It’s something that seems to come up quite a lot in writing for different places and with different subjects in mind., “What is the greatest Super Nintendo Game?” Every few years someone asks me that. The system that came out in 1991 and was released or re-released up until 2008 in some form or another. There are a lot of games over that time period and a lot of genres and ground to cover. Thought about the greatest game of the entire system run, the Answer that comes up a lot of “Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.”
It seems weird for someone who wasn’t around at that time that a Mario game would be so loved and highly ranked, but it tells of just how different and unique that game was to the gaming audience at the time. We had played Mario games before, going back to the 80’s, but nothing like this.
The Mario franchise had been the flagship of the Nintendo Systems for around a decade at that point. Gaming fans remember the Mario games that had been released previously, Super Mario Brothers 1,2, and 3 along with Super Mario World. All were pretty straightforward side-scrolling games where you bopped enemies on the head, threw objects as monsters if needed, and reduced the princess at the end. It was just mindless bashing, jumping, and collecting coins to make your way through the different levels until you met the boss at the end (usually Bowser) and sent him toppling into a pit to save the day.
But not this game. This wasn’t just bopping enemies in the head and moving onward just for doing that, You went into battle. You got to pick your moves and abilities, and you got to have a group to do battle with, all with their own stories for joining you for the cause. There were the familiar characters like Mario and Luigi, Princess Toadstool, and even Bowser himself joined on your side in the fight. You also had new characters like Mallow the frog (Not really a Frog) and Geno the wizard toy come to life with their own powers. The fights weren’t about throwing vegetables or pressing drawbridge buttons anymore, but making sure you hurt your opponents with your attacks before they could knock your hitpoints down to Zero and end the fight. You got to trade your friends in and out, upgrade your attacks, even gain new weapons. All things never seen in a Mario game before.
And this wasn’t some simple game your could warp your way through or finish in one sitting. This was a complex game with many chapters and many bottles. This wasn’t about pipes and levels. this was about ability and unraveling the story one step at a time. You found out about every character and what their motivation is in this battle. you met knew villains, namely Smithy the evil being who was trying to take over the Mushroom Kingdom.
Facing new stories and new villains, you had to use the strategy of what characters to use and what attacks to use when. This was the first time a Mario player had dealt with things like hit points, style of attack, and using a Healer in your party. This was way more than what we had ever seen before. I remember spending weeks at a time renting the game during one particular summer as a kid and the first chance I got, I bought a copy of the game for myself to figure out all that I had missed the first time. And there was a lot I missed the first time.
No Mario games ever got that kind of feeling out of me and many of those were in the same boat as I was at the time say the same thing, even today. Super Mario RPG was so different, so consuming, and so well done that it left a lasting impression.
So if asked anyone who was a gamer and played the Super Nintendo System back in the day, they may just tell you about the Mario Brothers game that set itself above everything else before or since.