Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars Review

*Review based on Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars release as part of the SNES Classic*

Since its inception in 1985, the Super Mario series has proven to be the avant garde of video games, prioritizing gameplay innovation and concepts unique to the video game medium over all else. This design philosophy has not only allowed the core platformers of the Super Mario series to consistently reinvent themselves, but has also turned its titular plumber into gaming’s renaissance man, able to adapt to seemingly any genre Nintendo decides to cast him in. Of the various “spinoff” Mario titles, Mario Kart gets the most widespread recognition, as it created the ‘kart racer’ sub-genre while simultaneously producing a series that rivals the core Mario titles in popularity. But while Mario Kart might be the most famous of Mario’s detours, the most outstanding might just be the 1996 SNES classic, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, the title that sent Mario into most unfamiliar territory.

Super Mario RPG was a bold venture. A joint effort between series’ publisher Nintendo and Final Fantasy developer Square-Enix (then Squaresoft), Super Mario RPG took the characters and world of Nintendo’s flagship franchise, and merged it with the RPG genre that Square was renowned for. Though a fan-favorite today, at the time many wondered if converting the Mario series into the narrative-heavy RPG genre could work. The fact that Super Mario RPG remains one of the most beloved Mario games should be a testament to just how successful the finished product was. Its hefty reputation is well deserved.

While Super Mario RPG is a joining together of the series and genre of its title, what makes it work so well is how it both pays homage and parody to both parties involved, and turns them on their heads.

“Where can I sign up to join the Koopa Troop?!”

The story here is that – just as Mario is about to defeat Bowser for another daring rescue of Princess Peach (here called Toadstool, as she was known in the west at the time) – a massive earthquake hits the scene, throwing Mario, Bowser and the Princess to different corners of the Mushroom Kingdom. The source of this quake is a giant, anthropomorphic sword that has fallen from the heavens and plunged into Bowser’s castle. The sword is called Exor, and declares Bowser’s Keep to be occupied by its master, Smithy, who plans to conquer the rest of Mario’s world.

As it turns out, Smithy is already closer to world conquest than he knows, as Exor slashed through the Star Road on its descent onto Mario’s world, shattering it into seven magical Star Pieces. The Star Road is what allows people’s wishes to come true. With its power scattered into seven fallen pieces, the wishes of the denizens of Mario’s world can no longer come to light. It then becomes a race between Mario and his companions to prevent the Smithy Gang from claiming the seven Stars, which would result in the evil Smithy’s dark desires coming to fruition.

What makes this story memorable is that it both adds a serious narrative to the Super Mario series (for the first time), while still maintaining the franchise’s whimsical lightheartedness. The premise feels like it could have been pulled out of a Disney movie, and the game takes advantage of the nature of the Mario series to add a good dose of humor into the serious RPG plot.

“Bowser reveals his artistic and sensitive side.”

Mario is joined on his adventure by four companions: The aforementioned Princess Toadstool is the obvious ally, but for the first time in the series, Bowser fights alongside Mario in a quest to reclaim his castle. The remaining two members of Mario’s party were original to Super Mario RPG; Mallow, the fluffy, cloud-like black mage of the group, and Geno, an otherworldly spirit occupying an action figure for its body.

It’s a memorable cast of characters. Mario is his usual, silent self, but the Princess becomes something of the ‘tough guy’ of the party after growing tired of being rescued, while Bowser steals the show as the insecure brute with a heart of gold. Meanwhile, Mallow is the kid of the group wanting to prove himself, while Geno has connections to the Star Road and is something of the Gandalf of the team (the wise, old badass). Mallow and Geno left such an impression that – although they have yet to properly appear in another game – fans still long for their return.

No matter how iconic or likable these characters are though, it wouldn’t mean much if the game they starred in weren’t great. Luckily for them, Super Mario RPG was one of the best games of the genre’s golden era, and remains one of Mario’s timeless classics.

