A year or so ago, I was talking to a friend about our favorite games. He had seen my then-incomplete list, and he didn’t want to endure my slow pace to get at the top ten. I mentioned Earthbound and I was surprised that my buddy had no familiarity with the title. He asked me to describe it. I had such a hard time because while I could say “it’s an RPG”, it was much more than that. It’s kind of an adventure game, but it was much more than that. Eventually I got around to explaining why I liked it so much, obviously not well, because my friend suggested I revisit the game. He said that I might be tying it to a place and time more than I would with any other game.
So I set out to play Earthbound again for the first time in probably fifteen years. Maybe the nostalgia surrounding the game had clouded my objective vision of it, and I somehow, over the years, gave it greater weight than it deserves. As day broke in the town of Onett, following a tumultuous night of mystery, all those pure feelings of youth poured over me again. And it wasn’t just because it reminded me of those hot summer days spent playing my SNES in the cool basement all those years ago, but because that’s what Earthbound set out to make you feel.
This is an RPG. It is an adventure game. That’s all true, but it’s first and foremost a game about youth. It’s about the friends we grow up with, and the ones we grow apart from. People come in, and people leave. Sometimes we have to grow up quicker than we want to. But in the middle of all this sea change, there is peace and excitement in the newness of it all.
Youth is all about discovery, and ultimately, that never ends unless you want it to. That’s not something I read, saw in a movie, or heard in a love song. I felt that through Earthbound. I felt it back in 1995, and then I revisited it a year ago. It’s a truth, and that’s why Earthbound is very nearly the greatest video game ever made.