Monday, 4 November 2013

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)

Super Mario RPG super nintendo title screen
Here's another requested game for y'all: Super Mario RPG, known in Japan as 'Super Mario RPG'. Good name that I reckon, let's you know exactly what you're in for. Plus it's always nice to get another game with 'Super' in the title onto the site.

Mario's been jumping around in video games since Donkey Kong back in 1981 so it's pretty amazing to me that it took him this long to get his own RPG. I mean by this point he'd already started his racing career in Super Mario Kart, played Yahtzee in Mario's Game Gallery, practised medicine in Dr. Mario and shown off his artistic side in Mario Paint; the guy's a real renaissance man.

He wouldn't get around to trying his hand at street fighting or, uh, partying until the N64 era though, which was actually just months away at the time this was released. As far as I know, this is the final Mario game on the Super Nintendo. It may well be Square's final game released on the console as well, in North America at least.

Nice logo morph. Considering that Square had been almost entirely Nintendo exclusive for a decade and had just been given the keys to their biggest franchise you'd imagine that the two companies must have had a fairly good relationship at this point in 1996, but apparently not as Square had actually announced earlier in the year that they were jumping ship to Sony's PlayStation instead and they were taking Final Fantasy VII with them. In fact it took six years for them to get over their issues and start working together again.

You know the more I look at this animation, the less it looks like a morph to me. I think they're actually rotating a 3D model here, with 'SQUARE' on the front and 'Nintendo' across the top.

Here, I'll show you what I mean:

Yeah I'm pretty sure this is how they did it now, you can see the way the letters are bent as it turns. That's actually a clever effect.

It might seem like I'm more interested in examining the opening logos than the actual gameplay, but that's just because I am. I don't know what it is about this game, but I've been finding it very easy to avoid playing it up to now. It's weird because I like Mario games and I like RPGs, so I'm not sure why putting the two together puts me off.

Alright, the intro begins with Princess Peach frolicking with butterflies in the meadow, until the sky darkens, lightning crackles, and the nefarious Bowser enters stage right on his flying clown-face plant-bud aircraft thing to whisk her away against her will to his evil fortress. Must be a Tuesday then.

Mario bursts out of the shed to find he's too late, the Princess has been kidnapped and it's up to him to save her. Because despite a decade of this shit, they still haven't got the slightest bit of security in place around here.

I realise it's difficult to stop a eight-foot tall well motivated fire-breathing dragon turtle, but they're not even trying. They could at least get a few of those little mushroom folks kitted out with suits and dark glasses and get them to watch the perimeter.

Fortunately it seems that Mario's remembered where all the warp pipes are, as he's able to skip the eight worlds of thrilling platformer action this time and go straight to Bowser's front door.

That's interesting, they've gone with an isometric view, using pre-rendered CG graphics instead of hand-pixelled art. 1995's Yoshi's Island had taken the series in completely the opposite direction, with flat crayon-style artwork, but I guess the allure of low-colour fake 3D proved irresistible in the end. I guess it makes sense though seeing as Square had Final Fantasy 7 in development at this point and Nintendo were working on Super Mario 64; you can see elements of both of those games showing up here first.

Here's another interesting observation: I'm about to get swarmed by armoured turtle guards. It's almost like Bowser's smart enough to have the bare minimum of security around to protect him from his enemies.


FIGHT TRANSITION!


Okay, this seems like a fairly typical Final Fantasy-style turn based JRPG battle system, except to keep things interesting Square had decided to map each menu option to a different controller button this time... and then didn't mark them. So here I am pressing each button in turn just to find out what they even do.

Right, I know what I'm doing now: I'm going to press A twice each turn until the enemies are dead. I've got a 'Jump' special attack available as well, but if it uses up 3 of my 10 MP each time I use it I think I'll be better off saving it for Bowser.

By the way, the icons started out far more colourful in the original Japanese Super Famicom version, as they correspond to the colours of the buttons on each system's gamepad.

