Stream Thoughts: Super Mario RPG

Well this is a bit late, isn’t it?

Probably because we finished Super Mario RPG and I enjoyed it, so I didn’t feel the need to rant immediately. [editor’s note: also because Troy was very slow at getting the GIFs for this post done.] SMRPG got a lot right and very little wrong, and I’m really looking forward to Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. We’re skipping Paper Mario because while it’s a competent game, of the three console Mario RPGs that actually count, it’s the weakest. Writing’s fine, but the gameplay is a bit too simple.

Mario pantomimes an explanation.

The game subscribes to the Chuck Jones theory of gravity.

Right out of the gate, Super Mario RPG gets you started. No lengthy cutscene, no slow exposition dump. You’re Mario, Bowser just took the Princess, and you’re invading his castle to get her back. This doesn’t work, because if it did the game would be over entirely too quick. A giant sword crashes through the castle and sends everyone flying. Mario lands in his own house, on a clothes peg, and Toad immediately snarks at him for it. Then he suggests that you go back to the castle and get the Princess. You do, and you don’t, respectively. The sword collapses the bridge by violently flapping his gums, and you go back home to explain to Toad.

The explanation is the best way I’ve ever seen a silent protagonist handled, and I wish all future depictions of Mario handled dialogue the same way.

That’s really where the game shines. The humor is on point for basically the entire game. The returning cast are joined by new characters Mallow and Geno, who both manage to fit reasonably well – Geno feels a bit more out there than the rest of the cast, but given what he is it works. Further in, Bowser joins the party, and he’s another great example of characterization I wish had stuck more (though some of it does seem to have been kept. Sometimes.) He’s a badass and he knows it, but he also actively tries to maintain his reputation and repeatedly shows that he cares about his minions – even the ones that have retired. It’s unfortunate that in practice he’s one of the weaker characters.

Bowser throwing Mario at a ghost.

It makes sense in context, we swear.

So let’s talk about that. Game balance. Your party consists of five people, three of whom can be active. One thing that’s appreciated that wasn’t always standard is that your entire party gets full experience, whether active or not. That’s great. So, five people – Mario, Mallow, Geno, Bowser, Toadstool, in order of joining. Mario is well-rounded and effective, and can’t leave the party anyway. Luckily, you’re stuck with a good character, almost certainly third-best. Mallow works great in the early game with a decent healing spell and solid elemental offense, but if that sounds like a Red Mage, you know where this line’s going – he falls off pretty hard later on unless you’re really good at timing Star Rain. I am not.

Geno’s amazing, the best offensive spellcaster and a great physical attacker too, with the highest base speed and a solid HP pool. Not much for straight defense, but he can eat magic attacks adequately. Bowser’s a tank with great physical power when you get him, but his problem is that he falls off later in the game when enemies start throwing powerful magic attacks. You can still make him work in Geno’s place, but you’ll have to really be focused on keeping him alive. He has some status spells, and some plain damage ones – do yourself a favor, stick with the status. Terrorize, specifically; Fear is a massive offense and defense debuff that works pretty often. Toadstool is amazing all the way through – a cheap full-party heal that’s likely to be effectively a full heal and a guaranteed status cleanse, a 2 FP revive that, if you get the timing (easy to do), is a full revive, and if you get her best weapon she has an adequate offense too.

Yeah, the balance kinda fell apart at the end there, didn’t it? Your best three are almost certain to be Toadstool, Geno, and Mario, and likely in that order, but the game’s easy enough you can use whoever you want. That being said, it should also be noted that it doesn’t matter who you use, for plot events your entire five-man crew is present. Again, this is appreciated, though I can completely understand why this wasn’t usually the case in Final Fantasy VI.

Now, this being an SNES game with a lot of text, you may have some concerns about the localization. It’s mostly very good, with the exception of the spells Drain, Mega Drain, and Drain Beam. None of these in any way absorb health (which is good, because that last one’s full-party) and I have no idea what’s up with the names – Drain’s just a small fireball. I don’t remember anything in dialogue striking me as being particularly off like in Lufia 2 or the RPGe translation of Final Fantasy V. Every character pretty clearly had their own voice, they were consistent, and it usually flowed well.

Also, the bonus bosses. Culex hits like a train loaded with trucks, and Jinx is just an asshole. The good news is that timed defense works on instant death attacks. The bad news is Jinx uses them a lot and unless your timing is frame-perfect you have 1 HP afterwards. Still, fun fights with constant pressure, especially Jinx. Culex did devolve a bit into being an HP sponge once the Crystals are down. And even though I’d beaten both, Smithy’s offense was still impressive – though I was still pretty well short of the level cap. This was likely helped by him having several exclusive spells.

This is my third or fourth time through SMRPG, and I can still easily see myself playing again – though this one was more fun than the last because of the bonus of being the first time Troy saw most of it. It’s not a hard game, but it is undeniably fun throughout.

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