This week – Mario RPGs
This week, I want to take you on a journey through a series that – up until the latest installment – was one of my favorites. I want to focus on the Paper Mario games, but to do that, I need to plow through Super Mario RPG first. I like the game, and have a lot to say about it, but I am forced to acknowledge that there are literally hundreds of reviews done on it, and most of them done by people who are intimately familiar with the game, and fanatical to the extreme. So, I’m going to try to be as interesting and to-the-point as I can, while attempting to avoid the intense hatred that doing a review on a game this old can garner.Please note that there will be spoilers… for this 15 year old game.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was released for the SNES in 1996, and has since gathered a lot of praise and a large fandom in the gaming community. It was the first real Mario game to be somewhat 3d, and actually featured a coherent and interesting plot. I would say that this game really represented the best of what the SNES console could offer, and it was one of my first RPGs (the other being Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, so I’m kind of looking at both ends of the spectrum here). It was developed by Square, and so it makes sense that it really feels like Final Fantasy in a Mario setting. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I actually really liked the application of depth and characterization to the Mario universe.
The basic plot is that Princess Peach has gone missing, and also huge sentient weapons that walk and talk like people are attacking and taking over the Mushroom Kingdom and its outlying areas. These weapons broke the Star Road into 7 pieces (which means wishes don’t work anymore) and so Mario has to gather the pieces, while also attempting to find the Princess. Standard stuff. Thankfully, there’s a lot more to it than that. As Mario journeys around the world, he makes new friends and enemies, gathers allies, and generally solves problems wherever he goes. The world is rich and varied, and it lets us see a really interesting setting, filled with different races and quirky characters. Of special note in the character department are Geno and Mallow, party members in this game who are never seen in any other game again, except for one fleeting cameo. As I understand it, these characters belong to Square, who has no use for them. It’s a shame too, because Geno was a star spirit guy inhabiting the BEST TOY EVER (a doll that fires actual missiles, cannon shells, and lasers) and was pretty snarky and entertaining, and Mallow gets character development when he goes from a crybaby to understanding his past and meeting his true parents after rescuing them.
I should point out that I played this game as a child. A lot. I’m doing my very best to disengage my nostalgia filter here, and be objective. Looking back, what interests me about this game is how weird and fun the areas around the Mushroom Kingdom are. I think it’s cool to see an island where Yoshis race all day, and visit the literal place where wishes go to be granted. Super Mario RPG has Mario solve riddles in the ocean, fight giant birds in the sky, and jump into a volcano to fight the
Axem Rangers, who are an even more over-dramatic version of the Power Rangers. There’s a town run by peaceful monsters, a town besieged by paralyzing arrows, lots of sidequests, tons of secret items and bosses, and even a battle with a giant sword at the top of a castle. It’s a fantastic ride in a fleshed out world. Best of all, and this is a spoiler, the final boss is a giant metal blacksmith. It’s logical in the setting and also means that the final battle is metal in every sense of the word.
I think the true strength of this game is the dialogue. This will prove to be a trend in future Mario RPGs, and it’s a good one. The characters always have interesting things to say, especially Bowser (and I do love that Bowser is a party member), and there’s a lot of lines that made me laugh and stuck in my brain. One of my favorite parts is when, after finally rescuing Peach about halfway through the game, you can leave to go continue looking for stars, instead of taking her home. Each time you to attempt to do this, one party member will come out and berate Mario, saying that Peach should escorted home. After enough tries, your entire party, including Bowser, will all yell at you at once for being such a moron, and really, when even Bowser is calling you out, maybe you should hang up your hero badge.
This music in this game is great, and I can still hear it in my head. It’s beautiful during the sad moments, and energetic and happy when it needs to be. They even pull off somewhat creepy music in the sunken ship. I do get a bit sick of the battle music, because it’s probably the weakest track, and also because you hear it all the time. In fact, my biggest complaint about this game is the constant fighting, and the combat that is actually pretty uninvolved. You can do timed hits, but you pretty much just hit things until they are dead. The fights aren’t hard, but it was designed for kids so I suppose that’s fine. Honestly, the thing that puts me off playing this game again is the combat. It’s samey and constant. The only other real problem I have is the predictability of the plot. Once you learn about needing all seven stars, you find them all and beat up the bad guy and win. There’s no mystery or twists, really, but I never noticed until I started to think about it when writing this.
Overall, though, Super Mario RPG was pretty innovative for the time. It offered a lot of content for a SNES cartridge, it was far more well-written and characterized than a Mario game has any right to be, and the music was great. It started two chains of Mario RPGs – Paper Mario and super Star Saga – and managed to try a lot of new ideas will relative success. Most important of all, it was charming and fun, and managed to be serious without getting too dark, which was great for kids.
From here, I’d like to look at the Paper Mario series, so we can see how the idea of Mario RPGs has evolved since this game. See you Wednesday, and thanks for reading.