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July 24, 2017

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (Part 1)

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

What happens when you combine the Mario universe with the talent of Square Enix, the makers of the Final Fantasy series?

One of the best RPGs of all time, that’s what! Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is kind of an odd duck in the Mario franchise, especially in its RPG division. All other RPGs in the franchise can be classified under the Paper Mario or the Mario & Luigi series. And both of these sub-franchises have gained massive popularity in their own right – and yet, Super Mario RPG precedes them both and quite possibly surpasses them still in popularity. Released on the final years of the Super Nintendo (in 1996) and at first overshadowed by the release of Super Mario 64 merely four months later, the game has since gained a huge cult following.

The title screen... before the opening sequence.
The Square Enix brand is very noticeable, blending in with the universe of the Mushroom Kingdom. The villains are new creatures that have never been seen before, too silly for Final Fantasy but right at home in the Mario franchise. The new characters created for the story are interesting and each one has its comedic quirks, which would also become a staple of Mario RPGs, from Paper Mario onwards. Of course, since this is Square Enix we’re talking about, the game also showcases an absolutely humongous bestiary of monsters… many of which don’t quite fit the Mario world, but that’s only a nitpick. After all, it’s still impressive that so many creatures have been created for the game, even if many of them have never been seen in other Mario games. Similarly, some enemies seen in other Mario games are given different names than the ones we’re used to, but the translation team is apparently to blame here.

This game also features one of the longest stories in any Mario RPG, probably even longer than Super Paper Mario (although there is no way I am spending 8 parts discussing this game, Hell no). There is a LOT to unpack here today, so I suggest we jump into it right away. How about that?

For Koopas wearing armor, they're even lamer
than regular Koopas.
It starts as – just guess! Yep, Peach gets kidnapped by Bowser. Mario, always the hero, immediately hurries out to save her. Blah! 0/10, seen it too often. We start in Bowser’s Castle, where we meet the… “Terrapins”? What? Shouldn’t those be called Koopa Troopas? Oh, I see, they’re not Koopa Troopas, they’re soldier Koopas wearing armor. Wait shouldn’t that actually make them stronger? Ah, whatever. They’re only here to train Mario in using the available commands at this point of the game.

The fighting system here is done well. Mario has 4 options: Attack (A button on the SNES controller), Defend (B button), Item (X button) and Special (Y button). Instead of picking from a menu, just tap the button for the option you want! Pretty clever system. For now, we only need to attack.

Iiiiiiiii'm.... gonna fiiiiiiight.... on the chan-delieeeeeeerrr...
Mario soon reaches Bowser’s room, where Peach is wrapped in chains and hanging off the ground. Time to fight Bowser! This first “boss” takes place on two chandeliers, and Bowser is pitifully weak... but he has endless HP. How do you defeat him? By selecting the enemy holding the chandelier, which causes it to drop the chandelier, resulting in the turtle-dragon’s defeat. What’s that? Bowser tosses hammers at Mario’s chandelier and makes him fall too? No worries, Mario jumps back to save the princess! Because of course he does! He’s Freaking Mario! He can do anything! He can even beat up Rabbids!

However, before Mario actually manages to save Princess Toadstool, a giant sword falls through a cloud with a star symbol, splitting that star, and then lands directly into Bowser’s Keep. In the ensuing kaboom, Mario is tossed back in his little house. He immediately tries to make his way back to Bowser’s Keep, but the giant sword says that the turtle-dragon’s fortress now belongs to his gang… the, uh, Smithy Gang. The sword then proceeds to destroy the quick-way bridge between Mario’s piece of land and the castle. Oh great, now we have to run around the entire Kingdom to find another way in!

The title screen... after the opening sequence.

Mario runs through the Mushroom Way separating him from Toad Town and the Mushroom Kingdom. On the way, the good old Goombas, along with Lakitus and Spinies and the Paratroopas – here called Sky Troopas, for some reason. Like I said, some names changed when the game was translated, and the changes are noticeable – although someone who knows the franchise will know which regular Mario enemies have been misnamed. Kinda makes one wish for an updated version with the actual names…

After beating up some Hammer Bros. blocking the way (and learning about timed hits from a helpful Toad), Mario reaches Toad Town. He visits the castle’s Chancellor, who urges him to save the Princess as soon as possible – there are so many papers she has to sign right now, like that contract for the construction of an artificial island out there that will be used for all of the Princess and her friends’ baseball needs! That’s totally not a pointless project, there is a future for that thing!