I've always thought it was strange that they decided to change the look of the controller and system for the North American release. For some reason Nintendo apparently came to the conclusion that Americans wouldn't take their SNES controller seriously if it had primary colours on it, so they changed the buttons to... lilac and purple.


A FEW BATTLES AND A HALLWAY OR TWO LATER.


Good observation Peach, it certainly is a good idea to attack the chandelier rather than aim for Bowser directly... although I have to point out that this advice was far more useful to me the first time you said it, way back at the start of the fight, before I'd started consistently aiming for the chain every turn.

You know, I've think I've figured out what's bothering me about this battle system: Mario's not dancing! Back when I played Superstar Saga I found that the guy just wouldn't stand still.

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (GBA)
I wish I could remember anything else about the game so I could compare the two, but it's been almost exactly two years since I played it and my poor memory doesn't often stretch that far. Still, I remembered the dancing part and that's what's important.

I do know this much, this Mario & Luigi series of RPGs was never meant to follow on from Super Mario RPG, but the Paper Mario games were. In fact the first game was meant to be called Super Mario RPG 2, but it seems that Nintendo's feud with Square foiled that plan.

Anyway the fight goes pretty well for Mario, until he's taken out by the exact same trick he used on Bowser. And then a giant sword falls from the clouds and impales the castle, knocking him flying through the air.

I mean seriously, it's an absolutely massive sword and it really knocks him flying. Don't ask me how a sword landing on him sent him airborne, I've given up on trying to figure out how physics works in the Mushroom Kingdom.

And so Mario is returned to the shed from whence he came, which is apparently his house in this game. It's a pretty awesome shot by the giant sword though, he gets him right down the pipe in one hit. The thing should've been a playable character in Mario Golf with aim like that, descending onto the ball from the stratosphere each time it takes a shot.

Wow, you can tell that Toad's a real friend. He sees Mario crashing down through the pipe in the roof of his house, rushes inside to see that his long fall was broken by a clothes hook and that he's hanging there motionless, likely with a broken neck... and the guy uses the opportunity to get in an ice burn before walking out again.

Well the joke's on him, because that pipe in the ceiling may have just saved Mario's life (or his roof at least). Also this place looks surprisingly clean and cosy considering that rainwater is apparently funnelled directly onto his bed.

Anyway I've still got a princess to rescue, so I guess I'll be unhooking our hero now and the sending him right back to the castle again. Assuming that Mario's not dead.

Super Mario RPG World Map
Seems like I can't go anywhere but the castle right now. This world map's a lot more Super Mario World than it is Final Fantasy, with no Mushroom Kingdom overworld for me to wander around. Sadly.

Oh shit, the sword can talk! I can't believe I'm having a conversation with a 40 meter tall steel sword from outer space. It's a pretty one sided conversation though I have to admit.

The sword explains that this is merely the first step towards world domination and then wrecks the bridge leading inside the castle so that I can't get in. The shiny metal bastard.

Super Mario RPG looking at Bowser's castle impaled with sword
Well sorry Peach, but I tried. I guess there's nothing left for me to do now but to head back to Mario's pad to see if Toad wants to play a couple of rounds of golf.

Sadly Toad seems more interested in telling the Chancellor about everything that's happened, so I guess we're spending all afternoon doing that instead.

First though I must learn Mario's secret critical hit technique! By pressing 'A' again at the moment that Mario's about to strike I can inflict more damage! I can do the same thing when they're attacking me to boost my defence, but unlike with the critical hits there's no sound effect to tell me it's worked so I haven't a clue if I've been timing that right. Kind of annoying really.

Alright then, to adventure!

Without an overworld to travel across I'll have to get to the Chancellor through a series of snaking paths. Like in Bowser's castle, I can see enemies patrolling on the field and even walk right around them if I really feel the need to miss out on all that XP.

