The Super Nintendo really was tops when it came to turn based RPGs, even if it wasn’t until FFVII that JRPGs really became mainstream in the US. When I was reading your breakdown of the original NES Final Fantasy in your last post, I got to thinking about Super Mario RPG and despite being a Mario spinoff and not a main platformer, it did do some interesting things as far as the Mario game universe is concerned. It took some daring chances. Too bad it came so late in the SNES’s life to where most had moved on to the PS1 and FFVII, plus I’m sure there were those gamers who were still waiting for a true 2D successor to Super Mario World who would have to wait years to see that. Still Super Mario RPG is worth a look for many reasons.PrologueThe game begins with an opening of Peach sitting in a field, Bowser shows up, kidnaps her and Mario gives chase. Despite riding around in his clown car from SMW, Bowser’s castle looks like a foreboding fortress resting atop a rocky island in his image. You fight some koopas that are now wearing armored helmets and gloves, then you reach Bowser and battle him on the chandeliers. What’s really cool is despite this being a turn based RPG, you can defeat Bowser one of two ways. You can pound on Bowser until he submits or do what Peach says and attack the chain holding the chandelier. Kind of a shout out to the original SMB or SM3 where you could attack Bowser with fireballs or take out the floor below him. You think you saved the day, only to suddenly have the castle shake and you see this giant sword crash down from the sky followed by the title screen. When you think about it this is A) turning the old Mario trope of saving the Princess on it’s head as well as a shout out to the original FF where your start out saving the Princess only to be the starting point.
Mario gets flung back to his house. Toad learns the Princess is kidnapped again (this is when the series started getting self aware of it’s clichés and ran with this meta humor) and sends Mario back to Bowser’s castle but Mario finds the bridge wiped out and the Giant sword informs him that the “Smithy Gang” has taken over. I will say “Smithy Gang” was a sort of lame name for what were essentially robotic aliens who invaded the Mushroom Kingdom via a giant sword. But still for the first time in the series, we were faced with a villain you weren’t sure if Mario could beat. Sure there was Wart from SMB2 or the often forgotten Tantanga from SML or Wario but for me the Smithy Gang felt really intimidating. As enemies went in this game you had a mix of traditional Mario baddies from previous games but a lot of weird, new creatures often associated with the new enemy that had shown up. In the sewer level I remember these dark, floating guys alongside Cheep Cheeps, but back to the main story. You traverse the first area fighting goombas and paratroopas then battle the Hammer Bros. as the first boss and Mario gets their hammer as a weapon and follows Toad to the Mushroom Kingdom castle town. Mario tells (or rather mimes) the events at Bowser’s keep to the Chancellor and sets out to take the long way to Bowser’s castle. This is where you encounter Mallow, who is the lamest character of this game. His abilities suck and you put up with him only until you can swap him out for someone else but then again, that’s what made SMRPG special for me. Square could’ve easily reskinned an existing Final Fantasy game with Mario and friends, had Bowser be the final boss and made the party consist of Mario, Luigi, Toad and Yoshi saving Peach but this one decided to shake up the Mario tropes a bit. Luigi is MIA this whole game save for the end credits and Yoshi can later be a summon but instead Mario is paired up with partners he hadn’t before. Mario helps Mallow get back his coin from a thief named Croco only to return to the Mushroom Kingdom to have it overrun with Shyguys on pogo sticks lead by a mysterious creature called “Mack the Knife” (get it?). Mack is defeated and Mario gets the first star piece but still has no idea what’s going on. Mallow suggests visiting his grandfather Frogfucsious and ask him for help.
I also like the visual style of the Mushroom Kingdom in this game. It’s what you’d expect from Squaresoft’s interpretation of the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s colorful and familiar but not overly cartoony like the series would get later on. Dungeons feel dark and foreboding and you don’t feel like you’re traveling through the standard grass, desert, ice, worlds like so many games do now. I wish Nintendo would look at this game when designing future Mario games but they won’t. They don’t even want to create a coherent world anymore.
On their way to Tadpole pond, Mallow and Mario see Bowser rallying his troops and talking about taking the keep back. Mallow and Mario arrive at Tadpole pond where the wise old Frogfucious informs them that Peach is no longer at Bowser’s castle but no sure where he ended up. We also learn that Mallow isn’t a frog and he needs to go find his birth parents, so there’s actually a reason for this little puffball to be tagging along as opposed to the later Paper Marios where the sidekicks were just like “I’m teaming up with you Mario because you’re so awesome!” Mario and Mallow make their way to Rose Town where they meet a little boy who has toys of Mario, Peach and Bowser as well as a forth toy named Geno. That night you see a star spirit possess the Geno doll bringing him to life. It’s rather amusing as Geno bumps into a wall as if he’s not used to his new body. Mario and Mallow follow Geno into the mazelike woods and butt heads with Bowyer, a giant bow creature with arrow minions who is one of Smithy’s underlings. Geno is your black mage who has extremely powerful attacks, one of which when timed right can deal 9999hp of damage. Hence why he has a strong following who want him in another game. Mario gains the second star piece and Geno informs them he’s from Star Road (similar to Star World from SMW leaving me to believe this was seen as sort of a sequel to Super Mario World. Hey it’s more of an SMW sequel than Yoshi’s Island was) and needs the collect the star pieces to repair his home. So now we know what the stars are for. They’re our orbs/crystals/plot macguffins.
