EarthBound Halloween Review (SNES) [ROM Hack]

Click here to visit the Earthbound Halloween (SNES) description page for save files, walkthroughs, and more information.

Quick Review

~By tankMage (November 2019)

Score: A-

Here’s a short breakdown of Earthbound Halloween’s strengths and weaknesses, scroll down if you wish to read the full review.

Pros

-Original and exciting story

-Well thought out and balanced gameplay… for the most part

-New sprites added specifically for the ROM Hack

-Excellent remixes and original songs

-New items, enemies, and equipment

Cons

-Occasional graphical glitches, mostly minor

-Battles can drag on for long periods of time

-Difficulty feels uneven, with the beginning being more challenging than the middle, though it evens out again in the end

-Varik’s sprite could have used more animations  

Full Review

A Game that Walks the Fine Line Between Genius and Madness

    Earthbound Halloween sets itself apart from the crowd even in the freewheeling world of ROM Hacks where it’s not uncommon for games to be whacky and even a bit edgy. This is thanks to it’s dark subject matter which deals with the aftermath of the events of the original Earthbound. Profanity, violence, and a general sense of foreboding are ever present in this adventure, making it far darker than Radiation’s (the creator of this hack) other works as well as the game it’s based on. Earthbound Halloween also distinguishes itself by being a complex and well conceived hack that manages to feel more like its own game rather than a modified version of another title. However, Radiation was a mere teenager when he created this game (an impressive feat in itself), which certainly shows as the frenetic energy and enthusiasm of its youthful creator make aspects of the game come off as being a bit immature and hurried. At any rate, buckle up for a wild ride if you’re planning on playing this one.

Mmmmm….Tacos

    If you’re unfamiliar with Earthbound, which is the basis of this ROM Hack, it’s a quirky and well loved RPG that was made for the Super Nintendo. In it, players control four young heroes with psychic powers who must defeat an evil alien named Giygas. As an RPG, this game has players exploring towns and dungeons as well as leveling up by fighting random battles, the usual stuff. Earthbound was notable for its humor, modern setting, and overall high quality gameplay. Radiation’s Earthbound Halloween is an unofficial sequel that takes the original game’s whimsical attitude and flips it on its head. Depression, death, heartbreak, and fatalism are common themes that run throughout the story. Where the original was often overly cheerful, this one is so morose that it’s almost funny. Therein lies Radiation’s brilliance. It’s as if he held a mirror up to the original Earthbound and said “Here are all of the awful unspoken implications of this seemingly lighthearted adventure.”. This is shot home from the very beginning as the player takes control of a drunken bounty hunter named Varik (incidentally, Varik was the protagonist in an obscure game called Brandish) who is tasked with slaying the individual responsible for the gruesome murder of a family in Twoson. The tale only becomes more grim and deranged from there as Varik seeks out his target. I won’t say much more about the plot than what I already have, but I will say it’s one of the most entertaining and unsettling tales I’ve encountered in a game; in fact Earthbound Halloween is worth playing just for the story, assuming you can stomach it.

    Like with most ROM Hacks, a lot of assets from the original and possibly other titles were used in this hack, but Radiation also made a fair number of custom sprites. Predictably, these sprites fit in with Earthbound Halloween’s darker theme and often look like something the original artist would have made during a bad acid trip. At the same time, Radiation made some effort to use a color palette that matched Earthbound’s reasonably well, though the art style is clearly his own. Interestingly, there are also some of the strange graphical glitches and artifacts that one often sees in lower quality hacks, though these are supposedly due to the technical limitations of the ROM editor he used. There were a few points where Radiation cut corners, most notably on Varik’s sprite, which is depicted standing, rather than lying in a bed at the beginning and also lacks the ghost sprite that’s displayed when characters die. 

It’s Halloween bitch!

    Earthbound Halloween plays largely like the original, though with the difficulty cranked up a notch. Generally speaking, Radiation seemed to want players to focus on strategy more than grinding levels, so enemies have spell weaknesses that make it possible to defeat them in a few turns. Unfortunately, Radiation was only partially successful in doing so. This was in part due to the ridiculously high cost of spells. For example, most players will probably only be able to cast Time Stop, which is very useful for fighting undead, once before having to rest or use a restorative item early on. There were a few spells that I couldn’t even cast until I gained several levels. The other half of the problem was the random nature of level up bonuses. If you’re lucky, you might get good level ups that give you plenty of MP, but the opposite is also true and you could be stuck with low MP. These two factors will likely force many players to fill their inventory with restorative items and/or grind out levels. Luckily this becomes less of an issue later in the game as party members join and inventory space grows. Radiation seemed aware of this problem and made Magic Butterflies that restore MP very common in some dungeons, though this isn’t the case early in the game when you really need them.

    Boss battles are the highlight of this game as far as the action goes thanks to Radiation’s philosophy. Bosses require some sort of strategy to defeat, since they hit hard and often have a lot of endurance and I found it fun experimenting with spells and items to see what worked best. This also made beating bosses pretty rewarding, since it takes more than just hitting the B Button constantly to defeat them. One of Earthbound’s flaws, battles that tend to drag on forever, is somewhat exasperated in this game at certain points when you have to fight enemies that use status effect magic. Spells like Sleepstun can lock your entire party down for several turns if you’re unlucky, which made fighting certain monsters a bit grueling. Happily, this problem only occurs in one area against a specific enemy, so it’s not something players will have to contend with throughout the adventure.

    Exploring the world and dungeons was also a rewarding task. There were plenty of strange places to see and creatures to talk to, though most areas are very straightforward. Much of the game’s gear is hidden in dungeons, which makes poking around in them a satisfying experience as you’ll often find a more powerful weapon or armor hidden in a box. There’s also plenty of entertaining dialogue that can be gleaned by talking to NPCs, entering new areas, or from in-game item descriptions. 

    Toby Fox’s now famous composition, “Meglovania” made its first appearance in this hack and it serves as an excellent backdrop for the final battle. As good as “Meglovania” may be, there are plenty of other remixes and original pieces that further enhance the atmosphere of the game. Players may even recognize these remixes from Chronotrigger, Brandish, and a few other titles. Even some of the original Earthbound tracks, which were weird enough on their own, got overhauls courtesy of Radiation. As someone who had the theme from Twoson stuck in his head for most of his life (ok, I’m exaggerating), I’m pleased to report that he did a great job reimagining these songs, so much so that Toby Fox will probably be remembered as one of the great composed of video game music along with the likes of Nobuo Uematsu if his career maintains the trajectory it’s been since this hack and Undertale.

Final Thoughts

    Video games are entertainment above all else, as far as I’m concerned, and Earthbound Halloween does a spectacular job of entertaining the player despite its rather obvious flaws. I often write walkthroughs for the games I review, which is a time consuming process that requires a lot of repetition. Usually, I can pace myself while working on a guide, but I often found myself peeking into the next area to see what would happen. Many of the people I’ve discussed this game with were able to complete it in a few sittings, which attests to its enthralling story if nothing else. Personally, offbeat hacks like this are one of the reasons I enjoy indie games in general and I’m very pleased to have been able to experience Earthbound Halloween.

Recommendations

Earthbound Halloween is fairly dark and disturbing, so it’s probably not the sort of thing you can sit down and play with your kid or little brother, but it’s a great choice for anyone who wants to try something a little edgy.

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