What’s this? A post? By Pontifus!? Surely glee seeps from your every pore.
Until you realize it’s a video game post about a cult classic that’s probably more cult than classic. But fuck it. Earthbound is amazing, and all the more so for its unusual final boss. Giygas, like the game, compels one to drag those around oneself into mutual madness — and, to that end, I’ve recorded and annotated the battle. You’ll thank me for it later.
0:00-0:37 — Somehow it took me over thirty seconds to walk the length of this fleshy corridor. It’s all that walking in circles, I suppose.
Given the corridor’s aforementioned and very evident fleshiness, this is as good a time as any to mention the contentious fan interpretation that imagines the approach to Giygas as a birth canal…
0:38-0:45 — …And the pulsating thing at the end as a…well, look at it.
There’s an anonymous graphic that goes along with this theory, which, once seen, can never be unseen.
I don’t prefer to think of Giygas as a fetus. But, given the way Giygas is handled in Mother, it isn’t too much of a stretch to see it as childlike, and it’s true that Pokey (or Porky, though I’ll stick with the old translation) has a way of using people to get what he wants. It’s also true that, with Giygas out of the way, Pokey is free to do what he does in Mother 3. Whoever wins the fight, Pokey stands to gain in that he’ll be rid of major opposition — which does not, of course, mean that he explicitly tricks Ness and co. into aborting a fetus.
It’s not that I’m unwilling to grant that the game’s heroes commit an act of questionable heroism; in fact, I think we can reach that conclusion even without the Giygas-as-fetus angle, if we really want to. And anyway, it’s really no stretch to take some of the things that happen throughout this fight as figuratively evocative of birth and sexuality. I’m just not convinced that Earthbound’s final battle is literally an abortion. But I’ll leave the fetus theory at that; it’s been debated across the internet quite enough already.
0:55 — The Devil’s Machine looks more like an eye than a cervix, as far as I’m concerned, or at least it evokes in me the idea of an eye first and foremost. Ness’s head (or at least the head he left behind when he agreed to have his consciousness housed in a robot body — how’s that for the hero changing himself to meet the challenges he faces?) occupies the position of iris and pupil. The mirror effect serves to link Ness with Giygas, actively raising the question of which of Ness’s qualities or inner demons Giygas could represent. Also consider that the iris and pupil are responsible for the admission of light; perhaps Ness alone could get through to the crazed Giygas, if he tried — in fact, Giygas’s weakness in Mother was its deep-rooted compassion — though the game offers no option for this. I suppose we could say that the gameplay thus defines Ness as practical and efficient; after all, slaying a foe ensures that it cannot return, and, though I don’t think Ness realizes it, Giygas has fallen and returned before. Even the empathetic Paula does not protest. But, setting aside the question of whether I’m overanalyzing (I don’t really believe one can over-analyze), perhaps we should ask whether we ought to allow gameplay to define characters in this way. We might establish gameplay and characterization as separate concerns, but I’m not sure we can divorce anything from gameplay entirely.
1:13 — Nobody ever properly explains what the “Apple of Enlightenment” is in the first place1. We’re told that Ness and his merry band do what they do in fulfillment of destiny, but the nature of destiny is always left vague. It’s more like they’re being jerked around by people who claim the authority of destiny than being led on by destiny itself. Destiny isn’t much help at all.
1:23 — I suppose we should receive “the embodiment of Evil itself” with skepticism; given that good and evil are never all that well-defined in Earthbound, and that Pokey is a pathological liar, perhaps it’s been a misconception throughout the game that Giygas is wholly evil.
1:35 — Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: when asked to define Ness’s favorite thing at the beginning of the game, I chose “Fuckin” (not because I want him to suffer from nymphomania, but because “Fuckin α” sounds like “fuckin’ A” and “Fuckin Ω” is just amusing). At least I didn’t change his favorite food to some phallic euphemism.
2:06 — Giygas’s use of Ness’s special attack makes me wonder again which part of Ness it resembles closest. It’d be easy enough to say that Giygas is Ness’s evil/dark side, if not for the fact that Ness has already overcome his inner evil at that point. Besides, I’m hesitant to choose “evil” as the be-all, end-all of Giygas; it seems too easy, even if we’re talking about a mid-90s SNES game.
4:04-4:08 — See, this is what I’m talking about: if Giygas is, for all intents and purposes, mentally disabled, can it be said to be “evil?” It’s mentioned that Giygas isn’t even aware of what it’s doing. How we define Giygas, then, probably depends on whether we base our definition of evil on the act (and/or the intentions behind it) or the effect, and whether we’re willing to grant that a person or sentient thing can be defined in terms of good and evil. Surely Giygas’s war against the Earth at least makes sense to the Starmen and other sentients fighting for its cause.
4:12-4:17 — In a 2003 interview, Earthbound writer Shigesato Itoi discussed the creation of Giygas. At one point, he brought up the topic of typical villains:
Itoi: Well, you know, having a villain there who simply goes, “Wahahaha!” and the like would clearly be bad. But, actually, when I think about it, having villains go, “Wahahaha!” is a really intriguing pattern. But there’s no point in wondering all by yourself for days on end what it means for a bad guy to go, “Wahahaha!” at the climax of a game, you know? I get the feeling that there aren’t many people in the game industry who would do that sort of thing, though.
[Interviewer:] I don’t think it’s limited to just the game industry, though.
Itoi: In short, “What does it mean for a bad guy to laugh?” Hmm…
With that in mind, it’s interesting that Pokey gets a brief Evil Laugh at this point — not that I think there’s much to gain as a reader from scrutinizing a creator’s creative decisions as such, but it’s fun to think about.
