I tend to think my first experience with Earthbound was a typical one. It started with wondering who that Ness guy from Super Smash Bros. was, and going to the internet to find out. Like many, I played Earthbound years after its unceremonious release. I enjoyed Earthbound enough, but I finished it and filed it away under the "done with that" category.
Or so I thought. As I grew older, I found myself drawn back to the game I'd disregarded as "nothing special". There was a charm to this game I'd missed the first time around. Ever since this realization, Earthbound has firmly planted itself on my "must play" list, and each time I play I find myself growing more attached. But why? What is it that I and so many others find timeless about this game?
Is it nostalgia? Surely that's a factor, but there has to be more. Is it the unique humor? Earthbound brings the weirdness in spades, and I do love it. In this regard, there's no game quite like it and there probably never will be. Still, I think what makes it so special goes deeper. It has something to do with the story it tells. I'm not sure I can really put my finger on it, but I'm going to try.
Ness's story is a fairly simple one. A young boy leaves home to see the world and defeat a great evil. Before Ness can confront Giygas, he must face more familiar evils: a gang of bullies, corruption at city hall, extortionists, cults, and greed in the big city, to name a few. While we can only do so much about such things in real life, Earthbound gives us a chance to directly confront them, the way only a child could imagine.
Along the way, Ness and friends also see the beauty of their world. They visit mysterious and wonderful places, and appreciate the beauty of the natural world. He learns the value of friendship, love, charity, hope, and courage. The success of his quest ultimately hinges on these virtues. He takes what he's learned to confront an evil so pure and powerful it defies comprehension. Only through courage, friendship, and prayer can Ness triumph in his darkest hour.
If you ask me what exactly Earthbound is, I'd say it's a story for the inner child. It allows us to reflect on our life experience, to re-examine our perceptions and understandings. It's a chance to rediscover courage and love, and wield them against the evil and darkness in the world. It's some straight up soul food, damn it, and I'm so thankful it exists.