North-East and the first stop, Reindeer, having a key item leading you to Snowman to recruit Ana, but I can absolutely imagine a player trying to mosey on through the Desert and getting their head handed to them, so hopefully they'll take that as a cue to take the train and try something else. In fact, there's a general sense of open-endedness throughout- again unlike the SNES game, the Eight Melodies aren't in specific known locations like the Your Sanctuary spots are, they're all over the world and not necessarily signposted for you. Talking to people and taking notes on what you hear will clue you in to where to look, especially anything to do with songs or music like singing animals and the like (amusingly, there's a young man in one town who sings a song so awful Ninten refuses to remember it which is pretty funny) and as long as you remain curious and willing to engage, you'll figure it out. If you're a really clever player, you can even figure out how to beat the game with different party configurations- while you usually end with Ninten, Ana and Lloyd, you're only required to meet Lloyd to beat the game and can either skip Ana and Teddy or ditch certain members before the final battle, a level of freedom not offered by other games in the series. I can definitely understand playing this after the SNES EarthBound would be a bit of a shock as that's somewhat more careful to guide the player in the right direction, but they're both quite different RPG experiences even if they have similar themes, and I appreciate the original game's approach even if it's a little daunting.

Speaking of daunting, the gigantic size of the overworld can be overwhelming too- everything is roughly 'to scale' so you don't go to a separate zoomed-out overworld to get to to towns like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, you are walking the full distance for most of the game. At the start, most places use the same tileset too, so losing your bearings is easily done, especially since you don't have much direction plot-wise. Fortunately, the map is extremely helpful as it's always available with the Start Button and points of interest beyond towns are marked with a little dot. It doesn't say what those places are, but if you're wondering what to do next, they're a good place to start, and again, talking to NPCs will give you a leg-up. Using your head helps too- things that look different from everything else, like a gravestone in a different colour palette, a much-larger sign on a zoo enclosure, that kind of thing, you have to pay attention to your surroundings, sprawling as they may be sometimes. The same can't be said for some of the 'dungeons' (in this modern-themed settings these are factories, mansions the like)- similar to overworlds, there's little in the way of landmarks or tile variety which is fair given hardware limitations, but there's no maps either. Locations like Duncan's Factory and the Rosemary Mansion are particularly troublesome in this regard, with dozens of doors and ladders / stairs with plenty of dead ends, meaning more opportunities for random battles of course but it can get a little frustrating. It's definitely a weaker aspect of the game, especially since many of the dead ends don't even have items for you to snaffle up (made worse by the fact some of them don't fit on a single screen so you have to go further in to check there's nothing there).

There's definitely some things you can do to make things easier, and it's all about engaging with the mechanics you have to work with. For a start, the Bread item is very helpful early on- sure, you can eat it for a pick-me-up, but picking Use instead of Eat while on the field will mark that position and give you the Crumbs item in its place. When you Use this new item, your party will follow the breadcrumb trail back to where you started it, essentially a teleport to a location you set in advance. You can use these to get out of dangerous situations and back to safety quickly, or return to an area you were exploring after getting knocked out, and you can even set up multiple breadcrumb trails (just remember which set of Crumbs leads where!), with the only limitation being that returning after warping to Magicant or teleporting anywhere resets any trails to take you to the seashell pillar you escaped from Magicant to or the town you teleported to. Once you do learn how to teleport the Crumbs become a lot less important, but you still might want to use them when exploring Mt. Itoi, and it's a pretty interesting spin on the concept of an item that gets you out of trouble that fits perfectl with the 'kids on an adventure' theme. There's also using the Onyx Hook you get in Magicant to teleport back there from anywhere if you need to get out and regroup. Admittedly, you can only do this if you picked the item up, and you do have to fight a mid-boss, the Fish, to get it, but by the time you get there for the first time, you should be able defeat it. Unless- speaking purely hypothetically here- you're playing a ROM hack that drastically reduces the encounter rate or you're strictly following a guide without deviating from the path forward, but that's something we might touch on later.