There's one up there now in fact, harassing Toad (who ran off ahead on his own like an idiot). Though I suppose it makes sense that the idea of co-operation is an unfamiliar concept in the Mushroom Kingdom, as the main characters apparently spend most of their free time as vicious rivals (see: Super Mario Kart, Mario Party, Super Smash Bros. etc.) In the preceeding decade of Mario platformers the closest he's come to a team up I can think of is when he rode around on his sentient dinosaur friend's back like he was a horse in Super Mario World, only to drop him down a chasm first time he needed an extra boost on his jump.

So here I am left to fight flying Koopa Troopas alone. Still, it's not like I need Toad's help anyway! I simply have to press 'A' to select Attack, press 'A' to select a turtle to punch, then press 'A' again to get the critical hit. Hardly a challenge at all for an experienced plumber such as myself.

Uh... I honestly didn't see that coming. I mean his health meter is so hard to see against the plants that I didn't even notice I was low on health. It's a good job I saved using the save point box outside Mario's shed really or else I'd be replaying the whole game from the start.


LATER.


This is more like it: 25% health bonus, 15% extra attack and infinite% more defence. Plus I get to pick an extra bonus on top of this, either to physical stats, health or magic. I should probably go with the extra Max HP, but I can never resist adding a little more force to my fists.

Man, look at that artwork; apparently when you're making games for blurry 90s CRT TVs you don't have to bother tidying up your pixels.


SOON, FURTHER DOWN THE ROAD.


I've found a spinning flower! Still trying to figure out what the point of it is though.

Oh by the way, as this is a Super Mario RPG they've given me a jump button that I can use to jump-punch floating treasure chests, or leap onto flowers. Makes it just a little bit different from the typical JRPG.

Ah, I can use the flower as a spring to get the extra height needed to reach Toad and bail him out again.

Hey man are you sure you don't want to team up? I'll give you a fair share of the XP.

Nope, the guy just hands me a flower and walks right back into the fray.

Oh hang on, this is a flower tab. It seems that my flowers act as mana, fuelling my special skills, and this item raises my maximum flower points so it seems like a fairly decent reward, assuming it's permanent. I'm hoping it is anyway because I'm going to use it up right now.

Oh shit, it's the Hammer Bros. and they've got Toad! Well a single Hammer Bro anyway. I still don't think it's very fair match up, seeing as he towers over me. Plus has a hammer and a bike helmet!

Actually it turns out that I do have to fight a pair of them, alone (because that asshole Toad still refuses to help me out).

Fire Orb special attack! Uses up half my mp flowers, but it's totally worth it. Plus I can keep tapping the 'Y' button to power it up further. Man, Mario needs to get hold of one of those fire flowers from the old games. Those things never ran out and I'm sure they were strong enough to take down a Hammer Bro with a single fireball back in the day.

These two weren't much trouble for me in the end (possibly because that game over earlier scared me into grinding for a few extra levels) and I even got a hammer of my own as a reward! Oh yeah, it's gonna be Donkey Kong all over again once I get this thing equipped..

Mushroom Town at last! I figured I'd go crazy and actually talk to some of the NPC walking around instead of getting on with meeting the Chancellor, and I'm already starting to regret it.

Sorry lady, but you're a mushroom and I'm a plumber, it'd never work out.

Uh.... you know what, I'm just going to go see the Chancellor now.

Funny how I'm going off to see a chancellor, not the King like almost every other JRPG I've played lately, despite the fact that his daughter has just been kidnapped (again). Actually it's a bit weird now that I think about it that I haven't seen a king (or queen) around in the Mushroom Kingdom and they have a princess ruling in their place. You know, I'm not sure they ever really established that Mario and Peach were romantically involved, just that they like each other a whole lot... so what if Mario is actually her dad, the true king of the Mushroom Kingdom, and he's just been looking after his daughter this whole time?

Yeah yeah, I know there's probably a hundred things that contradict that theory. For one thing they look nothing alike; she doesn't even have his moustache.


MERE MINUTES LATER, IN THE ROYAL THRONE ROOM.


