Wednesday, May 24, 2017

EarthBound - One Final Post

Finally, after all these years, I have beaten EarthBound.
The Circuitous Journey
I’ve started and restarted the game more times than I can recall. My first exposure to it was actually in the original Super Smash Bros., as seems to be the case for many younger fans of the EarthBound/Mother series. I’d never heard of Ness, nor EarthBound, when I encountered him as a playable character in SSB.
As my blog post from back in 2015 indicated, my cousin had a modded Xbox console at some point in the early 2000s, which had a number of emulators and ROM games on it. When perusing the different SNES games on his Xbox, I stumbled across EarthBound. Recognizing the name from Ness’s info page on Super Smash Bros., I decided to try it out. I played around on the game for a while, making it as far as Threed, before I lost interest and he moved out to California and brought the Xbox with him.
I restarted EarthBound numerous times through the years, across several different devices. Most recently, I grabbed an old ROM and save file from my Nexus 4 backup and loaded it onto my PSP. When I made that blog post back in February 2015, I was ecstatic about being able to play the game with physical buttons again. Surely, that would be the time that I played the game through to completion.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t. I did enjoy having physical buttons again, but playing on the PSP came with its own set of problems. For one, my PSP is another device to have to carry around. Sure, it isn’t that much of a hassle to throw it in my messenger bag, but it adds weight and why bother taking it out when I already have my phone on me that can do the same thing? At work, my bag is usually within a few feet of my reach, but at home it’s stashed somewhere that the kids can’t get into it, possibly even in another room. Do I really want to get up and go find it, when my phone is going to be either in my pocket or sitting somewhere near my the vast majority of the time?
Beyond the problem of keeping my PSP with me, emulation on the PSP is spotty. The sleep feature doesn’t work in emulators, which is normally a tremendous boon for me. It is so nice to be able to freeze a game in an instant and put it away for hours or even days if necessary. With Snes9x Euphoria, I had to load the game fresh each time, and manually save any time I wanted to quit playing. Considering how little time I have to dedicate to games, and the fact that I frequently have to stop playing with little to no warning, that is extremely inconvenient.
“Why not use save states,” you might ask. I tried that, but for whatever reason, they were broken with Snes9x Euphoria on the PSP. The state would save just fine. When loading it, the sound would be missing and certain events like enemy encounters would cause the software to crash. In short, save states were completely useless for me on that platform. Again, I need a platform that I can put away at a moment’s notice and resume without much work.
One benefit that became a burden was the extra battery. Instead of having to chew through my phone battery, playing games would specifically drain my PSP battery. On the surface, this sounds great, but it quickly became a hassle. The PSP battery seems to take forever to charge, several hours at least, and didn’t last long at all. I kept my charger at work, so I could play on my lunch break and charge it up before going home. If I played any little bit over the weekend, I would frequently burn through the battery and my PSP would be dead until I could charge it on Monday.
The screen on the PSP isn’t particularly bright, and this caused issues with playing on my lunch break. Sure, I could play at my desk, but I sit down for 8 hours every day. I like to use my lunch break to walk around town, just to get a little exercise. If I’m forced to choose between playing a game at my desk and walking, I’m going to choose walking most of the time.
Beyond all these problems, the Snes9x Euphoria interface just felt janky. Text was tiny and hard to read in menus, the controls felt very jumpy, and it just generally wasn’t pleasant to use. I wasn’t expecting anything as polished as the actual PlayStation XrossMediaBar (XMB), but this was just garbage. Getting a game to load felt like half the battle.
With all the issues that plagued emulation on the PSP, I just couldn’t get much game time in on it. I maybe got 10 hours of collective progress before I sat it down and moved on to other games again. I did eventually migrate back to playing The Legend of Dragoon on the PSP, but it also allowed me to use the sleep mode. Being able to stop playing at any point and quickly resume just made TLoD a much more convenient game to play.

