It’s ironic that one of Japan’s leading videogame genres, the RPG, is an American invention. Even more interesting is that one of the most creative examples of the genre is a Japanese take on everyday American culture, with a twist. For anyone who has become jaded with the clich
The Mother titles were made to be accessible, at least on a literary level, so everyone can directly relate to events. Your character grows up in a single parent household because his father is always away working, a situation that mimics the childhood of the man behind the game and no doubt many fans. Rather than battling and earning gold, you have to phone your father who talks to you about how you’re growing up, before giving you pocket money. Eventually you become homesick, and your mother demands to know why you don’t phone her enough whilst on your world-saving adventure.
There is great sincerity in how the game deals with these very real, often uncomfortable situations. The game carries a lot of emotion, but without ever becoming twee or overly sentimental. I have to admit, the ending to the first installment is one of the most moving moments I’ve experienced in videogames. This invoking of emotion is even more impressive when you realize the game is over 15 years old – quite an achievement compared to other games of a similar age. Both are well worth sticking with until the end, even though the random battles become a bit tiresome in the first of the series.
A final point regarding the Japan/USA crossover, is that Earthbound stands as a shining example of accurate Japanese localization. There was a sterling effort to accurately translate cultural jokes and the many subtle sentences that were a play-on-words, helping retain the original humorous spirit.
The moderate following the game has raises the question of when this wonderful narrative will continue. The truth is that the third installment has been in development since the days of Nintendo’s 64DD add-on. This was later changed to become an N64 title before finally being scrapped altogether in favor of a redesign. Apparently Itoi-san is still tinkering away, with reports first talking of a GBA and then DS release. There are even jovial rumors that true to his eccentric style, he will have a limited production run of the game specifically for Nintendo’s now abandoned Super Famicom system. One can only hope that upon its release under whichever guise, both Western and Japanese developers will be influenced by its light hearted and warm natured style. And perhaps this influence will effect a small revolution in videogames.
John Szczepaniak is a South African freelance videogame writer with a preference for retro games. He is also a staff member on the Retro Survival project, which contains articles on retro gaming and is well worth investigating.