A few days ago it came to light that the reason why Nintendo has hesitated on re-releasing the classic Super NES RPG EarthBound on the Wii's Virtual Console involved lots of sampled and referenced materials laced all through the EarthBound adventure, turning the game into something of a legal minefield when it comes to bringing it back to the gaming masses. The exceptional EarthBound Central has dug deep into the issue, listing all kinds of potential infringing material and explaining the matter in more detail. It's a long article, but I suggest you read it all if you have any interest in the EarthBound / Mother franchise.
To avoid crap lawsuits, Nintendo has a team of legal people who have to go through everything Nintendo plans to release and look for anything that can cause potential lawsuits. Then these things are fixed if necessary. The point is: they’re trying to avoid lawsuits in the first place.It doesn’t matter if they could clearly successfully win lawsuits brought against them; they’d still lose money in the process. Having this team of legal people is cheaper than putting up with every lawsuit that every crazy money-hungry company hits them with. This is an important point that I think many people don’t understand. The point is to stay out of court altogether. If the legal team feels uneasy with anything - even the tiniest thing - then they won’t give their approval.
I don’t play many Virtual Console games, but one easy example I do know about is StarTropics. The legal team didn’t allow it to get released until every instance of “Yo-Yo” was changed (it got changed to “Star”, incidentally). This seems ridiculous to us, but the legal folks obviously did their homework, because in Canada a company owns a trademark for that term. Which reminds me, EarthBound has its share of yo-yos too. I bet they would’ve been changed, too. I bet a lot of little things like that would’ve been changed. I do know that Salvador Dali’s estate is extremely protective of how his name and works are used, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dali’s Clock enemy would’ve been changed in some way, name-wise and/or graphics-wise. I’m not a lawyer, but if I can find this stuff out, paid expert professionals can probably find 100x more.
Long story short: without major changes that Nintendo is unwilling to make, we'll never see EarthBound again. I hate that it's come to this, but maybe it is the correct decision. It is very difficult to accurately describe what makes EarthBound such an amazing experience. It's more than just a game. It's a very special experience that meshes story, character, music, and heart in a very unique way that, in my mind, has never been duplicated or recreated. If Nintendo were to start pulling on a loose thread here or there to replace a music sample or change a name, they'd eventually unravel the tapestry that is EarthBound. Maybe the result of these changes would be better in some regard, but it wouldn't be EarthBound anymore. Perhaps it's best to just let it go and leave the game lost to time. Old cartridges are out there. The dark specter of emulation is always around. Like tracking down an old, out-of-print book in some dusty used bookstore, the act of acquiring EarthBound could add to its mystique. Playing the game gives you a story to enjoy, but finding the game in the first place gives you a story to tell. I like that idea for some reason. It seems like a very EarthBoundy thing to do.