Whoa, Mario's a shapeshifter? How come I was never able to switch into Bowser-form in Super Smash Bros, huh?

Also, what's the deal with the charades? What happened to Mario's voice? The guy talked all the time in the cartoons, you can see him talking on the Super Mario All-Stars title screen, and he was voiced by official-video-game-Mario-voice-actor Charles Martinet in Mario Game Gallery a year before this. He may not say anything in his platformers, but there's never been any doubt that the guy can talk.

I guess it could be a joke about silent JRPG protagonists, but Square heroes tend to get more than their fair share of lines so I don't know.

He's acting out the entire intro level here by the way and man he's really putting his heart into it, flinging himself all over the throne room. I'm starting to think that Bob Hoskins wasn't the ideal choice to play him in the movie after all; they should've stuck a moustache on Jim Carrey.

The Chancellor is disturbed by my story and tasks me with an important mission: to go and rescue the Princess. Well duh, but some actual direction might be nice. I guess I'll just have to go wandering wherever the road takes me then.

Fuck yeah bro, I invented jumping! No seriously I did, Donkey Kong, 1981, look it up.

This guy Mallow claims to be a frog, but I've got my doubts. For one thing he looks like a cloud and it rains when he cries. He's crying because someone stole his Grandpa's coin and he wants to team up with me so we can go get it back. Well I was actually kind of busy rescuing the nation's ruler and stopping an alien sword invasion, but hey this sounds kind of important too. Sure, I'm up for it.


SOON.


Great. I've finally got someone on my team to make the battles more interesting, but that's not doing me much good while I'm stuck here. Sure I could fight these respawning cyber-wolf things over and over again, but that's not going to get me out of here any faster.

I'm sure that I'm supposed to be using these yellow blocks to get out, but I can't jump high enough to get onto that raised bit of ground, and headbutting them from below does nothing. I can't even jump off the enemy's heads as that always takes me into a battle.

Damn, I'm actually going to have to check a walkthrough for this.


TWO MINUTES ON YOUTUBE LATER.


Well I'm an idiot. It turns out that Mario can just jump onto the blocks, as they're actually lower than the cliffs. They don't look it, but they are. Jumping on one block makes the other one circle around it, so I can just alternate between the two all the way across to make my escape.

You know, isometric platformers tend to be pretty terrible in my experience, as you can't judge your height or position accurately from this angle, but I have to admit... this game is as bad as any of them at it. Can't wait until I get back on the ground again.

super mario rpg dinosaur in a top hat
It's the dinosaur thief himself! Wow, you can really say 'bugger' in a Nintendo game?

No epic boss fight just yet though, as he's too quick on his feet for me to catch him. I'm going to need another plan.

I have to sneak up on the guy from behind or else he runs away. I never knew that Super Mario RPG was one of the pioneers of the stealth genre. Well actually all I have to do is make sure I don't sneak up from in front of him and it gets the job done. Then he runs away and I have to do it again (and again), because if something's fun the first time it'll be even more fun after doing it three times in a row!


AND SO I DID THAT THING I JUST SAID, AND THEN...


Alright mate, let's see if a single miniature T-Rex in a top hat can take on both a plumber AND a cloud/frog/thing. It's on!

No wait, don't use the healing mushroom, I just spent ages knocking those 60 hit points off you! Well fine, I've got health mushrooms of my own if you really feel the need to drag this battle out. I don't have a whole lot of flower power left though; turns out that Mallow and Mario both share the same mana bar, so I've been draining it at double speed.

Eventually I managed to take the thief down with a devastating series of 'A' button presses, with the occasion 'X' thrown in when I needed to use a healing item, and so Mallow got his Grandpa's coin back at last. Back to Mushroom Town, there is much to celebrate!


BUT THEN...


Well it seems that Mushroom Town has been invaded by bouncing Shy Guy-looking things and the two of us are the only ones who can stop them! Because the Mushroom Kingdom's entire army and police force combined is actually just one bloke with a hammer who does the job part time in between his plumbing work. And he only got the hammer this morning.

