A few short weeks ago, the wait for North American RPG fans ended as Bravely Default finally made its way overseas and into our 3DSes. While I waited with bated breath for that game to launch, I also took the time to think back on my RPG-playing history. Even after all these years, I still consider myself relatively new to the scene, only discovering more elaborate RPGs like the Final Fantasy and Baten Kaitos series recently. That being said, all journeys have to start somewhere; like most RPG heroes, mine started humbly.
The very first RPG I ever got my hands on was Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. I still remember going to the local video and game store (those were a thing), renting the game, rushing home, and hating every second of it. My young mind didn’t get it; this was unlike any other game I had ever played. The battles were turn-based, you healed with items, and a party came along with you everywhere. “This isn’t Mario!” I cried. But I paid good money ($3.00) to rent this game for a weekend, and dammit, I was going to play it.
As time went on and I started to “get” the game, I started liking it. And the more I liked it, the more loonies and quarters I saved to be able to rent it over and over again. Soon the controls and gameplay just “clicked” for me, and the game went from being a weird chore to something I actually enjoyed playing. To me, being able to successfully survive a turn with minimal damage thanks to my equipped items then dealing a huge amount of damage to my enemy was a huge rush. That was the moment I realized that I actually really liked RPGs.
In fact, I can thank Super Mario RPG for being such a “kinder, gentler” kind of RPG. The mechanics are simpler, the enemies will wait for you to finish your turn, and you’re not constantly being bombarded by obtuse statistics. The game still stands as a perfect learning tool for younger gamers looking to get into one of gaming’s most hardcore genres.
From the very first time I snapped the cartridge into my Super Nintendo to this very day, I still think Mario RPG is an impressive-looking game. It came out as the SNES was bowing out to the Nintendo 64 and 3D graphics were becoming all the rage; a 16-bit title standing out so much in a world of 64-bit games was quite an achievement. The soundtrack was also mind-numbingly great, with classics like the Axem Rangers theme finding its way onto my cell phone as a ringtone.
Without a doubt, Mario RPG ’s biggest claim to fame was how it made Mario’s world a living, breathing place where Bowser doesn’t have to be the bad guy. It became a place where new characters could leave an indelible mark and where saving the princess is just the first step on a larger, more epic journey. Without Mario RPG, games like Paper Mario and those in the Mario & Luigi series would have never seen the light of day. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a world I want to live in.
As I mentioned, Super Mario RPG is a pretty basic RPG by modern standards - so much so that it borders on ridiculously easy. The enemies and bosses never really hit back hard, and it’s very easy to level up and get the best items. That being said, Mario RPG is still a fun and satisfying game that will keep you playing for hours on end. In terms of replayability, the game is filled with Easter eggs and secrets (including visitors from other Nintendo and Square games), and speaking with all the NPCs often reveals some more secrets or hints.
It’s such a relief that little, chubby me did not get discouraged with Super Mario RPG when he first picked it up at the video store. Because if he had, big chubby me might not have experienced some of the best RPGs and games of all time. While I count games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV, and Xenoblade: Chronicles among my favourites of all time nowadays, I would never have given them the time of day if it hadn’t been for Mario’s first RPG.
This retro review is based on Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, which was originally released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System on May 13th 1996.