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August 4, 2017

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (Part 4)

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

Let’s be quick with this, because we’re still a long way from getting that sixth star. Quick recap: We’re now in Nimbus Land, a country on clouds, inhabited by people who look like they could be Mallow’s species. We arrived in the middle of a time of turmoil as the King is sick, but we must not be afraid! A decidedly un-cloud-like person named Valentina has arrived with Prince Mallow… … …a dodo? Er, we have a cloudy-looking guy named Mallow on our side, and it doesn't seem to be that common of a name. Something’s wrong here. And unfortunately, the guards seem certain that this big bird is the Prince, and they won’t let anyone inside.

That part is worth watching just to see the mental
gymnastics Garro goes through to advertise the Mario
statue to Valetina.
So, how do we get around that? Why, cartoon antics, of course! A statue maker in Nimbus Land, Garro, will paint Mario with gold, and pass him off as a statue to be brought inside the castle. Because that’s guaranteed to work. Of course, Valentina already thinks that the castle belongs to her, so she’s littered the place with statues of herself, and the sculptor Garro, the guy who helped make Mario look like a statue, has to praise Mario’s looks in such a way that Valentina will let them through. Once the statues are put in place, Valentina orders her lackey Dodo to “polish them” and make them pretty, because in case you haven’t guessed, we are dealing with a queen of vanity here. Dodo seems to dislike her as much as she dislikes him, so he proceeds to peck every Valentina statue… and Mario, which exposes his cover. Or maybe not, if your reflexes are good enough to avoid the pecks of doom by jumping at the right times. Dodo IS kinda dumb after all. Even if you pass by Dodo, your cover still gets blown in the very next room anyway. Time for battle, I guess! While venturing around the castle, we can find imprisoned workers who give Mario a bunch of important advice as well as the Master Key of the place. Now that’s gonna be useful!

Before reaching Valentina, we get to a room with a giant egg in it. Breaking the egg reveals… who else? Birdo! I had a hunch that this bizarre pink character would be in the game. Did not expect her to be such a tough boss, though. Since when are eggs explosive and so damaging? Birdo attacks with explosive eggs, you heard that right. Eggs that somehow become enemies if you defend against them. Pretty gimmicky battle, but a fun one.

Finally we reach Valentina, and it takes her a moment to find out that Mario and Mallow have arrived. Of course, she immediately flees, with a flying Shy Guy and Dodo not far behind. Mario gives chase and battles more enemies on the way. He falls off Nimbus Land while Valentina stays, but it’s okay, climbing back is very easy. Outside, Valentina gets asked by Nimbus Landers about the King, long enough for Mario’s team to catch up and battle her.

Questioned by the Nimbus Landers, she panics.
Geez, it's like she wants all of the power with none of the
responsibilities. Would it be misplaced to compare her to
some guy making the news every day lately?

How does the battle start? Dodo shows up, snatches the character in the middle (since you always have 3 out at any moment), and a 1-vs-1 battle happens. Didn’t have a good character in the middle? Tough luck! If Dodo is defeated, the middle battler returns to the fight against Valentina. And yes, she is pretty tough, especially when Dodo joins again! Also, wow she’s tall. Would have expected her to be smaller than that. I’m getting weird flashbacks to The Chosen RPG.

Defeated, Valentina flees with Dodo, but they drop the key to the royal family’s quarters. Mallow immediately rushes inside. Remember how rain happened whenever he cried? Yeah, Mario pre-emptively opens an umbrella. You might want to as well, just in case Mallow transcends the fourth wall and you get rain in your living room. Or computer room. And so we meet the King and the Queen, who are so happy to see their son again, after the many years they spent without him… But of course, Mallow has been in this adventure for too long, and he feels the need to help until the end, so he comes back in the party. Sheesh, I would have thought his parents would have objected more than they did to Mallow putting himself in danger… Oh well, here goes one completed character arc.

Good thing Princess Toadstool let me borrow her umbrella.

As a bonus, we get to visit the King’s hot springs, and then we fall into Barrel Volcano. Time for the hottest dungeon so far!  A lot of new enemies, a lot of areas… You know the deal. There’s a store and an inn deep in the volcano, don’t think about this too hard, and we go on our way, and find this place’s boss. Or bosses.

Czar dragon and its undead form Zombone. How bizarre.
So first you fight that weird creature made of lava, the Czar Dragon – not sure where the Czar part comes from, though I think the monster in general may be a reference to the Blargg monsters found in various levels of Super Mario World. In fact, it’s made of various little fire monsters. But that’s not the weird part… when it’s defeated, it dies, and immediately comes back as a second monster, stronger, named Zombone. After this one is killed, we reach the sixth Star Piece… which is then swiftly stolen by a group of five colorful Smithy Gang folks… the Power Rangers! I mean Zyumerica Clonerangers! I mean Kamen Rider! I mean… Axem Rangers, that’s the right name!

That was not even the first design! Circled is the article
about sprite movies. The Wayback Machine hadn't kept
any screenshots of that one circa 2013.
Anyone else remembers the first year of Planned All Along? I do. Well, I kinda have to. It’s MY site after all. I mostly remember struggling to make more and more articles in order to keep the viewers' interest. I would make reviews, editorials (which, by this point, are just part of the reviews anyway), and Fun Stuff articles. The links are still in my Archives. In Fun Stuff, I would usually suggest fan works around Nintendo series, among them the Super Mario Bros. Z Flash series. That series actually featured the Axem Rangers in Episode 6, as quite a threat – well, until the big Sonic villain showed up and razed the island, because razing islands is a pastime of Sonic villains even in fan works.

Either way, that was a tangent related to the history of my blog, fitting for an anniversary review… but kinda pointless. Moving on!

