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August 7, 2017

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (Part 5)

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

Talking down Bowser with simple logic. That, my friends,
is why Geno is awesome.
Time to finish this! In Part 4, Mario, Mallow, Geno, Peach and Bowser defeated Exor the sword, only to get sucked into its mouth and end up in the original world the Smithy Gang came from: A factory. Geno confirms that this is the Smithy Gang’s world of origin, a cold, dead place where only machines and monsters could exist. We see outside the factory, and yeah, it’s nothing but darkness and fog. Of course, now that Bowser got his castle back, he wants to leave the group, but Geno is quick to remind him that more weapon-based monsters will come out of Exor as long as the Smithy Gang isn’t truly defeated. Bowser reluctantly agrees to help the team until the end.

Even though the factory itself is a world of machines, the outside is inhabited by ghosts. Weird combination, but I suppose it just helps to show how alien and bizarre this world is. Don't you just hate it when ghosts show up out of nowhere, without any real reason, just to fill up space?



Ah yes, the bells can attack too.
They'll... ring you out!
Even weirder are the bosses met here. Oh yes, if you wanted gimmicks, you’re going to get gimmicks. A lot of gimmicky bosses. First is Count Down, a large clock that unleashes different attacks based on which hour it displays. However, it’s only a tool for the Ding-A-Lings, the two little bells on top of it, which can also attack. As a boss, it’s a very creative idea. Tough, but not impossible. Although, yes, it’s creative, but there is no reason for this thing being battled! Unless… Unless it’s the timekeeper of the factory’s activities, and its demise will make everything go awry? Nobody’s on time anymore, schedules get messed up, spears and guns living together in the same houses! Gun-dogs and knife-cats living together! Anarchy!

…Sometimes my interpretations get weird. And yet, there’s some sense in there.

After Count Down, we meet greyscale versions of past Smithy Gang enemies and bosses. It appears that Smithy has started mass-producing his creatures. There’s only one problem; in most cases, the Machine Made copies are weaker than the originals. Of course! Make minions en masse and their might may not match the major models! Er… That alliteration fell apart at the end. There are still colorful enemies around here though, like hammer monsters and, for some reason, more ghosts. The major Smithy Gang members are now fought in Machine Made versions, like the Axem Rangers (pitiful when they’re brought down to the ranks of enemies), Bowyer (who can still disable your buttons), Yaridovich can still split himself…

Just wait till you see their snakes.
Speaking of weird, unexpected bosses that don’t seem to fit the setting too well… we run into Cloaker and Domino, two robots who take inspiration from… Arabian Nights? One has a sabre and is more physical, one has a veil and uses more special attacks. It’s so weird. And when one of them is defeated, the other climbs on their pet, the Earth Link or Mad Adder (both giant robot-like snakes), and the battle continues. These guys, I just can’t justify. No clue why they’re a part of the Factory, they barely follow the weapon theme of the Smithy Gang!

But we’re coming close to the end now. We’re getting into the final hallway, in which we battle a factory clerk… who looks like a chibi version of Shovel Knight for some reason. Maybe the developers of Shovel Knight took inspiration there? …Probably not.  We find a Toad who has managed to run all the way through the factory to get to us and sell items before the final battles. Let me remind you that we’re in a factory infested with enemies that respawn at will, located in an alternate dimension, accessible only through the mouth of a giant sword planted into the fortress of the Mario franchise’s most recurring villain. If that Toad managed to reach this place by himself, then that is one badass Toad.

This Toad deserves his own game!
Unless he became Captain Toad?

Three bosses that are basically the same, and some that add finally some
new stuff to the table. Eh...?
Then, we battle, in quick succession, the factory's manager, the director, and the chief. Who’s next, the factory financier? The chain production overseer? The coffee-refilling intern? Well, at least the chief is different from the others… he’s helped in battle by a large machine named Gunyolk. Although that monster is actually the living lava inside of it… However, beating those doesn’t stop the production of machine mooks, so I guess we’ll have to talk with the owner of this place. Geno is reserved but happy at the thought of the seventh Star Piece being soon theirs, but knows that this means he’ll soon no longer have a reason to stay with his friends.

Come on Geno. You followed us all the way to here.
You know how it goes. This is not gonna happen unless
we battle Smithy. And this will be epic.
Mario and Co. infiltrate the final room and meet Smithy, who looks like… well… an evil, hammer-wielding, robotic Santa Claus. I mean, it’s a nice contrast with the main hero to have the final villain be associated with a particular job, wield a hammer, sport facial hair… But much like most bosses in the factory, Smithy comes out a bit out of nowhere, especially for a final villain, with no backstory or character exploration; Hell, we didn’t even know what he looked like. We only knew there was a Smithy because the enemies were called the Smithy Gang! And since the sword Exor had not been named until the battle against it, we could have reasonably assumed that it was Smithy. That’s my big issue with the game’s plot, really, how the final parts have so much padding, and yet have so little in the way of explaining the last villains, including the friggin’ final boss.

