The Church of Ness: Earthbound‘s Religious Overtones

Robin explores the spiritual side of SNES classic Earthbound.

By Robin Wilde. Posted 10/11/2012 13:30 8 Comments     ShareThis

Oh, Earthbound. For seventeen years, this stellar SNES RPG has been entertaining and delighting gamers with its modern day setting, colourful graphics and unique sense of humour. Supported by a modest but dedicated fan base, it’s spawned a vibrant modding community as well as an ocean of fan art and a great deal of analysis of the themes and messages that go beyond its cutesy exterior. Fans have put forward theories (some of which have since been disproved) about ultimate evil Giygas’ resemblance to a fetus, and they’ve also discovered series creator Shigesato Itoi’s inspiration for the character by a scene in a Japanese film he thought was a rape scene.

Nevertheless, the game is steeped in symbolism, and religion is one of those themes that Earthbound explores in quite some detail. It was thus an easy decision when this article was commissioned that it would benefit from input by those who had studied the game extensively, and the folks at Starmen.net have helpfully provided some ideas on how religion and spirituality have been portrayed in Earthbound, and how a JRPG from the mid-nineties can still tell us a lot about the human condition.

There are few overt references to any one religion, but Paula, the first companion of protagonist Ness, famously uses her Pray command to end the final battle with Giygas. This is as near to an explicit reference to any one religion as can be found in the game, since Paula, a white girl living in a town that parodies small-town America, would almost certainly be Christian. Additionally, as translator and Starmen.net founder Clyde Mandelin discovered, the original script for Mother 2 (the Japanese version of Earthbound) had Paula using the phrase “Kami-sama ga iruno nara,” which means something along the lines of “God, if you’re there.” The line was likely edited out of the North American release due to Nintendo of America’s well-documented censorship of religious themes in their games, but it proves Paula originally had faith in a God.

But while Paula is a believer, Ness could be considered a Christ-like figure, travelling the land fighting evil and spreading love to others. His coming is foretold by Buzz Buzz’s species much as Jesus’ was by the Hebrews. Ness and his followers (literally– companions in Earthbound follow behind the party leader) feed the hungry, heal the sick using Ness’ great propensity for healing PSI, and cast out evil spirits like the menacing Giygas.

Towards the climax of Ness’ journey, he also leaves the party to explore the world of Magicant. This bizarre world of mismatched architecture and evil creatures is intended to serve as a window into Ness’ psyche, culminating with a battle against the Mani Mani statue which inspires evil in all who encounter it throughout the game. This isolated exploration of oneself is similar to Jesus’ forty days in the desert, during which he is said to have faced temptation towards sin by the devil.

In addition, Ness, like Jesus, spreads a message of love wherever he and his friends end up. Early in the game, for instance, Ness convinces gang leader Frank Fly to leave the crime business and embark on a *ahem* lucrative career working in a fast food joint. He then proceeds to dismantle and break through the brainwashing of the heretical cult of the Ku Klux Klan-esque Happy Happyists, before taking on the corrupt corporate CEO Geldegarde Monotoli. He empowers the meek, finding a book on overcoming shyness for the timid Tenda people, and generally acts like an all-around good guy.

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8 Responses to “The Church of Ness: Earthbound‘s Religious Overtones”

  • 219 points
    Smith Stuart says...

    Nice thoughts, Robin! When I was a Nintendojo writer last year, I did a couple “religion” articles similar to this one – one on Pokemon called “Poke Theology” and another on The Legend of Zelda called “The Marks of a Beast”. Maybe you could check them out on the search bar and let me know what you think… haha… Sadly, I have yet to play any Earthbound/Mother titles, but this piece certainly makes me want to play them even more! It’s always interesting to look into stories for parallels and higher meanings, imo.

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    • 192 points
      Robin Wilde says...

      I’ll be sure to check your articles out – it was interesting to write this and I think it’s useful to exmine games deeply.

      You should definitely play the Mother games, by the way. Start with Mother 3 (it’s the easiest to get into), then Earthbound and finish with Mother (it’s not great, and might put you off to play it first).

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  • 27 points
    shadownin says...

    Someone start operation earth bound to get Nintendo to do a Kick starter to get all three earth bound games on the virtual console. That way supporters of earth bound can get an opertunity to put their money where their mouths are. This is the most likely way that I see for earth bound coming to the USA because if the kick starter fails Nintendo losses nothing and if it succeeds they get garunteed money.

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    • 192 points
      Robin Wilde says...

      It’d certainly be good to see the games get a little more attention than they have, but copyright issues mean Nintendo are unlikely to go near it for their systems.

      However, if you like the games and want to discuss them further, I’d recommend Starmen.net, Earthbound Central and the Mother 4 project to create a fanmade sequel!

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      • 27 points
        shadownin says...

        That is the point of a kick starter can’t money pledged by fans resolve copyright issues like paying money for a license.

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        • 192 points
          Robin Wilde says...

          Nintendo has so much money they probably wouldn’t need a Kickstarter project to get it running, including copyright restrictions – the problem is that, to their eyes, Earthbound just isn’t profitable enough to justify it.

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  • 3 points
    karioutcb says...

    Great article! Concerning Mother 3, I was always curious what the “Egg of Light” represented. I refuse to believe it’s a macguffin or useless item just made to move the story along — these games are too smart for that. Any ideas?

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  • 3 points
    JesusLovesNess says...

    What a cool post! I wrote something along these lines a couple years ago. I called it “The Gospel According to Earthbound.” Here is a link to it incase you are interested.
    http://thetravistimes.blogspot.com/2011/03/gospel-according-to-earthbound.html

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