EarthBound Zero

There are many games that develop something of a cult following, among them being Nintendo's EarthBound on the Super NES, known as Mother 2 in Japan. Its predecessor, Mother, saw its release on the Famicom back in 1989 in Japan. It was to see a North American release at the turn of the next decade, even having a complete translation, although Nintendo ultimately put it on indefinite hold. Years later, a translated prototype of the game's cartridge found its way onto the internet, finding distribution under the name EarthBound Zero, which proved to be an okay beginning to the series in spite of its flaws.

Like many other RPGs of the time, EarthBound Zero features randomly encountered turn-based battles with various enemies. The player inputs commands for their three active characters and lets them and the enemy beat each other up in a round. Commands include normally attacking, using PP-consuming psychic powers, using consumable items, or attempting to escape. While the escape option doesn't always work, the player ultimately gets up to three chances of escape when their party reaches three characters, so there at least is a better-than-average chance of escaping combat if desired. Winning battles nets all characters experience for occasional level-ups, not to mention money deposited into Ninten's ATM account.

If the player's party dies, however, the game gives them the opportunity to continue at the last save point, albeit with Ninten's allies still dead (there are, however, rare places where the player can revive them free) and half of held money lost (not a problem since the game initially deposits money into ATMs). The battle system works decently for the most part, in spite of a schizophrenic encounter rate and a nasty spike in difficulty towards the end, although the game is beatable nonetheless even without excessive grinding. There's also a time in the game where the player only has a particular powerful character only temporarily, but otherwise, the gameplay serves the game decently.

The controls are okay, with a generally-easy menu system, and, in a rarity for an NES RPG, the abilities to move diagonally and even dash rather than walk, but the game doesn't do a very good job telling players where exactly they need to go next in order to advance the main plot. A more generous save system would have been nice, as well, with the player only able to save at telephones, although interaction was still okay for an NES RPG.

EarthBound Zero's contemporary setting was a nice break from the RPGs with fantasy settings, although the story doesn't contain much development aside from the backstory seen when the player starts a new game, not to mention the epilogue for playable characters at the end, with the plot revolving around finding eight musical notes. However, since not very many other RPGs at the time contained deep, engaging plots, the lack of story is somewhat forgivable.

The soundtrack is decent, with plenty of nice tunes such as the title screen theme and a few of the battle themes, although the music can get slightly repetitive, and the sound effects are standard for an 8-bit RPG. The graphics look okay, with decent scenery albeit small character sprites, black battle backgrounds, and inanimate enemies, with EarthBound Zero, as seemed to be the case with most RPGs of the time, somewhat getting the short end of its system's visual capabilities.

Finally, the game is short, about ten hours long, with little to extend playing time aside. In the end, EarthBound Zero was a decent RPG in its time, what with its simple but decent gameplay and soundtrack, among other aspects, though it has its share of flaws such as an annoyingly-fluctuating encounter rate. Nonetheless, it was a shame that Nintendo decided at the last minute not to release the game overseas, with only its sequel (legally) giving Anglophone fans a taste of the Mother series.

The Good:
+Simple but decent gameplay.
+Decent translation for an early '90s game.
+Good soundtrack.

The Bad:
-Schizophrenic encounter rate.
-Poor direction on how to advance.
-Not much replay value.

The Bottom Line:
An okay beginning for the series.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: NES
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 5/10
Story: 6/10
Music/Sound: 7/10
Graphics: 6/10
Localization: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 4/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: About 10 Hours

Overall: 6/10

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