The battle system here at first looks like the usual turn-based affair, but with some fresh changes, such as each action in battle being mapped to specific buttons (A for regular attacks, B for defense, Y for special moves, and X for items). The biggest addition Super Mario RPG makes to RPG battles is one that’s subtle, yet game-changing: Action Commands.

During battles, players have more involvement than in other RPGs of the time. During attacks, well-timed button presses can increase damage (and timing them just right during enemy attacks can reduce damage), while special moves have their own interactive elements (repeated button-presses or timing, holding a button and releasing it, etc.). It’s such a seemingly simple twist on RPG norms, but it adds so much more fun to the proceedings than simply selecting items from menus.

There are some small quibbles in that there’s a lack of on-screen directions to inform you of when to use button-presses during many actions (directions are briefly explained before certain special attacks, but others are trickier to figure out). Still, most of the Action Commands aren’t too hard to get the hang of, so nothing’s too cryptic. But if you do manage to master them, you may find that the overall adventure is a bit on the easy side, though I suppose turn-based RPGs aren’t known for brutal difficulty anyway. Still, these hardly qualify as complaints, as they never get in the way of the enjoyment of the gameplay, story, or overall fun.

Meanwhile, wandering through the overworlds is also improved over other games in the genre, with just a dash of platforming added into the mix for – you guessed it – more interactivity than you’d find in other RPGs. The game is given all the more personality when you talk to NPCs, who often put that aforementioned humor on full display. In case that weren’t enough, Super Mario RPG features a myriad of entertaining mini-games and side quests, some of which are exceptionally well hidden.

Being released at the tail-end of the Super Nintendo’s life cycle, Super Mario RPG pushed the console’s capabilities to their limits. Super Mario RPG features highly detailed environments and an isometric perspective to give the game something of a 3D quality, with character graphics that are comparable to the Donkey Kong Country sequels (one enemy monster even resembles good ol’ DK, perhaps to emphasize this).

However, the best aesthetic qualities of Super Mario RPG are in its sounds. Composed by Yoko Shinomura – famous for her soundtracks of Street Fighter II and the Kingdom Hearts series – Super Mario RPG’s score is her masterwork, encompassing a wide range of styles and emotions,  and captures that distinct Mario personality while also creating an identity unique to itself. The SNES is widely regarded for the stellar soundtracks of its games, and Super Mario RPG is second only to Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest for the title of best musical score on the platform. It’s an all-time great gaming soundtrack.

“How can you not love a game in which Bowser can fight a giant, evil wedding cake?”

Sadly, while Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars remains one of Mario’s most memorable adventures, it seems to be the only entry in the entire franchise that was to be a one-and-done deal. It may have influenced spiritual successors in the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series of RPGs – which improved on a few individual elements (Paper Mario introduced on-screen button cues during attacks) – but none of them have captured the same magic of the whole experience that Super Mario RPG did, nor have they left the same kind of unique impact on the overall Mario series.

If anything, Super Mario RPG’s isolation from the rest of the Mario series has only helped it endure as one of the most beloved entries in the franchise’s peerless history (it’s even helped inspire games such as Undertale). Here’s hoping that, someday, we might see Super Mario RPG’s legacy continue in some form. For now, however, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars can at least still claim to be among Mario’s greatest adventures, and one of the best RPGs of all time. A legend indeed.

 

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9 thoughts on “Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars Review

  1. Pingback: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars Review — Wizard Dojo - Miketendo64! By Gamers, For Gamers :Miketendo64! By Gamers, For Gamers

  2. Matt

    I have been replaying lots of Super Nintendo games lately, and this one is certainly part of my list. I just did not get to it because I had to stop my retro gaming to tackle Hollow Knight and the soon-to-be-released Mario Tennis. But when new releases become scarcer, I will definitely keep on going through the list of SNES games I want to replay and eventually get to Super Mario RPG.

