There are very few gamers from the SNES era who have not heard of the 1996 game “Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.” Not only is it frequently included on best games of all time lists but it was also the first roleplaying game in the Mario series. Borrowing elements (and even having references) from Final Fantasy, Super Mario RPG opened up the genre by paving the way for the “Paper Mario” series and “Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga.” But what exactly makes Squaresoft's Super Mario RPG a fantastic game, even by today's standards?
When people think of Mario, the first thing that comes to mind is platformer. Over the years, Mario, the bravest plumber in existence, has found himself running around worlds and making giant leaps of faith across questionably-sized, bottomless pits. Being set in a 2.5-D world, “Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars” acted almost like the transition between the 2-D “Super Mario World” and the 3-D “Super Mario 64.” While jumping around on platforms is not standard faire for RPGs, Super Mario RPG uses it vehemently; navigating dungeons and areas was not a simple task of holding down a directional button. Coins can be collected by leaping into floating boxes, lava can be avoided with timed jumps, and waterfalls can be swam up. Yes, that first one is quite strange and physics-defying.
Part of what makes Super Mario RPG so incredible is the perfect blending of two otherwise polar opposite gaming experiences. Mario stories, especially in the early years, were never known for being immersive. A plumber finds himself in a magical land where turtles fly, mushrooms make you grow, and the princess of a kingdom of identical subjects has been kidnapped. Original and creative? Yes. Extensive? Not particularly. Then on the other hand, you have the Final Fantasy series. Giant, immersive worlds with beautiful storylines and huge casts of characters. But fighting consists of thinking about which menu option to select next. Normally, it would be expected that people who love to play RPGs would not enjoy a platformer game and vice versa. Super Mario RPG was perfect in the sense that it was never the case where one felt it was more of one genre than the other – gamers were playing a genuine, 50/50 platform-RPG.
Graphically, “Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars” was incredible for its time. While it is definitely inferior to the graphics of more recent Mario games, Mario RPG has aged well. The game is set in a 2.5D world; a world that is not quite 3-dimensional but does an excellent job at making it appear that way. Throughout the course of their adventure, Mario and co. find themselves exploring a wide variety of locations, each with unique atmospheres and interacting creatures.
While the plot may be considered a bit flimsy by some hardcore RPG gamers, there is no denying that it is both addictive and fun. Yes, that is correct – the plot is fun. Super Mario RPG's story never slacks and players constantly find themselves laughing at a menagerie of absurdities. Though comedy is a major aspect of Super Mario RPG, it can have its serious and even sad moments. Characters are very well-developed and even Mario, who never speaks once, is as vibrant as ever.
Combat in Super Mario RPG is, for the most part, pretty standard. If Mario touches an enemy, the battle music is cued for inspiration and Mario's party brawls it out with that poor goomba who accidentally walked into them. Rather than taking a passive approach to battles, Mario RPG adds a twist of action in what the game calls “Timed Hits.” With proper timing, players can add additional damage as an attack lands by hitting a button. The opposite is also true; players can receive less damage by timing an enemy's attack. The same goes for spells. A perfectly timed heal spell from Princess Toadstool heals more.
Of course, if gamers ever get tired of the main game and this examiner does not see that being possible, Super Mario RPG has plenty of minigames to occupy their time: from swimming up waterfalls, racing in mine carts, composing beautiful symphonies, running after an abducted bride-to-be while dodging rolling barrels, to racing Yoshi for cookies, there are plenty of things to do in “Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.”
If gamers have not heard of this game or have not yet played it, they need to do themselves a favor and find a copy as fast as they can. Of course, rather than “shelling” out $500 for the cartridge, “Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars” is available on Nintendo's Virtual Console for $8.