Generally, this exploration part of the game works pretty well despite some of its issues. A lot of the problems on the overworld- the vast size and reused tileset- are alleviated somewhat by the extremely useful map as it's very cleanly-presented and offers just enough hints on where to go without explicitly telling you, more like a general helping hand rather than explicit instructions. The genuinely-helpful nature of NPCs works in tandem with this to guide you in the right direction. You have to meet the game halfway a little, actively engage with talking to people, maybe even taking notes down- in fact, one character in Magicant (who also gives you more hints for the Eight Melodies locations) specifically says you might want to write something down to come back to later- and as long as you remain willing to maintain your curiosity and actively take the world in, I think anyone can make their way through the game without too much trouble in terms of exploration and where to go. The main areas of concern are that the dungeons are significantly more difficult to explore without a map, the movement is sometimes a little difficult (the game uses a tile system with both diagonal walking and an isometric perspective so sometimes you'll get stuck on corners, especially if you're running everywhere) and the openness of the game world might be a dealbreaker for some if they prefer a linear path to the end, but I think on the whole it does things pretty well. Oh, and some later NPCs actually have a cold and will pass it on to your entire party, a cruel and unusual punishment for talking to everyone. Cough into a tissue, you jerks!

Cripes, there's a lot of moving parts to consider with an RPG, huh? That moves us on to how battles work. Early on when your options are limited, it's pretty basic, very much in the Dragon Quest style where you see your enemies and just bash their noggins in to proceed. It doesn't get massively more complicated as you gain party members and abilities but there are some pretty interesting parts to it. Let's start with the party members you get, there's a grand total of four but you can only have three at a time. Ninten in particular is an ideal starting character- as well as being strong, he quickly learns some very helpful healing and buff / debuff PSI abilities (the game's equivalent of magic) to keep him alive when he's on his lonesome, especially 4th-D Slip which guarantees an escape for non-boss encounters at a high PP cost and Defense-Up. This also helps when new characters join the party as these skills can help keep them alive as they get up to speed. Speaking of friends, Lloyd is the nerd with his lack of PSI being replaced by powerful weapons like Plasma Beams and Flame Throwers that serve the same functions as some higher-level PSI abilities but having a chance of breaking after use so, with the right equipment, he can definitely dole out plenty of damage. Ana is the frailest member of the team and you can't rely on her for physical damage but she makes up for it by learning several advanced PSI abilities well before Ninten does (she learns LifeUp π at 22 while Ninten has to wait until 35!) plus all of the offensive PSI skills like PK Fire that attacks a row of enemies and PK Freeze which can put adversaries in a critical state, cementing her as your number two damage-dealer, as well as being able to shut down certain enemies entirely with PSI-Block. Finally, there's Teddy who temporarily kicks Lloyd out (don't worry, he'll be back, complete with Teddy remarking "Brute strength is not enough to defeat them", a message you should take to heart) and replaces his smarts with pure brawn, able to deal huge amounts of physical damage especially if you equip him with a Sword or Katana. The fairly nice spread of specialities and attributes give your party members individual uses and personalities, and while there's nothing like more specialised abilities per character, each character feels unique enough to contribute to battle in their own ways. Just a shame you can't keep Pippi the whole game, she can take on an army of zombies all by herself!

As for some other battle data elements of the combat system I like, there's a handy Auto battle setting where the game will go on cruise control, pelting a random enemy with physical attacks and using healing PSI when necessary. This is really useful early on in the game where there's not a lot for you to do beyond select your targets, and it can also be switched off to get you back in control if you feel you need to. Eventually you'll want to keep in control at all times but it's a nice option to have for when there's not else for you to do. The draw for me, such as it is, is that enemies are frequently dangerous, especially the further you get in, making battles feel tense and impactful. Some areas even have enemies that you absolutely do not want to engage with like robots and trees that explode upon death and deal massive damage to your party. It's perhaps a little unintentional given that at least one area of the game, the infamous Mt. Itoi, was not given any difficulty-balancing, but I like to think this reflects the fact that you're controlling a bunch of children smashing at things with baseball bats and frying pans, not a combat unit. As such, you have to use the abilities you have at your disposal to survive- shut enemies down with PSI-Block or Defense-Down, defend when you have to, keep everyone's health up- and even then the possibility of enemies getting SMAAAASH!! attacks (equivalent to Dragon Quest's Critical Hits) or getting a status ailment on you can make you change your plans. With a little trial-and-error, you'll figure out what works best on what enemies, and using the Check command can help too. Sure, this isn't massively different from other RPGs at the time, but as well as the novelty of the enemy designs and overall feel of the game (we'll get to those later), these battles are pretty quick, closer to Dragon Quest than Final Fantasy for sure, and I appreciate it.

... Although speaking of enemies, we have to tackle the elephant in the room, huh? Like the majority of RPGs at the time, you don't see your enemies on the map and instead randomly get into encounters in anywhere that's not safe like a town or house. The encounter rate itself is not so much high as it is unpredictable- the game starts rolling for a random encounter the second you take a step, so sometimes you can go for ages and ages without a fight and other times you'll bumble into them constantly, the only thing you can do to control them somewhat is open the menu on every step. This part of the game, as well as the claim that you have to do a lot of grinding to get anywhere, are two key things you hear about this game almost constantly on the internet. Multiple ROM hacks change things like reducing the encounter rate or add the Easy Ring like in Tomato's Mother 1+2 translation and I can completely understand why you'd want to try this instead of the original game, given the reputation it has. Is that reputation warranted though? After a lot of study, I have to say no, it's not. Technically there is a hard bare-minimum level you have to reach- Level 25 as Ninten- before one of the few mandatory boss battles becomes available, but from my experience, you'll reach this level if you play the game as was generally expected, and... Listen, I don't like to do this too often, but I feel this kind of game warrants a certain approach in how to play it. With an RPG of this vintage, you do have to meet it halfway a little to get the most out of it, so if you feel you're able to... I'd suggest against using a guide and to play the game at your own pace. This is an older RPG and it basically expects you to bumble around a little, talk to townspeople to figure out where to go and what to do, and more importantly get into random battles here and there. Is it grinding if it happens while you're on your way between towns? It's built-in as part of the experience, and I think to dismiss it as 'just grinding' is a little unfair. If you use a guide and know exactly where to go at all times, you'll miss out on a lot of the experience and the game will become a lot more difficult, enforcing a grind upon you, so you have to engage with it a little on its own terms. There's even a promotional video with Itoi telling players, "I think you'll enjoy it more if you figure things out on your own".

Obviously, knowing a few things about how the game works helps a lot, but these are usually things you'll learn over time and observation, and with judicious use of Crumbs and not losing half your money upon death, you're given a bit of wriggle room to experiment with things and mill around th eworld, so I implore you to give it a proper shot. In particular, you'll slowly learn which enemies to run the hell away from, because did you really think a lone child could beat up a tiger?! You're given the tools fairly early on to safely get away with Defense-Up and 4th-D Slip so, you know, use your head and use whatever you can to survive. This is especially true for the brutal climb up Mt. Itoi because you're not really required to fight these enemies- surviving and getting away is more important, the psychic kid who runs away gets to fight aliens another day. In any case, not being over-levelled and playing this way really does make the battle system more engaging and interesting when you know a bit of progress is on the line... But not too much progress that it puts you off. The one exception is that I would recommend a map for some of the larger dungeons, specifically Duncan's Factory and the caves of Mt. Itoi solely because they're so large, sprawling and have tilesets that make remembering where you are difficult. Please understand, I am bad at JRPGs. I am the kind of boneheaded doofus who thinks buffs and debuffs are for cowards, that gets lost in my own hometown let alone a world map, that thinks the best defence is a good offence but pure offense is better. With all that said, I've still been able to beat this game with at the absolute maximum five minutes of grinding (right at the end, to get the group-heal PSI) with my final levels looking like this. RPGs are a different beast from the arcade games I'm used to, and there's a lot of learning and knowledge involved rather than pattern memorisation or that kind of thing, but I feel if I was able to play the game this way and succeed, then I believe in you, reader. I'd give it an honest chance if you feel up to it, you'll get more out of the whole thing.

The last major game mechanic element I want to talk about is item and money management, as it works a bit different from how you'd expect. The big one, and one that drastically affects the game's pacing compared to other contemporaries, is how money works. Similar to Dragon Quest, upon death you keep your progress and just go back to the location you last saved in minus half your cash, but money earned in battles is recontextualised as Ninten's dad giving him an allowance straight into his bank account (based on what enemies you defeat), so you only lose the cash you have on-hand, not anything that's been built up in your account. So, early in the game when money is tight, taking a death isn't nearly as demoralising as it could be, and this slowly becomes less of a problem as you learn new PSI abilities and eventually get very powerful healing items just handed to you for the climb up Mt. Itoi (possibly a plaster over the issue of the difficulty of that area, but it's welcome). There's a couple of other tricks you can do with this money system too, mostly never carrying too much cash with you when exploring, selling items like Ropes for huge cash bonuses and defrauding certain hospitals that take half your available cash by depositing all your money before visiting (that's a bit on-the-nose, huh). Eventually money becomes a little meaningless (especially since you can find a Phone Card for saving your game) but I do like that early on it's not as big an issue as it could be in other games in the genre, and it helps give you a bit of a leg-up to get started.

