I feel that it is my duty as a nostalgia-loving lunatic to get something off of my chest right off the bat. Before you hop past this introductory paragraph and dart your eyes back and forth across their computer screen, read the following statement with the utmost attention: I am completely biased toward Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. No matter the system, no matter my age, even if the cartridge grew a pair of legs and rammed its plastic-toed booties straight into my groin, I would unconditionally worship the ground its newfound extremities walked upon. I love it enough to call it one of my all-time favorites, miles above and light-years beyond anything and everything I’ve come across since I first played the original back in Christmas 1996. I love it so much that I almost feel guilty for flipping off my nostalgia switch. But alas, it must be done, for even I must admit the failings and faux pas in a game as plumber-perfect as this. Suppressing my favoritism will surely break a blood vessel, but it’s the necessary price to pay for a clean and honest review!
Players familiar with the Mario universe should be thrilled to know that the game starts off with the series’ staple plot device: the Princess’ capture. While Little Miss Toadstool is picking flowers and head bopping merrily within Mario’s oddly well-kept garden, Bowser swoops in for the catch via his smiley-faced, propeller-driven hovercraft, and flies off without interruption toward his castle. If he had built his keep in a more inaccessible area, his plan might have gone off without a hitch, but that’s never the case now, is it? With Mario’s lodging no more than a few miles away, it doesn’t take much time for our hero to pounce his way past Bowser’s defenses and reunite with his not-long-lost love. In what can only be described as a truly epic battle, the two rivals duke it out atop a gargantuan pair of chandeliers. But just as the troubled Toadstool is within our hero’s grasp, an enormous sword descends from the clouds above, along with seven golden stars, and whisks the trio to opposite ends of the globe.
What’s with the stars? Where has the princess flown off to? Being the knight in shining overalls that he is, it is Mario’s duty to locate her Highness and return her to the Mushroom Kingdom. Along the way, Mario will meet up with some fresh new faces, form friendships with the completely unexpected, and hunt down those infamous seven stars to prevent a catastrophe of celestial proportions.
If we’re strictly speaking about the story, then I should warn you that it isn’t all that special. While the “rescue the princess” thing isn’t the entire story by any means (you’ll end up finding her about halfway through the game), the remainder of the plot is about as thin as you’d expect from a Mario game. The whimsical nature of the game provides players with an interesting new spin on the “save the world” formula, but the fact that we’re still saving the world is a bit of a downer.
So if Mario’s saving the princess and the world, then whose job is it to save the story? Well, it’s definitely a group effort. Square did an incredible job at stuffing this teddy full of characters, and it’s undoubtedly thanks to the sheer number and diversity we’ve been given that the story didn’t become Seven Stars’ deadly poison. This is a fantasy world with fantasy characters, so expect to see a heaping spaghetti platter-full of colors, shapes, and talking animals wearing human clothing. From the mole people of Moleville to the mushroom-capped citizens of Mushroom Kingdom and beyond (those town names are downright spiffy, aren’t they?), everyone Mario and Co. come across is very memorable in their own quirky way, right down to the most minor of characters. The developers also decided to pluck monsters straight from battle and use their models for some of the world’s NPCs, so don’t be surprised if you’re throwing hammers at a Rat Funk one minute and sharing a conversation with one over a nice picnic lunch the next.
The heavy lifting is definitely done by the main cast, alongside their fascinatingly diverse adversaries. Paper thin personalities run amuck, and for the most part, everyone is flat. But for whatever reason, these characters work–rather beautifully, in fact. In the good guys’ camp, we’ve got Mallow, a “tadpole” boy with a serious case of homesickness who summons giant rainstorms every time he cries. Then there’s Geno, a divine entity who walks the earth by possessing a child’s toy puppet, which (obviously against the boy’s mother’s knowledge) can shoot machine gun bullets out of its elbows. And then there are the bosses, all of whom (every last one of them!) manage to hold personas of the own. I can’t even tell you how amazing it is to slap around bosses that are actually characters as opposed to throw-away experience piñatas. And trust me, when Mario and a giant, mobile wedding cake face off in a church chapel, you’ll surely notice the difference. What we’ve got here isn’t exactly an emotional, philosophically stimulating bunch, but man, oh man does it have charm out the wazoo.
These characters owe a lot of their lovability to Seven Stars’ graphical presentation. The game uses a very pleasing, quasi-three-dimensional style and has a fantastic color palette. Players will be seeing a lot of bright colors and distinct patterns, and can also expect to see a great deal of areas that are much more varied than your typical forests and castles, especially during later parts of the game. And of course, the same goes for the character designs. The graphics are so crisp and cutesy that even the most grotesque enemies (probably the deformed pig head monster that transforms into a question mark when attacking) look like they’re made of puppy dog eyes and multi-colored donut sprinkles.
