Review by Retro

"It's hip to be square"

Back in the blazingly arid days of the summer of '96 when the glorious Super Nintendo was reaching its end and the Nintendo 64 was right around the corner, Super Mario RPG showed its role-playing face to the world.

A 15-year-old fool named Jason wasn't even interested in the game, even though he had enjoyed every past Mario game with the major exception of Mario is Missing. You see, he had given the Zelda titles and a few other RPGs a shot, for about ten minutes. He saw that playing RPGs required using some of his lazy brain; he had always been a fan of faster, shorter games (especially platformers), but he didn't have the patience to become a fan of the vastly popular genre of role-playing games.

Therefore, when Jason's older, uglier brother, Scott, wanted to drive to the local Movie Gallery and rent Super Mario RPG, Jason wasn't interested. However, after watching Scott play the game for a few hours, his conscience kept on and kept on telling him that he was in the presence of greatness. For that reason, he began to nag Scott to hand over the controller. This was one of the best video game decisions that Jason ever made.

While peacefully picking flowers in her garden on a bright, sunny day, the sky suddenly becomes dark as lightning bolts fill the sky. Bowser appears out of thin air once again and kidnaps the helpless Princess Toadstool (you're not surprised, are you?). He then takes her to his living grounds in Bowser Keep. Nobody saw it coming, but a huge, sharp looking sword with a face all of a sudden crashes through the roof of Bowser's headquarters. Not only did the impact of the overgrown blade send Mario, Bowser, and Toadstool flying in differing directions for several miles, but it also annihilated the peaceful Star Road into shreds. It's written in the stars that Mario and some new friends must find and earn each piece of the Star Road in order to put it back together. If they don't, nobody will ever get the chance to wish upon a star ever again.

Real Playable Game

For once in his life, Mario feels helpless. He decides to venture to his pad in order to find out from the knowledgeable Toad what he must do. Mario's exciting expedition will take him through many captivating and never before seen places. Amongst the interactive environments, he'll have to do things such as climb vines that reach all the way up to the stratus clouds, hop across falling platforms while a fiery volcano stares at him from below, and venture through a terrifying sunken ship that's full of bony, undead skeletons that have ice flowing through their veins.

It goes without saying that this just may be the most difficult challenge that Mario has ever taken on. Not only is he not familiar with his surroundings, but there are more enemies and more bosses than any other Mario title had ever held at the time. Several familiar fiends are here to make several appearances, of course, such as your everyday Goombas, falling Thwomps, and the potbellied, egg-spitting, flightless boss named Birdo. Fortunately, there are way, way more new faces to look at and challenge. Without a doubt, the most memorable enemies are by far the bosses. Whether it's the frightening, multi-limbed King Calamari, the hilarious yet overpowering Punchinello, or the hotheaded Chef Torte who wants to kill you for destroying his luscious cake, the bosses never cease to amaze with their broad spectrum of personalities and thrilling challenges.

Needless to say, a typical hop on the head (umm, ouch?) or a tiny spark of a fireball will not be enough to do in these monsters who can mutter to themselves, ''Bowser who?'' For this reason, Mario must find him some partners to do battle with, and he must collect all the gold coins and frog coins (very valuable green coins) that he can, in order to purchase up-to-date, non-holey clothes, brand new weapons, and several items for himself and his comrades.

The partners that Mario can take with him in his hard fought battles are the slapping Toadstool, a crying marshmallow-looking tadpole named Mallow, the magical being that looks like a poor man's Link, Geno, and (you are not ready for this!) a plumber's biggest adversary himself, Bowser.

A battle occurs anytime Mario (the one you control in the levels and the overworld) comes in contact with an enemy, or anytime a troublesome adversary tells the peace-seeking crew that he/she is going to rip the pack to shreds like a nerd would to a test paper with the letter F written in blood red ink at the top. You, the player, must decide which three characters you will take with you in each bout. The battles are composed of turn-based fights like you see in many other RPGs. Each of your characters has four options to choose from during each turn. You can decide to use your basic weapon, to utilize one of your special moves, to coward away in defensive strategy by simply tucking your head and holding your hands over your precious brain (in some instances you're allowed to run away from a challenge), or you can go through your list of items and use any of those.

A 'little thing' that can vastly help out is the use of timed hits. Timed hits allow you to pack in a little more of a punch than one of your weapons or powers would normally do. For instance, Bowser can throw a ball and chain at his enemies; if you just make him hurl it and you don't press anything while the metal weapon is flying toward the enemy, it will simply strike the enemy and disappear. However, if you press the button right before the ball and chain hits the enemy, it will come alive and bite them for a few seconds, thus producing more damage than usual. You can also perform timed hits with many of the special attacks, such as Mario's super jump. Don't press anything after choosing to make Mario jump on an enemy and he'll just jump on top of the enemy's head once (talk about lackluster). For a more enjoyable (and headache inducing for the enemy) experience, you can press the button at the right time and Mario will keep on and keep on using the force of gravity to jump on top of the enemy; you could possibly spring off of your enemy as if it were a trampoline over fifty times if your timing is really on target.

A typical fight can go something like this: Mario, Mallow, and Bowser step up to the plate and face a threesome of surprisingly tough piranha plants. One of the piranha plants gets the first turn. It throws a powerful sea of petal blasts at Mario. What's this?! Mario falls down faster than a Muhammad Ali opponent, and dies! Seeing a fellow member of his team go down, Mallow endures a slashing, blood drawing bite from one of the monsters and uses a Pick Me Up item to miraculously bring Mario back to life. Bowser has always hated Mario with the deepest of passions, but he is angry for once, that these plants, his former slaves in past years, just killed one of his partners. For this reason, Bowser uses his most powerful special weapon, the Bowser Crush, to stomp all over every single one of the teeth-bearing piranha plants. Unsurprisingly, this stomping machine destroys every last one of the plants in easy fashion.