Another part that's interesting is how equipment and items work, including how you hang on to them and where you get your gear. The limitation of eight item slots per character sounds like a big problem at first, given that there's four equipment slots to consider but, surprisingly, the game has a solution to this- when you equip an item, it removes it from your inventory. The exception is Lloyd's machines which he doesn't equip and has to keep in his inventory. This has its disadvantages- once you equip something you can't remove it unless you have something else to replace it with, a bit like kusoge classic Hoshi wo Miru Hito although equipping stuff isn't detrimental to your success here- but it helps with decluttering your inventory for the important things like a cash card and as many burgers as you can carry. Ninten on his own might struggle a little at first, but he does have LifeUp to help him with healing to mitigate reliance on items and once you find Lloyd, space becomes less of an issue, plus if you return home or to Magicant there's a character who'll hang on to useless junk for you, so you have options until you get a full squad. There's some menuing involved in swapping items between characters, especially if one's knocked-out, but conveniently each character's items fits on a screen each rather than scrolling, so it's not too bad. Honestly, by the end you'll probably find that you have a lot of spare inventory slots- Lloyd is the one who'll be using battle-exclusive items, and you might not need too many otherwise- so be sure to fill them up with the infinitely-available LifeUpCream supply found at the foot of Mt. Itoi, you'll need 'em!

One other oddity is that while you'll definitely be grabbing a handful of new weapons when you visit new towns (although not too often), armour in the traditional RPG sense doesn't exist here- each party member can equip three types of defence-boosting items (a coin, a ring and a pendant that protects against specific PSI attacks) and beyond the Star Pendant, all of these are bought in Magicant. This compartmentalisation of defence items is a little strange, but is helpful in a way- when a new member joins the party, you just need to head over to Magicant to at least start getting them up to speed, and them joining is spaced out so by the time you need to, you'll probably have enough cash to deck them out. This certainly helps with one criticism I see a lot, that Lloyd and Ana join the party at Level 1 (just like Dragon Quest II!) but by the time you get out of Magicant after buying their new gear, they're well on their way to pulling their weight, and some of Ninten's PSI abilities are perfect for keeping them alive. Each party member's strongest weapon is (almost) compartmentalised in a similar fashion- except for Lloyd, they're all found in the caves of Mt. Itoi (something fans of the SNES game will be jealous of, given the 1-in-128 chance you have of getting the ultimate weapons in that game). By the time you get them though, you'll most likely be running away from a lot of battles, plus you won't be needing them for the final boss, but hey, if they make you feel safer, sure, go for it.

We're just about wrapping up on all the game mechanics bits and pieces (finally!) so there's just one more thing I want to mention. I think the biggest quality-of-life feature the game could do with is an in-game explanation of what the PSI abilities do as, unlike items, you can't read a description of them. Had the game been released in the West as intended, the manual would've almost certainly clued you in as the Japanese manual has a full list of abilities, what they do and who learns them (just not when they learn them), meaning this info isn't nefariously hidden from the player, it just kind-of is if you experience it nowadays without the manual. Not entirely uncommon, of course- games from this era didn't necessarily have the luxury of space needed for that kind of thing, and Dragon Quest II also lists what the spells do in the manual, plus there's things like the Tavern Tales from D&D Pools of Radiance that you have to refer to the manual to actually read rather than be told them in-game (thanks to blueskyrunner, Bobinator and Leland for reminding me). Still, having something brief in the game would've helped, especially for the various Healing abilities that heal specific ailments and only those elements, but I can't hold it against the game too harshly given that it wasn't released as intended in the West, with a manual and all. It's definitely more a problem nowadays given that the Switch version comes with no manual whatsoever, so look up that translated Japanese manual scan, it's how you're meant to do things.

