Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Genre:
    • RPG
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Square
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 03/09/1996
    • US 05/13/1996
Score: 95%

This review was published on 05/26/2013.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is a turn-based role-playing game released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1996. This is the very first RPG Mario, the Italian plumber we all know and love, ever starred in. Nintendo and Square decided to come together to develop a Final Fantasy type RPG for the Mario franchise. In essence, this was Final Fantasy meets Mario. An idea like this sounds terrible on paper, because RPGs are story focused games, and Mario games aren't exactly known for their stories. However, both Nintendo and Square somehow made this odd formula work. The game was done in a pre-rendered graphical style similar to the very successful Donkey Kong Country series. There was a lot of hype surrounding this game, because the idea of two big hit companies like this coming together to make a game was too good to be true, especially after Square saw considerable success in North America with their releases of Final Fantasy IV and VI. This was also the last Mario game developed for the Super Nintendo console, so it was sort of like the swan song of the SNES. Strange that fate would have the last Mario game on the SNES be an RPG. Super Mario RPG is indeed a dream come true by the masters at Square and Nintendo. It miraculously blends in elements from the Mario series into an interactive RPG experience. Did you get the joke there? I said experience, because you get experience points in RPGs to level up. Oh, never mind. Just know that Super Mario RPG is a great RPG, both for beginners and veterans of the genre.

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The story in Super Mario RPG starts like the story in any good Mario game; Princess Toadstool gets kidnapped by Bowser. Don't stop reading this paragraph just yet, however, because there is a twist this time. After the really short, pre-rendered cutscene of Toadstool being captured, you immediately start the game. There's no boring text to explain anything, either. The game throws you head first right into the boiling hot action. I say boiling hot, because this game starts inside Bowser's castle, the domain of doom. That's actually kind of weird for an RPG, let alone one developed by Square. It's also weird for a Mario game, since Bowser's castle is normally the final destination in those games. The introduction sequence of the game is tightly tied with the story's basic premise, which is a cool way to explain things through game play rather than text. This intro serves as a means to give people a basic idea of what the average Mario game entails, and also lull people into a false sense of security, making them think everything will go as it usually does. Upon reaching Bowser, Mario has a fight to the death with the big reptilian king. A tutorial battle starts at this point, and it doesn't matter a whole lot what you do here. After Bowser is defeated for the umpteenth time, something unexpected happens. A giant sword falls down from the sky and crashes into Bowser's castle, launching everyone into the far corners of the world. That's where the quest really begins. Both Bowser and Toadstool are missing, and Mario is unable to face the bladed threat, so he sets out on one of his greatest adventures to figure out what to do. I have to say, this intro is one of the greatest intros for an RPG. Instead of being a bore that you slowly trudge through, it's an absolute blast of fun and excitement. No matter how many times I play the game, I never get tired of this intro. Super Mario RPG starts strong with a strong start.

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When the sword came crashing down from the sky, it broke something referred to as the "Star Road," an ethereal realm in the Mario universe that grants people's wishes. Without the Star Road, the denizens of Mario's world will no longer have their wishes granted, which is just plain no good. Smithy is a mysterious entity from another world who decided to invade Mario's world and cause tons of trouble. Most of the creatures in Mario's world are cute and cuddly, but Smithy's army consists of stoic, metallic individuals that look like weapons. It's this Smithy guy that had 7 of his elite henchmen steal the 7 stars that comprise the Star Road after they scattered across the globe. Thus it's up to Mario to take back the legendary 7 stars mentioned in the game's title and restore the Star Road back to its former glory, or else everyone is doomed to live under the tyranny of a very mean, very metallic person. I wonder if he listens to Metallica. So yes, for one of the first times ever, Bowser isn't the game's main antagonist. This becomes a tradition that continues in future entries in Mario's RPG adventures. Bowser also ends up being the butt of almost every joke in the game. He's basically been reduced to the game's comic relief. That's not a bad thing, though, because the amount of possible jokes involving the giant lizard turtle are endless. The dialogue in the game is generally very tongue-in-cheek, as the game spends a lot of time poking fun at the inanities of the Mario universe. Super Mario RPG manages to take the boring plots of the Mario series and turn it into an amusing ride of many twists and turns with jokes sprinkled on top.

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Outside of battle, Super Mario RPG plays like an isometric platform game. Mario can jump at any time outside of battle by pressing the B button, and holding down the Y button allows him to run faster. That's pretty standard fare for a Mario game, except for the fact that you're doing this in an isometric perspective. I have to be honest here, jumping around in an isometric perspective usually isn't that great. You have to constantly hold diagonal to go what is perceived as straight in most circumstances, which is very annoying and doesn't mesh well at all with jumping across platforms. Super Mario RPG knows that complex jumping situations are uncalled far in an isometric perspective, though, so it rarely presents you with anything that's too trying. For the most part, jumping is merely a novelty feature that isn't required too often outside of combat. However, it's nice that you can jump, as it gives the game a more interactive feel. You can even do unnecessary stuff like jump onto and bounce on a bed, which is never required, but always desired. There are a couple of jumping challenges in the game's dungeon areas, and while they're not as deep as the typical jumping in the average Mario game, they're still pretty neat. A lot of the jumping challenges in the game are more like puzzles, which makes sense, since this is an RPG. Square loves its puzzles. Super Mario RPG's jumping mechanics can be a bit on the frustrating side, but they do a good job of adding variety to this game.

