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

In this review, we check out another RPG game, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. We find out how well Mario goes from an adventure game to an RPG game.

This game was released in 1996 and would be the first time the Super Mario franchise delved into the RPG genre.

The story starts as a vast majority of other Super Mario games: Princess Peach has been kidnapped by Bowser and it’s up to Mario to save her. In fact, this game starts off with you rescuing Peach. You are introduced to the battle system as you work your way through Bowser’s castle in the process. When you defeat Bowser, it looks like you are about to save Peach. That’s when a large earthquake hits as a giant sword goes through the sky, destroying Star Road in the process, and lands in the castle. From that point on, it’s clear that this Super Mario game doesn’t follow your typical Mario storyline. You are ejected from the castle and land in your own house. With Peach missing in action, your mission is to find and rescue Peach, wherever she might be. Ultimately, though, your mission turns into finding the seven stars to repair Star Road so that wishes can still be granted.

After you set off on the first part of your real quest, you are introduced to the world map. This is quite similar to that found in Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros 3. So, while the battle system is technically new, there is also some nice familiar elements that Super Mario fans will immediately recognize. The next thing you are introduced to is a more detailed examination of the battle system. Uniquely, the game introduces the concept of timed hits. If you press a button at the correct moment during an actual attack, you’ll be able to to a little extra damage to the enemy. The same thing can be done with some special abilities. Conversely, timed hits work defensively where if you press a button at the correct time, you can reduce the amount of damage you receive from a number of attacks (not all).

As you make your way through the first dangerous area, Mushroom Way, you’ll notice that enemies don’t attack you in random encounters. Instead, they roam around visibly. Touching them will open up a battle sequence. The only other RPG game I can recall doing this would be Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest where monsters are visible and touching them would initiate a battle sequence. While this concept is new in some respects, an old familiar element is also here in that you can jump up and hit question mark boxes for coins or items.

More things that pop up during battle sequences outside of the unique timed hits system is the random flowers that appear. These appear when defeating enemies and give you certain in battle bonuses. These include Attack Up, Defense Up, Max HP, and Lucky. While most of these bonuses are self explanatory, the Lucky bonus allows you the opportunity to play a shell-game with the double or nothing risk on either coins or experience. If you pick Yoshi, you double up. If you pick the bird, you tie and keep what you earned in battle. Pick the black monster and you lose what you earned. This certainly adds a nice element of minor gambling that you don’t often see during the last parts of a battle sequence and I thought this gave this game an element of its own unique flare.

Another interesting element was the special abilities system. Each character having their own special abilities is nothing new, but what is interesting is the fact that the points you spend to use those abilities is pooled. If Mario executes the first fire ability and you have 12 flower points, another character will only have 7 flower points left should you utilize that other characters special ability. While you have to organize your way around this, the bonus is that if you use an item that replenishes these flower points, they will go directly to the pool instead of to a particular character. So, it has its own strength and weaknesses, but I didn’t mind this system at all. While different, it’s hard to really criticize this system generally speaking. The question then becomes: how one increases the capacity of flower points? This is down through two ways. The first way is through rare items like the flower tab (raises capacity by 1) and the flower jar (raises capacity by 3). The other way is through flowers you find in treasure chests whether hidden or not. The game caps out at 99, but hitting that is quite challenging.

Along the way, you’ll meet new playable characters just like many other RPG games out there. These characters include Mallow, Geno, and Bowser. The caveat to the party system is that Mario must always be active. You can eventually switch between characters, but the maximum number of characters you can have during fighting sequences is three (including Mario).

Along the way, you’ll also encounter various items you can use. This includes the Mushroom (restores 30HP), Honey Syrup (restores 10FP), Able Juice (heals a character from status ailments), and a Pick Me Up (restores downed characters). While many items can be useful, probably one of the most useful (and rarest) items is the Red Essence which disallows an enemy to attack a character for three turns. Exceedingly useful for the last phase of the last boss. A good idea to hoard these items up to the very end in my opinion.

You’ll also encounter a small number of key items that allow you to unlock some critical areas. These include keys and even a seed.

The other kind of items you encounter are items you can equip. These items are broken down into three different kinds of items: Weapons, Armor, and Accessories. The last kind typically allows characters to equip certain pins that defend against certain status ailments, but pins aren’t the only thing you can equip here (Mario can equip shoes as well to add to his offense of certain abilities).

As you progress through the game, your characters will level up. While all of your stats will go up, you’ll be permitted to take a bonus in the process. You can select from three different bonuses. You can add to your melee offense and defense capabilities. You can increase that characters total HP. Finally, you can add to your special abilities offense and defensive capabilities. Some of these bonuses will only go up by about 1 point, but most of the time, if not, all of the time, one of these bonuses will randomly allow your character to gain a slightly larger bonus. My strategy is always to take wherever the bonus is greatest.

