AJ is like a decade late to the party PER USUAL, but I have officially beaten Earthbound and BOY HOWDY WAS IT INCREDIBLE.
I'm really hankerin' to read up on every single NESS WAS IN A COMA ALL ALONG theory of this game bc frankly this one is kind of asking for that kind of analysis, but before I do I want to reflect on & review this game purely from the way I experienced it, going in with approximate knowledge of the entire plot but knowing pretty much nothing about the way things actually unfold in the context of the game, and not really knowing much atm about others' interpretations. Spoilers obviously.
[spoiler=literall the whole game]
First off...... this game gives the most compelling character development to a *silent protagonist* of literally any video game I have ever played. Homesickness as a gameplay mechanic really helped humanize Ness, and seeing him think about his mom or lose motivation in battle made it feel less like I'm controlling a player avatar (such as in Pokemon or most other silent-protag games) and more obviously that Ness is his own character going on an adventure way bigger than he is. Most of the time when I feel this way about video game characters, they're either very much not silent cast members - developed through text and dialogue - or it's just me projecting; not this time. The most obvious instance of Ness character development is Magicant, but I have so much to say about that I'll get to it later. Anyway, one of this game's absolute strongest points is that it reinforces its narrative through gameplay rather than the two feeling separate (which is a criticism I have of, like, 99% of other JRPGs I otherwise love). So many moments that modern JRPGs would turn into cutscenes are told via gameplay, as moments you have to play and interact through, and it just makes everything feel very cohesive.
I also just love pretty much everything about the flavor text in this game. Uncontrollable crying and catching a cold as status ailments? That ****'s adorable. Plus there's a lot of humor in the filler text enemies get on their turns, talking to useless NPCs, etc. The game is very full of 100/10 flavor text and every other rpg needs to step up its game honestly.
I also really enjoyed Pokey's role in the story. Ignoring Mother 3 in its entirety for a moment, which makes him a piece of irredeemable garbage... I enjoyed that in this particular story about Small Child Heroes Are The Chosen Ones Who Save The Universe Because They're the Chosen Ones, there's also a Evil Small Child Little **** who literally becomes final boss phase 1 material. Ness and Pokey start out as baseball nerd in his matching jammies + that one kid from elementary school you hated, and develop into essentially the strongest human in the universe and right hand man to evil incarnate. Stories in which villains and heroes both develop from small-time to big-time are really compelling to me (it's a good trope), and it's especially fitting that in this case they're both, like, snot-nosed 8 year olds.
Okay, I gotta talk about Magicant, though. AKA birthplace of a thousand fan theories. This **** was incredible.
Flying Man as a representative of Ness's courage is........... adorable. Here we have this tiny child trying to face the evil within him, ok it's a cliche but hear me out bc IT'S DONE SO WELL HERE, and all alone for the first time since almost the beginning of his journey (no 3 happy friends to help him!!). But he can take with him Flying Man. This is SO CUTE. Flying Man, aka really obviously some sort of imaginary friend or fictional hero or other fantastical representation of strength and courage in a young child's mind, can come with Ness to help him. It's just so sweet. He's literally alone but he's personified his own courage and strength in the form of Flying Man to help him face his own demons. It's literally
"Ness's Adorably Childish Coping Mechanism Joined Your Party!" and I love it so much. It made this narrative moment of FACING YOUR TRUE SELF (cue persona 4 battle music), which is usually a Coming Of Age ^TM moment, one that instead reinforces how young Ness still is despite everything.
(Also, related side note, I'm bad at this game and I died like 3 times on Ness's Nightmare. RIP 3 different Flying Mans. It took until the 2nd one died for me to notice the graves growing outside of Flying Man's house, and **** MADE ME REALLY GUILTY FOR BEING RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DEATH OF 3 EMBODIMENTS OF NESS'S COURAGE. I kind of want to know what would happen if all 5 of them died, but I feel like it would be sad and lonely and I am glad it did not come to that.)
A couple more moments in Magicant I really liked:
- when Other Ness gives you the baseball cap I discarded, like, a million years ago. It made a piece of starter equipment feel really sentimental, especially since it's right after the flashback of when his parents first gave his red hat to him. And narratively, it implies that Ness had also felt regret for discarding this equipment and recovered it in this weird-psychic-mind-place since it was created by and for him. I felt guilty after that and kept it clogging his inventory for the rest of the game.
- when you meet young Ness and he just talks about baseball and video games without a care in the world. It's the cutest thing honestly, and again gives off a sense that Ness is reminiscing and reflecting, since this kid is a creation of his mind-space.
- **** POKEY..
