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Gaming in Retrospect IV: Super Mario RPG
Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda might be the most well-known role playing game titles in the video game industry, but the iconic platforming plumber sporting a macho mustache in a red jumpsuit has had his shot too. And it was awesome. It was called, simply, Super Mario RPG (in its western hemisphere releases, the full title was Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars).
Like my insane journey through the war-torn interstellar space in R-Type, my first journey through the world of Super Mario RPG was in Japanese. Now, I don’t know Japanese. This dissonance inevitably led to failure. Halfway through the map I’d come across a language barrier I just can’t overcome. I needed to do something very specific to trigger the next levels. My older sister came to the rescue a year or so later with a printed out walkthrough. Shamelessly, I devoured it and as soon as I finally figured out what the game wanted me to do at that halfway point (return to a previous enemy-free zone to get something in exchange for something else from a particular shopkeeper – come on, how could I have possibly figured that out without help?), I dumped it. I only read it again for two specific puzzles that involved actually knowing what the hell was written on the screen.
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If my persistence wasn’t much of a hint, let me put it plainly: Super Mario RPG was such an immersive, wonderful RPG that I HAD to play it, regardless of the language my cartridge came in. It even got deep into our list of 25 Greatest RPGs of All Time (for now). I was able to finish it, but a few years later I got my hands on a PC emulator running an English version of the game. Finally, some closure. I was glad to finally understand the game because I initially had no idea who my new marshmallow-like and toy figurine friends were, and why in my party I had both Princess Peach and Bowser. Yes, it was that crazy and fun. Imagine Princes Peach and Bowser alongside Mario fighting in a turn-based RPG setting.
Indeed, what truly lent a quirky fun side to the game was its simple yet entertaining plot. In a world where Mario is a legendary hero that constantly saves his Princess from the villain Bowser (the prelude level actually plays on this running gag of a game plot from previous Mario iterations), something goes terribly wrong. The mythical Star Road that granted wishes to everyone breaks apart, and an enemy greater than Bowser threatens all the realms of the colorful world. The facets taken from original Mario games translated into an RPG setting worked wonderfully. From the weapons to the story to the fights – everything transitioned smoothly from 2D platforming to 3D RPG. Square Soft knew what it was doing.
I’d come to play other iconic RPG flagship series – Finial Fantasy, Ogre Battle, Legend of Zelda, and even the more recent Elder Scrolls – but Super Mario RPG simply had special place in my list of completed games. Perhaps it was for the best that it never got a sequel.
Gaming in Retrospect is a series of articles detailing the games that author Gino R. Dino played back in the day. Games that made an impact on his views as a gamer.