However, the setting and vibe of Mother is what sets it apart from other RPG series and this is something established here, even if it took the second game to really iterate on it. The contemporary setting goes against the common set-dressing of JRPGs at the time, of medieval fantasy or science fiction (not that there weren't any on Famicom- look to LaSalle Ishii no Childs Quest for something set in modern-day Japan), and while it does lean towards fantasy and sci-fi at points, especially near the end, it mostly sticks to its theme. I think it's important to note how it commits to this setting in ways outside the locations too, it's across the whole game. Your weapons are baseball bats, frying pans and slingshots, your healing items are fast food and juice boxes and you even get a bunch of joke items like a ruler to size up the enemy and 'swear words' to cuss 'em out. The NPCs, while concerned with some of the strange happenings in the world, also complain about a strip joint setting up in their town and recommend the local tourist spots (and honestly, are worth talking to, there's some real funny lines in there). The enemies in your way range from the fantastical like sets of eyes, men from the stars and living gargoyles to the mundane like stray dogs, scorpions and disgruntled farm workers, and many of them aren't defeated or terminated at the end of a battle, they 'come back to their senses' or 'become tame'. Sure, it's mostly window-dressing but it's extremely effective at giving the game an identity, even in small details like flavour text which, honestly, was localised really well given its release era (I'm a big fan of Mr. Bat 'thinking about the circumstances' especially).

The story, admittedly, doesn't have the same emotional resonance as the SNES game did for me (listen, SNES EarthBound really hit me where I live) and some might find it a little directionless at the start. However, there's certainly some neat little setpieces across the story, like taking a ride in a biplane across the world, finding a near-indestructible robot buddy called EVE who can help you scale Mt. Itoi and even the train ride is exciting thanks to the music. It absolutely has its little moments too, whether they're funny (the Mayor of Podunk telling you "you have tiger droppings on you" afer you solve the zoo incident then never wanting anything to do with you again), a little heartbreaking (the abandoned children of Youngtown begging you for help) or a bit of both (a scene meant to evoke the 'dost thou love me?' bit of Dragon Quest except you're allowed to say no, you monster). The resolution of the main story and how it ties to Magicant is pretty touching too, as is a little surprise waiting for you at the end of the staff credits. There's even some pretty clever gags such as your dad phoning you if you refuse to let Teddy join your party (with disastrous results if you keep saying no), a secret lab where you can get some bizarre items to use and some really out-of-the-way signs hidden in the Yucca Desert, so much like the way you progress through the game, being curious and willing to play along with the game will reap rewards beyond the main story. You're definitely here for the journey, as harsh as that may be sometimes.

Presentation-wise, the game mostly falters in the reuse of tilesets as already mentioned and the overworlds and interiors in particular aren't as detailed as something like Final Fantasy, but there's a bit more variety in them as you get later in the game and areas like Magicant and Spookane have their own little details that make them stand out (I'm a big fan of Spookane being so dilapidated, taking the familiar town tileset and distorting it just enough). The enemy art is a real highlight, as while there's no backgrounds to the fight scenes (instead taking place over the inky darkness like Dragon Quest II) the designs are full of character, with even normally-mundane things like a fly or a possessed lamp having some kind of personality shrine through their static sprite art (and some of them were made into clay models for promotional art, really worth checking out). That said, some have a slight realistic edge to them when compared to their SNES equivalents- the Stray Dog has a mouth of sharp, sharp teeth compared to the SNES game's more docile-looking, almost playful Runaway Dog, and the Bear looks like it's way less friendly and more likely to eat you- but that helps make the designs feel distinct from their later counterparts, and they have an appeal of their own too. Most of the rest of the graphics are functional and get the job done outside of those dungeon tilesets, but you can tell a lot of heart went into those enemy designs.

The soundtrack, co-written between Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka is another high point of the game with some very mood-setting pieces. These range from the contrast between the slightly lonely-sounding Pollyanna (I Believe in You) when you're exploring the field on your own and the bouncy, upbeat Bein' Friends when you've got your friends by your side, to the folksy and inviting Humoresque of a Little Dog for when you're shopping, to the genuinely-menacing Battle with a Dangerous Foe that went on to be used as the Your Sanctuary boss theme for the SNES game. In fact, a lot of these songs would reappear, way more than you'd expect, and while we were denied a SNES rendition of Bein' Friends, many of these songs are definitely good enough to warrant being updated to the SNES sound style. Finishing up the presentation side of thing, while 'charm' and 'character' are nebulous, intangible things and vary from person to person, I personally think they're qualities that can be attributed to this game and the series as a whole and give it a lot of appeal. I suppose a little bit of that is nostalgia too- I wasn't around for the initial release of course, but after playing the first Super Smash Bros. I learned all about the series from the internet and actually started with this one, as the prototype had been already found by that point- but while I don't like to indulge in too much nostalgia, maybe it's appropriate for a game like this, seeing as the original title is Mother and all, invoking feelings of home and family.