But the most impressive aspect of the graphics is surely the character animations. Square has unquestionably gone above and beyond the call of duty to make the inhabitants of this world feel flush and alive. With so many different characters running around, it’s staggering how kinetic they all are. Mario in particular–being the mute that he is–relies upon his movements to interact with everyone. He smiles and thrusts his arms into the air when he’s happy, falls on his face when dizzy, and even mimes out different scenarios to those he is “talking” to. His sleeping animation, which shows him blowing basketball-sized snot bubbles out of his nostrils, is my personal favorite. The more comical scenes in the game involve our hero walking on air and performing other sorts of inhuman feats, and it all adds up to a tale rife with vivacity and expressiveness. I imagine that many a player has grinned their way through much, if not all of the whimsy.
And if it’s whimsy you’re looking for, then you might as well let your ears join the party. This game has an outstanding soundtrack, and I definitely consider it to be one of the game’s strongest attributes. A large majority of the score has a very upbeat, hand-clapping style to it, and many of the tunes are infused with percussion, brass, tambourine, and even xylophone-based sounds. Aside from the darker tunes that will sound off in the dimmer, broodier locales (sewers, caverns and the like), players will be listening to a very jaunty collection of music. It’s stuff you’d get from an organ-grinder, and is catchy enough that you’d be tapping your toe alongside his hyperactive pet monkey in the red fez.
Rarely will you come across a song that’s a dud, and considering that players will be hearing something new in nearly every area of the game, that’s quite an accomplishment. If there was one, however, it would definitely be the battle music. While I personally love it to death, it remains constant throughout the journey, which works both for and against it. The beat is fine, but it doesn’t exactly scream “Let’s go kill stuff.” What this means is that you’ll be in the final area, the spookiest, foggiest, most corrupt part of the game, still listening to the same happy-go-lucky, game show-esque theme that you were in the beginning. The song might work while you’re hopping on Goomba heads, but it just doesn’t fit later on when the in-game situation is at its most dire point.
As far as the battle system goes, it’s more or less your standard, turn-based fare. Characters are able to physically attack, use special moves, toss around items, and defend by selecting those options using the face buttons the commands are wired to. Square’s little lemon twist is that players must perform precision button presses in order to get the most out of their actions. For example, if Mario is attacking with a hammer, players would tap the attack button the moment it collides with the enemy, causing him to take another swing immediately after and dish out some extra damage. Defending enemy swipes works in the exact same way, and since attack animations vary from foe to foe, it should keep players attentive throughout the game. Special attacks also require specific controller input; some tell you to mash on the attack button, others force you to rotate the control pad, etc.
Battles also have a few extra surprises that will pop up every now and then to help you out. Bonuses like “Attack Up!” and “Once Again!” (which allows a character to perform another action) will occasionally spew out of a downed enemy. Getting a “Lucky!” will send you into a minigame after the battle concludes which can net you double experience points or coins. Additionally, using items can result in a “Freebie!” bonus which will sling the used item right back into your inventory, no strings attached.
Let it be known that this is, for the most part, a beginner’s RPG. During my playthrough, I died once. Early on in the game. Due to stupidity (but if anyone asks, it was Mallow’s fault). I found myself relying on mostly physical attacks and items, so there wasn’t really a need for experimentation, which is fairly disappointing. It’s a fun battle system, but it’s probably the game’s weakest aspect.
The great thing about Seven Stars’ gameplay, however, is that it doesn’t stop once you finish pounding the snot out of the enemies. Environments players will be spending time in are heavily platform-driven, with lots and lots of jumping puzzles and interesting contraptions to interact with, so this is very much a traditional Mario game. The platforming is watered down and doesn’t hold a candle to one of the plumber’s main titles, but experiencing these elements in a roleplaying game makes for a much more entertaining experience. Seriously, how many games in the genre can you think of that force you to use buttons other than the control pad and the action button? We just don’t see it all that often, especially in such a jumping-oriented manner.
And then there are the minigames. Never before have I seen a catalog as enormous as this. Seriously, what an achievement! The variety here is just ridiculous, and the fact that many of them tie in directly with the storyline is an added bonus. What I mean is that few of Square’s little frivolities feel like diversions that are tacked on for the sake of breaking monotony. If you’re careening down a waterfall, it would make sense that you would need to maneuver your character away from sharp rocks and jumping fish. If your enemy is scampering up a mountain with the princess hoisted on his shoulders, why settle for a boring cutscene when you can chase after him, all the while jumping over henchmen and tumbling barrels (Donkey Kong style!) for additional speed boosts? These minigames just… make sense! They’re injected into the perfect places and serve an actual purpose. Granted, not all of them are winners. Some clunkers like Whack-a-Goomba–which, ironically enough, is run by a mole–are less than memorable, but seeing as how they are stacked up against a dozen other winners, their mediocrity doesn’t hamper anything.
With it now readily available to the gaming public, players owe it to themselves to download this sucker onto their Wii. The title is a meager eight bucks, and while it’s recommended that players invest in a classic controller (the necessary run and jump buttons are way too far apart from one another on the GameCube controller, which makes playing with one very uncomfortable), the experience this game offers more than warrants the extra purchase. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars achieves some truly remarkable things. The minigames, the musical presentation, the way it transports you to a world full of playful smiles and intoxicating happiness; it’s so unique in so many ways, and incorporates ideas and themes that rarely make their way into the RPG formula.
I’m going to go ahead and flip my nostalgia switch back on and say this: Go download this spectacular game!