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Touching an enemy triggers a battle, which takes place on a different screen. There are no random encounters, thankfully, so that's one major thing to this game's credit. One thing that Square pioneered in Super Mario RPG was the unique battle mechanics. The battles would work much like they do in any turn-based RPG of the era, in which you select commands and watch your characters execute them. The one major addition is something called "timed hits." Square might not have invented this concept, but it was a relatively new innovation that was rarely done in games of this type. At any time during a character's attack or special move, you can press a button in an attempt to make the attack or move stronger. What button you press depends on what type of move you're using; special moves are accessed from the Y button, while regular attacks are confined to the A button. Successfully pressing the button at the right time will cause the move to do more damage, or in the case of a healing spell, increase the amount of health restored. It even works with spells that buff your stats, increasing or extending their buffing effects. Some special attacks will require more than a mere button press, like pressing the directional pad in a circular motion. Special attacks will give you on screen instructions on what you need to do, in case you need them. In addition to all of that, you can even press the button when an enemy attacks you to reduce the damage you receive. Depending on your timing, you'll either cut the damage by half or completely eliminate it. If you're very good at this, it can be possible to fight almost every battle without ever sustaining damage. It's pretty difficult to do this, though, so the game is still designed in such a manner where blocking enemy attacks isn't necessary to attain victory. The battles in Super Mario RPG are a bit on the simple side, but the timed hits make up for it by providing fun interaction.

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Mario meets many colorful characters on his stellar journey, some of which join his party. Two of them are characters first introduced in this game. Mallow is a white fellow who looks a lot like a marshmallow, hence the name. This fluffy fellow thinks he's a tadpole for a reason you discover later on. He's a little sensitive and gets flustered easily. Whenever he cries, and he often does, it starts to rain. What a mysterious guy. Mallow is kind of like the wizard of the party, because he specializes in special attacks of the magic variety and has weak normal attacks. The other new, major character to join your party is a doll. Yep, you read that correctly. A mysterious being descends from the heavens and possesses a doll in order to interact with the corporeal realm. The being claims to be a guardian from the Star Road and joins Mario's party to help in the efforts to fix it. He takes up the name of the doll and calls himself Geno. At first glance, it might seem like this is another wizard type character, since he has various magical spells and looks kind of like a wizard. Geno is an all-rounder, however. The oddly dressed doll is a jack of all trades, master of everything. Both of these characters are pretty cool additions to Mario's troupe. If that weren't cool enough, even the villain of the Mario series decides to join in on the fun. Bowser decides to join Mario's gang in Super Mario RPG. The impending threat to Mario's world is big enough to make Bowser put aside his differences and help the Italian plumber he so intensely despises. This is pretty cool, because Bowser is a force to be reckoned with. Every RPG has a physical powerhouse, and Bowser plays that role in this role-playing game. The last character to join your team is Toadstool herself. Mario successfully rescues the princess about halfway through the game, but the quest doesn't end there. There's still a great evil to vanquish, so the princess decides to help out for once in her life. Toadstool is the healer of the group, having almost nothing but heal spells. I find her essential. You can only have up to 3 people in your active party at the time, but you can swap members at any time outside of battle. Super Mario RPG has a great cast of lead characters, both battle wise and story wise.

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Towns are friendly places where Mario and his allies can shop for items and talk to the local townsfolk, like in any good RPG. Almost every town has an item shop, equipment shop, and inn. The inn is where you can sleep for a night to fully restore your health and also save your game. Saving is absolutely free and is done at a save point, but save points are usually located inside of inns. Save points are also inside places like dungeons, though, so you don't need to worry about that. Item shops are where you can buy and sell various restorative goods to restore your goods, and equipment shops are where you buy equipment. I think that about sums up the shops in town. That's not what's appealing about the towns, though. The main appeal to the towns in Super Mario RPG is the towns themselves. Each town has its own atmosphere and people to talk to, many of which have funny or quirky things to say. There's also usually a problem that needs to be solved in each town. Mario is the hero of his world, after all, so he's expected to solve every issue that needs solving. The first town you visit is the castle town of the Mushroom Kingdom. It's all peaceful at first, but on one of your trips back to town, it suddenly gets completely overrun with Smithy's goons. Essentially, the first town you explore becomes a kind of dungeon, because you have to do a lot of fighting. Once you liberate the town, the atmosphere changes and it gets all peaceful like again. This formula continues for a lot of the other towns, though there are variations on each town. One that I particularly like is this town where all its inhabitants have been captured and replaced with evil clones. Initially, Mario's party is tricked into thinking that everything is honky dory in this town, but you can easily tell that something is amiss. There's always something interesting to look forward to when visiting a new town in Super Mario RPG.