Bis boss versus final boss. Sadly Bowser alone is not able
to match Smithy. Good thing he's in a strong team!
Thankfully, while we still know little of Smithy’s backstory, we get to see a lot of his personality. He’s a terrible boss to his minions, which makes sense since he can rebuild them at will. He is callous, nasty, and has a bad case of misplaced pride. He wants to create a world of weapons, which is all the motivation we ever get. Oh, and being a Final Fantasy-like boss, he has immense power and an insane amount of Hit Points. Well, his first form isn’t so bad… 2,000 HP, some strong attacks… Would be easy, if there wasn’t that damn Smelter in the room, the thing that spits out a kind of magma goop that Smithy reforms into enemies with his hammer. The strategy is pretty simple; destroy the Smelter first. Good luck doing that, though, since Smithy can still attack in the meantime.

So Smithy is beaten. Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Kinda simple, even. Angered by his defeat, Smithy thrashes about, despite the warnings of his minions… and falls through the ground, dragging the heroes down with him. And so we see Smithy’s true form…

…Can he go back to wearing that beard? He looked cooler that way. And where are we? In a furnace? Is this the decapitated head of another Smithy in the background? Holy shit!

Tank head? Yeah, that still goes under the cannons rule.
Cannons are fine, but guns are a no-no.
Speaking of, final battle means an extra-tough boss and the best gimmick yet. Smithy has 8,000 HP and five different heads, and can reshape himself at will. Each head has its own stats and moves – the tank head is attack-focused, the wizard head uses a lot of special moves but has horrible defenses, the mask head is weak in attack but strong against physical moves, and the treasure chest head has good defenses and looooooves to inflict status ailments. Since Smithy gives himself a makeover every turn or two, you can never tell what he’s going to do next. And oh yeah, his body can attack too, though with a measly 1,000 HP it’s much easier to incapacitate – not that it makes a difference since it can just come back to full health a few turns after it’s been defeated, and attack again.

The first time I played through Super Mario RPG, it was on an emulator. I know, I’m not proud. A lack of preparations and planning led to the fight lasting 40 minutes. Most epic final battle I had ever been through. Someone who knows what they’re doing will probably go through it in 20 minutes, maybe 10 even if the team is at a high level. Which is on par with most final RPG boss fights, really. Especially as far as Square-Enix is concerned. A time comes where I can’t say much else than “Tough fight!”, I mean, what else is there to add? Yeah, it’s the final boss, but it’s not like I can keep rambling about that.

It's time for goodbyes, I think.
If we can see each other again, if that ever happens.
So Smithy is, at last, defeated. He explodes, and the Star Piece that he had made a part of himself is freed, allowing Mario to get it. Our quest is over, at last. The seven Star Pieces flash around Geno and with his magic, he sends them to their rightful place in the Star Road, bringing back the granting of wishes upon the Mushroom Kingdom. And so, the Star Spirit inhabiting the Geno doll leaves, to go back to the Star Road. Farewell Geno, or ♪!?, whatever your real name is. We won’t forget you. I mean… we literally won’t, you’re like one of the most beloved character of the Mario franchise, ever, with fans clamoring for your return in newer games of the franchise, and maybe also as an actual battler in Smash. Why can we get Cloud and we don’t even get Geno? For shame!

Runaway groom! Quick, catch him before he flees
on his toy train!
Next we see Mario, Mallow, Peach and Bowser on the cliff, looking towards Bowser’s Keep, and seeing Exor disintegrating into nothingness. With the threat of the Smithy Gang obliterated, we see what happens now around the Mushroom Kingdom. Mallow takes his rightful place as Prince of Nimbus Land. Bowser is busy repairing his castle, something that he would get used to doing in the future as more and more encounters with Mario or the new RPG villain would destroy his lair, in part or in totality. Jonathan Jones the shark pirate looks at the sea. Croco goes to Yo’Ster Isle, loses a race, but befriends Boshi the Yoshi wearing the silly sunglasses. Frogfucius attends a concert held by Toadofsky, whom I never mentioned until now because dammit, I couldn’t explain every single darn NPC and mini-game! Valentina fell on Booster’s Tower and he tries to marry her, Dodo directs the ceremony (somehow), but Booster chickens out midway into the wedding. I suppose he found out there was no cake this time around. Or maybe he’s too childish for the wedding night. The game then ends on a final shot of Mario, Peach and a few more, waving at the player with a big “Thank you” above them.

