Super Mario RPG - Legend of the Seven Stars | Lost In Limbo
It can be said that Super Mario RPG set the foundation for a boom in acceptance in RPG style gaming in the US. Often, US subsidiaries of Japanese parent companies, took what was successful in Japan, and tweaked it to cater to an American consumer base. Nintendo and Sega, wrestled with this situation for years as the US mainstream consumer started to slowly accept gaming that was largely influenced by Japanese game designers. Titans like Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda and Sonic were all birthed by Japanese designers whom knew exactly what the eastern consumer was looking for. The challenge that the American companies faced was making sure that the US consumer felt connected to these characters (and games) as well. Even Sonic needed a makeover before he was brought to America. So as RPG style games flourished in Japan, software designers assumed that US consumers would follow suit. Games like Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, and Earthbound were adored by Japanese gamers and promoted heavily in the US, yet accepted with moderate success. As the 90's crept on and RPG's trudged on, the market waited for one to finally resonate.
When the game developing company, Square set off to help US gamers learn to love RPG's, they knew they needed to throw caution in the wind, as this would be their final game produced in America. If the traditional style of RPG story-telling wasn't working, why not try something off the wall...not too outrageous, but unforgettable. As relations with Nintendo became more cantankerous, Square decided to take Mario and his entourage of familiar friends and turn it on it's head. In the beginning of the game, you are introduced to a familiar scene; Mario's simple life is interrupted by a celestial event, and Bowser's Keep is attacked by a giant sword falling form the sky. Convinced by Toad to go look into these strange matters, Mario discovers that Princess Toadstool has been abducted and Mario assumes Koopa is to blame. Sound familiar? However, this is where Square takes the traditional story line and makes some changes. Not to spoil too much, but Bowser eventually joins the team, along with Toadstool and they take on various villains who are caught up in a cosmic battle to rescue every person's dreams. As legend states, when you wish upon a star, it travels up to the heavens to a realm filed with puffy clouds and star gates for foot travel. This realm hangs in the balance as the arch-villain, Smithy aims to take over. All of the sudden, Mario finds himself in a quest to save the world and everyone's wishes.
Along with an unconventional story, the gameplay style added a new element to the turn-style strategy of previous RPG's: timed-attacks. When a party member uses a physical attack, bonus damage is granted if the attack button is pressed at exactly the right time. This added an element of conventional Mario style play, where precise timing was crucial and could drastically change your fortunes in a battle. Yet, the game also has a myriad of characters with different abilities, which the player can customize to their liking. Every dungeon and boss had a different style and bringing the right crew was essential to success.
Another powerful agent in the games success was the integration of the musical score. Not only was it a unique and fantastic sound during gameplay, some of the music was integrated directly into the gameplay. Various times, Mario must remember a sequence of music notes to locate a bonus item or get information from a character. Characters are heavily influenced by Toadofsky's musical genius, a friendly composer in the Mushroom Kingdom. Whether it's simply a silly idea or the designer's full-blown love for classical music, the game is riddled with these types of educational interludes.
However intricate and slightly odd the game feels, it has become a fan favorite years after its creation. Not only did it help U.S. consumers catch fire with RPG style gaming, it created such a unique experience that it still stands out decades later as a cult classic to SNES players. It was cradled in between the boom of SNES and the beginning years of Playstation and Nintendo 64 consoles that were far more technologically advanced. Arriving in 1996, it barely had a chance to compete against the 32-bit and 64-bit advanced graphics in the new consoles. The SNES console was not able to create the truly 3D interactive gameplay as PS1 (1994) & N64 (1996) that both stole much of gamers attention, so the success of this game was largely due to it's obscurity and somewhat simple feel. It truly stretched the experience of the SNES console and built a familiar bridge to Nintendo lovers as their next big thing hit the market; the Nintendo 64!
To Mario, Mallow, Geno, Bowser and Toadstool, enjoy some well-deserved cake. But be careful, it be hiding a mini-boss!