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Items and equipment are where the true strategy lies in the mechanics of Super Mario RPG. The game's mechanics may seem super simple at first, but there's a lot of depth hidden deep inside the gear selection screen. You've got weapons, armor, accessories; the works. It feels like there was a lot of inspiration from Final Fantasy VI here, so this part is probably all Square's doing. Weapons and armor raise your attack, special attack, defense, and special defense stats, as you would expect. Special basically equates to magic, in case you were wondering. There's a lot of depth in the accessories, particularly. You can equip two accessories on each character, and every accessory bestows a beneficial effect of some sort, like immunization against various status ailments such as poison and sleep. Accessories can also boost stats much like any weapon or armor can, but they're typically used for their other effects. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the equipment in this game is the weapons. Weapons aren't only about their attack power, but there's also the timed hits thing to take into account. Mario starts out bare-handed, so timing your button presses correctly will turn his standard punch into a one-two punch. Early on in the game, you can equip Mario with his iconic hammer. The hammer has a different timing to it, which also results in a one-two hit if done correctly. There are many different types of weapons for each character, and so it's necessary to learn the timing of each unique weapon in order to excel at the game. Learning the timing of a new weapon is actually quite fun, which makes the act of acquiring new gear really exciting. The combination of depth from things like accessories and the joy of learning the timing of new weapons give Super Mario RPG a unique feel among other games in the genre.

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Super Mario RPG also has a world map system similar to a Mario game, which is really handy for side quests. Locations can be selected from the world map screen, making travel between faraway places instantaneous. It may not seem like such a big deal at first, but this really is an incredible convenience. Super Mario RPG has its fair share of cool side quests, most of which have spectacular prizes. There aren't quite as many side quests as in other RPGs like Final Fantasy VI, but there are still enough to hold your attention. The big one is the lazy shell side quest. It's the longest optional quest in the game, but also the most important. Here's a useful tip: whatever you do, don't sell the seeds and fertilizer. These two items can be taken to an old gardener later in the game to get the amazing lazy shell weapon and armor set, some of the most powerful pieces of equipment ever. Other fun side quests include an island inhabited by Yoshies. It's not clear whether this is the same island as the one in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, but it's a mostly optional area where Mario can race Yoshies. I can't think of anything more awesome than racing Yoshies for fabulous prizes, so this side quest gets an A in my book. And then there's the casino, where you can play some basic card games. No actual poker, unfortunately. Super Mario RPG has some nice side quests in it, though I would have to say that the main focus is in its main quest.

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Boss battles in Super Mario RPG are intense tussles accompanied by fantastic music. We can thank Square for the music, as they're no strangers to superb music. A lot of the boss fights in Super Mario RPG have unique gimmicks to them, making each fight a different affair. One of the first major bosses dabbles in a kind of trickery that locks out some of your commands, such as disabling your use of special or normal attacks for a short period of time. Another boss literally clones your characters and turns the clones against your party. I like to call that one attack of the clones. There's a boss that does the reverse and clones himself, except the clone is a fake. That boss tends to give a lot of people trouble, because it's quite powerful. Two other bosses that tend to be quite problematic are the shark dude and the crocodile dude. The crocodile dude is a villain you fight multiple times throughout the game, but there's one instance where he's particularly tough. This is because, for this particular battle, he steals all your items. That's right; all of your items get stolen in one fell swoop. It doesn't matter how many items you bring to the fight, because they all get stolen. The only way to win is by your own strength. I had a lot of trouble with this fight my first time through the game, which is no surprise. As for the shark fellow, the gimmick with him is that he wants a one-on-one fight with Mario. For some reason, Mario obliges in that request, making what otherwise would be an easy battle ridiculously hard. There's actually a trick to getting around that one, but I'll let you figure it out. Super Mario RPG has some entertaining, yet challenging boss fights, each one being more memorable than the next.

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Super Mario RPG is one of the best RPGs on the Super Nintendo, and that's saying a lot, because the Super Nintendo has a vast library of awesome RPGs. It's the perfect game for both those who are new to the genre and veterans alike. The timed hits, comedic humor, pre-rendered graphics, and incredible soundtrack all go a long way to make this an RPG like few others. I would say this game is up there with all-time greats like Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, and EarthBound. If you're looking for a fun RPG on the SNES, then you can't go wrong with Super Mario RPG. It even has RPG in the title!

Word Count: 3,310

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