Earthbound Inventory Management: The Most Challenging Part?
On the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, one game title stands out as having the deepest cult following to this day. That’s some 27 years ago as of this writing, and yet you can still find people discovering and playing through the game as if it just came out. We don’t mean Super Mario World, or Legend of Zelda : A Link to the Past, or even Donkey Kong Country, though all those are beloved cult classics still played today as well.
We mean Earthbound, the incredibly weird, one-of-a-kind JRPG which nearly never got a US release at all! Come to that, it’s one game out of a trilogy, where the first and second games never got a US release. This is one of the few Nintendo games – not franchises, just one cartridge game – to have whole fan sites still active and making news to this day.
But we’ve introduced it enough. Let’s say you know about the game and want to play it to see what all the hype’s about. Or perhaps you never finished it and want to take a crack again, but never figured out optimal play. Without any game spoilers, we’re going to give you some general tips on one of the most frustrating of the game’s mechanics.
Frustrating Inventory Management in Earthbound
You start out with one character, then gradually acquire the rest of the party over the course of the game, until you have your four-head crew. We’ll use the default names Ness, Paula, Jeff, and Poo, as canonical for documentation. Each character has an inventory limited to just 14 spaces each. When you have the whole party, you still only have 56 slots total. When you start out with just Ness, you’re even limited to those 14.
As if that weren’t cramped enough, equipped items aren’t removed from the inventory, but just stay there taking up a slot. Not only that, but multiples of items don’t stack – in fact, this game makes no allowances for multiples of anything, making you buy, sell, and trade items one at a time, even if you have several of the same thing.
All this amounts to a frustrating puzzle of inventory management, especially since you can’t swap items around during battles. Outside of battle, characters can swap items back and forth and can even give items to themselves, if you’re the compulsive type who wants the inventory sorted into tidy order. Really, inventory is a pain.
Let’s start with some general rules of thumb for Earthbound inventory management:
When in doubt, store it. – Either Escargot Express or Tracy, Ness’ sister, can hang onto infinite items for you. Even this is a nuisance because Escargot Express takes a while to respond, can only carry 3 things at a time, and charges for the service too.
You won’t need HP-recovering food nearly as often as you think. – By the time you have the full cast, you have two characters who can heal with PSI powers alone. This restores so much more health than just food, but you want to be careful to save some PSI for attacks in battle, of course.
Food items that recover PP are well worth the carry. – Anything that restores psychic points in this game is gold. You get far more mileage out of LifeUp restores from PP than from HP recovery with normal food alone.
You can always call out for a pizza. – Instead of lugging excess food around, you can always send out for Mach Pizza. Most areas of the game are accessible to Mach Pizza, except for some maps near the end of the game.
Condiments are mostly not worth the trouble. – The only time they’re really worth it is in preserving Rock Candy and Magic Truffles. Stock up on Sugar Packets for the candy and Ketchup Packets for the truffle, then store them with Escargot Express until you need them.
Give Jeff all the broken stuff. – Jeff has to sleep overnight at a hotel in order to fix one item, provided his IQ points are high enough for that item. There are also many offensive items that only Jeff can use anyway.
Don’t bother buying the bicycle. – In Twoson, the bicycle is a complete waste of time. You’ll only be able to use it for a short period before expanding your party to two and then it’s useless for the rest of the game. You can’t even sell it! Just store it with Escargot Express and forget it, if you do opt for it.
The “For Sale” sign is marginally useful. – Some players don’t bother, but if you have a tendency to pick up so many drops that you can’t carry anything and you’re a long way from the nearest shop, you can at least use this to sell off items and keep some money for them.
Don’t worry too much about needing an essential quest item. – At some points in the game, if you need a crucial item that is otherwise inaccessible, Escargot Express will call you up out of the blue and offer to bring it to you.
There are also a few “red herring” items in the game. – We promised “no spoilers,” but you’ll probably figure it out anyway. These items have no practical use. They’re just there to keep you guessing. Note: Many other items have no apparent use, but turn out to have a non-obvious purpose later. Good luck!
Like any RPG game, and especially JRPGs on the Nintendo platform, the secret to infinite resources is “grinding.” Take on every enemy you can match, and make note of lucrative areas to teleport back to later. Not only do you earn money at a flat rate for every enemy you defeat, but grinding is the key to obtain a good store of the more valuable items and rare drops.