I'm all for pacifism and making sure that security doesn't come at the cost of freedom, but when your neighbour is an evil fire-breathing monster who routinely kidnaps your head of state, it may be a good idea to formulate a better defence plan than "Eh, Mario will sort it out."

I'm not saying I won't sort it out, it's just that I don't like being taken for granted.

Well everything seems to be okay in the village shop at least, although the shop keeper seems too terrified to sell me anything. Though he did say I could take stuff if I leave some money behind.

I'm taking that to mean that this is a 'pay what you want' deal.

Super Mario RPG Shop screen
It's a pair of pants! I never realised how much I wanted this until right now! Apparently this counts as armour for Mallow, so I don't know what he's wearing now. A kilt maybe?

I'll grab some of those accessories as well, because I'm loaded and I could always use a little extra spring in my step.

Super Mario RPG equip screen
Wow, the equip screen sure does look a lot like the buy screen. It seems that each character only gets one clothing and one accessory slot each, so I'm sorry Mario but you can only wear either a shirt or pants, and Mallow asked for the pants first.

Alright, I could spend forever trying to clear out this town of enemies, but it seems that the only way to clear them out for good is to take them out at the source: the Princess's castle. To the throne room once more!


AND SO I WENT TO THE THRONE ROOM ONCE MORE.


Wow, you didn't just insult the moustache. I was going to give you and your friends a chance to bounce out of here peacefully, but it's on now. I'm gonna take that knife you're riding and I'm gonna shove it up your ass!

It's the classic boss fight dilemma: do I focus on the boss himself, or take out the minions first? I suppose I should do the sensible thing and clear away the Shy Guys, so that I'm not attacked five times every turn for the rest of the battle. Once they're gone I can unload my flower points upon him in a glorious torrent of Mario's fireballs and Mallow's thunderbolts.

Though I'll probably be stuck using all my mana to fuel Mallow's HP Rain skill and keep my team from dying. If I deal overwhelming damage to an enemy I often get instant health recovery for the character who landed the killing blow, but it's not something I can rely on.


SOON.


I finally emerged victorious and even got a star for my trouble. No idea what that's for, though I suppose it mostly means that I've completed 14.29% of the game (perhaps)!

And so our heroes saved Mushroom Town and journeyed onwards to the... Kero Sewers? Actually the characters didn't do that at all, because I suddenly have an inexplicable urge to turn this off immediately. Funny that.


So what did I think of the critically acclaimed and universally revered Super Mario RPG after playing the first hour or so? Well I think it's best that I just say that I liked it more than EarthBound and a little less than Chrono Trigger perhaps, and hope that you don't check those posts to learn what I mean by that. One thing that all three games definitely have in common is that none of them were released on the Super Nintendo in Europe, which seems absolutely crazy to me. I realise that this came out right at the end of the SNES's lifetime, but how is a game called Super Mario RPG not going to rake in cash just on its name alone?

To be honest I actually found the game to be fairly likeable and well made, though it's not really a universe I'm dying to spend more time in. The gameplay seems very solid for what it is, the soundtrack is catchy and some classic Mario tunes show up, and the graphics... well it looks better in motion at least. I get why they went with 3D rendered artwork, but the way they've used it makes it look like a rushed third party GBA game at times and the garbage pixels around some of the tiles seem almost like JPEG compression artefacts.

But I don't want to hate on the poor thing. It seems like a nice enough game, so I'll give it a star.



Anyway, who even cares what I think? What do you folks think about the game? Or my site? Or anything else that seems halfway relevant? Comments are welcome.

2 comments:

  1. "little mushroom folks kitted out with suits and dark glasses and get them to watch the perimeter".

    Man, now I want to see a stern-faced mushroomoid in a suit and sunglasses with an earpiece with a beige curly cable coming out of its ear.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have a great desire to adventure in this game that 100% of people rave about, but I have lack of time.

    ReplyDelete

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