Game Five – Earthbound Halloween Hack

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Halloween Hack

Wait a second – this isn’t a follow-up to the Damnation Let’s Play!

I know.  You can read why here. The long and short of it is:  Damnation was god awful, and I couldn’t keep playing.

As a heads up, I will spoil some shit in this one.  It’ll be marked clearly, but proceed with caution if you want to play the game, and want to do so blind.


Gamefaq’s conducted a poll last year.

Well really, they conduct a poll pretty much every year.  Topics vary, but usually its to decide the “best” of something – characters, villains, games, series.  It’s long and extravagant and extremely boring.

Why?  Well, let’s take a look at the winners:

Character Battle 1

Link won.  Mario was runner up.

Character Battle 2

Cloud Strife won.  Sephiroth was runner up.

Best. Game. Ever.

Final Fantasy VII won.  Chrono Trigger was runner up.

Character Battle III

Link won.  Cloud runner up.

Villains?  Sephiroth and Ganondorf

Best. Series. Ever.

The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy.

See a pattern?

The winner of these polls is inevitably A. The Legend of Zelda – or Link as a character. B. Final Fantasy, Cloud or Sephiroth* or C. a character from a canonized game.

When the results aren’t in question, what’s the point?  Every single time its the same thing.

Except for the time it wasn’t*.

Last year, as I mentioned, Gamefaqs ran a poll.  But this time, instead of Link or Final Fantasy, or any other dusty tome of a classic game, Undertale won.

People lost their shit

I mean, that should be obvious.  Gamefaqs is a site on the internet, and if there is one thing the internet is good for, it’s pointless outrage.

Still, when people weren’t busy threatening each other, and questioning each other’s “gamer integrity” they were arguing the merits of the game.  Undertale* came out last year, basically out of nowhere, and numerous people made the point that you can’t declare a game so new as “greatest game ever”.  I’m not going to touch on the validity – or lack thereof – of that argument, but it is interesting to note that a rookie designer managed to create a game with depth, strong themes, and amazing music (cannot stress that enough), that managed to captivate people so quickly they were willing to vote it to the top of the heap.

Well, Toby Fox, the designer, isn’t a rookie.  Not entirely.  While Undertale was his first true game he had worked on rom hacks in the past.  Hardcore Gaming 101 posted an article about one specifically, Earthbound Halloween Hack.  I love Earthbound, and I love when people take interesting chances with games, so I downloaded it – played it – beat it.   Now here’s some writing.


Halloween Hack

This is the Halloween Hack character screen.

If you’ve played Earthbound it is clear that this screen is all kinds of wrong.  For starters, the background isn’t a cheery checkerboard, it’s some sort of bloody swirly mess.  That’s not Ness either , it’s a red-haired character with, what at first glance appears to be sunglasses.  Except they aren’t sunglasses – it’s a shadow cast over the main characters eyes.  How do I know?  Because of this:

char-aresa

That’s Varik from the game Brandish.  Toby Fox chose to cast him as the main character – apparently to disassociate the player from any connection they might have with Ness as the lead.  This, in theory, is a good idea – especially for the story Fox wanted to tell.  The darkness of this game wouldn’t mesh with any cheery associations the player might have with Ness.  In practice, however, it’s kind of incongruous to see a  man kitted out in steel plate walking around the world of Earthbound. Besides, the sprite work makes him look less like a hard-case mercenary, and more like the hard-case lead singer of an emo band.

Still, he’s our lead.  Varik is a bounty hunter sent to investigate a murder that occurs in the town of Twoson*.  The game takes place after the end of Earthbound, in a world where your main party doesn’t make it back from their final battle with Gigyas.  As a result, Jeff’s dad, Dr. Andonuts, has gone… Andonuts.

Ahem.

Dr. Andonuts has created an army of monsters and wants to kill everyone.  So far so cliche, right?


20160723212857_1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not exactly.  See, this game is fucking D A R K. It doesn’t start that way, initially it’s all very Earthboundy – you wander around Twoson talking to folks – Fox wrote a lot of dialogue for all the characters in town – and it all fits the off kilter style from the original game.  It’s all pretty amusing, and if you’ve played Undertale you might think you know what to expect.