The end? Well… there’s also the credits, showing a parade around the Mushroom Kingdom. Led by Luigi – le gasp! He IS in the game after all! – and a few music-playing Toads, the parade presents the many actors of this story on a final hurrah, a reminder of good memories of the various adventures the heroes had. Including… Oh crap, it’s the Smithy Gang! They’re still alive! The Kingdom is doomed again!

Pictured: Enemies that should be dead.
Also pictured: The supervisor responsible for the
various translation goofs... who has still done a great
job in spite of the errors.

…Nah, the game is over. We’re fine. I hope. It ends with Mario and Peach on a shining star-shaped parade car as we get a final “The End” in the skies.

Good! I mean, yes, the game is good, but we’re not on my final words just yet. What else is there to say? Well, the game may have been beaten, but obviously you cannot save after Smithy’s defeat, so it will always be possible to go back to the Factory to beat him up. This also means that you can visit the Mushroom Kingdom at your leisure to find every little secret. And BOY are there many secrets in this game! I already covered the most famous ones – the Three Musty Fears, Jinx, Culex… but there’s more! There’s a ton of content that will pass by right under the eyes of anyone who plays this game only to see the end. Here, have a longer list of everything you can look for.
-Try to find all the hidden treasure chests around the Mushroom Kingdom;
-In Seaside Town, Frogfucius’ apprentice, gone to explore the world, will sell to you five one-of-a-kind items. They all require Frog Coins, a currency different from regular coins that can be found in treasure chests and during mini-games. Finding all of the world’s Frog Coins is a side-quest all to itself.
Casino, huh?
-After fighting Knife Guy and Grate Guy in Booster Tower, you can go out and look for Grate Guy’s Casino, which is very hard to find. In there you can play a number of luck-based games, with big rewards if you actually beat them. Needless to say, my own terrible luck has convinced me never to look for that place. Blackjack, slot machine, “Look the other way”… There are good items as rewards, but damn, too much luck is required there.
-Beating the race mini-game on Yo’ster Isle. This nets you an item allowing you to call Yoshi in battle, to eat enemies.
-Finding every best piece of equipment can be a pain, as many of them are either very well-hidden, or tucked at the end of a series of complicated actions and side-quests.
-In Tadpole Pond, we have Toadofsky, who will ask you to create music by jumping on tadpoles on the water area just before him. Hm… sounds familiar? I think Matthew Taranto took inspiration from that for his own game, Tadpole Treble.

And you do that here?
In your robot suit?
Not a side-quest per se, but you can see shout-outs to other Nintendo franchises if you know where to look. Link and Samus can be seen resting at different inns (so is it canon that these two may have been vacationing in the Mushroom Kingdom?), and another place has an Arwing and two F-Zero vehicles as toys on a shelf. There are various other secrets like this, mostly when it comes to references and nods to the Mario universe as it existed back in 1996, barely 11 years after the first Super Mario Bros. (16 if you prefer to think that the franchise began with Donkey Kong).

It’s time for my final words, but first… a breakaway to explain this game’s legacy. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars has two distinct honors: The first Mario game made by Nintendo in partnership with Square-Enix (which is why none of the characters created for this game have appeared anywhere else, save for a cameo by Geno and an outfit in Smash 4). It’s also the first Mario RPG, which is a bigger deal than you’d think, since Nintendo’s next home console would see Mario adding role-playing games as a permanent addition to his spin-offs, with Paper Mario, and later on, the Mario & Luigi series debuting on Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance. Super Mario RPG is a precursor to both, as well as the only RPG that isn’t part of either of these two sub-series. While they cannot be used in Mario games due to copyright belonging to Square-Enix, various characters from this very game have seen substitutes created later down the line, in a way to circumvent the copyright limitation. As an example, the Chancellor of the Mushroom Kingdom can be seen as a prototype of what would become Toadsworth. It also introduced timed hits, which would become a staple of the systems in later Mario RPGs, especially in the Mario & Luigi series.

"We didn't own the left one, so we made the right one.
Take that, copyright!"
To be honest, I do prefer Toadsworth.

Nonono, you joined the good guys. Welcome to the right
side, Bowser. Don't worry, you're gonna see  life from that
side a couple more times in the future.
Sometimes without even noticing.
We also owe to this game many personality traits of the main stars that we couldn’t see before (as most Mario games thus far had minimal storytelling and little chance of showcasing the characters’ quirks). Bowser being an egomaniacal jerk who thinks of himself as better than everyone else is something that may not have started in Super Mario RPG, but it definitely cemented that trait. It also made him a good boss towards his underlings, like a father to his men, something that would pop up time and time again in later games. Princess Peach being able to jump into action and kick as much ass as her fellows is also something that began here. She still has had only one game to herself, but she’s been joining the action more and more often lately. More of her personality traits also debuted in this game.

