Back in 1996, there were all these rumours about a Super Mario RPG coming from Squaresoft, the creators of the much acclaimed Final Fantasy series and even the beloved Secret of Mana. They soon came to be in Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.
While this game never initially made it to Europe, it has since been able to on the Virtual Console service for both the Wii, and, now, Wii U. Mario RPGs are now commonplace in Nintendo’s software line-ups, with both the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series, but this is where it all began.
Playing as Mario, the game starts with you saving Princess Peach. That’s right, that is where the entire game begins with a climactic battle against Bowser to rescue the Princess. When the battle is done, though, a giant sword crashes from the sky into the castle scattering star fragments, as well as Mario, Peach and Bowser around the world.
The story here is to recover Peach and recombine the star fragments. Throughout the game, you build a party of characters, much like any RPG, including Bowser, as well as new characters Mallow and Geno, each with their different attacks and special abilities like Mallow’s Psychopath which lets you know how much HP an opponent has remaining. The narrative is a touching one that continues through the multiple worlds. However, unlike many RPGs from the time and even now, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars doesn’t have a massive open world. But, rather you reach locations through an overall world map and each specific location has multiple areas that are separated through gateways, meaning that while you do have a world to explore it’s segmented which can break the immersion of the world.
The gameplay is essentially a turn-based RPG. If you know Japanese RPGs from this era, you know pretty much what to expect. Whenever you enter a battle, you have to take it in turns with the damage being dealt dependant on your character’s stats. These stats improve on level up, by using various items, or equipping equipment to the characters. However, it’s not just a simple turn-based RPG as there are timed elements. If you press the attack button at the right time, the attacks will have additional effects such as causing more damage. However, aside from that, the battle system isn’t anything overly remarkable. Due to it being turn-based, you always have to consider item management to be sure to keep your character’s health and Flower Points up for when you face an enemy.
You’ll spend most of your time outside of battles, however. That’s in an isometric 3D overworld with you exploring the various levels and areas throughout it. There are many puzzles to solve in each of the location, from helping create a song with tadpoles, to finding paths by altering water levels. Some of these give you a great sense of accomplishment when you complete them, but from time to time there’s nothing to give you hints that you even have to do the puzzle. There are also platforming elements in the overworld, and ironically this is where the game falters. Due to the isometric style, it’s often quite tricky to align your jumps, especially if you’re jumping between moving platforms. This can get quite frustrating when you’re trying to reach a much-wanted treasure chest.
The graphics are decent enough for their time. It uses a mixture of flat areas and pre-rendered models used as sprites to try and create a 3D world. This works most of the time, but as the areas are segmented, there are quite a lot of black areas covering the screen when you approach the boundaries. Let’s not forget that this is a SNES game, so it’s obviously held back a little due to the technology of the time, but it can be a bit jarring. But, the animations when the characters attack are all solid and stand up to the test of time pretty well.
The audio in the game is a mix between classic Mario sound effects and classic 1990s Squaresoft music. The music fits all the areas and is ridiculously catchy. There’s some of Squaresoft’s best audio work in this game.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars has withstood the test of time. While some elements can be a bit iffy, such as platforming, the storyline is fantastic and the game is a great RPG for all fans of the genre. It’s no wonder that it is held to such high esteem in the community, and equally in why it spawned even more Mario RPGs beyond a time when there originally were none.
Version Tested: Wii U
Review copy provided by Nintendo