- When you talk to King and he talks about how HE was there first and NESS used to be tiny and weak. The implied jealousy there is adorable. This is even better because when you talk to him at the end of the game, IRL King talks about how you are the strongest in the world.
- Talking to various enemies you've fought before? I really liked this. A lot. It made it feel like Ness feels the weight of having hurt them, even if it was something he had to do.
So yeah that **** was awesome. This whole game was great, but that was definitely BY FAR one of the highlights. That, and the final bossfight. TALKING about incorporating narrative into gameplay rather than telling it to you......... the fight against Giygas is one of the best examples of that I've ever experienced. Even the last phase can't really be called an interactive cutscene because you can still die, and it still feels like a fight. I was literally out of PP for BOTH healers and Paula one or two hits away from being KO'd with no more resurrection items, when I finished him. And I was also thoroughly creeped out with Giygas shrieking Ness's name over and over and over again the whole time.
Anyway, there are a few things that caught my attention but I still don't really know what to think about. I'm sure the internet has opinions and thoughts on them, but I'm gonna reflect on them a bit before reading other interpretations which will inevitably influence my own:
- wtf is with that weird loopy branch thing sticking out of the ground. In fact, wtf is with that whole place where you encounter Giygas. You can access it from the Underworld, and see the weird loopy branch thing before going to Magicant where a very similar-looking weird loopy branch thing teleports you to the Sea of Eden. There are a bunch of references to Eden and the Apple of prophecy or whatever, so is that supposed to be representative of the tree in Eden in some way? Am I reading way too much into this??? Very probably. I just think it's very interesting that this symbol is introduced specifically made visible BEFORE Magicant, then IN Magicant it takes you to the place where the embodiment of evil lurks in Ness's mind, and then AFTER you realize that it is located in this weird limbo space you phase distort to the past to get to Giygas. Is this representative of Giygas's influence? IDK BUT IT'S OBVIOUSLY INTENTIONAL AND THEREFORE FASCINATING.
- I'm still very "I don't know what to think but it made me Feel Things" about the Giygas fight in its entirety. The way it reflected Ness's face in its early phase, the way it called out his name repeatedly, and screamed about pain and then liberation and friendship, like. I guess one could just assume it became obsessed with him because he was prophesied as his demise, to the extent its own identity started to be defined by that obsession? My own interpretation is that, if we consider that Giygas and Ness have some sort of super-strong-psychic-beyond-the-physical mental connection, that might explain the empowerment of evil thoughts in Ness's mind (Magicant) by Giygas's influence, but on the other hand Ness's influence on Giygas may have exposed him to thoughts and feelings about friendship and love which caused it such confusion. I like to think that the immense mental power of both, which isn't strictly contained to their bodies, probably contaminated and corrupted each other - their minds probably had some sort of overlap - and in the end GOODNESS AND PROTAG-NESS WON.
- Ok wtf is with the Mani Mani Statue though. Your friendly neighborhood dudebro digs it up, then it ends up corrupting a bunch of people into a thinly-veiled KKK, then it straight up corrupts a major politician and an entire socio-economic system in Fourside, THEN it makes Ness and Jeff trip tf out until it's ultimately destroyed, until it resurfaces as a symbolic representation of the part of Ness he's afraid of/the violent and cruel side of him. Actually I guess, after typing this out, it makes sense. Since the statue corrupted everyone it came across IRL and brought out the literal worst in people with its influence, it is a good representation of the part of Ness that could become corrupt or hurtful if he didn't face it. Nevermind then guess this makes sense now.
- Moonside was still really weird, still not quite sure what was going on there.
- Ok.............. I have some time travel questions. "Ness had a feeling that he was being watched by himself as a baby." Then later Ness has a psychic hallucination in which he sees himself as a baby being named by his parents. Since Giygas can attack from the past, does that mean Ness is literally viewing himself from the future, and his young baby self senses it? Or is it just a vision he has that is only interactive from his side but did not actually exist for the baby? The text made this seem kind of like the baby was aware of his future self, which IMO makes the whole thing WAY more interesting since Giygas can interact with the future from the past.
The ending was really good. I love interactive epilogues and this was a very well executed one. Also, I KNEW the WHOLE game EXACTLY what **** they were going to pull with the photographer guy - "they're gonna have a montage at the end of the game with this aren't they." And yet, knowing what to expect didn't make it any less impactful. It was awesome.
One final note: I LOVE TONY SO MUCH.[/spoiler]
10/10. Has a lot of really good **** and some interesting food for thought.
......damn who needs other people's edgy fan theories when I basically just wrote my own tho lmao