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 the Italian plumber we all know and love, Mario, ever starred in. Nintendo and Square decided to come together to develop a Final Fantasy styled RPG for the Mario franchise. 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 major companies coming together to make a game like this 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. Super Mario RPG is indeed a dream come true by the masters at Square and Nintendo. It miraculously blends elements from the Mario series into an interactive RPG experience. 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 headfirst into boiling hot action. I say boiling hot, because this game starts inside Bowser's Castle. That's actually kind of weird for a Mario game, since Bowser's Castle is normally the final destination in those games. The introduction sequence of the game is seamlessly woven into the story's basic premise, which is a cool way to explain things through gameplay rather than text. Upon reaching Bowser, Mario has a grandiose fight with the big reptilian king. 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. No matter how many times I play the game, I never get tired of this intro.

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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 bad. 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 sent seven of his elite henchmen to steal the seven stars that comprise the Star Road after they scattered across the globe. Thus it's up to Mario to take back the legendary seven stars mentioned in the game's title and restore the Star Road back to its former glory. So yes, for one of the first times ever, Bowser isn't the game's main antagonist. Bowser also ends up being the butt of almost every joke in this 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.

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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 for 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 fun. 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. Super Mario RPG's jumping mechanics can be a bit on the frustrating side, but they do a good job of adding variety to the game.

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One thing that Square pioneered in Super Mario RPG was the unique battle mechanics. The battles 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 thing 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. 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 instructions on what you need to do, in case you need them. In addition to all of that, you can even press a 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. The battles in Super Mario RPG are a bit on the simple side, but the Timed Hits make up for that 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. The first one is Mallow, who looks a lot like a marshmallow, hence the name. He's a little sensitive and gets flustered easily. Whenever he cries, and he often does, it starts to rain. Mallow is kind of like the wizard of the party, because he specializes in magic and has weak normal attacks. The other new character to join your party is Geno, who claims to be a guardian sent from the Star Road and joins Mario's party to help in the effort to fix it. At first glance, it might seem like this is another wizard character, since he has various magical spells and looks like a wizard. Geno is a jack-of-all-trades, however. Both of these characters are pretty cool additions to Mario's troupe. If that weren't cool enough, Bowser decides to join Mario's gang in Super Mario RPG. The impending threat to Mario's world is big enough to make Bowser set aside his differences and help the Italian plumber he so intensely despises. 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; after she's rescued, of course. Toadstool is the healer of the group, having almost nothing but healing spells. You're only allowed to have three people in your active party at the time, but you can swap members outside of battle. Super Mario RPG has a great cast of lead characters.

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Towns are friendly places where Mario and his allies shop for items and talk to the local townsfolk, like in any good RPG. 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 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 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 fine 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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The game's mechanics may seem super simple at first, but there's a lot of depth hidden 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 offensive and defensive capabilities, as you'd expect. 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. The significance of weapons isn't strictly in their attack power; there's also the Timed Hits thing to take into account. Mario starts out barehanded, so timing your button presses correctly will turn his standard punch into two punches. Early on in the game, you can equip Mario with his iconic hammer. The hammer has different timing to it, which also results in two hits 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.

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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. This game 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, 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 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 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 on 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 creates evil clones of your characters. There's also 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. The only way to win is through 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. Super Mario RPG has some entertaining, yet challenging boss fights, each one being more memorable than the last.

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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 those 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!

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