OK, I've talked far too much today about a single game and there's still some bits I've probably forgotten, but my editor is currently screaming "ARE YOU DONE YET" at me from off-screen so let's try and finish things up here. For someone who only plays proper full-blooded JRPGs once in a blue moon- and something so heavily inspired by Dragon Quest can be nothing but a full-blooded JRPG- I really enjoy Earthbound Beginnings and would love other people to do the same. Its frankly unfair reputation of being grindy, coupled with its more famous sequel, gives me the sense that most people aren't willing to give it a proper chance, but it has a lot of things that make it distinct from its follow-up- its open-ended nature with a focus on exploring a huge world, having a 'home base' of sorts in Magicant that's easily accessible once you visit it for the first time, the simple but challenging nature of enemies and encouraging the player to not be afraid of running away now and then. The qualities it shares with its bigger brother- the contemporary setting with dashes of sci-fi, the oddball sense of humour and the general vibe of the presentation- make it stand out amongst the other games in the genre on the system though. There would be life in the Famicom for a couple more years after the game's release, and arguably more robust, advanced JRPGs would follow it- Final Fantasy III would release the following year, and Data East's even more open-world Metal Max the year after that- but in spite of its weaknesses and faults, Earthbound Beginnings is a pretty solid recommendation if you're willing to approach it as intended. Keep a positive attitude, remain ever-curious, feel free to falter a little here and there but don't give up, just lose yourself a little in the adventure, y'know? And maybe you, too, can save the world with just a baseball bat and the power inside you.

For doing its best to live up to the 'guaranteed masterpiece' promise of its commercial, Earthbound Beginnings is awarded..

In a sentence, Earthbound Beginnings is...
An '80s JRPG heartily endorsed by Gaming Hell.

And now, it's that time, folks!

Let's start with differences between the localisation prototype and the original Mother.

(Beyond my own testing of the train tunnel, most of this can be found at The Cutting Room Floor, so go there instead!)

I won't be going over absolutely everything as a lot was changed, but you can roughly divide them into three categories- quality-of-life additions, graphical changes including toning down the game's content and new story and game additions and alterations. Let's deal with the quality-of-life stuff first as it's the most impactful and, well, some of it's been mentioned already. The controls were shifted around a bit by default- originally, B would bring up your Status menu but it's instead mapped to Select while holding B runs (and actually speeds up the whole game world) and pressing Start brings up the world map if you're in an area that uses it. Speaking of, the map became a standard feature whereas in Mother you had to pick one up and keep it in your inventory to view it, which needless to say makes exploring a lot easier. There's also additional text speed options, a new Look command with Goods for quick descriptions on what items do and to accommodate for six characters instead of five for character names, the menu in-battle was shifted around a bit with the order being Level, HP and PP instead of Level being at the end. A very famous bug was also removed where you could use the Flea Bag on certain indestructible enemies to 'time out' their battles and alter the course of the game somewhat. Honestly, the big one here is the run function, as the game is unfortunately pretty slow without it!

Next, graphical changes and toning down the game's content. As was Nintendo's style at the time, religious, drug-related and violent elements were either removed entirely or replaced. In the map scenes, crosses in the churches were replaced with stain-glass windows and the relevant NPCs had their crosses removed. Some of the generic NPC designs were also altered in an apparent attempt to make them look less like characters from the American comic strip Peanuts, so perhaps they were a bit too on the nose for NoA. In battle, several enemy sprites were cleaned up too- visible blood was removed from the Gang Zombie, the Shroudley and Dr. Distorto, Teddy lost his knife and the Crow and B. B. Gang lost their cigarettes. These enemy alterations in particular would, surprisingly, come in handy for later Japanese rereleases of the game to get it up to CERO code. All pretty standard stuff for a localisation of this vintage so it's not too out of the ordinary.

The last category is new story and game content and alterations. All of the game's towns had their name changed from Western holidays like Mother's Day and Valentine to things like Podunk and Spookane, far more American-sounding which fits the setting. I guess you can call the new flavour text on enemies seen when you use Check on them story content too, as some are pretty funny and give the game a bit more charm (I'm personally a big fan of Big Foot's description, "Surprised? It really does exist!"). There's technically new items for sale too- Reindeer's Department Store has an extra floor selling weapons that Lloyd can use (including the Plasma Beam which in Mother you had to get from enemy drops) and Magicant's pendant store replaces the useless Friendship Ring with the Repel Ring which eliminates low-level enemy encounters for a while. As a trade-off, the gag Time Machine weapon got cut as well as its accompanying cutscene (although it was still translated) but at least you still get the Last Weapon. A few maps were changed too- the Magicant cave and path to Mt. Itoi were made a bit easier to navigate (wish they'd done the same with Duncan's Factory but you can't win 'em all) with the Forgotten Man at the end of Magicant no longer teleporting you to the start of Magicant if you get his question wrong (you can just talk to him again straight afterwards). For the most part it seems that the battle system, experience earned and everything like that is unaltered except, if this chart is correct, Ninten and Ana learn most of their PSI abilities one level later in Earthbound Beginnings (Ana gets LifeUp π at 21 in Mother compared to 22, for instance).

One particularly interesting change I want to highlight is the addition of enemies in the railway tunnel between Merrysville and Reindeer. In Mother, this tunnel is long but completely abandoned with no enemy encounters, allowing you to theoretically skip ahead a little, visit Reindeer and grab Ana's hat then hoof it through to Snowman to recruit Ana without having to recruit Lloyd or visit either of the factory dungeons. In Earthbound Beginnings, the tunnel instead uses the enemy list from Yucca Desert which, at this point in the game, will absolutely demolish you, especially if you're on your own, plus a pile of bones was added a little ways in to tell the player to take the train instead. It is still possible to skip ahead (especially since the tunnel between Spookane and Snowman has no enemies) but requires a lot of planning and using breadcrumb trails to your advantage. Try it if you want a real challenge!

Finally, while the plot remains the same, the end game received quite a few changes- in Mother, once EVE blows up and you get the seventh melody you're taken straight to Magicant, then after doing your business there you end up at the top of Holy Loly Mountain, with the final boss directly inside the cave entrance. In Earthbound Beginnings, you have to limp your way up the rest of Mt. Itoi after EVE carks it, learn the eighth melody from the grave, then go to Magicant yourself to resolve that storyline, after which you're teleported back to the top of Mt. Itoi with a small cave (packed with Starmen) and a room with kidnapped humans (seen in the Japanese version earlier on the mountain) before the final boss. On the plus side, whereas Mother ends with the kids staring out into the ether as the credits roll, Earthbound Beginnings adds a fun epilogue where we find out how everyone's doing, alongside a sequel teaser with Ninten's dad (!). Quite a few additions and new assets, then! Shame that these weren't implemented into the Japanese version, eh? Oh, wait...

Ports and rereleases time, and there's really not a lot to go over here, but go over we must.

The only non-emulation one is the 2003 Game Boy Advance port of the game as part of the compilation Mother 1+2.

As part of the lead-up to Mother 3's eventual release on the Game Boy Advance in 2006, the first two games in the series were released on a single GBA cartridge exclusively in Japan. This was the first rerelease of either game which was significant enough on its own, but many changes were made to the first game in particular which would probably be a surprise to Japanese audiences... But some of these changes would not be surprising to anyone who played that localisation prototype, as pretty much every change from there- running on the overworld, the sprite alterations, the extended ending, all of it- is present and correct here. In the Phil Sandhop interview, he mentions this isn't unusual, commenting that, "In software development, each subsequent version is usually derivative of prior versions [and] once the program was changed they would have continued to use the revised program" but, given that a lot of people were very sceptical of the original prototype, this basically cemented it as real.

There's further changes too, as documented by skye07 on GameFAQs- there was originally a line referencing Dragon Quest by name, changed to Super Mario Bros. in the localisation prototype, that no longer references a specific game, EVE leaves a Memory Chip behind that lets you warp back to Mt. Itoi which is preferable to limping your way back up if you decide to leave, you now have a Check / Talk shortcut with L, the graphical effect for entering battle is now a mosaic... The big one is that the tile-based movement is gone, replaced with movement that more closely resembles the SNES game, which sounds nice on paper but overlooks a key detail- enemy encounters are still rolled on every step, which means in this version you might move a single pixel after a battle and immediately get into another one. Oh dear. Most of the graphics beyond menus being scrunched up haven't been changed from their internal NES resolution, meaning that you don't get to see nearly as much of the map so it's significantly easier to get lost, and with the music and sound effects being much lower-quality, this all combines to mean that while there's some nice additions here and this is the only way for Japanese audiences to play with many of the improvements made in the localised version, it's not an ideal version of the game.

