A giant sword has falls from the sky, rending clouds (With important plot elements in them), skewering Bowser’s castle. Warmongering thugs emerge from the castle conquering towns. Mario must recruit new allies and old enemies in order to defeat this new foe.
Super Mario RPG was an unprecedented venture in which Shigeru Miyamoto would lead a Squaresoft company team in creating a Super Mario game. It would use the turn based combat that Final Fantasy was known for with the conventions of Super Mario. When the Nintendo 64 and Playstation would be released Squaresoft would change companies and such a collaboration wouldn’t be possible again.
Super Mario RPG was released very late into the life span of the Super Nintendo. The cartridge was equipped with the SA-1 chip which allowed it to process quicker than other cartridges, more RAM, and more storage memory. This chip was only included in six other SNES games released worldwide.
Super Mario RPG succeeds partially in being a Mario game and being an RPG — that sounds like a non-point but let me explain. The game’s combat is turn based, not live action. The enemies now have hit points, and don’t die in one hit. For some kids this game was their first RPG and the concept that Mario doesn’t jump on enemies and that his attacks don’t defeat enemies in one hit was foreign. Mario’s normal attack is punching his enemy and his “magic” attacks consist of jumping on enemies and shooting fireballs, a move that’s normally granted by a power-up. Out of combat Mario is just… himself. He can jump high and use his jumping power to explore areas and find helpful items.
Combat additionally got spiced up with the addition of “timed hits.” If Mario, or one of his allies, attacks and presses the attack button again at the point of impact a tone will chime and the attack will do additional damage. These timed hits also apply to magic and defending against attacks, using it defensively can make you take zero damage — which has a certain bit of satisfaction to it.
The story is sort of simple. When the sword fell through the clouds it broke through the Star Road, the place where wishes are granted. The Star Road broke into 7 stars that fell all across the Kingdom. Here’s where there’s a little hole. Smithy has one of the stars and is trying to get the others. He can’t do anything with them but hoard them so what’s the harm in letting him get them all and then beating him up and taking them in one fell swoop? Will they give Smithy super powers or something? Does the Star he possesses allow him to make more powerful weapons? I was so engrossed in meeting all the interesting characters that I didn’t think of this plot hole in 12 years.
When I played this game as a kid my parents would rent it for a few days at a time. I would play it for an hour and eventually it would begin to bore me so I would turn the game off. Then I would pick it up immediately, all boredom fallen away, trying to beat it before we had to return it.
The giant swords intrusion destroys the Star Road, where wishes in the Mushroom Kingdom come true — I know that’s super corny but roll with me a little here. One final wish was made somewhere out in the world though, the wish that Star Road be rebuilt— I know it’s sort of nonsense that the destruction of the wish granting engine can, itself, instigates a wish. This wish falls from the sky as a star which infuses itself into a child’s toy, with all the powers and abilities of the toy’s character. It’s probably every kid’s dream that their favorite toy come to life and help them defeat evil. This game vicariously offers this experience.
There’s so much to talk about when it comes to why this game is awesome. Time hits are a great addition that make combats easier, but aren’t necessary. It’s perfectly viable to go through the game without using this wacky, new-fangled, hip, modern, new age technique.
There are so many hidden things, hidden areas, hidden treasure boxes, hidden bosses, hidden equipment, and other silly stuff. The player is encouraged to go everywhere and look behind everything because there might be a hidden door hiding back there, or a hidden chest around it. Square hid a boss more powerful than Smithy for those that seek a greater challenge. He even uses Final Fantasy IV’s boss music and the Final Fantasy ending theme plays when you defeat him.
The character’s a are fleshed out and interesting— except Mario, who’s a silent protagonist. Seeing what Bowser is really like when his pride falters and he’s forced to work alongside Mario is really interesting. We get to see the turtle really open up and talk about his feelings and about how if he wasn’t such a tyrant, he’d be a really nice guy.
The art design is really great. It’s super satisfying to see what all of Mario’s enemies, and some newcomers, look like when rendered in pseudo 3-D graphics.
The music in this game is so good. Like Donkey Kong Country, this games soundtrack was released to the Japanese market. It’s soundtrack has an hour and forty minutes worth of rehashes of old themes and plenty of new ones. The ever popular “Beware the Forest’s Mushrooms” and the strangely named “Let’s do the Fluff-Fluff” are very memorable tracks for me.
Every game has its flaws and Super Mario RPG is no exception. Toadstool is relegated to the, quintessential and kind of sexist, role of a healer. She used to be floating around and hurling vegetables at monsters, what happened to that — and don’t you say that it doesn’t count because Mario Bros. 2 was all a dream. Mallow on the other hand has a strange set of magic skills and low physical abilities that make him difficult for me to play. Maybe he worked with someone else’s play-style but I just couldn’t get him to be useful. If their roles were reversed then this would give Toadstool the opportunity to be the spell toting badass that I believe that she’s capable of being. And it would give Mallow the ability to be really useful— you don’s screw with the White Mage after all (And considering Mallow’s early arrival to the party, it would give the player access to a useful healer early in the game).
Some of the hidden treasure chests are so difficult to find that I don’t know how Squaresoft expected the player to find them. It’s a strange complaint because some of the most difficultly hidden chests have relatively useless loot so it’s not necessary to get. But other the other side I feel profoundly ripped off getting something that wasn’t very useful from a really hidden chest.
The Star Road plot basically has nothing to do with defeating Smithy and that’s weird. Mario doesn’t gather the stars and wish that Smithy went away, he just needs to get them because videogames.
Little complaint last, Geno is a character that I really enjoy– Mallow not so much. Geno is a property of Squaresoft and must be licensed to be used in none-Square games. After the Super Nintendo, Squaresoft went steady with Sony and the Playstation. So Geno, nor Mallow, have appeared in any other games besides this one. It’s just a little sad that Ice Climbers, Solid Snake, and Sonic can make it into Super Smash Bros but this guy can’t.
I’m super nostalgic for this game. I’m pretty blinded by whatever faults might be hidden in there — I don’t even care about how irrelevant the plot is. For the most part, it’s a really great game that I can’t recommend enough. It’s Mario enough to please the Mario audience and RPG enough to please the RPG audience.
Next Week: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest.