Platform: Super Ninteno Entertainment System
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Release Date: May 13th, 1996
A giant sword has appeared from the sky and struck Bowser’s Keep, sending Mario, Toadstool, and Bowser in separate directions. Mario, determined to rescue his beloved Princess, sets out on a journey through the Mushroom Kingdom. During his travels, he encounters the Smithy Gang, who are bent on taking over. Mario must defeat the Smithy gang, and repair the damaged Star Road along the way.
Check out my review after the break!
This is the first time that a Mario game has done something different with its story and world. While the initial focus of the story is fairly cookie cutter, the fact that Mario’s quest to save Toadstool is only a part of the game’s driving force is what makes this story so memorable. We finally have new enemies to take on, we meet new races that live in the Mushroom Kingdom and there are so many places to explore.
The main thing about the story is that it’s pretty predictable. There are no real surprises to make your jaw drop. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you ask me. A story doesn’t have to be full of twists and turns, as long as it’s a solid story. Super Mario RPG does have that in spades. It may be obvious and without shock value, but it’s got a good story from start to finish, without struggling to do more.
While the story itself is not too noteworthy, the characters in the game really make it even more enjoyable. We are introduced to two wonderful playable characters, Mallow and Geno. Mallow is a well built character, with his own wonderful back story that is revealed as you go along in the game. Geno was such a wonderful idea as well, being an entity from the Star Road inhabiting the body of a child’s toy. Granted, he was more of a plot device than anything else, but it felt right having him there.
I think what disappoints me most about these characters isn’t the fact that they are in the game. It’s the fact that they are never heard from again in the franchise, and that’s a real shame.
Super Mario RPG pushed the boundaries of the 16-bit engine of the Super Nintendo and created a well-shaped 3D environment. I think the most interesting thing about these environments stems from the fact that these designs still feel like a Mario game. It’s bright and colorful when it needs to be, and they are fun to explore.
The transition of character and enemy sprites from 2D to 3D were also handled incredibly well. I didn’t need to guess at what I was fighting when it was an iconic monster like a Goomba or Cheep-Cheep. We are also introduced to new monster designs too, and these also feel like they belong in a Mario game. Again, it would have been nice if some of these designs were used in later games, but sadly I have not seen them.
Once again, we have another well thought out soundtrack. In traditional Mario fashion, the outdoor areas are fairly upbeat, while underground and castle areas are either eerie or add to a tone of seriousness. There’s not much more I can say about the music, really. It was a splendid set of tracks, as are many other titles in the franchise.
Gameplay – Exploration
Travelling the world map is just a system of connect-the-dots. Given the scale of the game, and how large the areas can be, I was not expecting much when travelling from area to area.
When in an area, you are running around as you would in any Mario game. You’ll find places to jump up on, hit question blocks that are shaped like treasure chests, and encounter enemies in the field. Once you come into contact on one, a fight will begin.
Towns operate as any other RPG would. You’ll have shops to buy items and gear, an Inn to rest up, and many NPCs to talk to.
Nothing is really out of the ordinary when it comes to exploring here, but sometimes a simple elegance is nice to have in a classic RPG.
Gameplay – Combat
Combat follows very simple turn-based rules. When a character’s turn comes up, they can attack, use a skill, use an item, defend, or run.
Attacks and skills are interesting here, as they make combat more interactive. A standard attack can also launch a timed hit. This means that if you hit your command button at just the right time of your hit, you will do extra damage. The timing for these is fairly good, so you shouldn’t have a lot of trouble getting it down. There are skills that also offer a timing system, like Mario’s Super Jump skill. Other skills have their own gimmicks. You will be instructed on what to do each time you use the skill. One involves rotating the control pad, while others may need you to hold down a button to charge a skill’s power.
I’ve always like combat systems that use reflexes or some other system to keep you engaged in the battle. It’s more interactive for the player, and it keeps the traditional grind from getting boring.
Gameplay – Character Progression
Using a standard EXP system, characters will level up, gaining new stats and sometimes new skills. There is also the bonus point allocation, which I always found to be interesting. After your level increases, you will have the option to add bonus stats to either their max HP, physical attributes, or magical attributes. At each level, one option is always better than the others, so you get to choose how the characters are built to a degree. Personally, I tend to choose only the stats that get the biggest bonus boost, but it’d be fun to try and boost Mallow’s physical stats instead of magic, since he is primarily a caster.
Gameplay – Optional Content/Side Quests
Super Mario RPG has a variety of mini-games and side content. From a super powerful optional boss, to several mini-games that reward you for completion time, or number of coins collected. There is even a mini-game that lets you compose music.
In true SquareSoft fashion, there is also a very challenging mini-game available as you journey. At some point, you will encounter an NPC that monitors how many additional jumps you made in a single Super Jump. If you do a lot (and I mean a lot, over 100 if I remember right), you are rewarded with some fantastic items. If you can pull it off, kudos. I still haven’t been able to.
It’s really hard to meat out content when I’m talking about an RPG from this era. While there’s more content than your average RPG from the SNES, it’s still fairly straightforward. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since it is still an enjoyable experience, filled with some great environments, good gameplay, and a cast of characters that keeps you interested from start to finish.
If you feel some nostalgia and want to play something classic, then I’m sure this game has crossed your mind. Luckily, it’s now available on the Wii U Virtual Console, and it’s priced rather reasonably. It’s a game that’s worth enjoying if you have the opportunity.