VGM Entry 67: EarthBound
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)
Hirokazu Tanaka and Keiichi Suzuki composed Mother in 1989, and it would remain perhaps the most eclectic soundtrack in all of video gamedom until 1994, when they teamed up again for Mother 2.
Better known to western gamers as EarthBound, Mother 2 (Nintendo, 1994) was… well… on the new game ‘name your characters’ screen you are asked the crucial question “What is your favorite homemade food?”, and that’s about as normal as it ever got. Since Mother was never released here, EarthBound was our first experience with Shigesato Itoi’s madness, and the already ridiculous events and dialogue were made all the more bizarre by a sometimes incredibly awkward (though fairly grammatically sound) translation. (Consider that the most powerful spell in the game is called “PSI Rockin Omega”.) Perhaps this was not originally by intent, but I like to pretend NOA fell in love with it and let a few oddities through intentionally.
The EarthBound soundtrack was huge, or so it seemed to me. With no comprehensive ost on the market it can be a bit hard to tell, but at least one fan rip I came across contained 78 tracks. Every town had a theme. Every combat zone had a theme. There were easily a dozen or more different battle themes. The new music just never stopped coming from start screen to the ending credits. According to Wikipedia, Keiichi Suzuki claimed in a Famitsu interview only available in Japanese that he wrote over 100 songs for the game. Many of these obviously were not used, but Suzuki also only accounts for half of the music.
EarthBound‘s finest musical moments took place in combat. This video presents a compilation of eight battle tunes (by no means all-inclusive) which should give you a good idea of what the game had to offer. The music was a mix of smooth grooves like the first track played here and corny absurdities like the second, with the former typically representing aliens and tougher bosses and the latter such detestable foes as “New Age Retro Hippie”, “Scalding Coffee Cup”, and “Big Pile of Puke”.
The corny tracks are more representative of the larger gaming environment, but the groove numbers are where Tanaka and Suzuki really excelled, culminating with “Kraken of the Sea” (6:27).
I’m not actually sure who was responsible for the combat music throughout this game, or whether the individual tracks were collaborative efforts. (Many songs in the game in fact were.) It would certainly make sense, considering how they all fall into two neat categories, to reason that one composer made the groove tracks and another did the comedy ones, but I certainly can’t confirm this. The track “Another 2” on the highly mutilated official Mother 2 ost contains quite a few samples from the former and none from the latter, and it’s credited to Tanaka specifically, but that might simply mean he was responsible for the remix. “Another 2” contains the bicycle theme as a hidden track after a half minute of silence, and that was definitely written by Suzuki, so there’s really no clear evidence here pointing to one musician or the other.
The two best songs in the game are the last two you’ll hear before the ending. Both are combat tunes, and they couldn’t be more different. “Pokey Means Business” was my favorite song in any video game as a kid, and I don’t think I need to tell you why.
Or are you not there yet? Wait for it…
Ok so, maybe it’s not decisively the best song on the SNES, but it’s definitely the heaviest. Funny that for all the dozens of games out there marketing their edginess as their selling point, none came anywhere near goofy little EarthBound. Once again I am not sure if this is a product of Suzuki, Tanaka, or both. I just know that Pokey meant business alright…
And then there was Giygas. Credits suggest this was all a product of Tanaka’s twisted mind, and it may well go down in history as he most disturbing boss music ever written. Everything about Giygas was completely abstract, from his form to his combat moves. (The game would just say “You cannot grasp the true form of Giygas’ attack!” and deal out damage.)
There are a lot of hairbrain theories out there as to what Giygas represents, especially in connection with how his final form outlines the shape of a fetus. Frankly I think if you’re playing EarthBound for the plot you’re probably reading too much into it.
This song does have a little bit of relevance to what’s going on though. The transition starting around 1:40 and the music box charm it leads into at 2:32 reflect a break in the gameplay action where Paula uses her psychic powers to ask various friends for help. So while its inclusion certainly adds to the creepiness of the overall piece, it’s also intended to be a bit heartwarming. And anyway the song as it appears here, 4:03 in length, is a little arbitrary. The song isn’t a single continuous piece, and the transitions take place as a result of progression in the boss fight.
The song and its visual counterpart have earned quite a bit of internet popularity for its unorthodox behavior. You’ll have to forgive me for sharing this last one with you: