[Virtual Console Verdict is a short column that highlights some of the gems released on 3DS and Wii U eShop marketplaces. For a full list of Virtual Console releases, check out the weekly Nintendo Download series. Image source.]
This week, Nintendo updated their Club Nintendo digital offerings to add Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. Although it's technically been a part of the Wii Virtual Console since 2008, many people wanted to know how it held up, and if it really was worth of the hype it's gotten from fans.
There's no two ways about it -- it's absolutely worth it. Legend of the Seven Stars is one of the most entertaining and innovative role-playing games ever made.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (Wii)
Released: September 1, 2008 (Wii)
Mario RPG starts off innocently enough. Mario wakes up from his slumber in his comfy "pad" to do battle with Bowser once again and save Princess Peach. But this time he'll have the power of the JRPG battle system, which compliments his already wondrous jumping abilities. Mario now has a few more tricks up his sleeve, most notably the power to defend himself, attack normally, use items, and unload special abilities.
While developer Squaresoft (now Square Enix) could have easily left it at that, they made the combat system interactive -- an innovation that Mario RPG carries throughout the entire adventure. Simpy put, you can add an "accent" to everything to do by pressing the appropriate button at the correct moment. If you want to add extra damage to a regular hit, you just press "attack" again right as you're hitting your foe. It not only makes the attack more effective, but it also shows a satisfying animation for your trouble.
If you want to defend against a little extra damage, you press the defend button right as someone is hitting you. The same goes for special abilities, which can add new effects like additional jumps if used at the right time. These little nuances can mean the difference between victory and defeat, and it never gets old. Mario RPG makes you an active participant in its battle system, which is a great mechanic for recruiting gamers who dislike typical JRPG conventions.
Then the real fun begins. Quickly after defeating Bowser for the hundredth time, you'll soon realize that he is not your enemy. Smithy, a brand new character crafted for Legend of the Seven Stars takes over Bowser's castle, sends the entire cast into disarray, and Mario is sent back to his pad to begin the adventure anew. It's here that another unique facet of the game opens up, as you'll soon realize that you can fully explore Mario RPG's environments like real Mario game.
You'll have free reign to run, jump, collect question mark blocks filled with items and equipment, and avoid enemies as you see fit. The crux of Mario RPG's success is that it actually compels you to explore, rather than making you feel like you have to. By operating like a typical Mario game, each map feels like a "level" and a direct challenge, rather than a series of dry maps that simply lead you from point A to point B.
The cast is one of the best parts, drawing from some of the best parts of Mario lore with a completely new set of characters. You'll find a giant Bow and Arrow boss that shoots living ammo, an anthropomorphic bomb that is hell-bent on destruction, a Super Sentai unit, a noble shark pirate captain, and a giant demon dog that wants to eat your party alive. That's just the tip of the iceberg, as Bowser becomes a "good guy" and a member of your party, and Peach is completely playable (and one of the best characters in the game).
Mario RPG's narrative will take you underground, in the sky, under the sea, and pretty much everywhere in-between. It will always keep you guessing, and even drop a few revelations every now and then to keep things interesting. It's nothing that earth-shattering consider the fact that it's still a Mario game, but you'll definitely get a different take on a lot of established lore.
All of that alone wouldn't be enough to tip me over the edge and name it "one of the best RPGs ever made," but all of the extras and hidden secrets did. Every single area has tons of tiny nuances to sift through, from Peach's mysterious bedroom secret to a fully functional Casino, to ultimate items for each character. As soon as you start to get bored of the game's combat and exploration, Seven Stars will throw out some of the most oddball minigames you'll ever find in an RPG, like minecart rides, memory games, Yoshi races, and even hide and seek.
Super Mario RPG is not only a solid JRPG, but it's a variety show that will keep you entertained every step of the way. Although it may not be the most challenging card in the deck, I'd recommend it to pretty much everyone out there -- whether you're a fan of the genre or not. It's that good.