Super Mario RPG: - Mario and Bowser Square Away Their Differences
Jun 21, 2008 (Updated Aug 16, 2008)
by Jeremy Jeffers
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Great Graphics and Soundtrack, TONS of Hidden Stuff and Mini-Games, Good Storyline, Fun
Cons:Some Awkard Jumping Mechanics
The Bottom Line: There Hasn't Been an RPG Quite Like It, and There Probably Never Will Be Another.
Developers Squaresoft and Nintendo are two of the biggest giants the industry has ever, and probably will ever see. They make very different styles of games from one another, and many gamers wondered if the two flavors taste good together. That question was answered in the mid 90s when Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was released. They proved to be a match made in heaven - Mario RPG is simply one of the finest role playing games ever made.
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Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Super Mario RPG begins in the same vein as nearly every other Mario title - Princess Toadstool is kidnapped by the evil giant lizard king Bowser, and Mario sets off to save her. This game cuts out all the stuff in between and throws Mario right at the welcome mat of his arch nemesis within the first few minutes of play. The stache'd plumber routinely saves the princess, but in the middle of all the action something unusual happens - a huge sword crashes down through the heavens into Bowser's castle. All three characters are separated from one another. Mario, convinced that the Princess is still in the now inaccessible castle, sets out to save her. In doing so he is thrust into an adventure spanning across the entire world, and even beyond.
This is one of the first Mario titles in which Bowser isn't actually the final enemy. Instead he comes to serve as an ally, with the defeat of the evil giant sword 'Smithy' being the ultimate goal. Because of it's role playing nature Super Mario RPG features a cast that trumps every Mario title before it, and a storyline that actually evolves with each new place you visit. Let it be known - the story is much more fitting a standard role playing title than a simple Mario game.
Super Mario RPG is a prime example of genre bending done right - the game is part platformer and part role playing game. While not battling against baddies Mario will wander around the world with an isometric 3-D view of his environments. He can run, jump, break blocks, interact with NPCs, and more. This aspect is a combination of your standard style RPG along with some classic Mario platforming goodness. My only real complaint (though a minor one) is that the game lacks a traversable world map, instead you simply select where you want to go from a zoomed out view of the Mario universe in a similar fashion to a point and click interface.
While wandering around in this game you will come across many different enemies that wander around the various environments. Upon touching them a turn based battle will break out in a very similar fashion to the older Final Fantasy games. While in battle you must select commands for your various characters - these include attack, item, special, and defend - damage to enemies is computed numerically. This is standard for anyone who is at least vaguely familiar with traditional role playing games, but Mario RPG features a few twists that make it stand apart from the mold.
One of these such aspects is a focus on timed button presses to increase damage inflicted on enemies. While attacking you are given the option of pressing the A button at a very specific moment during the attack sequence. Pushing the button at just the right moment will inflict more damage to your opponent. The same is true for defending against attacks, and using each character's special skills. As far as I know, Super Mario RPG is the first role playing title to make use of timed button presses as a central gameplay focus.
Besides the emphasis on timed attacks Super Mario RPG plays a lot like your typical role playing game - your party travels from town to town all the while gaining experience points and eventually levels which serve to increase each characters battle statistics. You can also upgrade the equipment of your characters by purchasing new armor and weapons at various shops or simply by finding them hidden in scattered treasure blocks.
The cast of playable characters is a bit small by today's standards but it does give you a few different options. Mario must always be used, but besides him you can select from other familiar faces such as Princess Toadstool and Bowser. Newcomers to the Mario world include the cloud shaped Mallow, and the animated super puppet Geno. Unfortunately you can only have three characters in your party at a time, but given the roster of characters and how different they are from one another there's still plenty of room for strategy.
Each character can equip different types of weapons, and each makes use of a different set of special attacks. Super Mario RPG is unique in that your party shares a pool of magic points (or Flower Points as they're referred to in this case), and these are used to perform special attacks. Additional flower points are obtained by collecting fire flowers - many are hidden but some are in plain view.