As for directly-emulated versions... For whatever reason, Mother was not one of the first-party Famicom games to make it to the Wii Virtual Console in Japan. There's a lot of rumours and speculation about why this and the second game especially were not rereleased there which we won't repeat here for fear of possibly incorrect information spreading further than it should, but this oversight was corrected for the Wii U Virtual Console. Heavily corrected. Not only were both games rereleased on the Wii U Virtual Console in 2015, but the original localisation prototype was released officially in the West for the very first time, referred to in official materials as Earthbound Beginnings but otherwise unchanged. Funnily enough, the Japanese Wii U Virtual Console version did have a couple of changes as documented on EarthBound Central, primarily the censored sprites like the Crow and Gang Zombie in order to make sure the game complied with CERO guidelines, but the other localisation changes and improvements obviously aren't included. In 2022, both the NES and SNES games in the series made it to NES and SNES Online on the Switch, and Earthbound Beginnings is the same as the Wii U VC release, including the changes made to the Japanese version.

Next, we have to talk about the album that came out around a month after the game's original release.

Simply in August 1989 as both a cassette and CD titled Mother Original Sound Track, this does contain the game's music but only as one gigantic track right at the end titled The World of MOTHER. The other ten songs on the album are all remixes of songs from the game, and even more shocking, many of them have English lyrics! The lyrics were written by Linna Hennrick, known for contributing to music for the likes of Lensman and Armitage III which is a pretty big name, and while it sounds like a pretty strange idea for an album- a bunch of songs including English lyrics for a game that wasn't localised at the time... It works pretty well. Pollyanna (I Believe in You) in particular is a real favourite of mine. Surprisingly, it's had quite a few reissues over the years as well, with a CD rerelease in 2004 (which included a demo version of Smiles and Tears from the second game) and vinyl sets in 2015 (the first release of the album outside of Japan, after a successful Kickstarter campaign) and 2019 (for the game's 30th anniversary). You can learn more about the credits of this album over on VGMDB which is where the image above comes from too.

And here's the remixes from the album uploaded to YouTube if you'd like to give it a listen, it's definitely worth it.

But what of Smash? Let's cover this game's appearances in Nintendo's celebration of video games in video game form.

While EarthBound as a series is indeed represented by both Ness from EarthBound (one of the Original 12 from the N64 game) and Lucas from Mother 3 (introduced in Brawl for the Wii), there's considerably less love given to the first game. That's completely fair, of course- Ness and Lucas already play quite similar to one another, so adding Ninten would be even more redundant, and a lot of things from Mother were perhaps made more famous for appearing in the sequels- but there's still a few nods to the original across the series, so let's get have a look.

In Melee, the main music track for the Onett stage is just called Mother and is a remix of Bein' Friends, the Eight Melodies and the 'enemy encountered' jingle arranged by Shogo Sakai, a song that would return for every subsequent Smash outing, and the hidden song, while called Mother 2, is a remix of Pollyanna (I Believe in You) by Shogo Sakai which, while associated with Ness' house in EarthBound, also appears in the original game. In Brawl, music remixed from Mother includes Humoresque of a Little Dog by Masato Kouda, Snowman by Shogo Sakai and the victory theme for Ness and Lucas being a snippet of Mother Earth; the Franklin Badge appears both as an equippable item that reflects projectiles and as a Trophy; finally there are Stickers of the clay models for Ninten, Ana, Lloyd, Teddy, Little Saucer, Mad Truck, Devil Car and The Hippie (erroneously named after his EarthBound counterpart, New Age Retro Hippie). In Wii U / 3DS, Mother finally had a stage to represent itself in the form of the original Magicant, complete with a background that occasionaly shows clips from the NES and SNES games and a recruitable Flying Men (based on their SNES design) plus a new remix incorporating the Magicant theme and the Eight Melodies arranged by Yoko Shimamura; a Starman can be brought into the fight as an Assist Trophy, teleporting around the arena and firing PK / PSI Beam Gamma and Omega at combatants; finally trophies appear for Starman and Devil Car. Ultimate contains all previous Mother content except for Trophies and Stickers plus a new Magicant remix for every EarthBound-based stage by Motoi Sakuraba, a new EarthBound series victory jingle using a snippet of the Eight Melodies and Spirits for Ninten, Ana, Lloyd, Teddy, EVE, Flying Man and Starman. Phew!

I'm not going to lie. One of the inspirations for writing about this game at long last was... Korone Inugami's playthrough of the game.

Her emotional reaction to hearing Pollyanna really got to me. As did her singing along to it, in a different way.

If you listen carefully in the Super Chat thanks in the final stream, maybe you can hear her say "The Gaming Hell YouTube Thing-san"...

The reader is thinking about the circumstances. The reader became confused!