One thing that is really interesting about this game is that it has a lot of opportunity to be an absolute failure. It was definitely a risk to push Super Mario into another genre – especially into the RPG genre. If some fans had never played a Super Mario RPG game before, it’s easy to see two possible reactions: general curiosity (that was my reaction) and worry that somehow the Mario franchise had mutated into something unrecognizable. Indeed, when you look at the original Mario trilogy for the NES and Super Mario World for the SNES, it’s hard to really see Mario doing much more than provide an adventuring experience that showed off a new system capabilities. The franchise still does this, but this game brilliantly executes what an RPG style Mario game would look like. It expertly integrates familiar elements like the selectable overworld map and jumping to get items into an RPG system that RPG fans can appreciate. As an added bonus, you have the option to fight Culex which is a nice reference to both Final Fantasy VI (victory music) and Final Fantasy IV (battle music). Yes, I’m not aware which Final Fantasy game Culex appears in, but the artistic style really does an impressive job at saying Final Fantasy.

Another great element in this game are the numerous easter eggs strewn throughout the game. Some are more difficult to find than others. Probably the hardest to find is the Casino (which is actually real for the record, though there isn’t much to this Casino). Other Easter eggs are small and just add a little more to the game. One example that comes to mind is jumping on the head of the kid running around in circles in the Mushroom Kingdom. If you wait long enough, Mario jumps off on his own and passes out from getting so dizzy. An amusing activity that would otherwise probably land Mario in jail for assaulting a minor, really. Another thing you can do is jump on the beds of various levels of extravagance.

In addition to all of this are the mini-games. Besides the Yoshi shell game, there’s numerous other mini-games you encounter. You can collect coins in a multi-event that starts at the falls leading to Tadpole Pond. You can collect flowers by chasing Peach up a hill while she is being kidnapped by Booster. You can even play a somewhat extravagant mine cart racing game. This is a small fraction of the numerous mini games found throughout this game. Some are required the first time around, but others (such as Yoshi racing) is optional. I thought this added a lot to the game and made this game much more interesting in general.

Probably my only nitpick up to this point was that you can run into an occasional barrier that stops your progress dead in its tracks. One example is trying to get into Booster Tower. At that point, you have to have visited Frogfocus twice, but there’s no real clues saying you have to go back. If you only visit Frogfocus once, Bowser simply doesn’t appear to bust down the door. I’m not entirely sure when it’s possible to advance the plot by visiting Frogfocus the second time though, but you will be able to if you get to Booster Tower. Still, that is a minor nitpick to the overall experience in my opinion.

So, this game, generally speaking, was an incredibly solid game. It was very enjoyable and even expressed a sense of humor from time to time (always a nice bonus). The characters might initially be a bit melodramatic at times, but that typically gives way to the overall humor in it all.

Graphically, it’s incredible that so much detail was stuffed into a SNES game. It’s as if 3D art was created, then down-converted to the SNES and, while compressed, gave this game incredible graphics. When enemies attack, they had multiple little animations to go with their attacks. This goes well above and beyond what a number of other RPG games have done in the past where enemies simply, at most, flashed or moved slightly. The only caveat to the graphics is the knowledge that N64 games like Super Mario 64 were also being released in the same year. Even then, this game was really solid in the graphics department just the same.

The audio was really well done in this game. The sound effects were so well done, it’s actually impressive it was compressed down into a SNES game because there’s so many of them. The music is where this game really shines. Music from the Mushroom forest level, the sunken ship level, and the inside of the cloud palace when you first visit was all incredibly well done. What earns the perfect score for me in this area was the scene where Mario sneaks into the cloud palace as a statue and Dodo pecks at various statues. The level of integration between the action going on on screen and the music was simply a marvel. It was masterfully well done how well the action and music was so tightly co-ordinated. Most music is just dumped into a game as background and it is done. This had to take some doing, but the end result (if successful) is absolutely hilarious.

Overall, this game shows that a well-used franchise can go in a whole different direction and become incredibly successful on execution. The game had a great mixture of RPG elements and Super Mario elements. There is an incredibly nice amount of mini games and even a number of Easter Eggs that elevated this game to a whole new level. While characters can seem a bit on the melodramatic side of things and plot points might be a bit confusing to get, the graphics were excellent and the audio was stunningly well done. This, for me, is a highly recommended game as you can pour a lot of hours into this game and say it was time well spent. A superb gaming experience in my books.

Furthest point in game: Beat the game a few times. Found the casino through a guide and ground my way to level 99 for kicks at one point.

General gameplay: 23/25
Replay value: 10/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 5/5

Overall rating: 92%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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