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Super Mario RPG: A Brief Look at Mario’s Evolution

/ Aug 2nd, 2013 No Comments

Super Mario RPG

[adsense250itp]Super Mario RPG is a game that redefined an entire franchise. While Mario has branched out to every possible genre imaginable(with some successes, but far more failures), this oddball mash-up proved to be one of the great surprises of the Super Nintendo era. Nintendo and Square Enix (then Squaresoft/Square) teamed up to take the often times strange formula of RPG/JRPGs and apply it to the clean as a whistle Mario franchise. Super Mario RPG spawned not one, but two beloved franchises and forever reminded us that Mario was an old dog constantly working on new tricks.

Super Mario RPG brought together an idea so simple yet it redefined the series that it’s still used. What if Bowser teamed up with Mario? And what if that team-up wasn’t just for Go-Karting or a friendly sporting event, but to face an enemy so great it threatened not just the Mushroom Kingdom, but the world. The classic Mario formula of “Bowser kidnaps Princess, Mario rescues Princess” got a new twist by becoming simply an implied struggle, and not an end all be all fight to the finish. While in the game, Bowser looks to kill off Mario and Mario looks to vanquish the Koopa King for good in return, the idea that the two did in fact have a relationship beyond enemies was brought to light. Super Mario RPG showed that Bowser and Mario, while adversaries, begrudgingly respected one another enough to note when they had greater foes than each other. With the Smithy Gang (A group of inter-dimensional travelers seeking to control the Mushroom Kingdom as well as the world at large) attacking Mario and Bowser set aside their rivalry for Peach to do battle together. A concept still enticing to this day.

Moving away from plot and the universe changes to the Mario formula, Super Mario RPG also brought a very simple stylistic change that helped reshape the out of shape plumber. Super Mario RPG provided a new formula to give a fresh face to a previous two-dimensional runner. Most of Mario’s excursions outside the realm of 2D platformer have ended in disaster with such ideas as Mario teaching basic computer skills or stylized point-and-click adventures, RPG seemed to be the perfect fit for the plumber as the standard jump was all Mario really needed to prove himself a successful hero. The turn-based combat was a smashing success and the introduction of plots not involving Bowser mixed with the drama and grit we expect from JRPGs allowed a whole new Mario to be seen. One with an ensemble who you loved just as much, if not sometimes more.

Partners: Geno, Mallow, Peach, and Bowser all served as companions in the fight against the Smithy Gang. While two were already Mario staples, the others found their way into the player’s hearts via subplots that engaged the player almost as much as the main plot itself. With Mallow’s subplot of adoption, mixed with Geno’s story of celestial redemption, Mario moved into a “3D” arena. Not just with new graphics boasted by the game with its backdrops etc., but also plot wise as heartstrings were pulled when hearing the partners plights alongside Mario’s own to save the woman and land he loved. Even minor notes showed Super Mario RPG taking Mario plots to an elevated level, with such moments as the trip through Star Fields in which one of the fallen wishes reads “I wanna be a great plumber, like my brother Mario”.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star

Paper Mario: Sticker Star

Super Mario RPG went on with its new face for Mario and stepped forward in the plot department to spawn two incredibly successful series in Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi Franchises. While Paper Mario has been for the most part a home console series (except for Paper Mario: Sticker Star), Mario & Luigi has held down the handheld console fort keeping the Super Mario RPG legacy alive. Both games took note from their predecessor to give Mario a fresh new feel (while also giving Luigi a chance to shine in the Mario & Luigi series). Paper Mario returned to the classic formula of Bowser steals Peach, but still provided the RPG format the player had fell in love with in Super Mario RPG. While giving the plot a level of depth and allowing an emotional connection to unfold not only with the red capped protagonist, but also his partners in the series. While some of the partner merely sought Adventure (Goombario & Lady Bow), others sought to prove their worth (Lakilester), or even show they didn’t want to be pushed around and stand up to bullies (Kooper & Watt). Partners in subsequent games would prove to have even more story behind themselves as such memorable characters as Admiral Bobbery would sport the tragic tale of a long deceased wife, while characters such as Koops would be seeking to not only prove his worth to his father, but girlfriend as well.

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

On the flip-side the Mario & Luigi Series would show us the personality differences between Mario and his brother Luigi. The game gave Mario a more adventurous attitude while Luigi was more hesitant. Luigi’s hesitant attitude would be one of the major proponents to propel him to the spotlight in the mainstream. As his reluctance could be argued to make him more of a hero as he has to overcome fear, whereas with Mario heroism comes as naturally as the color red. Diving into the plots of characters other than Mario gives more of an ensemble feel to the two series as not only companion characters, but supporting characters become of interest as well. The evil villain of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Cackletta would hold as much interest to the player as say the bumbling archeologist Kolorado of Paper Mario fame because of this. Due to the format, the characters have more depth, RPGs work in such a way as to promote difference (via the leveling system), which in turn creates more demand for difference in character personalities. A stocky well-built fighter with high defense won’t have the same personality as a master mage with an inability to talk around girls, much in the same way Mario with his stocky fighter mentality will have vast differences to his more agile and cowardly brother Luigi. Gombario who’s headstrong and determined will have different attack styles than Lackilester who’s a bit unsure of himself and prefers distance.

Super Mario RPG struck a chord among gamers that spawned themes of adoption, living up to a parent’s name, appreciation of self-worth, loss of love, and child sacrifice for the greater good just to name a few of the “light-hearted” subjects from the typically happy-go-lucky plumber of Mushroom Kingdom fame. All in all Super Mario RPG set in motion two franchises that showed Mario was not just some one-trick pony here for a couple rodeos, but a master renaissance man with a few skills and tricks of the trade left to show. Two major series spawned from Super Mario RPG and have given more heart to the Mario universe than many other “modern” franchises that claim to be realistic and gritty, proving that a cartoon exterior does not denote the intended audience of the product itself. With Nintendo, in a constant battle to stay fresh, ideas to keep alive such series as Mario & Luigi (via the upcoming Mario & Luigi: Dream Team) and Paper Mario (via the still relatively fresh Paper Mario: Sticker Star) remain its best hope to show that gambles such as Super Mario RPG are still what the company does best as it fights the good fight for two brothers with enough occupations to keep them around for some time to come.

 

Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson

Associate Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Greg is a Nintendo fanboy who would cry if they ever went third party. He writes news, previews and reviews at Gaming Illustrated.
Greg Johnson

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