Super Mario RPG Retro Review

Joe Takes Us Back to Square's Last SNES Outing

The era of the Super Nintendo has had its fair share of memorable games.  The 16-bit console that hit US stores in 1991 spawned such Nintendo staples as the Donkey Kong Country series and Starfox series.  Veteran gamers can look back at the SNES and remember the hours they spent playing Chrono Trigger, Kirby Super Star,and Final Fantasy III.  Of course, any gamer worth his control pad would not forget Super Mario World and Super Mario Kart, the former of which selling over 20 million copies word wide and earning itself a its own cartoon spin-off.  Of all the Mario games released on the SNES though, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars has earned itself a legendary status among fans.  It’s the first game that brought Mario out into the 3-dimensional world and laid the foundation for future Mario games that venture into the role-playing genre.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was one of the last games developed by Square Enix (then known as Squaresoft) and published by Nintendo.  The game is set in the Mushroom World with geographically diverse regions and inhabitants alongside the Mario trademark Toads of the Mushroom Kingdom such as Mole people and Cloud people.  The story begins with Mario, as usual, rescuing Princess Toadstool (Peach) from Bowser and, as usual, succeeding.  But before the Jump Man and his damsel-in-distress can celebrate, a giant sword shatters the sky and skewers Boswer’s stronghold.  This sets into motion Mario’s largest adventure on the SNES as he searches beyond the Mushroom Kingdom for the princess.  Along the way, he meets new allies and discovers that the Star Road that grants everyone’s wishes has been destroyed by the sword, an agent of the Smithy Gang, and its seven star pieces have been scattered across the world.  Mario’s quest quickly becomes dire as he and his allies – even his archenemy Bowser – search for the star pieces to make sure people’s wishes come true and stop the Smithy Gang from filling their world with an army of sentient weapons.

The plot was pretty grandiose for a Mario game at the time and there was concern that fans in the mid-90s wouldn’t take well to such a deviation from the simplistic storyline and side-scrolling format.  Mario’s transition into the RPG genre, however, proved to be an excellent idea and the plot, once suspected to disinterest fans, did the opposite by becoming one of the most memorable of Mario’s adventures.  The expanded plot allowed for greater character development, fleshing out the personalities of Princess Toadstool and Bowser and introducing new, unique characters to series such as Geno and Mallow.  Even Mario’s personality was portrayed despite his role as the silent protagonist, emphasized through facial expressions, posture, and a lot of old-fashioned jumping.  Players really got to know more about their favorite Nintendo icons while the cut-scenes, character monologues, and humor that make up the rich storyline allow for a greater gaming experience that keep them interested.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars utilizes an isometric viewpoint that projects 2-dimensional images as 3-dimensional to allow the player to move Mario in eight different directions.  The core game play is a combination of traditional RPG mechanics and elements from Mario’s other 2D adventures.  On the over world screen, Mario can walk, run, or jump around the environment to avoid or confront enemies.  Jumping is of course a major mechanic in the game, allowing Mario to influence the environment, cross gaps, reach floating platforms, or hit the floating question mark blocks and treasure chests spread across the game.  In towns, Mario can interact with NPCs by pressing “B” and gain hints concerning his adventure, information about hidden treasures and side-quests, or purchase weapons and items.

Much like Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy, the player controls Mario and two other party members in a turn-based battle system.  During battle, players can select either “A” to perform a basic attack, “B” to defend or run, “Y” to use powerful special attacks that require specific Flower Points (the games equivalent to magic points seen in other RPGs), or “X” to select and use items.  A character’s health is measured by a numerical hit point gauge displayed next to an icon of the characters face, which changes depending upon on status effects such poison or sleep.  At the end of every battle, each character receives a number of experience points that eventually allow them to advance in level, slightly boasting all their base stats except for speed and giving the player an option to significantly boast a particular strength: health, offensive and defensive power, or magical offensive and defensive power.

A unique mechanic in the game is time-based inputs, where a player can dish-out extra damage by pressing the attack button at a specific time during the attack animation.  Time-based inputs also apply to defense and can allow a player to nullify some or all of the damage a character receives.  Special attacks require more aggressive input sequences, either asking the player to press the attack button rapidly, rotate the control pad, or press the attack button constantly at certain intervals to deal massive damage. The game play and mechanics are simple enough to understand but the time-based inputs provide enough of a challenge to intrigue players and keep the battle system from becoming stale.  Unfortunately, stat growth is very limiting as the maximum level any character can reach is 30 and the speed stat can only be increased by wearing certain armors or accessory items.

Some considerable attention to aesthetics has been given to Mario’s first foray into the 3-dimensional world.  Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars boasts some beautifully rendered environments and detailed character designs.  The graphics are polished, giving the game a smooth look that’s visually appealing in comparison to the sharp, blocky graphics seen in other 3-dimensional games at the time.  The visuals are complimented by a soundtrack that includes some catchy tune along with remixes of arrangements from other Mario games that arouse a sense of nostalgia in the player.  While the soundtrack contains both lighthearted and bleak themes, the fast-paced tone of each track contains a liveliness which maintains a balance between these conflicting themes.  The soundtrack during battle can be a repetitive though and as catchy as some of the tracks are it creates a sense of tedium that threatens the game’s lasting appeal.

Apart from the main story, there is a good deal of mini-games and side-quests inter-spaced here and there to enhance the gaming experience.  There are numerous hidden goodies and treasures, various equipment upgrades and ‘ultimate’ weapons, and secret areas and bosses that can keep a player occupied and entertained.  The only problem that occurs to a player is that there should be more to do.  Even with the main-story, the game is not all that long, averaging somewhere between 15-20 hours of game play.  It’s a good chunk of time to be sure, but for Mario’s first – and last – 3D adventure on the SNES, gamers expect to get at least a day’s worth of play out of the money they spent on the game.

The true flaw in such a great game though is that there isn’t a sequel to it.  Spiritual sequels such the Paper Mario series and the Mario & Luigi series might pay homage to the components that made up Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars but it doesn’t equate to an actual sequel.  It’s undeniably a classic among Mario’s other games that every gamer should have in their collection or at least play through once.

Pros:

  • An interesting plotline that provides character development to well-loved Nintendo icons.
  • Visually appealing graphics, a memorable soundtrack, and a pleasing innovation to the RPG genre with the time-base input system.
  • Provides enough mini-games, puzzles, side-quests, and hidden items to compliment the main story.

Cons:

  • Stat and level growth is limited.
  • The battle soundtrack can be a bit tedious.
  • Only 15-20 hours of gameplay.  This game is so good that it just demands more than that!

Score: 5/5

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About Joseph Gentile

Joseph is a freelance writer, former pizza shop owner, and all around master of the burning blue flame. In his spare time he contributes to Empty Lifebar and is pursuing graduate school.