I can't recall how I first learned of EarthBound. I THINK I learned of it from the comic Kid Radd, which had a parody of it as a story arc in February/March of 2004, but I distinctly remember being on Starmen.net for a while before then.
Regardless, the first time I seriously attempted to beat the game was in mid-2004. I was 11 years old. It...did not go as well as it could have.
I made it through most of the game and loved it. Got all the way up RIGHT to just before the Giygas fight. But then, I got curious. Someone on Starmen.net had posted a theory about how to beat Giygas through sheer HP damage using JHack. Having seen the 'MOFO' story arc in Kid Radd, I was enraptured by this idea - the comic did the same thing in a way, and the game parody had a secret ending. 'What if EarthBound has a secret ending too?', I must have thought to myself.
As anyone who's been around for a long time would know... JHack is notorious for corrupting ROMs instead of actually doing what you want it to do.
I lost my save file.
And aside from the occasional, uncommon poke here and there, I didn't touch the game again in any serious capacity for years.
Meanwhile, I made multiple attempts at beating MOTHER / EarthBound Zero. I beat it just a month or two before it was brought to the US as EarthBound Beginnings.
I also was a common sight around the Fan Translation blog for MOTHER 3 while that was being worked on, and procured an EZ-Flash IV flash cartridge and Game Boy Micro to play the game on. I got up to Saturn Valley before losing my save. I still need to buy a new flash cartridge, and I still need to beat the game.
I finally gave EarthBound another shot back in June of this year, starting the same time that SummerBound did. As of now, Tuesday night immediately following Camp Fangamer, I am p to Summers.
But how can I comment on the game if I never beat it, you ask? How did I know about Giygas, and how did I know to want to try hacking the game? Well... I'd been spoiled on the ending, unfortunately.
But thankfully, I still have an emotional attachment to the ending. A recent event called Camp Fangamer made sure of that.
I’d seen the Giygas fight over and over in playthroughs before. But… Being at Camp Fangamer, the sense of camaraderie, the sense of family, something was different.
When the name for the player was revealed to be 'Camp Fangamer 2015', well…
I am not a crying man. When Iwata died, I cried from sadness for the first time in at least four years.
When I saw what the player name had been set to, and then over and over for the rest of the night… I was barely holding back tears of pure joy and…really of catharsis. I was experiencing the ending of EarthBound, in the way I was meant to, feeling the things any first-time player was meant to feel, as if I hadn’t been spoiled, as if I had completed the game normally all those years ago. I was… I was feeling those feelings I had been robbed of in my childhood. I was feeling something that I thought I’d never experience. Something that, because I thought I’d never experience it, drove me away from the game, even though I participated in the community to a limited extent, for 11 years.
This game is beautiful.
This game is wonderful.
This game is an experience. It is a work of art.
The entire SERIES, all three games, are these things.
They will make you laugh.
They will make you cry.
They will make you laugh so hard you cry, and make you cry so much that you'll laugh to make the tears go away.
Please. Play the MOTHER games. Don't make the mistake I made. Don't try to be smarter than the game. Don't spoil yourself. Don't try to hack the game thinking you'll find some secret. Just... Experience the game, the way it was intended to be played. Lose yourself in the heart, mind, and soul of Shigesato Itoi. Lose yourself in that world, a world crafted by a man who above all wants to teach us to live, love, and laugh.
Lose yourself in the world of MOTHER.
Love yourself in the world of MOTHER.
Love the world of MOTHER.
And you will find an experience beyond that of any other game yet released.
You will find home.