What's really cool is that Super Mario RPG allows for a fair amount of character customization. While each do gain a set amount of statistic boosts after gaining a level, you're given the choice of one specific area you would like to improve them in - attack, defense, or hit points. It's really an intricate system because it's not like other role playing games where each character loses their individuality from such a system, but rather, it feels more like you're just nudging them in a specific direction. It's a very cool system that I'm disappointed to see hasn't been closely replicated since.
One of Super Mario RPG's strongest cards is in all of it's hidden content. Items are strewn about everywhere, and most are in hidden blocks. This is why jumping everywhere you go isn't such a bad idea. Furthermore the game is host to numerous mini-games - a top down shooter, various casino games, barrel riding obstacle courses, a scavenger hunt, and even Yoshi racing. Super Mario RPG is one of the few role playing games out there that offers enough side stuff that you'll never get bored - Mario can even get a part time job as a bellhop!
On top of the side stuff, the game also offers an above average amount of secrets. As I mentioned earlier, secret chests are hidden all around the world. Most often you'll find either additional flower points or frog coins in them - both of which are extremely useful in the quest. Frog coins are a special currency that can be used to purchase rare items, or can be wagered for gambling. One particularly interesting tidbit is that you can actually do battle with Culex, a dark knight ripoff of Cecil from Final Fantasy IV. Beat him and you'll get a powerful accessory. Either way, Super Mario RPG rewards you far more for exploring each environment then any other role playing game I've ever played.
In my opinion Super Mario RPG has the absolutely perfect balance of difficulty. The game isn't particularly hard in the beginning, it serves well to accustom new players to the battle mechanics - but things gradually do ramp up. The game only gets frustrating when you're fighting your way through the bonus areas. On top of that, the game doesn't even require you to spend mass amounts of time levelling up your characters, but at the same time, it doesn't feel dumbed down in the least. They managed to strike the perfect balance, and honestly, I haven't seen any other title come close ever since.
Super Mario RPG is an amazing game graphically, for a Super Nintendo title that is. This was one of the very first 3-D Mario titles, and even though it's just through an isometric view the effect is still pretty nonetheless. Rather than going for a more cartooney look the game has a darker visual style than you would expect, almost to the point that it doesn't really look like a Mario title. It's pretty obvious that Nintendo and Squaresoft had some of their best artists on board - the characters and environments look really nice even today. The first time I saw Nimbus Land my jaw nearly dropped.
The soundtrack on the other hand fits the Mario series extremely well. Nearly all of the songs are easily identifiable as belonging to a Mario game, and many of them are even remixes of classic Mario themes. Other tracks, such as the Nimbus Land and Monstro Town themes are amazing in their own right and truly fit the atmosphere of this title. Much to my delight the game even contains a remix of the boss battle theme from Final Fantasy IV, which plays during the battle with the dark knight Culex. Sound effects are what you would expect from a Mario title - expect to hear the jumping "Boing" sound a whole lot. Besides the repetition, there are no real problems with the game's audio.
Controls are a different story though. It's not that the game's setup is bad, but the isometric view tends to be a bit disorienting at times. On top of that, the angled view makes it extremely difficult to aim precisely with your jumps. Unfortunately you'll need to do quite a bit of platforming too, and it's not unusual to miss the same jump several times in a row. Thankfully the game doesn't give you harsh penalties for missing jumps - most of the time you usually just have to fight an extra battle, or start a series of jumps from the beginning.
There's nothing out there that's quite like Super Mario RPG - the semi sequel Paper Mario just doesn't cut it. The game is absolutely chock full of mini-games and other various content, and it also manages to serve up one of the finest adventures the role playing genre has ever, and will ever see. I'm hoping that one day Nintendo and Square will once again team up, and create a long awaited sequel to this masterpiece. I give Super Mario RPG five stars, and a recommendation stretching out to even those who don't enjoy role playing titles.
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