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Earthbound 64 Preview

Publisher - Nintendo
Developer - Nintendo, Hal
Platform - N64
Release Date - March 1999
Type - RPG

Ever since the early 90s Nintendo has been working on a unique RPG series, separate from Zelda called Mother. The original was for the NES and was wildly successful in Japan. Some time later a second Mother game was produced for the Super NES. Again, Japan approved it with flying colors. The second game came over in 1995 as Earthbound and while not a hit in the broad sense of the word, it did moderately well and captured a small group of fans, including me.

What made the Super NES Earthbound excel was its wacky humor, interesting RPG twists, hilarious plot and high-quality RPG world. To boot, the setting was totally different, it took place in modern times. The quest was long, the items, spells, weapons and armor were many and the IQ was turned on high. However, the volume on the graphics was so low you could hardly hear it. As Earthbound gets ready to enter the realm of 64-bit, expect the volume to be higher, the graphics will be loud. Pictures show high-resolution environments, detailed polygonal, well-shaded characters and some impressive lighting.

Nevertheless, just like the other games in the series, the gameplay will be far more impressive than the graphics. Mother 3 is scheduled to release with the 64DD later this year or early next in Japan and subsequently be translated for US release as Earthbound 64. So far, we can expect vast environments, detailed humor and thunderous fantasy realms. Already a village resembling nothing so much as a cross between a western town and a fantasy dwelling has been revealed. Tazmily should be one of the first places, Ness, the hero, visits in the game. A spacious and exotic jungle and a desert wasteland populated by a strange desert army and its commander Pork Bean and a quanit seaside hamlet full of shanties and weird-looking trees have also been shown so far.

Many staple Mother characters will return in this game. The Earthbound favorite, Runaway Five is now known as Desperado Crush Mambo Combo. Ness the hero of the Earthbound games returns as well. Dr. Andonuts, the slightly psychotic scientist also makes a comeback. The race of those eccentric, nose-people, the Mr. Saturns has also jumped on the bandwagon. As lively as these characters may seem, they are dwarfed by the newcomers. Sarusa and his pet monkey will be peddling a secretive item in the game. Lisa (who insists she is not Lisa) tends a store (that she insist she doesn't tend it) in Tazmily village. However, Lisa does insist that she likes to go on dates and is free. What can that mean? I've figured it out, can you? Its just one example of the countless puzzles, which Earthbound games are riddled with. Duster is a hard-working individual who is nocturnal. Ryukka often wanders into the woods and the little boy is speculated to be one of the main characters. There are many more, where that came from and more characters are to be added.

What will Ness fight? So far a villainous conniving snake, jungle creatures, cute aliens and desert natives are on the roster. Pokey, the dastardly child-hood enemy of Ness will return as the insane villain. (Imagine a cross between Kefka and Dr. Wily and you've got Pokey.) No word has been given on the battle system, but if it is like other Earthbound games it is sure to include such things as being homesick, "diamondized" and having the common cold. If you think that's cool, just take a look at the menu for Earthbound 64. Previous Earthbound attempts have featured a huge roster of food and even condiments to put on it, to keep your characters in top form. Being on the 64DD, Earthbound will be bigger and better than ever before and that will mean a lot to starved N64 RPG enthusiasts. The rich 3D RPG may take on a different feel this time around (before, the game took place mostly in cityscapes), but chances are gamers will feel right at home.

In closing, Earthbound games have also had some wild transportation and I've seen some shots of Ness riding around in a strange disc-like hovercraft. This may be one of the hottest RPGs ever when it is released and that will do much to quench the Squaresoft-gamer's mind. Japanese cultural icon Shigesato Itoi is working on it, as he has the on the last two and Ashura Ito is pumping out artwork at impressive rates, so expect to see more of this game at E3 and get ready for some serious laughing!