Best of 2012! The Church of Ness: Earthbound‘s Religious Overtones

Robin explores the spiritual side of SNES classic Earthbound.

By Robin Wilde. Posted 01/02/2013 15:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

Likewise, towards the game’s finale, Ness and his friends must leave their physical states for some time in order to do battle with the alien Giygas– a very similar act to Jesus’ resurrection, where he died and left his physical form in order to defeat humanity’s sin. Now the similarities between Ness and Jesus are by no means entirely perfect. Jesus was from Bethlehem near Jerusalem, not Eagleland, and the story lacks many disciples and biblical figures– there’s a wise man from the East, but no real Judas figure (Pokey betrays Ness, but the two were never really friends in the first place) and if you followed that train of logic, then Paula would be some kind of Mary Magdalene figure, which is a bizarre warping of the game’s portrayal at best.

However, Earthbound is but the least interesting of the three Mother games from a theological viewpoint, and no analysis of the series would be complete without looking at its Japan-only installments (ably translated into English by the aforementioned Clyde Mandelin). Mother, the first game in the series, was in many ways a proto-Earthbound, but it contains a lot of content that was not present in the sequel. Rather than a daycare center, Ninten’s friend Anna actually lives in a church, complete with a Nintendo of America-censored cross. Much of the game’s early plot also concerns rescuing a girl named Pippi from zombies by heading into a graveyard and exploring a tomb. Indeed, an air of death and the afterlife hangs over a great deal of the game, and no example is more significant than Mother‘s Magicant.

Earthbound Magicant Screenshot

Magicant can be seen as a sort of purgatory in the Mother universe. While Earthbound used the strange land as a metaphor for Ness’ journey of self-discovery, in Mother it acts as a kind of limbo. It’s ruled over by the enigmatic Queen Mary, who, following her death, was trapped there until Ninten and co. sang her the assembled Eight Melodies to allow her to rest. While this kind of symbolism is ambiguous, it seems to represent Mary’s ascent to heaven upon achieving inner peace, something that takes elements from many world religions.

Mother 3, on the other hand, seems to work with prophecies of the apocalypse, particularly the Book of Revelation. The seven seals broken by the Lamb in Revelation could correspond to the seven needles pulled by Lucas in his travels across the Nowhere Islands, and Lucas’ fight with the Masked Man could also be compared to Jesus and the Antichrist. The Magypsies, on the other hand, are genderless, angelic beings, except for the one who strayed– Fassad, although he differs from Lucifer in that he isn’t an ultimate evil but a tool of Porky, who represents the resentment and hatred that humankind carries.

Similarly, in Revelation, those who have taken up the mark of the Beast are punished by God. In Mother 3, those who oppose the kindness and community spirit that makes up the fabric of the Nowhere Islands early in the game take up the pig mask– in other words, a mark of a beast.

It may be a tenuous stretch, but it’s easy to see how such innocuous looking games can hold a lot of depth for analysis, regardless of whether their symbolism was intended or not. While Earthbound will no doubt continue to be debated for many years, it’s testament to great game design when a game is able to keep people talking for so long. In the mean time, though, Tonda Gossa!

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