Why EarthBound Beginnings Matters

Why the original Mother is an important title in the history of video games.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 06/15/2015 12:00 8 Comments     ShareThis

The original Mother, or EarthBound Beginnings as it’s now known here in the West, is notable for a number of different reasons. Originally released in Japan in 1989, EarthBound Beginnings was the video game directorial debut of Shigesato Itoi. Itoi is renowned in Japan, where he’s a writer, actor, and all-around renaissance man of sorts, doing everything from judging Iron Chef competitions to selling daily planners (which this writer owns and absolutely loves!). With EarthBound Beginnings, Itoi wanted to create something different from the standard RPG adventures that had inundated his homeland. Though the game bears similarities to the Dragon Quest series’ gameplay, EarthBound Beginnings made a splash by jettisoning dungeons and broadswords, replacing them instead with warehouses and baseball bats. It was warmly received, so much so that Nintendo localized the game for a release abroad, only to strangely call the whole thing off-after the localization was complete!

The oddity of making the effort to translate EarthBound Beginnings into English and then shelve the title after so much hard work has been a source of curiosity for fans for many years. Nintendo’s motivation for not releasing EarthBound Beginnings isn’t entirely clear, though it’s often speculated that the impending launch of SNES and the company’s perception that the game wouldn’t make any money were key factors. The title was stuffed away, seemingly never to see the light of day– until someone got hold of the code for the unreleased game and dumped it on the Internet as EarthBound Zero. It was in this unofficial form that Western players were first able to come to know EarthBound Beginnings, and for many gaming historians it also served as a signal of the importance of preserving the industry’s classic titles.

Whether as Mother, EarthBound Zero, or EarthBound Beginnings, this was a title that potentially only a small chunk of the gaming population would ever have experienced, a game that many critics laud as an excellent title, both for taking risks with the RPG genre and for successfully trying to do something different. Despite all this praise, EarthBound Beginnings remained vapor, leaving gaming writers to question how the history of the medium could ever hope to be transferred between generations if the industry itself refused to help catalog the very titles that defined it. The work of industrious fans who translate games independently have helped to preserve titles like EarthBound Beginnings and Mother 3 for years now, but with today’s announcement of the former finally coming to the Wii U Virtual Console, the game has become important for yet another reason.

Fans vote with their dollars. Not by downloading ROMs and writing impassioned pleas on Internet message boards, but by going and buying the products that they claim to want. Fan outcry certainly can spark change; after all, Nintendo spends countless hours and considerable resources sifting through letters, Internet websites and posts, and now its own Miiverse communities trying to gauge the pulse of its players. Though Nintendo refuses to acknowledge that fans have an impact on the publishing decisions the company makes, it stands to reason that all of its sleuthing wouldn’t make much sense if the voice of consumers was really that inconsequential. Nintendo has its antenna on, and it’s tuned to the things that fans are saying. Cries for Mother to leave Japan’s borders have been repeated ad nausea, to the point that many considered the idea of the game ever reaching North America and Europe to be little more than a pipe dream. Yet here it is, rechristened EarthBound Beginnings and being sold for a paltry $6.99.

To repeat: money talks a lot more than words in the business world. EarthBound Beginnings is by and large a remarkable gift, albeit not a free one. When EarthBound was re-released on Wii U’s Virtual Console, many people were shocked to see Nintendo finally acquiesce to fan outcry. It was a concession for sure, but it only works, it’s only worthwhile to Nintendo if the fans come out and show support. EarthBound Beginnings is a slice of gaming history that deserves to be played and appreciated, particularly because it, like EarthBound before it, helps to push the door open for more titles to see the light of day with a new audience. Star Fox 2 is another game that saw completion, or very close to it, and has never been released; perhaps if EarthBound Beginnings wins over fans, it’ll give Nintendo more incentive to reconsider digging into its vault for other games that could use some love. We’ll have a review for EarthBound Beginnings up soon, but in the meantime, be sure to give the game some consideration when heading to the eShop. Everyone has a part to play in keeping the history of video games alive.

8 Responses to “Why EarthBound Beginnings Matters”

  • 81 points
    Anthony Pelone says...

    Very well said. I nearly teared up watching Itoi’s message yesterday. With this and The Mysterious Murasame Castle, it really makes you wonder what else is in the cards for Japan-only titles.

    Gotta admit, though, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the name “EarthBound Beginnings.” If by some slim chance they bring over Mother 3, I can’t imagine ever calling it by whatever they’d rebrand the title as.

  • 21 points
    Dreadkong says...

    The Itoi message was heart warming. I have such good and deep memories of the Earthbound game and would looooove so much to play this one but sadly my country situation doesn’t allow me to get it thou. Is there a generous soul out there in the world who wants to make someone a little happier and gift me with a download for this game? Just for this game?… Just joking XD. Maybe some day thinga will change here and I’ll be able to get it. Meanwhile I’ll keep re-playing Earthbound.

  • 745 points
    OG75 says...

    Thanks for letting us know. Amazing.

  • 0 points

    Bought it as soon as they released it that day. As an owner of an original SNES Earthbound in mint condition, I do wish it had come out physical. But happy to get it either way.

    • 459 points
      Drew Ciccotelli says...

      I’m grateful but a Trilogy game disc would have been mind blowing.

      • 0 points

        Imagine if we could have gotten a trilogy game disc, with an instruction manual and everything. Or even better, a collector’s edition of some kind. For me this is why when I see these kickstarter things going well, I want to support it. Shovel Knight physical, Mighty No. 9 physical, what else is coming? I would LOVE to see a re-release of the two Lunar games.

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