Hello, dear readers! Last week, we revisited a Sega Genesis JRPG that was a little nebulous, but also a bit ahead of its time.
This week brings us another JRPG, this time for Super Nintendo. And it remains an oddball game in the biggest video game franchise ever, but it’s also one of the best.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was a game that simply shouldn’t work. It’s right there in the title; this game was an RPG starring Mario and Co. And it’s developed by SquareSoft (now, of course, Square Enix) who had been known more or less only for Final Fantasy.
So the game makes no sense at first glance. Mario games, especially back then, were almost exclusively platformers, apart from Mario Kart having come out a few years earlier. How would a Mario RPG even work?
Turns out, it works pretty damn well.
A simple beginning to a grand adventure.
Starting off as any Mario game would, you begin as Mario attempting to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser, who has kidnapped her yet again. During the battle with Bowser, in which the game smartly introduces its mechanics, Bowser’s Castle is suddenly impaled by a giant, sentient, evil sword named Smithy. This sends Mario, Peach, and Bowser flying off in different directions across the world.
So, when Mario comes to, he of course must rescue Peach and defeat Smithy. Oh, and along the way, you team up with Bowser ( unheard of in a Mario game!), fight alongside Peach, meet two more party members in the form of Mallow (a sort of...marshmallow guy?) and Geno (a toy who’s been brought to life), stop a weirdo from marrying Peach, collect Stars, fight a cake, defeat a Power Rangers-spoof team...it goes on and on.
Super Mario RPG plays...well, one could call it simple, if you take your RPG’s seriously. I call it fun. Battles are standard turn-based affairs with the added wrinkle of Timed Hits, wherein you press A at the right moment during an attack to increase its power. I like it, simply because it forces you to stay awake during battles instead of just pressing attack again and again. I always wondered why more games didn’t adopt a system like this.
Otherwise, you use spells and special attacks (“MP” is a group-shared pool of Flower Points), and...well, that’s pretty much it for battles. Super Mario RPG kept the JRPG formula pretty straightforward and accessible; you didn’t have to worry much about character builds, who to bring into your party, etc. The extent of it is, make sure you have the strongest gear whenever you hit a weapon/armor shop. There’s accessories that give you perks and buffs, and spells for debuffs and such...basically, the game is as complex as you want it to be. There’s a little bit of room to dig deeper into the game, but it’s not Baldur’s Gate or anything.
D-Donkey Kong? NOOOOO!
I think that’s why I like Super Mario RPG so much. I mentioned Baldur’s Gate up there, another game I’m a fan of because of its complexity and character building. Conversely, I like this game because of its simplicity and lighthearted, comedic feel. Sure, like most JRPG’s, the fate of the world hangs in the balance. But Super Mario RPG showed us that we can have an epic tale while also having fun. There’s few really, deadly serious moments in the game (although the final boss is a bit unnerving), and, even in the context of an RPG, we learn here that we don’t always have to frown, furrow our brows, and ponder philosophy.
I, of course, find Final Fantasy amazing as well. But a change of pace is not only nice-it’s necessary. Games are art, and like any form of art, they can and will affect you emotionally. Possibly even more so, as games can be even more immersive than certain other pieces of art. And so a light, fun romp like Super Mario RPG is great, because you can relax a bit with it. It’s kind of the same theme as this piece I wrote recently -I’m always seeking out more emotional, deeper content in games,but I also like the fun, happier games from time to time. I mean, you can’t just seek out one type of gaming experience exclusively. Where’s the fun in that?
Super Mario RPG is still pretty challenging at times, though, which makes it great for the hardcore JRPG fan as well! Though I went on about the simplicity of the game systems, that doesn’t mean the game is easy as a whole. I, for example, never found my way through that stupid maze bit in the sunken ship, the one where you can’t see Mario; you just have to sort of feel your way through? It sucked. Also, there’s some nasty boss fights. Make that a lot of nasty boss fights.
And the game remains a blast to play, even today. The 3D isometric view, the great soundtrack, the simple-but-fun battles, the environments...it’s all still great. This game, here, is one of my strongest recommendations in my whole nearly two years of writing this weekly series.
Also, here’s a random video of Mario landing 100 Super Jumps on a boss. It’s the epitome of Timed Hits (You gotta press Y at the right moment EVERY TIME)
Thanks for reading my stuff! As always, leave comments, suggest future games to be featured as Game of the Week, and find me on Twitter! Also, catch up with my (currently on hiatus) other article series here!
AND another, more limited, but pretty cool series of articles from me may be beginning this week-stay tuned!
Next week’s game is a sequel to an NES classic. Hint: There are exactly 3 games in this entire series. Looking forward to your guesses!