Top 100 SNES Review: #5 – Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (1996)

The Original Franchise Mashup

Featuring the Mario cast in an RPG format, this game is a throwback to when Nintendo and Square were on good terms and more so when Square was THE company for anything Role playing. 

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Mario, Peach and a new character Geno in classic turn-style RPG fight with HUD showing hit point information to boot.

Sydlexia’s Ranking: #5/100
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

Mario was once just pixels on a screen — he moved from side-to-side and displayed a powerful red and blue sartorial combo, but you couldn’t really say you knew anything beyond that. The early Mario games were point A to B side-scrollers, and like how chess pieces have unique moves but no personality, you simply were scooting your square of pixelated art across the screen.

The Final Fantasy franchise made a killing on the Super Nintendo by turning those mundane patches of color into meaning. Final Fantasy 3/6 was the pinnacle point of characterization for the SNES (and maybe video games in general): there were 14 playable characters, each with their own motivations, fears and personalities. At the end of those games, you almost felt like you were saying goodbye to your friends since they had done such a good job at fleshing out those characters.

So who else would Nintendo trust when they wanted to turn their silent movie star into something more?

This entire game is based on humor — the extraneous characters are wacky, the situations are funny and they use a collection of gags and quick wit to get sincere chuckles out of you. This light-hearted romp through the mushroom kingdom works so well, particularly with how they portray people from the Mario franchise.

Mario remains a silent protagonist, but through use of body language and expression, he comes across as the perfect fit of down-to-earth plus all around good guy.  Bowser might be the antagonist in the original series, but they cast him as an insecure bad guy who really has is heart in the right place, making us not view him as an adversary. Everything seems just right and looking back you can see it was the springboard for all the variations of ways we view the Mario characters today.

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Everyone dances on a chandelier to a slightly hillbilly soundtrack as they get thrown to the top of a castle. 

It was also kind of a big deal: you had side-scrollers and you had RPGs, but how in the world were you going to cross over those two? Square somehow came up with another revised format of a turn-style battle system (which they were going to do for the next 10 years). You have regular attacks, specials and items, but the added bonus is that you can create extra damage or create extra defense if you press buttons at the appropriate time. Not only does it make you feel satisfied when you get the extra damage, it has a way of making the grind of battle go away — at least a little bit.

So why only three stars? 

I felt like all the great things this game does gets stuck in mud a little bit past halfway. The game does a great job of jumping right in there (no three hours just to get ready to START playing). Early on, you are introduced to the humor with off-beat characters, and it just keeps coming.

But, after your finish interrupting a wedding between Booster (a kind of maniacal millionaire who has severe social ineptitude) and Peach by fighting the wedding cake after you got to see who kissed Mario depending on how many candles were lit while you were collecting jewelry that was scattered from Peach who was…..well let’s just say it’s hard to keep that momentum up for an entire game.

The game is really fun and wacky, until it’s not. After a certain point, the game feels more like a to do list rather than an exploration. The later worlds just aren’t as interesting as the beginning ones and for a game that is already short, there seems to be a decent amount of filler in there.

So while I loved the humor in this game, I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Defeating the last boss in Final Fantasy 3/6 was almost a spiritual catharsis– here it was just a meh. I loved what Square did with the characters, and I really laughed out loud at various parts, but maybe the turn-style fights are too tedious now and the later stages not interesting enough for me to rate it higher.

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