written by Incognito
Everyone knows who Mario is. Your Mother’s Cousin’s Uncle’s Son’s best friend’s dog even knows who Super Mario is. Gamer or not Super Mario is a household name. While I can’t speak for everyone, Mario games were a staple for many kids growing up over the years, ever since we first picked up a Nintendo controller at Christmas and turned on the screen. Today I would like to talk about a much more cult Mario game, one which some of you may have never even experienced and one that I consider a gem of its time.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of Zelda… wait I mean Legend of the Seven Stars is, you guessed it, a role playing game designed by Square (now Square Enix). It was released in May of 1996 for the Super Nintendo with great success. The first Mario game of its time that wasn’t your typical side scrolling action platformer. The idea for this game was to take the aspects of role-playing games mash it with Mario and give the combat system somewhat of an action feel to it while maintaining the turn based style. It worked, and it work very well. Super Mario RPG’s success was limited due to the release of the Nintendo 64 and Super Mario 64 four months later in 1996. It was the last game in Square’s original deal with Nintendo and the final Mario title on the SNES. The developers really pushed the limits of the SNES hardware with this title and used as much power as the system could deliver, even using the the “Nintendo Super Accelerator 1 Chip” which explains why the graphics look so beautiful for a SNES title. With all the background of the game out of the way lets move onto the story.
The game begins with a short cutscene. Princess toadstool sits atop a peaceful hill conveniently located outside of Mario’s house. Suddenly, and unsurprisingly she is kidnapped by King Bowser using the Koopa Clown Car. Peach might be the most air headed fictional character to ever exist. Mario exits his house and sees Princess Toadstool in peril. He chases Peach and Bowser and ends up at Bowser’s Keep. Neat! This game starts out at the end of every other game! After going through the castle, Mario finally catches up with Bowser, and proceeds to battle him on the chandeliers of the castle. Upon Bowser’s defeat and the rescue of the princess, the castle begins to shake. A giant sword named Exor falls from the sky and crashes into Bowser’s keep, destroying the Star Road on the way. The crash sends Mario, Peach, and Bowser flying in separate directions. Mario ends up landing back at his house where Toad has been searching for Toadstool. When Toad discovers that the princess is not there, he asks Mario to go back to Bowser’s keep to bring her back. Mario has no idea where she or Bowser are, but goes to check the castle. However, when he arrives he is unable to enter the castle and Exor, the giant sword, tells Mario that the keep is now the property of the Smithy Gang, taken over to help with its quest to take over the world. Exor destroys the bridge and Mario narrowly escapes.
The plot then sees you off, onto this crazy and wacky adventure to seven different worlds to collect the seven Star pieces. Along the way you meet tons of new faces, and even more old faces from the series. As Mario progresses he adds new members to his party, even Bowser himself! No other game before this one let you play as Bowser aside from Super Mario Kart. Each character you meet and add to your party has their own unique set of skills. Mario and Bowser are the melee combat types. While Peach and Mallow were your typical healer and magic users. Geno though, he was unique all on his own. He was able to use melee and magic at about the same proficient level as either of the two groups. There is a reason he is a fan favorite. This SNES title was jam packed with content. Like I said before, there are seven different worlds to explore all different from the last, over 57 different enemies to fight including bosses and recolors, tons of mini games along the way, and even side quests!
There really isn’t much I can remember about this game that I didn’t like. Replaying it again on the SNES Classic I had tons of fun and very little negative to say about it. With it being an RPG you have the basic system in play. You explore an area, you either run into or avoid enemies. Once you run into an enemy a turn based battle starts. Something very unique about this game was the control it gave you during battle. They have a hybrid of a turn based attack system and an action battle system. What I mean is when you pick your attack to damage the enemy you can also contribute to that in real time by pressing the attack button at certain times; these were called “Timed Hits”. This honestly is one of the best parts of this game. It enabled you to feel like you were actively playing the game during the battle instead of just mindlessly pressing the buttons and watching the actions to get through. You could also contribute to the battle by timing a dodge during the enemy attack phase significantly reducing your damage taken or negating it altogether in some cases. This brought so much fresh life into an RPG battle system that you can see taking place in some later RPG titles. Like many RPG’s before it, Super Mario RPG had a traditional leveling system where you gain experience points from defeating your enemies in battle. Each time a character would level up, they could choose one of three groups of stats to gain a bonus in: attack and defense, HP, or magic attack and magic defense. Special skills could be performed by using flower points which ranged from everything to massive damage attacks to reviving downed allies in battle.
I hardly remember a flaw in this game, but no game is without its flaws. There is so much to be praised within Super Mario RPG. The soundtrack was incredible and I never felt it was repetitive while exploring the worlds or at the end of a battle screen. The art design was immersive for its time, as immersive as a title could be on 32 bit consoles that is. The story was engaging and humorous, I would compare it to the likes of Banjo Kazooie. OH! And there were even cameos of characters from other games which was a wonderful sight to see. You can find Link and Samus both slumbering away in a bed. That was such a treat.
The most apparent flaw in Super Mario RPG case is that it’s one of the easiest RPGs I’ve ever played. It approaches the diabolical “Nintendo Hard” label one might expect from this marriage of Square and Nintendo precisely once, when you can face off against an optional boss that’s so much tougher than anything else, it’s actually sort of funny (as well as emasculating). While Culex has nothing to do with the plot, that boss and its four elemental crystals are capable of wiping out your entire party in very short order unless you’ve achieved the maximum level and have done a good bit of preparation besides. Take that guy out of the equation and it’s possible to steamroll any opposition with few setbacks more serious than the occasional moment when you find yourself wondering whether you should revive a fallen character with a simple spell or with one of your many revival items.
This game gives you nearly every possible advantage as you explore its world. Characters completely regenerate their health upon gaining a level and you’ll find blocks containing full health and magic restoration for your entire party situated immediately before most bosses. Tapping the action button at the right time during battle can enhance your attacks and spells, as well as weaken an enemy’s assault. Enemies are visible on-screen and, unlike adversaries in many older games that eschewed random fights, the majority of them seem content to do their own thing, casually meandering around the screen and not really taking notice of the interlopers skulking through their domain. In other words, you can fight every single foe you find if you want… or you avoid most combat and simply sprint through areas as quickly as possible.
All and all, this is one hell of a title. If you haven’t experienced it yet you are truly missing out on something special. This game is going to be remembered for years and it might be the one title that holds up the most in today’s gaming atmosphere. At least in the RPG genre that is.
Super Mario RPG gets my RETRO Seal of Approval!