    As you may remember, I don’t like it as much as the first two Paper Mario games. And I also put the first and third Mario & Luigi efforts over it. But there is no denying the sheer greatness, boldness, and fun to be found in Super Mario RPG. My preference towards those four games probably comes from how RPGs that are too traditional generally bore me, and Super Mario RPG is the closest to a traditional RPG the Mario franchises of the genre have ever gotten. Yet, its twists make me love it far more than the average Final Fantasy or Secret of Mana.

    Anyway, enough with the rambling. I think you did an excellent job in capturing what makes the game excellent and pointing out its little shortcomings. Congrats on the review!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. themancalledscott Post author

      I can understand the statement that SMRPG is the ‘most traditional RPG’ of the Mario series, but as you said, it’s miles ahead of anything else that might fall into that category. I do love Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi as well, just not as much. Though I assume from your comment that you do like SMRPG more than the second, fourth and fifth M&L games, and the post-TTYD Paper Mario titles. Or is that wishful thinking on my part?

      Yeah, there are a few small issues with SMRPG, but nothing that I think ultimately effects the overall experience too much.

      Thanks for the kind words, and I look forward to your further SNES writings.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. Matt

        I do like it more than the second, fourth, and fifth M&L games and the post-TTYD Paper Mario titles!

        You are welcome! And I hope you enjoy my SNES writings.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Red Metal

    This is it – the game that introduced me to the wonderful world of RPGs. What I particularly like about Super Mario RPG is that it could’ve been just another cookie-cutter, Square-developed JRPG. What did they do instead? They took the basic formula and gave it multiple upgrades. I really enjoy the action commands for making players take a proactive role in battle, and I also like how encounters aren’t random. This game was really ahead of its time, and it’s kind of strange to me that Square didn’t incorporate some of these mechanics into their later games (they used random encounters as late as Final Fantasy X).

    It was the greatest JRPG I’d played for quite some time, and it has held up remarkably well. An all-time classic, to be sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. themancalledscott Post author

      Very appropriate that the beginning of your comment here (“This is it”) mirrors the beginning of your comment on my review of Donkey Kong Country 2 almost three years ago now, as DKC2 and SMRPG are probably my favorite SNES games.

      This was also my first RPG, and frankly, it pretty much spoiled me. The Final Fantasy games felt like huge steps backwards after the fact. I think Final Fantasy VII was my second RPG, and while that game is maybe better than I give it credit for, it always felt archaic compared to SMRPG. Those random battles drove me nuts! Super Mario RPG was way ahead of its time the more I think about it, and I can’t believe I failed to mention the fact that the battles aren’t random in my review.

      Chrono Trigger and EarthBound would be the other old-school RPGs I’d say are comparable to SMRPG, but I don’t like them quite as much.

      You definitely have great taste in JRPGs, Super Mario RPG is still one of the best products of the genre. Happy to see you think so highly of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  4. justacommenter

    To this date I’d still consider this my favorite of the Mario RPGs, although Bowsers Inside Story came close to surpassing it. Something about its simplicity and sense of humor just hit the right spots compared to PM and some of the lesser M&L games, and the soundtrack is definitely one of the best in the series. If I had a criticism, it’d honestly be that some of the platforming can be awkward with the 3D-ish movement and being limited to a d-pad, but that’s about it really. Some people might say the game is too easy, and it’s a pretty easy game for sure, but I don’t think it detracts from the experience in this case as the game keeps a pretty good flow regardless of that.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. themancalledscott Post author

      I think it’s wrong how many people think a game being easy is innately a bad thing. Not every game has to be Dark Souls.

      I also really love the original Paper Mario, but the writing was admittedly a lot less flavorful. The first and third Mario & Luigi games, as well as Thousand-Year Door are incredibly witty, however. Those games would probably round out the top 5 Mario RPGs for me. But I’ve always liked the original the best.

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  5. Pingback: 300 Video Game Reviews!! | Wizard Dojo

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