Before I begin this post, let me say that this article is both spoiler heavy and somewhat personal. If you have not played Earthbound before, and you are the type of person who hates having things ruined, just skip this article entirely. But if you don’t mind reading about the ending to a game that has been out for over fifteen years, continue onward faithful reader!
Continuing in a trend of posts about breaking the fourth wall in video games(last one, I promise), let’s discuss one of my favorite games, Earthbound. It is remarkable that a game with such a massive following has not been re-released by Nintendo yet. I mean, that’s what Nintendo does, right? If a game sells, and it can be easily enahnced for a re-release (read: ported) to a new system, they do it. Save for a temporary ESRB rating for release (which was recanted), there seems to be no hope for a re-release of Earthbound, despite constant requests and petitions for a Vitual Console version. Makes ya wonder, since other popular titles have been beaten into the ground with remakes (For example: Ocarina of Time has been released for once for Nintendo 64, twice for Gamecube, once for Wii, and now there is an enhanced version on the 3DS). But I digress.
Earthbound is the story of a young boy named Ness (or whatever you happen to name him) who is tasked with saving the world from destruction at the hands of an alien threat from the past. But our hero is not alone in his quest. Ness must journey across the world and seek out the other members of the, “Chosen Four,” who will defeat the evil alien, Giygas. While the story sounds like your generic sci-fi tale, the setting of this role-playing game stood out against the fantasy epics that flooded the Super Nintendo at this time. The world of Earthbound more closely resembled an idylic America from the 1950s, as opposed to the steampunk/Tolkien/anime-inspired lands of so many other games (read: Final Fantasy). Towns in Earthbound were filled with suburbs and skyscrapers, while the enemies were made up of gang members, rabid animals, and inanimate objects come to life (such as evil gas pumps). The world was interesting and fresh, and the story was filled with novel ideas that stood out as well. I could take several posts (and much of your time) gushing over all the moments that made Earthbound great, but I want to cover one in particular: the battle with Giygas.
In the final act of the game, our heroes learn that in order to defeat Giygas, they must travel far in the past, where the alien is at its most vulnerable state. But the Chosen Four will not survive such a jump through time, so their souls are transferred into much stronger robotic bodies and sent back to the past. Ness and his friends battle their way to a giant machine that currently houses Giygas. It is revealed that the flood of evil energy that Giygas had consumed in its quest for power was too great, and it has ruined the alien’s mind. After a short battle with an old friend, the machine that contains Giygas is shut off, and the full force of the alien is unleashed. Giygas lashes out at the group with attacks that cannot be perceived or blocked, and the alien itself cannot be damaged by normal means. No weapon or magic can injure the creature, the systems on the robot avatars begin to fail, and all seems lost.
One of the heroes, a young woman named Paula, has a final command to try. In addition to being able to Attack, Use Items, and cast Psychic Magic, the heroine can also Pray. Normally, choosing the Pray command will cause a random beneficial effect, such as healing a character or damaging an enemy. It is generally unused through the course of the game, as other commands have a more direct and discernable effect on the party. But during the final battle with Giygas, this ability is vital.
Paula begins to pray, and the focus of the game shifts from a tense battle, to a village that Ness had visited earlier in the game. The tribe of odd creatures known as Mr. Saturns feel a strange sensation come over them, and the entire group begins to pray for the safety of Ness and his friends. Back in the past, the power of prayer becomes evident, as the defenses protecting Giygas become unstable. Paula continues to pray, and each time she does, a friend the group had made along the way begins to join in the call. Each prayer, in turn, massively damages Giygas. Ness’s own mother is eventually shown, feeling uneasy at her concern for her son, so she prays for deliverance as well. Finally, Paula’s prayers being to reach outside of the game itself.
The final prayer goes out, and it is merely absorbed by the darkness. Paula prays again, and her prayer reaches ****, who begins to pray for our heroes. This mysterious benefactor, now known as **i* continues to pray for Ness and his friends, even though he has never met them before. The damage to Giygas begins to break into the tens of thousands as *hi* prays more and more for victory. Giygas is on the ropes, as *hip prays even harder! The final blow is delivered, as Chip prays for the safety of Ness and his friends. Giygas is defeated, and the world is saved.
Now, this is not meant to be some story about me praying to beat a final boss in a Super Nintendo game (don’t be silly). Earlier in Earthbound, a trivial character asks not for the hero’s name, but for the actual player’s name to make a reservation at a restaurant. This seemingly useless(and super random) question allows the game to catalogue the player’s name, and use it to break the fourth wall in the final battle. It wasn’t just some faceless character praying for Ness and Company, it was you. To see a game directly involve the player in not just a random battle in the game, but in the climax of the game itself was a brilliant way to provide immersion in a lasting way.
Also, to see a game make such a strong statement about the power of prayer was a bold step for Nintendo. Just think: it wasn’t some secret military weapon or a battle-hardened badass who defeated the threat to all mankind. It was the hopes and prayers of the world that brought down Giygas. Quite a refreshing change of pace, don’t ya think?