More than that, though, Super Mario RPG brought something unique to the franchise and the RPGs that would follow: The tone. Legend of the Seven Stars is heavy on jokes about the Mario franchise, making a mockery of its sillier elements, and pointing out the trends and common tropes of the setting. When Peach is kidnapped by Bowser, the Toads just go “Oh? Again? Alright then”, and go on with their lives. Everybody relies on Mario to get anything done, sometimes to ridiculous lengths. The interactions between the main characters are full of comedy. There is some deconstruction of the general elements of the franchise, and a lot of “lampshade hanging” as well (sorry, I can only explain this in TVTropes terms, go check the page I linked, you’ll see what I mean). This is omnipresent in later Mario RPGs, and even in some of the other genres the series has delved into… and it all pretty much started in Super Mario RPG; Legend of the Seven Stars.

Ooooh, meta!

So, is this a great game? Yes! It’s really, really great! I mean, it’s got flaws here and there, but it’s definitely great. It’s a grand story featuring tons of side-quests, and compelling, appealing characters and storylines. Oh, and also, it’s funny as Hell. The graphics “look” like 3D, and the game plays like 3D what with Mario being able to go in all four directions on any given map, but the sprites are actually 2D, drawn with inspiration from actual 3D models that the system would not have been able to use. The illusion is breathtaking, isn’t it? You can barely tell that this is “2.5D”! And the music. God, the music. To this day, it’s still hailed as some of the best tracks brought to the series! The “Forest Maze” track is still beloved today. Hell, there are TWO rap remixes of it with accompanying Flash videos, made by the same guy!

On top of all the NPCs, the game also brought to us many memorable bosses, and most of them are memorable specifically because they made use of gimmicks that are seldom-seen in other RPG franchises. Locking commands? Cloning the party by eating them? Those are rare things. And of course, let’s not forget that the game’s bestiary comprises over 200 different opponents, ranging from normal Mario enemies to odd bosses and mini-bosses, and the weirdest ideas for enemies you can think of (A carrot? And is that an elephant skeleton… with a bone trunk? Living puppets? Scepters? These weird shell-shaped things?). The Smithy Gang itself is memorable, as a team of robots based on weapons is a concept I had never seen before – although as the main villains of the story, some of them severely lack characterization and backstory, Smithy being the worst example.

Speaking of the story, while I do enjoy it I will admit that the padding of it is rather… blatant. A lot of portions seem to be there only to pad out the length of the story, with little connection to the plot. It’s especially true of a lot of bosses in the game, in the Factory in particular. And the game just drags on between the fifth Star Piece and the seventh, with some padding more obvious in places (being forced to complete 4 of 6 courses in Bowser’s Keep, as an example).

Yeah... I won't soon forget how forced that was.

The other main problem with the game is how, when it comes to items, equipment and accessories, very little is explained. Each object has room only for a small description, and the actual effects of many items are not described. It becomes a problem with some of the more special equipment, like the Lazy Shell that lowers attack but increases defense; the Quartz Charm, which boosts the attack and defense by 50%.... There are many other examples of items with odd effects, but the game doesn't tell you enough info. That’s an issue. It’s especially bad when it involves the equipment gained after completing complex tasks, and you have no idea of the effects of the reward you just obtained for your troubles.

Click the image to enlarge and see my two problems, summed
up here: The "Description is all we ever see of the item in the
game, very few explanation. Then, bad translation: "Noknok

Oh, and of course, I can also talk about the translation again. It’s clear that Ted Woolsey and his team tried their best to bring the game to the English language, but they definitely had some issues, especially when it came to naming enemies and attacks. Some regular enemies of the Mario franchise are given names that don’t make sense (Paratroopas aren’t named Paratroopas, as an example), while other enemies keep a name close to the original Japanese one – when some other names could have worked better. Similarly the names of some of the attacks don’t make much sense. Thankfully, that’s a minor issue compared to everything else. Also, epic fail: They named regular Boos “The Big Boo”. Whoopsie.

Once again: Translation error.

Despite all this, yeah: Good game! A few flaws here and there, but great stuff overall. Go play it. That’s not an order, but it’s a very, very strong recommendation.

And so this closes the fourth anniversary review on Planned All Along! Sorry I had to take a hiatus at first, this stuff is really long to write after all. But yeah, I’m happy that it’s done, and I’m glad I could discuss this game. It’s been on my to-do list for a while.

So… I think it’s time for some Steam games now. Join me next week as I publish my next Steam Pack.