Mario and pals come to Moletown, a mining village populated by moles but they can’t enter their mine as a mysterious creature is in there causing explosions. We also see Bowser and a handful of his minions who are still trying to plan a way to retake the castle. Mario learns that two mole kids are trapped in the mine so they set out to rescue them. You encounter Croco again who’s tougher as he’s got a band of thieves with him and halfway through his battle will steal all your items. Hey at least Mallow’s HP Rain move actually makes him useful for a while. Then you finally encounter the next Smithy minion, Punchenello who has an army of Bob Ombs. Beating him gains another Star along with saving the 2 mole kids. But instead of just warping out of the mine, you jump on a mine car and play a mini game to escape.
Upon leaving Moleville, a trio of Snifits show up chasing a beetle and talk about their master, Booster who is planning a wedding to a Princess that fell from the sky. We now know this is where Peach is being held and head out to Booster’s Tower to save the Princess. This deviates from the “find the stars” story which is nice. Bowser is pouting outside Booster’s place and basically forces his way into your party. This was cool. The first time Bowser fought on your side. I remember being blown away by that. Even better, you don’t need Mallow anymore because Bowser is your tank. You break into Booster’s tower and fight off his minions making your way up to the top where Peach is being held. You reach Booster’s chamber but you can actually hide behind the curtains and avoid fighting him or fight him for XP. Booster will run off with the Princess leaving you to fight his lakies, two creepy clowns named Knife Guy and Grate Guy. You beat them and you play a mini game where you’re chasing Booster up a hill dodging barrels and his Snifits. You end up in the town of Marrymore where Booster has locked himself in the church with Peach. You sneak in through the side door but instead of fighting Booster, you have to fight the wedding cake that has somehow come to life. It is a little weird that after that Booster just gives up marrying the Princess and goes home because he just wanted cake. You’re warped back to the Mushroom Castle where everyone discusses what to do next. Basically they decide that the key to taking out the giant sword in Bowser’s Keep is getting the Star pieces for Geno. Then Peach decides to join the party. Also this was amazing for the time. Sure you could play as her in SMB2 but A) it was all a dream and B) we all know that was Doki Doki panic reskinned with Mario though I still love that game. But here no one can criticize Peach’s playability here. She’s your white mage who can heal and buff your party. So you got a Mario game where Mario fights alongside Peach and Bowser. You can talk to Frogfucsious on where to go next but the map makes it fairly obvious. You go to Star Hill where you just hunt around this weird, out of place blue area where the next Star is just sitting there to collect. No weird monster to fight.
The next area is a Seaside Town and the Star is hidden in a sunken ship guarded by Johnny Jones, a fierce Shark pirate as well as a killer squid named King Calamari. You leave for shore with the Star piece only to encounter Smithy’s next minion, Yardovitch who was sent by Smithy to get the Star Piece because Smithy learned of their power and wants them for himself. Now our heroes realize time is of the essence and need to get the last Star Piece before Smithy as he already has one in his possession.
Land’s end is the last area before Bowser’s Keep. Also here is Monstro Town where there’s a great easter egg in the form of a battle with Culex, a purple demon with orange wings ripped straight from FFIV complete with FFIV battle music and FF victory theme. He’s totally optional but good for a challenge. Travel through Monstro Town to the beanstalk to reach Nimbus Land, which could be a take on the sky half of world five from SMB3. The Nimbus kingdom is overrun by evil birds and our heroes have to take our their leader Valentia and Dodo. Mallow learns of his origins as he’s the prince of Nimbus Land and is reunited with his parents. The Star Piece is in a volcano so it’s into the Barrel Volcano to take on Czar Dragon/Zombone who is a bigger, badder version of Blargh from SMW. Beating him gets the final Star Piece save for the end one but just as you reach Bowser’s keep you encounter Smithy’s fighting team the Axem Ranger who were a spoof of the Power Rangers who were popular in the US and Japan at the time showing off the Mario RPG’s sense of humor.
Bowser’s keep at last and this was one of the last times when Bowser’s castle felt big and intimidating. You find that Bowser’s minions have joined with Smithy though some, upon seeing Bowser will run off. There is an annoying section of 10 different rooms and you have to complete some of them to advance. Some have puzzles. Some have platforming and some have enemies to fighter. It’s one of the more tedious areas but after that you get to take on Exor, the sword itself. Beating it will open up to the final area, the Factory. It is interesting to see what the inside of this sword was like. It was more than a spaceship, but a sort of floating netherrealm leading to a cold, gray factory area where you could see Smithy was building an army for an all out invasion. Smithy himself is a giant robotic king with the final star attached to his chest. His first form isn’t too bad but he has some nasty attacks. Peach will be healing every turn. You beat him and the floor collapses to the underground cavern below the castle. Smithy in FF fashion reveals his true form with a head that could change form based on what attack. he plans to use. Of course beat him and you get the final star. Geno returns home and everything returns to normal.
There’s a lot I like about this game. As my first JRPG it’s very approachable if you’re not familiar with turn based combat thanks to the timed hit system, but it never felt insulting. I liked the portrayal of the Mushroom Kingdom. It had a nice balance between lighthearted and dark and it’s a nice one for me to revisit.
I bought the game on Virtual Console when it came out on the Wii. The intro has always made me want to play it.
It looks very interesting. The graphics are very appealing. I like the isometric view. I liked old school square games, and I liked Mario. I liked their ‘new areas’ they explored.
But… I just couldn’t get into the game. I don’t think the mechanics have aged that well. I DO like the isometric style. I don’t like 3d Mario, but this was cool. The game reminded me of those old Mario novels they used to have.
Somehow in my search, I found this hilarious image. Here it is:
This is supposed to be a sci-fi ‘pulp’ version art of Mario, Zelda, and Metroid. To me, they look like Mega Man 1 box art. I have to agree with the first image. I think Peach likes being kidnapped. Where else did the Koopa Kids come from?