Everyone has their favorite Mario game and remembers their first experience fondly–stomping goombas and koopa troopas, collecting stars, and making tight jumps in whichever whimsical world sticks with you, especially at a young age. With games like Super Mario World and Super Mario 64 often cited as the quintessential series entries, and seeing that evolution with the likes of Galaxy and Odyssey, it’s easy to see why these action-platformers are highly regarded and often cited as formative gaming experiences..
I’ve enjoyed those games and understand the fervor of people’s love for them, but they’re not necessarily what made Mario important in my eyes. The lens through which I’ve always understood the franchise has been Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, the 1996 SNES game from Squaresoft (now Square Enix). It’s a game that took the things we loved about Mario and subverted expectations. It made Mario, Bowser, and Peach allies, and it gave the series’ characters a vibrant world to live in.
Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VI, and Chrono Trigger were already among the SNES greats, but Square had one last game in it before jumping ship to the PlayStation. And the developer’s RPG mastery transformed that beloved Mario universe into something much more than a platforming adventure. Square gave Mario the Final Fantasy treatment with unique story arcs, the development of existing characters, new faces that quickly became favorites, an ingenious combat system, and an unforgettable soundtrack. On its own merits, Mario RPG stands among the genre’s greats.
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