Good thing they're all fairly weak and would be dispatched
easily if we fought them one by one... As an entire team
agaisnt us, that's a little harder.
Back to Mario’s team chasing the Axem Rangers. They’re a surprisingly intricate shout-out to the Power Rangers, with the red Leader, the green spellcaster (techie?), the black multi-attacker, the yellow brawny guy and the pink healer. We chase them until they embark on Blade, their trusty ship, and we embark as well to trigger the boss battle. This is a very tough one, precisely because they’re five against three of us, and while none of them have insane amounts of HP (compared to other bosses by this point), they’re still overwhelming together. You can probably imagine the strategy: Defeat the pink healer or the green spellcaster, then deal with whoever’s the most dangerous next.

The order in which you beat them matters little, as they then join into a single boss that you have to defeat. A boss with a very powerful all-hitting attack, so you better beat that before it beats you. Thankfully, it’s also pretty low on HP, so a strong team can succeed rather easily. Blade sinks with the Axems, and we get the sixth Star Piece. We can now return to Nimbus Land and we ask the King for a way to get to Bowser’s Keep. Turns out, there’s a royal bus made of clouds that can be used to drive to the Keep! The Nimbus… er… Bus.

Just what we needed! More filler.
And so we get to Bowser’s Keep! Yup, yet another dungeon. God knows we haven’t had enough of those yet! The enemies met at the start of the game in the Keep have been replaced by much tougher versions. However, that’s not the portion of interest. You soon get to six doors, each having a different challenge. Two are “action” courses reminiscent of Mario platformers, because that meshes so well with an RPG; two are puzzle sections; two are battle sections. Oh, and you have to complete four of them. Clearly Square-Enix had fun setting up these portions, and wants you to see more than half of them, but in the middle of a dungeon that is only the second-to-last, between two big dungeons, it just feels like more filler. I mean, the puzzles are clever, the battle sections are good EXP, and the platforming parts can be imaginative; there’s even a shout-out to the original Donkey Kong game… but can’t I just move forward now? Well, at least each trial awards Mario and his team some special items when they get to the end…

At least Kamek didn't turn that dragon giant, there's that.
Finally, after completing four trials, we encounter a Magikoopa who’s been brainwashed by Smithy. He won’t let the heroes pass by without a fight, so we enter battle. This Magikoopa’s shtick is to summon additional monsters from time to time, many of which are actually surprisingly powerful, almost like they could have been mini-bosses themselves. But hey, a Magikoopa can’t last forever, so it’s defeated and the brainwashing wears off. Surprise, surprise… everyone knows that any negative effects on a character wear off when they’re given a good beating in an RPG. Oh, by the way, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island had come out a year prior, with Kamek’s first appearance, and apparently, reading his Magikoopa’s thoughts reveals that he’s Kamek. Granted, it may not actually be Kamek as this Magikoopa's name is different in Japanese, but the similarities are strong enough. So yes, as you can see, Square-Enix really did their best to reference as many elements of the Mario mythos as possible – even though it was still fairly small at the time, this being the first Mario RPG, released in 1996…

Yes, kicking a giant Koopa shell at that robot is a good idea.
We go through the door, and we're back in the room with the chandeliers. Nice callback to the start of the game. And, a samurai Smithy Gang member named Boomer who has been waiting for the heroes. And his speech makes it seem like he should be important, even though like every other Smithy Gang weapon-shaped thug, we had no idea of his existence. What is this one’s gimmick during the fight? He changes fighting styles sometimes, also changing color from red to blue. His defense then lowers, but he becomes stronger in another stat. Being a samurai, Boomer sees shame in his defeat and proceeds to cut off the chain of the chandelier he was standing on, sending himself to his doom. The chandelier the heroes were on, however, rises to meet with the enormous face of the sword that fell from the skies, through Star Road, and into Bowser’s Keep: Exor.

Exor_right_eye.exe has stopped working.
Reason: Clawed, punched and struck by fring pan.
Oh, and you ascend directly into the fight against it, too, so no saving or healing. Have fun against this gimmick boss that has to have both of its eyes defeated before you can actually damage the part of it that counts! For the record, Exor’s hilt, its weak point, is untouchable unless you damage its eyes first. Each eye is an enemy with different HP values, special moves, and so on. The mouth, labeled Neosquid (...why?), also has a wide variety of attacks and can be bothersome. Once Exor’s eyes are out, attack the hilt. Use the 9,999-damage Geno Whirl on that weak point, it’s the only boss on which it’ll work.

The best part? Or perhaps the worst part? Exor’s eyes will heal over time, so you have to go back to damaging those after a moment. Oh, it’s far from the hardest boss in the game, but you can definitely get dunked on, and if you didn’t like that from the OG Dunker in Undertale, imagine what it’s like to get dunked on by a sword multiple stories tall.

After Exor is defeated, it opens its mouth, and the party finds itself engulfed into it. Next thing they know, they’re in a different dimension (common final dungeon location) that looks an awful lot like a factory…

Travel By Sword. That's gotta be one of the weirdest means
of transportation I've ever seen.
I gotta wonder, though, if Exor is also of the Smithy Gang,
and that other dimension is its homeworld, and its mouth is the
portal, then how did it appear in the Mushroom Kingdom in the
first place?

…Do I use male pronouns for the Smithy Gang since they’re all robots (aside from maybe the one exception of the Pink Axem), or just say “It” for every one of them? Damn, it’s complicated to have some consistency across the ten thousand words of a 5-part review… No wonder I don’t want to do reviews this big as often anymore…

Come back for the final dungeon, as well as my final thoughts on the game, in Part 5!