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

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

"Some of the things which make combat so easy also add to its charm, because they make fights far more interactive than one would expect from a turn-based RPG. While tapping the attack button at the proper time during a character's turn will essentially make every blow they land a critical hit, it also adds to the fun, as this is one game where you won't be mindlessly tapping the attack button."

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars asset

When reviewing Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, it might be best to start by exploring the game’s negative aspects. That’s especially true since the major flaws in this title’s particular case might come as a surprise to those who are familiar with either the retro Super Mario Bros. titles or the RPGs that Square developed during the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.

The most apparent flaw in Super Mario RPG case is that it's one of the easiest RPGs I've ever played. It approaches the diabolical "Nintendo Hard" label one might expect from this marriage of Square and Nintendo precisely once, when you can face off against an optional boss that's so much tougher than anything else, it's actually sort of funny (as well as emasculating). While Culex has nothing to do with the plot, that boss and its four elemental crystals are capable of wiping out your entire party in very short order unless you've achieved the maximum level and have done a good bit of preparation besides. Take that guy out of the equation and it's possible to steamroll any opposition with few setbacks more serious than the occasional moment when you find yourself wondering whether you should revive a fallen character with a simple spell or with one of your many revival items.

This game gives you nearly every possible advantage as you explore its world. Characters completely regenerate their health upon gaining a level and you’ll find blocks containing full health and magic restoration for your entire party situated immediately before most bosses. Tapping the action button at the right time during battle can enhance your attacks and spells, as well as weaken an enemy's assault. Enemies are visible on-screen and, unlike adversaries in many older games that eschewed random fights, the majority of them seem content to do their own thing, casually meandering around the screen and not really taking notice of the interlopers skulking through their domain. In other words, you can fight every single foe you find if you want… or you avoid most combat and simply sprint through areas as quickly as possible.

Combat also is simple. Each character possesses a basic attack and a mere handful of special abilities and spells. Things operate in the tried and true turn-based format, meaning there's no hurry to make any crucial combat decisions out of fear that you’re five seconds away from a dose of Flare or Ultima magic. Most items and equipment are cheap, you can only hold a maximum of 999 coins and enemies drop so many items that you're never at a loss of goods to sell for extra funds, so it's never an ordeal to acquire the newest and best equipment as soon as it becomes available. In essence, this is kiddie fare.

It also happens to be one of the most charming RPGs that I've ever played.

Seemingly everything about Super Mario RPG is designed to enthrall the player. The graphics are gorgeous and characters are well-animated. While Mario might be a silent protagonist, he's definitely a departure from the norm, since he often elaborately pantomimes plot-related events to help other characters get up to speed with his adventures. Some of the things which make combat so easy also add to its charm, because they make fights far more interactive than one would expect from a turn-based RPG. While tapping the attack button at the proper time during a character's turn will essentially make every blow they land a critical hit, it also adds to the fun, as this is one game where you won't be mindlessly tapping the attack button. When virtually every command you give in battle can be improved with a well-timed button press, you'll be a lot more invested in each fight. Also, healing spells will restore more life and characters can nullify a certain percent of an enemy's attack without actually wasting a turn selecting the "defend" option if you do things correctly.

There are all sorts of mini-games and neat little additions that evoke memories of the classic Super Mario platformers, as well. You'll occasionally come across a room loaded with enemies and a single treasure chest. Bump into that chest and you'll release an invulnerability star, allowing you to run through as many foes as possible while its effects last to gain a lot of quick-and-easy experience. You also can control Yoshi in dinosaur races, as well as take your party through various challenges for prizes. None of these things are particularly essential, but they add to the flavor of the game.

The plot involves a mix of characters native to the world of Mario along with a bunch of new creations. Take out the RPG elements and the game's intro would greatly resemble the endgame to most of the red-garbed plumber's exploits, as he raids Bowser's castle to rescue Princess Toadstool for what might be the millionth time. However, at the (predictable) conclusion of their fight, a giant sword slams into the castle, sending heroes and villains alike flying across the world. That sword is a gateway through which an evil being is planning to travel so that he can take over Mario's world and turn it into a gigantic factory that will mass produce weapons of destruction. To stop the American government--I mean, the diabolical Smithy--from accomplishing his goal, Mario will have to join up with allies (including an unlikely one in Bowser, who's been forcibly evicted from his castle by the invaders), find the princess and collect giant magical stars. In fact, you could say that collecting the stars is the main objective for much of the game. When the big gateway sword came crashing down, it severed the magical Star Road, making it so no one's dreams will come true. While that sort of thing goes a long way towards Smithy reaching his goals, it's not so good for the heroes, so they'll be scouring the world and beating the heck out of all sorts of evil henchmen in order to recover stars to remake the road.

Despite the lack of difficulty that it provides, the task is a rewarding one that's well worth completing time and time again. A lot of care must have gone into designing virtually everything, as the characters are humorously written and just about everything looks great. For me, the weakest moments tended to be the mini-games, which often just annoyed me. However, you tend to only have to do these things once (if at all) in order to advance the plot, and then can safely ignore them unless you actually find them fun enough to play repeatedly.

Everything else is gold, though. The "odd couple" alliance between Bowser and Mario leads to hilarious moments as the dragon attempts to explain his decision to side with his mortal enemy as deciding to allow Mario and company to join his Koopa Troop. Many of the villains are endearingly quirky, featuring an easily-frustrated archer who can lock your battle commands with his arrows, a bizarre recluse who's planning to get married even if he has no clue what that means and a quirky group of evil counterpoints to the Power Rangers. When you finally meet Smithy, you'll realize he looks a lot like an evil version of Santa Claus -- churning out all sorts of weaponry for all the bad little boys and girls. While heroes Mallow (a little cloud boy) and Geno (a doll possessed by a Star Road spirit) haven't seen much air time since this title, they also both have their moments of greatness. Well, at least Mallow does during his personal quest to find his true family. Geno's main purpose is simply to provide exposition. But the "sin" of having one party member being thinly written is an easy one to forgive when I consider just how great Super Mario RPG is. People looking for a stern challenge probably will be disappointed, but the pure charm and personality this game possesses will win the hearts of just about anyone else.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (February 22, 2013)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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