The title screen of EarthBound.
EarthBound owned by Nintendo.
Images used for educational purposes only.

Ness’s House

- First up: Name your characters, your favourite food, and your favourite thing. All of these names will have humble bearings on the game. By default our hero is Ness, our second party member is Paula, our third party member is Jeff, our fourth party member is Poo, our dog is King, our favourite food is Steak, and our favourite thing is Rockin. Name them as you see fit.

- You begin EarthBound in the home of our protagonist, unassuming little Ness. Once he hops out of bed, hit A to open your menu. Note all the things you can do. You can more quickly use any of these options if you’re in the appropriate spot by hitting the L button.

- Enter the hallway and check the first room on the left. This is your sister’s room. A gift box in here, EarthBound’s version of a treasure chest, contains a Cracked Bat. Equip this on your menu. Note that Ness has a limited inventory of fourteen, requiring you to pick and choose which items you’ll take off into the field.

Ness has a discussion with the police in EarthBound.

- Go downstairs and speak to Ness’s mother. She’ll force Ness to change. Once you’re in more traditional outdoor duds, leave the house.

- Look around the area as much as you like. You’ll be blocked from heading southeast by police barriers, and eventually you’ll hit another barrier that you can’t cross. You’ll meet your neighbour, Pokey, in the process. He’s kind of a jerk. Pop open the gift box on the way up the hill to find a Bread Roll, a restorative item, then return home. Mom’s waiting to shoot you back to bed.

- A few hours later you’re awoken again. Go downstairs and you’ll find Pokey smacking on the door. He wants Ness’s help to find his brother, Picky. Agree to continue the story, then speak with Ness’s mom to change. Again. Once you’re back downstairs, speak to sister Tracy for a Cookie, dog King to recruit him to your party, and Pokey to recruit him into the party. All of them are of variable usefulness, though Tracy is key, as she’ll hold on to excess items for Ness. Sweet. You can also speak to Ness’s father over the phone to save your game, the regular method of doing so throughout EarthBound.

- Head outside. You need to wander towards the meteor that was your previous destination, only now you have to fight your way along the path.

Ness battles a Runaway Dog in EarthBound.


Combat in EarthBound is fairly unique. To precipitate battles you need to make contact with random enemies that appear on the world map. It’s possible to flee from enemies if your positioning is good, and if your level is high enough weak enemies will flee from your might. Approaching an enemy head on will trigger a normal battle; approaching an enemy from behind will trigger a surprise attack, wherein you get one round of actions before the enemy gets to act; being caught from behind triggers an ambush, wherein the enemy gets a round of actions before you can move. If you’re strong enough, you will automatically kill an enemy without getting into a fight by touching them.

Operating on a menu-based combat system, EarthBound is similar to most jRPGs in all ways but one: the loss of health. Your characters’ health is displayed on three rotating reels. Whenever an enemy strikes one of your characters, or whenever you heal a character, the reels will move towards the resulting HP amount one digit at a time rather than jumping directly to the new number. This seems like an underwhelming feature at first, but it affords you two advantages:
  • Even if a character takes mortal damage, they will not faint immediately. You have a few moments to heal them back into positive numbers.
  • If you can end a battle while damage is still being tallied, you won’t lose as much health. HP totals stop changing once the final enemy is destroyed.
At this point, Ness is the only character who can take damage in the party, and he’ll inflict the lion’s share of damage against the enemy. You can’t control your current team outside Ness, and the AI characters will do as they please. King generally attacks enemies, while Pokey does… absolutely… nothing. Joy. Keep your health high with Ness’s Lifeup A once he learns it at level two, as he’ll be the target of every attack.

Ness, Pokey, and Picky meet BuzzBuzz, an important NPC in EarthBound.

Onett Outskirts - Enemies
  • Coil Snake - 18 HP - Weak to PSI Freeze, Hypnosis, Paralysis - Drops Cookie
  • Runaway Dog - 21 HP - Drops Bread Roll
  • Spiteful Crow - 24 HP - Drops Cookie

  • - Make your way up the hill in the same direction you took before. Along the way you’ll run into Runaway Dogs, Coil Snakes, and Spiteful Crows. Runaway Dogs are the strongest of the lot, but none of these enemies require special tactics.

    - King will abandon the party at the top of the hill, and, after a lengthy cut scene, both Picky and Buzz Buzz will join the party. Picky is about as useful as King, while Buzz Buzz can maul anything you’ll fight in a single hit. Woo!

    - On your way back to Ness’s House…

    Ness battles the Starman Junior, the first boss in EarthBound. BuzzBuzz has got this.

    Starman Junior

    HP: 200

    This is a basic fight. Starman Junior would kill Ness if Buzz Buzz was not in the party. He is, though, so all you have to do in this battle is attack. Buzz Buzz will do all the hard work on his own.

    - After wiping out the Starman Junior, enter Pokey’s House, next door of Ness’s House. Both Pokey and Picky will leave the party, and Buzz Buzz will follow a short time later. Listen to Buzz Buzz’s long story, which covers the salient points necessary to get into the plot, and he’ll give you the Sound Stone. This is an obligatory item that will not leave Ness’s inventory for most of the game. (You can get around this by killing basic enemies until you’ve collected enough Cookies to max out your inventory, at which point the Sound Stone goes to Tracy.)

    - Leave Pokey’s House. Night turns to day, and your proper adventure begins. Visit home, get a picture from a mystery photographer who will show up periodically on your journey, speak to dad to learn how much money you’ve earned, and head out. The world needs some saving.