Retro Review: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)

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Recently, I have been covering a lot of RPGs. This genre of game has had a big impact on my gaming habits. So I decided to replay the first RPG I ever played, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, on the SNES. The only version of the game I have available right now is the Wii Virtual Console version, so my review will be covering that version. I do not know of any game play differences between this one, and any other version, so most of what is here does apply to every version of the game (Note: The game is also available on the New 3DS virtual console, and the SNES classic). Now let us look at Mario’s first adventure in this video game genre.

Right off the bat, it can be seen that this game is graphically similar to the Donkey Kong Country games, where 3D models were converted into 2D sprite work to give a clean look without investing into too much hardware power. The game’s view is top down isometric 3D, so you will have to move diagonally much of the time, which is a small quirk of this viewpoint. The game also features quick movements, and you initiate battles by colliding with enemies wandering the world. You can also jump to reach higher areas, and can pull off some 3D platforming. There are also item boxes to hit, and a lot of hidden item boxes to find in odd places that can impact the game’s difficulty.

MRPGbattle
Battles are turn-based in Super Mario RPG, but button presses can add damage done to foes.

This game was the first game that showed me turn-based combat, a staple of most RPGs. A feature that was relatively unique to the time was the “timed hits” system, where pressing a button a the right time can increase the damage done to enemies, and can reduce the damage you take from opponents. It should be noted that you cannot reduce damage from magical attacks, and the timing for attacking is in the windup, and not prior to hitting the foe. Reducing damage from enemy attacks is also tricky, as the button press is often right before the damage is displayed, and not always before the enemy makes contact. If I hadn’t learned most of these patterns in previous play-throughs, I would have struggled to learn how to execute timed hits properly (in fact, in the first attempt of playing this game, I was too young to figure this out, and it took years to discover the timing and complete this game, though that may due to my gaming limitations of my younger self).

MRPGmap
The world of Super Mario RPG. There are many interesting locations to be found throughout this game.

This is an interesting game, as Mario will travel with multiple companions, including two characters seen only in this game, Mallow and Geno. Both are spell-casters, and look a little out of place in the Mario universe. As cool as Geno is, he looks more out of place than Mallow does (Mallow at least looks like the smiling clouds often seen in the Mario games). The rest of the party includes Bowser, and the Princess, making this the first time Mario teams up with the villain of the series.

The last thing I will mention about combat is that the whole party shares a point value called FP. FP fuels special attacks, which deal more damage, or has some other useful effects. I found myself saving these points for boss fights, and in some of these fights, I saved them for healing. This ensured that I survived, but limited the variety of actions I used in almost every fight. Additionally, FP doesn’t increase with level ups, and requires finding flowers or certain items to enhance this value. Most of the FP upgrades are hidden, so if I didn’t know where most of these were, the game would have been much harder.

The game has a lot of visual charm, and humor. There is plenty to see in Super Mario RPG, and enough secrets and quick side quests to discover as you play. In addition, there are a number of mini-games that offer some reward for mastery, and are fun to play (of note, you have to play most of them once in order to progress through the game). The only complaint I can think of is the design of many new enemies. Like Mallow and Geno, they don’t quite fit into the Mario universe, but the strong graphical presentation compensates for this. The depths of this game’s imagination does show quite strongly here, so this debatable misstep can be overlooked without issue.

Here are some game play recommendations:

  • Do your best to learn the timed hits system. Mastery of it will make the game easier.
  • Look for hidden items everywhere, the extra FP you get will also impact the game’s difficulty.
  • You may want to explore the optional side quests or mini-games, either for the fun of them, or for useful items.
  • If you are feeling confident, there are a few tough optional bosses to fight.
  • First time players, particularly those new to the genre, may want to find the Lazy Shell items, which are found late in the game. Those looking for a challenge will try to win without them.

Here are the Pros and Cons:

Pros:

  • The graphics aged quite well.
  • The music is good, and includes some nostalgic Mario tracks.
  • The side quests included in the game are quick to complete.
  • Some neat action based mini-games are fun to play and offer some reward.
  • Timed hits lead to more action in a turn-based game.

Cons:

  • Some new characters and enemies look out of place (possible con).
  • The timed hits system is trickier to learn than in future Mario RPGs.
  • FP system limits usage of special attacks.

So what is the verdict?

8.8/10 A great game that aged surprisingly well

This may not be the perfect Mario RPG, but it is a solid introduction to the series. It is one of the best Mario RPGs, and offers a lot of fun, despite some quirks exclusive to this one.


And that is what I thought of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. But what about you? What was your favorite part of this game, if you played it? How do you feel about the graphics? What do you make of character and enemy designs? How easy or hard did you find learning the timed hits system? Let me know in the comments below!

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