Now let’s go over individual inventory tips for the four party members…
Out of 14 slots, Ness has his four equipment items and an additional four items to lug around:
That cuts him down to just six optional item slots. In the beginning, you’ll want to carry food around most of the time since you don’t have all your PSI powers and have low PSI points, while your health points are easier to restore from a cheeseburger. When you get Paula to join your party, that’s a huge relief because she brings 14 open inventory slots with her.
Generally speaking, you want Ness’ inventory to function as the clerical department for the rest of the game. Ness has the most XP and HP, so he’s frequently the last one standing after the rest of the party gets wiped out. In battle, Ness can administer a restoring item to another member in dire need.
Cup of Lifenoodles
Horn of Life
Any of these items you have should be carried by Ness. Outside of that, Ness is usually bogged down by whatever current quest gadget you need to make it past whatever obstacle is coming up (Eraser Eraser, Backstage Pass, Jar of Fly Honey, etc.). In addition, the Franklin Badge is the one rare case where a quest item is useful later in the game, as it repels all electrical attacks. Use it in areas where you’ll be facing a lot of energy-beings.
Paula is almost the wild card of the group, since her inventory has the fewest restrictions. She’ll usually end up being extra storage for all the items the other group members are overloaded with.
Paula is the mage of the cast, so just about anything that restores PSI points should go to her first. The exceptions are bottled water, which only Poo gets any real use out of.
Brain Food Lunch
You might also want to have Ness use these items on occasion if you’re using his life recovery / healing powers a lot. Remember, you can always use the item from one character on another provided they are both conscious. The downside is that you don’t want to waste Paula’s turn in battle on tending to the other party members when she could be hitting the enemy with her kickass magic. Try to balance it out.
Out of all the characters, Jeff has the most complicated inventory situation. Note that he has no PSI powers, so anything to do with PSI automatically counts him out. Instead, he has a plethora of gadgets. Most of them start out as “broken,” a hint in-game that you should give them to Jeff to keep. After he sleeps overnight at a hotel with the broken item in his inventory, he has a random chance to fix them if his IQ is high enough; different items have different IQ requirements.
Early on, Jeff’s weapons will only deal puny damage, so whenever he has a gadget to use, he’s more useful deploying that. Quite a few of his items serve to disrupt enemies’ attacks and defenses, giving the other party members a chance to finish them off.
Items that only Jeff can use:
By the time you’re lugging all that junk around, you might as well fill the rest of Jeff’s inventory with other oddball gadgets, like the Snake Bag, Rust Promoter, and so on.
Don’t underestimate Jeff’s usefulness, however. The Defense Shower adds +10 defense to the entire party and its effects can stack, which makes it useful all the way to the final battle. The Slime Generator immobilizes one enemy for a few turns, which is chosen at random from a group, but can at least freeze your enemies so the rest of the party can focus on taking them out one at a time. And of course, the Multi Bottle Rockets are the best one-shot weapon in the game, able to deal up to 3K damage in one hit. You will want to stock up on these and store them whenever you can.
Outside of that, Jeff is best off carrying a couple food items if he has the space open, since his lack of PP mean that keeping up his HP is his only concern.
Poo’s quite the finicky character. He is consistently limited to recovering 6 HP from most food items. However, mere water in any form lubricates him enough to recover massive PP, which he can then use to LifeUp himself. So in other words, he’s expected to exist on water and meditation.
Important recovery items for Poo include:
Bottles of Water
Brain Food Lunch
Gelato de Resort
Poo still gets the normal PP recovery from any of the items that work for Ness and Paula. However, one Bottle of DXWater restores 40 PP for Poo, and is far more common to encounter than a Magic Truffle. You can just buy water bottles are stores all day.
Since Poo has so little inventory requirements, he ends up being the second pack mule for the group. He also can’t equip anything except his own “Kings” elite equipment set, one item of which is a frustratingly rare drop. On the plus side, more inventory slots to go around.
There are several points where inventory is an especial “gotcha” in Earthbound. Without spoiling it, let’s just say…
Points where one character must go it solo.
Points where one character leaves the party for a while.
One quest which is specifically an inventory management puzzle.
If one of these events catches you off-guard, it might be worth restoring from a save point and doing some inventory re-arranging before getting to the triggering event.
The game will not let you sell or discard important quest items. In fact, it forces you to hang onto many items you will never need again. Once you’re done with it, particularly if it was a token item to get you past a barrier or an item used only in a boss battle, feel free to store it until needed again.
Good luck out there, and enjoy the unique Earthbound experience! This is your humble author saying “fuzzy pickles!”