Back to Game Boy Emulation on Android

In my lull from playing emulated games on my PSP, I decided to load an emulator on my phone again. I’ve said before that I tremendously dislike touchscreen controls. However, their convenience in being available on a phone as is, with no need for other peripherals has its worth. For games that aren’t very urgent or time sensitive, mostly RPG and nothing else, it’s manageable.
I grabbed a Game Boy Color emulator, and grabbed a ROM of Pokemon Blue version. As much as I love Pokemon, I hadn’t played a first generation game in years. Sure enough, the simple controls and lack of urgency made it genuinely alright to play without physical buttons. Maybe it was due to the fact that the original Game Boy and Game Boy Color only had a D-pad and 4 buttons, but I rarely mispressed anything.
With my success in emulating Pokemon Blue Version, I then continued onto the Pokemon Trading Card Game. Though I have never played the Pokemon TCG video game in its original cartridge format, I had played it once before in college. Revisiting it on my phone, I was able to play it through to completion. Maybe these touchscreen controls weren’t all that terrible.
After finishing Pokemon Trading Card Game, I decided to be a little more ambitious. I loaded up The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX. Zelda games are certainly more input intensive than your typical RPG, but I figured it might be a small enough step that I could manage. I quickly learned that I was mistaken. With touchscreen controls, the game was too cumbersome to enjoy. It was far too easy to die, with the lack of responsive controls, and the input limitation made it literally impossible for me to save the game normally. I had to die and select save from the game over screen. Before very long, I decided to stop playing.
From Link’s Awakening, I moved onto Final Fantasy Legend. I went into the game not really knowing what to expect. Early Final Fantasy games were all much more clunky than more recent titles in the series, but I figured it was worth playing. Take it from me, Final Fantasy Legend is not worth playing. There is no experience system, you spend more gil restoring health than actually buying useful items, and weapons have durability that causes them to break after a number of uses. The small profit that you make from fighting enemies goes toward recovering your health and replacing weapons. No, thank you.
I searched for another Game Boy or Game Boy Color RPG to play on my phone. It was too soon for another Pokemon game, and I couldn’t think of many other options. Finally, I picked up Dragon Warrior/Quest. Technically the first game in the Dragon Quest series, it was rebranded as Dragon Warrior in the North American region. It was fun, if very simple. I did have to cheat and download a map that I found online, but I did play the game to completion.

SNES Emulation on Android

Having exhausted most of my options on Game Boy and Game Boy Color, I decided it was time to get a SNES emulator on my phone. Several people recommended Chrono Trigger, but I was originally reluctant to play it because I wanted to stick with my Game Boy Color emulator. The last time I played a SNES game on my phone, it just didn’t feel right.
Eventually, I decided to try it and downloaded Snes9x EX+ from the Play Store. I grabbed a Chrono Trigger ROM and started playing it. Initially, I didn’t really like it, but it grew on me over time. Especially with the ability to customize controls so that my broken touchscreen didn’t inhibit play, it really wasn’t bad. I played maybe 10 hours into it before I remembered that I planned on playing EarthBound again after finishing The Legend of Dragoon. Since Chrono Trigger played so well on my phone, maybe EarthBound would be better on my phone than my PSP.
I pulled the contents of my PSP onto my desktop, and loaded the ROM and save file from it onto my phone. Would the same save file be compatible across different emulators? Sure, a ROM is a ROM, but maybe different emulators managed save data differently. Fortunately, I used emulators from the same family on both devices, so I figured my chances were good. I moved the files into the proper location and launched the SNES Emulator on my phone. Upon selecting EarthBound from my list of games, the start screen loaded and lo and behold, there was my saved game. I loaded the file, and there I was in Onett, where I had previously left off.
The controls felt decent, even without my bluetooth controller. I occasionally made accidental button presses, but nothing that would make the game unplayable. In landscape mode with the top of the phone held to the left, the only buttons that become inaccessible in Snes9x EX+ are the A and R buttons. Fortunately, EarthBound can be played completely without these buttons (as far as I’m aware). In any instances that I might need to use them, I could simply flip the phone around and lose access to L and D-Pad Left temporarily. Janky, sure, but I’ve taken that as par for the course until I get another phone.

Finishing this Fight

I soon learned that I was already quite close to the end of the game. Over the course of a few weeks, since I didn’t get to play quite as much as I would’ve preferred, I reached the end. With only 2 dungeons and the final fight sequence to go, I probably could’ve finished in one or two sessions if I wanted to. Plus, it didn’t help matters that I spent a few hours grinding in the final dungeon before proceeding to the end of the game.
Much like The Legend of Dragoon, the amount of time I’ve actually spent playing EarthBound is probably nowhere near as long as one would think given the number of years I’ve been playing it off and on. I didn’t notice any sort of game time indicator, but I definitely spent less than 100 total hours on the game. It felt like a very average length for an RPG, I just took a really long time to finish it. Considering I definitely first tried it before 2007, it’s been at least a decade since I first played EarthBound, probably a little longer. Not the same save file through the entire time, but that’s still a while to play at the same game without finishing it.
I met my goal of beating EarthBound before Summer Games Done Quick 2017, in order to watch the EarthBound run by UltimoIce without risk of spoilers. Although I had no concern that I couldn’t finish in the course of several months, I didn’t want to let myself brush the game aside again. It was time to finish what I started some long years ago, and appreciate the game as one who has finished it, and not a player who stopped partway through.
EarthBound is a weird game. It’s neat, it’s fun, and the combat is actually really interesting, but it is just a strange piece of media. It isn’t a parody of Americana culture, as much as it is a representation of how the culture of the United States is seen from the perspective of Japanese video game developers. Yes, it is every bit as peculiar as that sounds. I don’t think it quite deserves the huge cult following that it has garnered, but it also seems like a game that any RPG fan should play. It isn’t amazing, but it is quirky enough to be worth experiencing, even some 2 decades and some change later.

No comments:

Post a Comment