Mario with Toadofsky
This game's music was composed entirely by tadpoles

   If you were to ask someone to name the best RPGs of the Super Nintendo, their answer would be fairly predictable. Almost everyone would name Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, others would add Secret of Mana and possibly Terranigma, as well as Final Fantasy IV and V, or Zelda, if you want to consider it an RPG. Unfortunately, barely anyone would mention Super Mario RPG. At first glance, it would seem an unlikely contender; what good could possibly come of putting a pudgy plumber used to plots that never go deeper than "our Princess is in another castle" into a genre known for producing games with epic scopes and soaring storylines? Although it certainly seemed doomed to mediocrity from the beginning, somehow the combined genius of Nintendo and Squaresoft managed to produce a game that was a stunning synthesis of Mario-style platformer and traditional RPG.

Jumping on wedding cakes is frowned on

   This can first be seen in the gameplay itself; although not an action RPG, it almost plays like one. Whereas other RPGs usually only allow the characters to stroll around on a pre-rendered backdrop and maybe jump at predefined points, Mario walks, runs, and of course, jumps all over the screen, bounding from hill to platform to treasure chest, all the time avoiding enemies. When Mario comes in contact with an enemy on the screen, he immediately enters a traditional turn-based battle. But even here, players can't get complacent and simply mash the attack button; the timed-attack system of Final Fantasy VIII has its origins in the more complex timed-hit system of Super Mario RPG. Here, not just physical attacks but also magic attacks can be strengthened by tapping the appropriate button at the right time. In addition, all weapons require a different timing. Finally, all the characters can also execute timed blocks to reduce damage from enemy attacks. To top this all off, the game features a more traditional party system with specific character roles but with a twist: all characters share MP (or in this case, flower points). Though it seems strange at first, it adds a new dimension to battle strategy to have to decide between curing the party with Princess Toadstool or unleash a fireball attack with Mario.

What is an RPG without mini-games?

   But despite the excellent and very unique gameplay, Super Mario RPG really shines when it comes to its characters, plot, and very quirky, but extremely infectious atmosphere. Each of the characters has a unique personality that you'll probably soon learn to love. Mario, in what has become somewhat of a Squaresoft tradition, is mute. Instead of speaking, he accomplishes all of his communication through pantomime. His often hilarious impromptu skits add infinitely more to his character than any script could. Of course, Mario is also backed by a full cast of supporting actors. There are some familiar faces, such as Toad, Yoshi (unfortunately both NPCs), Princess Toadstool, and even Bowser, as well as some new ones, such as Mallow, a cream puff who thinks he's a tadpole, and Geno, a marionette brought to life to help Mario accomplish his mission of restoring the Star Road. With the possible exception of the tight-lipped Geno, each of them have well developed personalities, and you'll quickly grow attatched to them. The dialogue is also very good, with an extraordinarily well-written and witty script that sometimes seems like like a product of Working Designs.

 I am matter... I am antimatter...
Something about this guy looks a tad out of place

   Finally, no look at Super Mario RPG would be complete without a mention of all of its side quests and secrets. Few other games come even close. When not looking for the dozens of secret treasure chests scattered throughout the game, riding down the Midas River in search of elusive froggy coins, or trying to beat the record time in the Moleville mine cart ride, players can busy themselves with a ghostly scavenger hunt, looking for the legendary 'seed' and 'fertilizer', or squandering their wealth at the hard to find Knife Guy's casino. Or if that's not your thing, try overstaying your visit at the Marrymore hotel to get drafted as a bellhop, play a quick game of Beetle Mania on your Game Boy, or play what is probably the first rythym game ever while racing Yoshis on Yoster Island. Still sound like a bore? Then try stopping by Monstro Town to fight a very tough hidden boss with a uniquely Final Fantasy feel.

   All of these extras, when put together with the likable cast of characters and addictive gameplay combine to form a game best decribed as "helluva fun." The developers knews their limitations, and didn't try to focus on writing a convoluted script which reaches to the depths of the human psyche. None of the characters have split personalities or shady pasts, but nevertheless it's a ton of fun to play. So find a copy and see for yourself why Super Mario RPG is one of the most memorable RPGs on the SNES.

Retrospective by Arpad Korossy, GIA.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Developer Squaresoft
Publisher Nintendo
Genre Traditional RPG
Medium Cartridge
Platform SNES
Release Date 05.96
Walkthroughs, monster list, boss guide, super jump FAQ, Beetle Mania FAQ
29 screenshots
29 character renders, 4 map renders, 1 rendered scene
Manual scans