"Yeah, you cried your rain all over me."
Gee, that almost sounds like it could have come out of
a very bad romance song.
Through clever miming, Mario explains the situation, and here we get one of the best running gags of the game: Being mute, Mario transforms into some of the actors of the story he’s telling in order to illustrate his point. It’s very smart and makes for fun moments whenever it happens. Now told by a higher authority to do his damn job as a hero, Mario heads out to find a way back into Bowser’s Keep… only to hear cries outside. A crocodile jumps by, followed by a little cloud fella who fails to catch up. The cloudy kid cries, causing rain to suddenly fall on Toad Town. Mario (somehow) asks what’s wrong, and the boy says that the croc stole the money his grandpa gave him to buy some stuff around town. The kid presents himself as Mallow and happily joins the party! Remember, he thinks he’s a frog! Wow, whatever place he comes from, that place has no mirror. But maybe he feels like a frog on the inside, which is okay; and it would be respectful to speak of him as a frog from now on… Nah, forget it, there’s no allegory to be seen here, it would be a stretch. He’s just a cloud kid who was adopted by a local frog. Silly me. Besides, I doubt the Mario series will ever discuss a topic as serious as that.

Mario and Mallow chase after the croc… named Croco, what a surprise… and battle him, retrieving Mallow’s wallet. Fighting Croco, we see that Mallow is more of a mage kind of character, weak at physical attacks but relatively decent at using spells. Be careful though, as the whole party shares their Flower Points (as Magic Points are called in this game, the mana necessary to use special moves and spells), and so you must use your selection of special attacks wisely. On that aspect, Mallow feels a bit like a Black Mage. Even if, in personality, he’s anything but.

Sure, maybe he's able to steal items, but...
...he's still fairly weak.

Mallow's Thunderbolt is a magic attack targeting all
enemies, Very good spell for the early game.
But does he have to drop his pants every time he casts it?
The duo returns to Toad Town, only to see it infested by Shy Guys pogo-jumping on swords. Huh, I didn’t know swords could be so bouncy! Usually they just plant themselves into the ground or fall on castles. Fighting through Toad Town and into the castle, Mario soon encounters the leader of these guys, a demon on a sword named Mack. Heh, Mack the knife. As the first Smithy Gang member battled, Mack isn’t terribly hard. Sure, he can summon more Shysters (the sword-pogoing Shy guys), but Mallow can deal with them by using his Thunderbolt attack, which hits every opponent. When Mack is defeated, it vanishes and Mario gets his hands on a star-shaped item. It then gets added to a screen showing 7 spots, with one now occupied by the star, and the screen is called “Star Pieces”. Say, are we gonna learn about those right now? Whaddya mean, “soon enough”? That’s not now, I want to know now!

The sewers... Where the Boo go to be forgotten?
With the new threat of the Smithy Gang, Mario has a lot of work on his gloved hands. Better not waste any time. Mallow says that his father, Frogfucius, may help them – but in order to reach the pond, they have to cross through the Frog Sewers… actually called Kero Sewers, because it seems Ted Woolsey and his team of translators forgot to change a couple words. Going through this place could be simple enough, I mean, these are sewers and Mario is a plumber… were it not for Belome, a local powerful entity that has decided he wanted to make of the sewers’ crummy waters his secondary residence. Belome should just stay in his temple… He has a freaking temple, and he still goes into the sewers? Really? Whatever, let’s just battle him. We’re still early in the game, so this guy’s easy enough, though it can take some people by surprise.

With Belome defeated, Mario and Mallow move forward and exit the sewers, only to encounter a waterfall. Oh, it’s okay, it’s just a…

…HOLY SHIT IT’S A WATERFALL! SWIM THE OPPOSITE WAY! Nope, too late. Let’s just pray it doesn’t have spiky rocks at the bottom.

Yes, I know, I used that one already in this older review of mine.

Yes, try swimming back up the waterfall, Mario.
That's totally gonna work.
Oh, but it’s Mario, he survives. In fact, he the lands on a barrel and goes rolling down the river, jumping to collect coins at the same time. Just goes to show, no matter how gloomy things get in the Mushroom Kingdom, there’s always a way to have fun (and make some money too!). We wind up in Tadpole Pond, a calmer area without monsters. That’s where we meet Frogfucius, Mallow’s legal tutor father. We can finally deliver what Mallow was tasked with bringing back: A… cricket pie? Yuck. But hey, that’s a delicacy for a frog, I guess. Being an old, wise amphibian, Mallow’s father then explains more about the Smithy Gang, and says that it’s currently more important for Mario to defeat them than it is to retrieve Peach and Bowser, who have also conveniently been flung out of the latter’s keep. We don’t get much info on the star, though. Frogfucius also makes the big reveal to Mallow.