If all three of your characters get struck down (3 strikes you're out!) and left for death, your game will be over and you'll have to start at the last place in which you saved your game. Rid the screen free of enemies and you'll be given a certain number of experience points (depending on how difficult the match was), and possibly some coins or an item. Once any of your characters reach a new pinnacle of experience points, he/she will reach a new level in stature, and you'll be given the choice as to which one of their attributes (defense, attacking power, etc.) you want to strengthen. Also with experience points comes the addition of many unforgettable special powers that will be given to each of your hungry fighters.

And that's how the game is played for the most part, but, to make the experience all the much better, there are many other things to take part in along the way to showing all the enemies and bosses a forceful death. First and foremost, Mario and crew have several friends and foes to exchange dialogue with. Some friends, such as the moles of Moleville, simply express their need of help from the rescue crew; a few will give you some helpful hints and pointers on things you need to accomplish in your quest, and others (such as bosses) enjoy trash talking and arguing with the good guys.

As mentioned earlier, throughout your trek, you must go inside shops to purchase new weapons, new clothes, and legions of items in order to stand a chance to make it to the end of your perilous quest. To do this, you can sell items you no longer need, use your coins like they're supposed to be used (as money, instead of the usual 100 = extra life), and whatnot. You can also earn items or coins in other ways, such as finding a well-hidden, invisible treasure box. Not to mention that you can do other memorable things, such as spend the night in an Inn to allow Mario to catch some zzzzz's.

Finally, one of my favorite things about Super Mario RPG is the mini-games that it has to offer. Mario can hop onto Yoshi and race another Yoshi to the finish line for the opportunity at collecting a much-needed item and a more massive ego. Taking a 3D ride in a mine cart as it seemingly hurtles at sound barrier breaking speeds is fun too. My favorite of all is taking a plunge into Midas River. Mario first falls slowly down a coin-filled and graphically jaw-dropping waterfall. While hollering about his stomach-turning fear of heights, he can opt to go into one of several exits, or caverns. Depending on which cavern he floats through, he could earn some nice items, or receive nothing more than mean looks or gruesome strikes from living onlookers. Once Mario gets through with this drenching, all-wet fun, he then proceeds to a logrolling mini-game that is just as fun.

I can almost sum up Super Mario RPG's graphics in one word: amazing. I could tell from the well-rendered opening that the visuals were going to be something to see throughout the game. The characters are 3D and most of them are equipped with some great animation, especially during the fights. The levels, with their towering buildings, creepy caves, shallow water depths, etc., are also very well done. There are a few places, such as the waterfall in Midas River, and the colorful, enchanting Star Hill that really stand head and shoulders above the rest. My only complaint is the battle screens. While the backgrounds have that 3D look to them that might remind you of something you'd see from the likes of Donkey Kong Country, most of them look all stiff. This is because they lack any animation whatsoever. For example, some of the early backgrounds have grass and vegetation lying on the ground, but not a single leaf or blade of grass is seen blowing in the wind for a more realistic effect.

As expected, you'll hear several sounds and a few tunes that you'll recognize from previous plumber outings, but they're not so similar that they seem like nothing more than just a rehash of past times. For instance, the sound of Mario jumping has that familiar Mario jingle to it, and when you defeat an enemy and collect one of those items that fills up your HP or allows you to take another turn, you'll recognize them as Mario-esque, but you'll also notice that they're not exactly the same. The music has a much greater variety to it than the sound effects do. From the haunting tune of the Sunken Ship that tells you you're in unwanted territory, to the overly catchy, upbeat battle tunes, Super Mario RPG's tracks usually fit well with the surrounding environments. Of course, a few duds can be heard, but many tracks will make a permanent home in your brain.

As long as your controller is still working and all of its buttons are living on its surface, you won't have any problems controlling the fighting scenes, going through dialogue, or searching through the menus. Most of the parts that require you to use the control pad are easy enough to manage with top-notch precision. The only catch (a minor one) is that you'll have to get used to Mario's jumping style, especially when you're attempting to jump over an enemy that you don't feel like busting knuckles with. The reason for this is that Mario doesn't seem to have the hang time that he once had in his past adventures. He doesn't appear to have grown much older and he doesn't appear to be fatter, but who knows?

What do you get when you put together engaging mini-games, unforgettable weapons and special powers, countless numbers of new environments and enemies, a better than average Mario storyline, and endearing battles? You get a classic game that never ceases to amaze.

Granted, Super Mario RPG is a little on the easy side, and it's not exactly the longest or deepest RPG, but it's still a great, great game. I don't see why anybody wouldn't wholly enjoy playing Super Mario RPG. Almost everything about it is excellent. I'm extremely glad that my brother rented it a few years ago and that my conscience wouldn't leave me alone. We got back to the house at about 3 in the evening with the game. We then played it nonstop, with no breaks apart from those of the refrigerator or restroom type, until about 6 that morning. If my math is correct, that's about 15 hours straight of playing Super Mario RPG the very first time we laid eyes on it. The game was just that damn fun and compelling! Needless to say, I saved a spot in my Super Nintendo collection soon afterwards for the rock solid game that is Super Mario RPG.

I don't care whether you're a hardcore RPG'er, an RPG hater, or something in-between the two extremes, you should purchase Super Mario RPG immediately. You'll be glad you did.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/11/02, Updated 03/31/04


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