Earthbound can a surprisingly emotional game. Somehow, with its simple graphics and warbly music, it somehow manages to disarm you (or, at least, it disarmed me). The ending is a thing of beauty.
[spoiler]The final boss is this sort of shapeless, formless concept of evil. When you witness it, it almost looks like the game is glitching out, and it’s increasingly unsettling the longer you look at it. To even reach it, you have to shed your mortal bodies and transfer your consciousness in to robot shells. Though you can damage the evil, and it can damage you, it seems to be invincible. You can pour all of your resources in to killing it, but you cannot. The only option that remains is in your party member Paula. Earthbound is a game where psychic resonance is important and Paula’s appears to be the strongest of the group. She has a command unique to her – “Pray.” All throughout the game, Pray is mostly useless, as it simply causes a random effect to happen (if anything even happens at all), and sometimes those effects can harm your party as much as the enemy, so it’s never really something you can predict or rely on.
But eventually, against this horrible phantom of malice from beyond the stars, prayer is the only thing left for you to do. And so you pray, hoping something will happen in your favor.
Instead of unleashing the power of random nonsense, your prayers are heard. Characters that appeared throughout your adventures hear your cries for help and in return, pray themselves in order to give you strength. That strength manifests as intense psychic blasts that damage the monster. And the more you pray, the more people realize you are in danger, and the stronger the psychic energy gets.
The game eventually takes control away. No other commands matter except for Paula’s prayer, something she is now doing involuntarily. She’s praying for strength and though you’re receiving a lot, it’s not enough to defeat the evil.
And then… she prays directly to the player. In Earthbound, somewhere around the game’s halfway point, a character will ask the player what their name is. In a game as deliberately weird as Earthbound, it seems perfectly innocent. Now, armed with that knowledge, the game calls out your name, like it’s The Never Ending Story. It’s almost like a pact, in a way – by giving Earthbound your name, it knows it has you, and now it’s following through to blow your mind.
(That is, assuming you didn’t rename the protagonist after yourself, otherwise it just gets confusing.)
Your own prayers, combined with the prayers of everyone else in the world, provide enough psychic energy to vanquish the evil. It’s so powerful, it almost looks like it crashes the game. Did it work? Is the monster dead? Is the game dead? What happened to your robot bodies? Can you even come back from something like that?
And like a warm hug, Earthbound tells you that everything is fine. You all return to your real bodies to a world free of the evil that plagued it. But Earthbound has really only just begun its ending.
The real joy of Earthbound’s ending is how it lets you marinate in your victory. Most games will give you an ending cutscene, an impressive swell of music, but Earthbound makes you confront the aftermath personally. You must say goodbye to the friends that have accompanied you along your journey. It’s heartwarming and bitter sweet in all the right ways.
And then you walk back home. Back through the world you just saved. Technically, nothing about it has really changed, outside of the complete absence of monsters to fight. But it very clearly feels different. The people you talk to know things are different. You feel different. And when you get back to your house, where your family is waiting for you, where your mother gives you a warm welcome for a job well done… it’s an incredibly touching feeling that no other game has ever really matched, because it feels really, really good to be back home again.[/spoiler]