I long thought that Super Mario RPG was a game that passed me by. It is exactly the sort of game I like, but somehow I never managed to play. I love Mario games, I love JRPGs, I love SNES games, I love Nintendo and Squaresoft; it was perfect confluence of my interests in 16-bit gaming. The commercial for this game, as terrible as it may be, was one of the first I remember that really got me excited to play a game. Despite spending all of my time, and money, on SNES JRPGs, though, I never ended up playing Super Mario RPG at the time. I had a few chances to play it over the years. It was one of a handful of SNES game’s at my aunt’s house, but my only chance to play them involved staying at her place in the summer, doing farm chores and eating stale cheerios with weevils in them for breakfast. So that didn’t really work out. Neither did when it first came to the Virtual Console or any of the many chances I’ve had to emulate it. It was just a game I missed out on. Until this year.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is a great example of a Squaresoft SNES JRPG and a Mario game, but it doesn’t really meld them. It does a good job of turning Mario mechanics into RPG mechanics, but there is a fairly clear delineation between the Squaresoft stuff and the Mario stuff. I think that has a lot to do with why characters like Geno and Mallow have rarely appeared after this game. There are likely some rights problems, but the bigger problem is that they just don’t fit in with Mario crew. They stand out as something clearly different. That is not to say they don’t work in this game, this game itself is something different. And something great.
Squaresoft did a great job of making Mario into an RPG. They kept the heart of the character by focusing on platforming like challenges and a timing based attack system. It manages to feel like a Mario game despite the awkward perspective. Really, the games it great but it biggest flaw is that isometric perspective, which makes a lot of jumps harder to judge than they should be. It is clearly a Mario world, inhabited by Mario characters. Honestly, though I am coming to it late, it is clear that it helped set some of the details of Mario’s Universe. Those details were further codified in Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi, as well as the sports games, but this one did some work as well.
Despite having a lot of Mario touches, though, this more accurately captures the feel of a 16-bit Squaresoft game. The Mario stuff is window dressing; this is the guys behind Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI at it again. (I know it is not literally the same guys) No one was better at making SNES JRPGs than Squaresoft. Those two games I mentioned are among my favorites of all time. I’ve played a lot of mediocre 16-bit games chasing the experience of playing those games for the first time. Some get close, like Breath of Fire 2, but most just feel like games. There is something indescribable about Squaresoft’s best games at the time; they felt like they were taking full and perfect advantage of the system. Great music, well balanced battle systems and stories that were just deep enough. While I wouldn’t put it quite with Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI, once Super Mario RPG gets going it is right there on the next rung down.
I really wish I had played this game back in the day. It would likely be among that select group of games that I try to replay every couple of years: CT, FF6, Earthbound and Suikoden 2. As it is, I finally understand why so many people consider it one of the best games on the system. It was the first full collaboration between Squaresoft and Nintendo one of the last games Squaresoft released for a Nintendo system for nearly a decade. At least they split on top.