5:06 — “You cannot grasp the true form of Giygas’ attack!” — Itoi talks about that, too.
Itoi: Basically, Giygas is something you can’t make sense of, you know? But there’s also a part to him that’s like a living being that deserves love. That part is the breast of Hisako Tsukuba from “The Military Policeman and the Dismembered Beauty”.
Itoi: … When I was a kid, I accidentally saw the wrong movie at a theater. It was a Shin-Toho movie titled “The Military Policeman and the Dismembered Beauty”.
After I saw it, I went back home and was silent and just really out of it. I had received such a big shock that I worried my parents. After all, a lady had been raped. By a river. In the movie. When the guy grabbed her breast really hard, it got distorted into this ball shape. It all hit me really hard. It was a direct attack to my brain.
[Interviewer:] When you were a little boy?
Itoi: When I was a little boy.
In other words, there was this sense of terror having atrocity and eroticism side-by-side, and that’s what Giygas’ lines at the end are. During the end, he says, “It hurts,” right? That’s… her breast. It’s like, how do I put it, a “living-being” sensation.
Word of God aside, Giygas comes to embody at least two qualities in a significant way. The first is incomprehensibility; everything from its attacks to its mad babbling to its physical form is difficult for the protagonists to fully understand. The second quality becomes clear as the fight progresses.
6:29 — This stuff is truly nightmare-inducing. It’s theorized that Giygas was planned to return in Mother 3, but the developers felt it’d be too frightening for a younger audience, and I can see why some fans would reach that conclusion. Seriously, Kefka and Lavos don’t have shit on Giygas, and coming from me, that pretty much means Giygas is the greatest end boss ever.
Speaking of Lavos, Giygas is a similarly intelligent but incommunicative alien. In the works of Orson Scott Card (the Ender novels specifically), it’s argued by some characters that the killers of such a being cannot be held morally responsible; humans must protect themselves, after all, and when reason isn’t enough, there’s really nothing else that can be done. Perhaps Giygas exists beyond human logic, and so concepts like morality don’t apply to it — but it can, after all, communicate to Ness in recognizable language, so maybe not.
6:46 — Adding to the tension of this battle is Giygas’s immunity to the arsenal you’ve built up throughout the game; literally, all you can do is pray.
But you don’t pray to a deity, interestingly; people you’ve met and interacted with receive your prayers and send you their best wishes, which damages Giygas somehow. Essentially, the protagonists’ connections with people allow them to succeed. It’s like the Persona games, or the good end of Clannad, or the writing of John Donne made fictional.
6:58-7:36 — I wonder why some of the Mr. Saturns show up around the edges of the screen, but refuse to gather in the middle. They’re probably just wandering NPCs the code doesn’t delete or shoo off, I guess, but maybe, maybe…
I believe Itoi says the Mr. Saturns have something to do with innocence, but they always reminded me more of creepy old men, for some reason.
7:50 — OH GOD IT’S A FETUS
0:08-0:12 — Alright, let’s go ahead and get to that other quality Giygas embodies. There’s really no way around the fact that its dialogue is at least vaguely sexual. It may not be so apparent in this particular playthrough of mine, but the dialogue is thrown at you randomly, so you’ll occasionally get “it hurts,” “I feel good,” and random grunting and groaning in succession. And even if that’s what Ness thinks he’s hearing, it’s still worth a look, as I’m trying to figure out what Giygas is to Ness anyway.
So let’s review: Giygas is potentially not purely evil; it represents (and practically is) chaos, it uses Ness’s abilities against him, and it has an air of sexuality about it. Considering that Ness is roughly a young teenager, Earthbound’s scourge of the galaxy begins to look a lot like puberty2.
0:46-1:14 — Here’s a relevant Itoi quote about Tony, Jeff’s boarding school friend (the linked article also includes the bit about Mr. Saturns and innocence).
…There’s a gay person in MOTHER 2. A really passionate friend who lives in an England-like place. I designed him to be a gay child. In a normal, real-life society, there are gay children, and I have many gay friends as well. So I thought it would be nice to add one in the game, too.
Yeah, intentional fallacy etc., but, to be fair, the character is pretty gay. You didn’t see a lot of gay characters in Nintendo games during the 90s, at least in the United States.
2:10 — Heh, Poo…why they couldn’t have translated プー as “Puu” is beyond me. I guess they sought to amuse.
4:19 — If you weren’t guaranteed to have nightmares before, you are now.
6:04 — That’s right: the final prayer, the prayer that defeats Giygas, comes from you, the player. If you thought the question of whether Giygas’s defeat has any moral repercussions wasn’t your burden…well, you’re still right, insofar as Giygas is fictional, but involving the player in the process like this brings the player a little closer to all the game’s implications. Imagine if Fallout 3 assigned your name to the protagonist’s father. Or if Portal gave your name to GLaDOS. Either would throw a few rocks at the boundary between play narrative and game plot narrative. And, of course, in Earthbound’s case, you really are responsible for Giygas’s defeat, being the player who consciously brings it about.
In retrospect, it may have had more of an impact if I’d entered my real name instead of Juan Pontifus.
6:31 — Wait, if Pokey can travel through time, why doesn’t he just…damn you, time travel!
Anyway, Giygas having been vanquished, I leave you with this:
1It makes me think of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, though I’m not sure that there are thematic parallels between Earthbound and the Eden story, unless we go with loss of innocence.
2Also Azathoth. I’d love to be able to discuss Giygas as gothic, or Lovecraftian, but I don’t know enough about those things to do it properly.