An exciting rumor began to spread towards the end of 2006. That rumor said that one of the Virtual Console releases scheduled to hit in 2007 is Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, the old Super NES classic from 1996. Newer gamers are likely to think of the Paper Mario series and the Mario & Luigi series as the portly plumber’s only entries into the world of RPG’s. Long-time gamers, though, know of the game that started it all in terms of Mario’s role-playing adventures. And what better way to relive this game than through the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console?
Super Mario RPG is a unique title in many ways. Firstly, it marks the first collaboration between Nintendo and SquareSoft (the latter of which would later become SquareEnix). It wasn’t nearly as complex as the Final Fantasy series would later become, but this game would carry a complex plot of its own; one that would blow away any story previously seen in Mario’s world.
The story actually begins with the same plot as any other Mario game. Bowser kidnaps the princess and takes her to his castle. Mario gives chase and plows through any minions in his way before confronting Bowser atop a pair of chandeliers. After a brief battle, Bowser falls again and the day is once again saved. But it’s here that everything starts to go topsy-turvy. A villainous lair, in the form of a giant sword, from another world plunges itself through Bowser’s roof and blows Mario, Princess Toadstool, and Bowser in three separate directions. Introducing himself as Smithy, the villain plans to dominate the world, as Mario must find a way to confront and beat this unconventional new adversary.
Adding to the rogues gallery for this title are some of Mario’s strangest enemies ever. One boss fight sees players taking on a pair of disgruntled chefs and a living wedding cake. Another sees Mario taking on a tandem of troublemakers based on the Power Rangers. And more than once, Mario is pitted against Belome, a mutated dog-like creature who likes to consume with his giant tongue. These weren’t the standard enemies list, although they also make an appearance in this title.
As mentioned before, this was a whole new frontier for Mario fans. Square had crafted a story that was easy enough for a younger audience to follow and enjoy. But this wasn’t about taking down a whimsical witch or brightly-colored aliens. This was a fairly more mature plot, compared to the standard Mario fare. Side plots came from Mario’s supporting cast. Mallow, a rotund cloud creature, thinks he’s a tadpole, but is told that he’s adopted and thus embarks with Mario on a quest to find his true lineage. Geno, an essence from another world, takes refuge in a wooden doll and sets out with Mario to stop Smithy’s forces. And lest anyone forget, this game officially marked the first time Mario and Bowser found themselves fighting on the same side. Bowser reluctantly sides with his arch-enemy in order to take back the castle that’s rightfully his, making for some humorous interactions.
The graphics were among the best the Super NES had to offer. The game was played using a 3/4 overhead view, creating some beautiful environments. In spite of the clearly visible borders, the level designs were crisply rendered, bringing about comparisons to such graphical marvels as Donkey Kong Country. Mario and company were also depicted well in luscious 3D, pre-dating the cartoonish look that the Paper Mario series would later settle with. Some of the game’s best moments involved a 3D Mario wildly gesturing with some well-timed facial expressions.
The soundtrack ranks among the most memorable. Many of the tracks were re-mixed versions of classis Mario themes, but there were also a lot of notable new additions. While the music wouldn’t hold up to the best soundtracks of today, gamers will easily recognize Square’s hand in the pot and appreciate that the sounds of Super Mario RPG would later pave the way for feature soundtracks like the one used for Final Fantasy VII.
But Super Mario RPG wouldn’t have the following it does without the dynamic gameplay. The game works as a turn-based RPG, but Nintendo decided to throw in some twists to the formula. Pressing the attack button at a certain moment before the attack would increase damage. The “Timed Hits” formula would become a staple in future Mario RPG’s and this is where it got its glorious start. It would also have a positive effect on special attacks, such as Mario’s Super Jump. Pressing Y at the right moment would give Mario an extra leap, leading to large combos. The elements were well represented in this game, as each party member had attacks that specialized in fire, thunder, and ice. It would be up to the player to plan out a strategy based on enemy strengths and weaknesses.
While battles became repetitive, Nintendo rectified that with some engaging mini-games. In Moleville, Mario would ride around on a mine cart, jumping to collect coins. Racing atop Yoshi, Mario would race against four other Yoshis in a rhythm-based game where players would have to tap Y to the beat. And if that wasn’t enough, there was also a hidden whack-a-mole game within the seemingly barren Pipe Maze. This title certainly isn’t short on diversions, which makes up for the repetitive battles.
The only real knock against this game is the difficulty level. Seasoned RPG players will breeze through this title without breaking a sweat. And while younger players will struggle at first, they will be reaching the end with ease within a week. The overly-simple difficulty is something that could have been addressed in a sequel. And with the popularity and sales of this game, a sequel was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, an official follow-up wasn’t meant to be.
Nintendo and SquareSoft had a falling out soon after this game’s release. The result meant Square would take their services to Sony and it also meant the sequel to this game would never happen. The only way gamers would re-visit areas like Nimbus Land would be by replaying this game. It is truly unfortunate, because the characters had been so well defined that this series looked to have a long shelf life. But things happen for a reason and both Nintendo and Square would find success. Mario would stay in the RPG realm, carrying on through the Paper Mario series and the acclaimed Mario & Luigi series. And Square would ultimately find another crossover partner. Five years later, Square would meet Disney and release the wildly successful Kingdom Hearts. And while everything worked out for the best, fans still wonder what would have happened had the Mario crew and the Square crew stayed together.
There’s another reason that Super Mario RPG is a highly anticipated title. Shortly after the game was originally released, copies became scarce. Even now, used copies are still selling for over $40. It’s one of the rarest American Super NES titles out there and players are eagerly antipating the day they’ll be able to own their own copy.
When that day comes, players will be able to see the beauty of the Nintendo/Square collaboration for themselves. And while the two companies have mended fences since their initial conflict to make titles like Mario Basketball 3-on-3, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll pair up for another Mario RPG. Gamers will just have to cross their fingers in hopes that this mid-90’s treasure will hit the Virtual Console. But if the rumor mill is to be believed, it’ll be here sooner than anyone thinks.