Whoa whoa whoa! That's some big news right there!

…Because he was found in a basket in the river. Oh good, I’ve seen the Dreamworks film Prince of Egypt too! I heard it’s an adaptation? …Yeah, I still need to read that damn book. Apparently it’s got quite the fan following. Now knowing that he isn’t a frog, Mallow decides to join Mario on this adventure around the Mushroom Kingdom, in hopes of finding his true parents. Oh sure, he gets put in danger all the time, I mean, Mario IS on a mission right now, preventing a takeover by weird weapon-themed villains… but risk of death at every corner is a small price to pay to find Mallow’s real parents, right?

Well, could be worse. At least it's not self-insert fanfic.
Mario and Mallow go through Rose Way and we catch a glimpse of Bowser with whatever’s left of his troops, trying to motivate them into fighting the new threat. They took HIS keep and they are trying to take over HIS land of residence. He’s not gonna lie down and just accept it! It’s HIS job to try and take over this place! Oh, these weaponry dudes are going down. Okay, enough sightseeing! Mario and Mallow get in Rose Town, where they find Toad villagers suffering, paralyzed. Arrows have been raining on the town from the nearby Forest Maze, clearly there are some evil forces at work. We visit Rose Town and, at one point, enter a house where we see a Toad kid, named Gaz, playing with dolls of Mario, Bowser and Peach. Mario eventually agrees to play a bit with the kid and his dolls. Sadly, the kid is like a poor fanfic writer who gives center stage to his own overpowered character named Geno, having said character defeat Bowser and rescue Peach in the little scenario he built. Oh, and the real Mario is viewing all this! I bet he wishes right now that he could speak, to tell this kid how wrong his fanfic is! Wait, is that doll shooting actual bullets? Holy crap! It strikes Mario and the plumber faints. The kid’s mom brings him upstairs in a bed.

Meanwhile, that night, weird things happen. A little star appears in the living room and places itself into the kid’s bullet-shooting doll, granting it life! And conveniently makes it as big as the rest of the cast, too! Huh, didn’t know making things grow was a power stars possessed. I thought only mushrooms could do that. The doll looks around, slowly learns to walk, and leaves. Mario wakes up soon afterwards, and soon sees that the kid is overjoyed. Apparently, he’s seen his Geno doll! It was moving! And it went into the forest! Mario decides to investigate, and goes in the Forest Maze.

Cue song!

Ah yes, the memories!

Oh no! We can no more use special attacks!
Except... ya know... we can still attack...
After venturing into a few caves, Mario and Mallow get in the Forest Maze, where they follow Geno around. Make sure not to get lost! We finally get to the end of this, where we encounter a weird bow-shaped guy flinging arrows in the direction of Rose Town. And one of the guy’s lackeys finds a Star Piece! Thankfully, Geno shows up out of nowhere and decides to battle them… alone. Not very smart… Thankfully, Mario and Mallow jump in and Geno recognizes Mario – huh, so celestial beings know about the hero of the Mushroom Kingdom? Interesting…

The fight starts, and Bowyer is one of the trickiest bosses so far – he can literally disable some of your commands! The A button (for regular attacks), the X (to use items) and the Y (for special moves) can all be disabled, one at a time, by Bowyer’s arrows. It can be a very tough battle, but he can still be defeated. After what, Mario and Mallow retrieve the Star Piece.

Geno explains that he is a Star Spirit living in the Star Road-

...Maybe not quite that one.

-a magical place above the clouds that grants people’s wishes. Unfortunately, the Star Road has been shattered by the giant sword falling from the sky, meaning that wishes can no longer be granted in the Mushroom Kingdom. It is thus their duty to retrieve the Star Pieces, which when put together will bring the Star Road back to normal. Unfortunately, a little living arrow heard everything and is now reporting the info to Smithy…

An infamous moment in the Mario universe, to be sure.
Keep restraining him, Mallow!
Don't allow Mario to actually hurt a kid!
Mario, Mallow and Geno head back to Rose Town, where the petrified villagers are fine again. They report to the kid, who is overjoyed to see his doll has taken a life of its own (his mother remains skeptical though, despite the evidence that should be impossible to ignore). He accepts to see his Geno leave on this quest, since Mario needs all the help he can get. But the way the kid says it implies he still thinks Geno is more badass than Mario. No, Mario! Don't punch the kid! Bad Mario! Don't get all egotistical like Bowser! And thus, the trio heads into the Pipe Vault, now off to look for the next Star Piece…

Alright, this is all for today. Make sure you don’t miss Part 2 of this anniversary review!