Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is more than a game. Over a quarter century since its release, it is a cherished relic of a golden era for the turn-based role-playing genre.
It was a titanic collaboration, mixing the beloved characters from Nintendo's Mario platforming games with the traditional RPG depth of Squaresoft.
The whimsical concoction remains a treat all these years later – letting you journey the iconic Mushroom Kingdom in isometric 3D and delve deeper into the goofy antics of its many residents.
The action-infused mechanics, iconic characters, and enduring legacy seal its place in history. But what makes it a true classic?
A DYNAMIC FUSION OF MECHANICS
The seamless merging of Mario's fast-paced action with the strategy of the Final Fantasy series is the game's calling card.
In standard Final Fantasy fashion, players control a group of characters who traverse the world on a quest while exploring towns and dungeons, meeting colourful characters, and engaging in turn-based combat. Each character has strengths and weaknesses, encouraging strategic swapping when called for. As they face more combat, the characters level up, increasing their stats and giving them access to new skills and abilities.
But what truly sets the mechanics apart is the dynamic way the game incorporates the spirit of the Mario platformers. Instead of just selecting attacks and watching enemies fall, the game urges you to participate actively through timed button challenges that deal extra damage. Timed button presses can also block or minimise damage from enemy attacks or supercharge your specials.
It is a simple but extremely effective change, giving an exciting new energy to the usual RPG grind. It forces you to stay engaged and pay attention to get the most out of your party.
This interactivity extends to the design of the world as well. Mario's trademark jump allows him to bounce all over the place and engage directly with the world. Jokes, puzzles, hidden areas and secrets are tucked into various nooks and crannies, giving players a fresh and tactile sense of exploration.
There are no random battles, either. Instead, enemies are visible on the screen, allowing players control over engaging in combat and navigating spaces.
In total, these changes serve to make the game the most brisk and fast-paced of the SNES's many classic RPGs.
A CHARMING STORY
The true heart of Super Mario RPG is its story and characters.
Though they featured wacky and colourful worlds, Mario platformers had much of a story. But, with the expanded world and storytelling palette of the RPG, the Mario world made a new leap.
Our tale opens with Mario's usual attempt to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser's clutches. But, just as their battle is heating up, a giant living sword falls from the sky, destroys the mythical Star Road, and crashes into Bowser's castle. It is the launch of an attack by the evil Smithy and his mechanical minions on the heart of the Mushroom Kingdom.
Mario has to join forces with unusual allies to thwart Smithy, find the seven Star Pieces, and restore the fabled Star Road.
Introducing this new threat upsets the usual Mario narrative, pushing Princess Peach into an active role and even making Bowser one of the 'good guys'.
It's a delightful reversal, giving the characters much more depth and imbuing them with renewed vigour. Bowser is particularly hilarious, grumbling all the way as he's usurped by the antagonist and is forced to help the heroes to regain his throne. Even Mario, the most stoic and standard of heroes, shows off his personality. Silenced by official dictate, he speaks in pantomime, transforming himself into various wild and goofy shapes to try and communicate while restricted verbally to his usual yips and wahoos.
A couple of intriguing newcomers round out the cast - the mysterious celestial warrior Geno, who inhabits a puppet, and the cloud-like Mallow, who starts as a bit of a crybaby but slowly grows into his destiny.
Along the journey, the party will encounter the Mushroom Kingdom's hapless Toads, as well as the usual rogue's gallery of Goombas, Koopas, Shy Guys, and other Mario baddies. Though their designs have long been iconic, Super Mario RPG first developed their lively personalities, giving them even more vibrancy and character.
THE STERLING PRESENTATION
The game's mix of pixel art and 3D rendering was revolutionary for its time and remains captivating today. The 3D characters have great personality and expressiveness through the spry, fluid animation, while the pre-rendered 2D backgrounds are lush with colourful detail, conjuring imaginative landscapes and adding depth and dimensionality. It is a fresh, appealing take on one of gaming's most beloved properties.
To top it off is the soundtrack of unforgettable melodies composed by the legendary Yoko Shimomura. Jaunty, upbeat themes lay the groundwork for a breezy adventure, energetic beats drive the battle themes, and emotional moments underscore the emotional impact and atmosphere.
The breadth on offer is spectacular, imbuing the game with charisma and flair.
A SUPER LEGACY
Since its 1996 release, Super Mario RPG has left an indelible mark on the gaming landscape. Its success popularised several now-common mechanical staples and opened the door to the fantastic Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series. It was a milestone in both RPGs and the Mario franchise.
The release of the new Switch remaster gives a new generation of gamers a chance to jump into the classic and see why it remains a shining star of the genre.
Title: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Year of Release: 1996
Platforms: SNES, Nintendo Switch
Time to beat: 15-17 hours
This article is part of Stripe, bdnews24.com's special publication focusing on culture and society from a youth perspective.