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Earthbound Mondays #3

Puns and parodies are everywhere this week, as events in Eagleland take a unexpected turn. Peaceful Rest Valley turns out to be anything but, and Ness encounters a talking cow and a very blue village along the way…

I’ve come across a few interesting things in the last couple of weeks playing through Earthbound. First off I’ve been introduced to the very good Earthbound Players Guide, a 130+ page guide to the game. A .pdf version is available here at the excellent Earthbound Central. It really is a cracking read – without a doubt it’s the best player’s guide I’ve ever come across. It’s quirky in style and full of great pictures, guiding lost players through mock travel guides and local newspaper articles.

The second interesting thing I’ve come across has to do with Japan itself. Meeting the members of the Happy Happyism cult reminded me of Aum Shinrikyo and the sarin nerve gas subway attack in 1995. The comparisons between Happy Happyism and Aum Shinrikyo have been done to death on the internet, but this article from 1999 is well worth a read for background on the organisation, if you have the time.

I’ve found that Matthew Patrick’s Game Theory is quite interesting for an alternative perspective on Earthbound, but I stopped watching the video part way through due to the risk of spoilers. Finally, I’ve also been introduced to some really good Japanese blogs through all this, including this excellent one from @SufamiThoughts. If you’re interested in finding out about day to day life in Japan, it’s a great starting point.

Anyway, enough rambling about loosely related subjects, here’s a recap of what I’ve done in Eagleland over the last couple of weeks:

  • Picked up a pencil eraser from the ever useful Apple Kid, finding a very literal solution to the pencil statue blocking my way through Peaceful Rest Valley.
  • Smiled for yet another 2 pictures taken by the top-hatted stranger who is inexplicably following Ness around Eagleland.
  • Was attacked by several Territorial Oaks, left with just one HP by the end of many battles due to the big buggers going up in flames when beaten.
  • Fought an absolute crap-ton of trees, UFOs, Mobile Sprouts and Spinning Robos to get to the Happy Happy Village.
  • Heard the words “Blue, blue” many, many times.
  • Read a largely indecipherable message about a valley behind Threed.
  • Found out the head of the Happy Happyism cult (Mr. Carpainter) is looking for a high priestess for the group and has kidnapped Paula in the process.
  • Fought insane cultists, the blue psuedo-KKK members.
  • Was betrayed by Pokey, who wants to rise up the ranks of Happy Happyism.
  • Pushed through a sea of blue followers in hoods to try to get to Mr. Carpainter.
  • Beat Carpainter in a boss fight. Did this without a great deal of effort, thanks to a reflected lightening attack.

So my thoughts for this week’s playthrough are definitely positive. I’m still enjoying the game’s humor. The name of the bike shop? Punk Sure. The speaking cow’s reaction to the teachings of Mr. Carpainter? They really mooo-ve him. Boom-tish! Being irreverent without trying too hard is one of this game’s strengths and I think it’s why the simple humor works so well, so often.

I also think this type of irreverent humor hides the insightfulness the game has into more serious issues, like the portrayal of the Happy Happy cult. So far Earthbound has touched on a few serious subjects in a fairly humorous way; police corruption, betrayal and kidnap. It’s all done with humour. The cultists in Happy Happy are an amusing bunch to talk to, but demonstrate suspicion and hostility to outsiders, give away their money for useless items and detach themselves from  previously important family ties to be part of the group. Social commentary seems to be woven into the story here and I’m thinking there’s more to this title than initially meets the eye.

Finally the pacing of the game has been really good in this section of the game, with no forced grinding to get to this point at all (Peaceful Valley was choc full of enemies, which did begin to grate after a bit). XP in this section has been plentiful so far and Game Over screens have been few and far between. It’s exactly the level of challenge I like in a game, making playing it a pleasure and never a chore (navigation of the crowd of blue followers was a bit of a pain in the behind, however).

I’m now left with the task of escorting Paula back to Twoson and finding my next Sanctuarty (it’s been a while). To be continued!

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