Welcome, E3 asylum seekers, to a new edition of Mento's Alternative to E3 series. This is Your Sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle going on in the LA Convention Center, or at least the hustle and bustle that's due to start three days from now, hence the slightly weird numbering for these days. Thanks EA.
To pass the blissful time away from all that noise, I'm going to be checking out a gaggle of randomizer hacks throughout the week. If you're not familiar with these I'd like to point you towards this series of LP blogs for the A Link to the Past Randomizer I started back in April for a crash course on the concept. For the sake of expediency, it's simply adding an element of procedural generation to a game that previously lacked it or, in the few cases that had procgen, accelerating what already exists to some extent. I wanted to find a batch of six randomizer hacks that offered something a little different to A Link to the Past's chest randomizer, though keep in mind that there's only so many gameplay elements that can undergo this treatment before it turns a once structurally-sound game into a terrifying and unplayable mess. The selected games are definitely on the right side of "playable", even if I can't make assurances that they won't still be terrifying.
Our first game is EarthBound: a traditional SNES JRPG in some respects, and an utterly strange narrative experience in many others. A perfect lab rat for an intravenous injection of the idiosyncratic, wouldn't you say?
E3 Day -2: "Haunted Bro"
The EarthBound Reshuffler (V1.5).
The Reshuffler is what you might call a "soft" randomizer, as most of its changes are cosmetic in nature; switching the sprites around for NPCs as well as a rather robust name generator for the game's items, enemies, and even the game's subtitle. However, it does include enough gameplay changes to offer those looking for a fresh take on Shigesato Itoi's eccentric classic.
One of those gameplay changes affects the enemies. The enemies you meet in the game can have anything from their appearance and name to their attack patterns changed, but their stats have only been edited to a minor degree - this means that the game can be played normally without running into some overpowered wandering encounter or boss. Enemies might have advanced psionics or confer late-game status effects, but will still hit about as hard as those weakling snakes and birds you'd normally be fighting from the outset.
The other major gameplay change is one similar to A Link to the Past: you can randomize the contents of non-story-essential item boxes, granting advanced equipment early (or weak equipment late) as well as acquiring various character-specific items for party members you have yet to recruit. A little game-breaky perhaps, but you don't have to use what they give you: stores still sell the same equipment they always have, albeit with different names, if you want to proceed with the intended equipment progression.
The EarthBound Reshuffler is cute, but kinda inconsequential. I suppose if you were playing or streaming EarthBound a lot, it'd be a handy tool for a bit of visual flair for subsequent playthroughs, having a chuckle at who the game chooses to recast for various roles. I'm more interested in the item variance from the gift boxes and the way the randomized enemies work, but despite the different attacks it's usually the stats of the creature - the HP, strength, and whatnot - that make the difference in battles. I say that, having avoided any fights with status effects that might've turned me into a rock and caused an instant game over, so I should count my blessings I suppose.
All in all, it doesn't do a whole lot to the core gaming experience, but then EarthBound didn't really need much improving. Perhaps a randomizer that's more in the silly spirit of the game is a better fit than something that shakes everything up too much. I'll give it a passing grade, but I think if I'm ever going to play through EarthBound again it'll be via my unmodified (and completely legal) Wii U Virtual Console version.
(NB: These ratings are for the randomizer hack, not the games themselves.)
|Day -2: EarthBound||Day -1: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow|
|Day 0: Super Mario World||Day 1: Final Fantasy Tactics|
|Day 2: Pokémon FireRed||Day 3: Secret of Mana|