I have a confession to make. I was extremely late to the party on Earthbound, the classic JRPG released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1995. Sega Genesis platformers and fighting games were pretty much all I played as a young boy growing up in small town Ohio, and to be honest role-playing games were not even on my radar. There is a vivid memory I have of walking through the video game section at K-Mart and seeing a Super Nintendo game in a giant box with an over-sized price tag nestled comfortably behind a glass window. As the giant robot on the cover peered back at me I could not help but wonder what was in the box and why it was so expensive. The price of Earthbound increased parallel to my age, and in 2012 I could stand it no longer and paid top collector’s price for a cartridge only copy of the game.
To be completely honest I was able to appreciate Earthbound more as a 30 year old than I ever could have as a child. Shigesato Itoi’s exquisite ode to childhood would have been lost on my darting attention span. Instead I felt smirks scamper across my face during the entirety of my journey with Ness and friends. Watching him catch colds, get homesick, and overcome impossible odds made me think of the simple joys of being a kid with a wild imagination. Naturally this is what makes Earthbound an enduring classic, but the question Nintendo seems to have wanted answered was whether or not this type of nostalgia is ubiquitous in North America.
They have received a resounding affirmative. According to Polygon , since Earthbound was released to the Wii U virtual console only two games managed to garner more sales on the Nintendo eShop. New Super Luigi U and Pikmin 3, the former a $20 DLC pack and the latter a beloved Shigeru Miyamoto developed title. Nintendo allowed Earthbound fans to suffer, maintaining that there simply was not an audience for such a niche RPG in the West. That fan base always existed, but no matter how loud their voices were, Nintendo appeared to not be listening.
The attempt to get Nintendo to pay attention started with Starmen.net, a rabid fan community devoted to getting Mother 3, the sequel to Earthbound, released in English speaking territories. Their passion spread like wildfire, and eventually a fan under the moniker Tomato rallied a group of translators and released a terrific translation patch for Mother 3. The devotion to Nintendo’s cult classic spawned even more sites, such as Fangamer.net, an offshoot of Starmen.net whose stated goal is “to celebrate, encourage, and advance the art of gaming.” To that end, since Nintendo has finally been kind enough to grace fans with an easy method to experience Earthbound, one should reluctantly pay the inflated asking price on the Wii U eShop. There is no denying the business practices are abhorrent, but supporting an official release with money speaks directly to Nintendo and directly impacts the direction the “art of gaming” takes. It would be folly to stop there though, because through years of hard work and dedication the fan community surrounding Earthbound have released enough content to keep the passion burning brightly within anyone who loves this series.
So here are my recommendations for where to look next. The first thing any Earthbound fan is going to say is that Mother 3 is an essential second step. Luckily, this site has it covered. They created the translation patch and their site does everything just shy of providing the rom, which is not hard to find. It is also worth noting that Nintendo does not even seem to care; no cease and desist order was ever issued regarding this translation patch. Sticklers for playing games on original hardware can even find faithful reproduction carts of this game and Mother for the NES, fleshing out anyone’s painstakingly curated video game collection. Another suggestion is to grab this beautiful hard cover Mother 3 manual. While not exactly a walk through, this handy book provides plenty of insight into Itoi’s masterpiece, and ensures that no detail is missed along the way. Starmen.net has the next steps covered, with walk throughs and further reading, plus a live web based radio station that plays Earthbound inspired music. They even have a link to a translation of the Earthbound novel. Fangamer.net also has some cute merchandise for the truly devoted cosplayers. Last but certainly not least is a teaser trailer for a recently announced fan game known as Mother 4. The verdict is out on whether anyone not named Shigesato Itoi should be taking it upon themselves to continue the series, but the group cannot be blamed for trying considering Nintendo’s neglect and abuse of these titles. Naturally this project will probably eventually be shut down, so enjoy it while it lasts.
Nintendo has routinely disrespected loyal Earthbound fans for years. While that is certainly an injustice, it was that very disrespect that served as a catalyst for one of the finest video game fan communities the medium has ever seen. I would encourage anyone who has ever been interested to delve deeply into this rich content. Earthbound restored a tiny piece of my childhood, but the Earthbound community displays the power that results from people joining together and creating content under a common interest. Shigesato Itoi called Mother 3 “strange, funny, and heart-rending”, but that tagline could describe the relationship of the fans to the series and the wonderful content they have left behind.