Then you get into the sewers – and you’re wading through blood.  After the sewers you end up in Winters which was a delightful winter wonderland before, but is now basically hell. Finally, when you meet up with Andonuts shit gets real, real fast.

You enter the mind of Andonuts to try to pull him out of his grief and make him atone for his actions. Along the way Fox goes deeper into Andonuts, offering a reason why he hadn’t seen Jeff in the original Earthbound for so long (which I’d entirely forgotten about until this game).

Spoilers


 

 

While it’s never directly stated, it’s alluded (and not subtly either) that though Andonuts is a married man with a son, he’s actually repressing his homosexuality. The struggle between Andonuts desire to be a good father and husband versus his desire to express his true sexuality is actually captured poignantly through a number of flashback scenes and conversations between Andonuts and his wife, as well as other aspects of his mind given form in various NPC’s throughout the maps.  Fox also expresses this through combat encounters as well.

I’d imagine that anyone reading this immediately knows if this is something they find interesting, or if the games not for them – it’s certainly not congruent with most people’s expectations of an Earthbound game.  That having been said, it’s also impressive to see a topic of real depth explored in a video game, and done so well for the majority of the game.


SPOILER END

Unfortunately the ending is deflating as hell.  It’s a common criticism that Undertale incorporates too much internet humor in the game, and that this is immersion breaking.  From what I’ve played, I don’t see it, and the tone of the game is lighthearted enough that I don’t think it really matters.

That’s not the case in Halloween Hack though.  Here’s Andonuts opening line in the final battle:

“I HAVE FUCKING HAD IT WITH YOUR SHIT. You little fuckers are going to have your bodies ripped in half. I’ll shove your asses so far down your throats that when you crap you’ll sing fucking Beethoven . tl;dr: eat shit, faggots

So… yeah.  Way to crap it all up.

There was an apparent backlash to this, and Fox has scrubbed all information about the game from his site http://radiation.fobby.net/halloween/ – I don’t have the time or desire to investigate the reaction to it, as I’m sure it’s filled with people getting offended and losing their shit, and that’s just a downer. The problem here isn’t the obscenities – after all Andonuts is  the villain of the game, and his final fight is the literal manifestation of his rage – of course he would say offensive things.  The problem is Fox’s decision to throw in internet speak, and meme.  Maybe I’m out of touch, but it’s impossible to imagine an old scientist using the term tl;dr.

Still, it’s a shame that Fox has disowned the work – Halloween Hack explores topics that no other videogame has (that I know of, feel free to correct me in the comments if I’m wrong) .


When I wrote my first review on Aarklash Legacy  some games are a 7 for their lack of ambition .

I also mentioned that there are some games that warrant a 6, that I enjoyed and respect more.

Halloween Hack is a perfect example of this.  Judging by the mechanics of the game (a stripped down Earthbound) it’s length, and the roughness of the writing and presentation, it’s tough to say it deserves anything objectively over a 6.  It’s certainly not a better game than Aarklash Legacy.  However it is a more interesting game than Aarklash, and for me, sometimes that’s all it takes.

Earthbound Halloween Hack – 6/10


The game maybe 6/10 – but the music Toby Fox created  for it are 10/10 across the boards, especially Meglovania, the final boss music.

How awesome is that?  Shh, don’t answer – we all know it’s incredible.

Also for anyone interested, Fox’s write up that used to be on his website can be found here: http://archive.is/67gZR.


So much nicer to write about a game I actually enjoyed.

Next up on the Docket!  A tangentially related posting on Earthbound fan projects and hacks! Will be up Friday at the latest. (I set these dates so I have a goal to hit)

After that it’s F.E.A.R. – and a question for everyone kind enough to read!  Please comment and let me know what you think:

F.E.A.R has two expansion packs.  I have them on my list as two separate games, each separate and played individually.  However, I’m currently reconsidering, and thinking about lumping all expansion packs for FEAR, and all games in the future, together (maybe one post for main game, one for the expansions). What’s you all’s thoughts?

 

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