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Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (1996)      

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Adventure / RPG

USA, Europe, Japan

Nintendo SNES

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(Anonymous) (Unknown)   29th Mar 2012 06:09

"Putting next-gen RPGs to shame for over a decade."

Did anyone REALLY think this would work at first? Mario's genre of choice, previous to Squaresoft's offering to his universe, was obviously platforming. Gamers had been content for eight years to sidescroll through the Mushroom Kingdom, stomping on baddies and gallivanting through wildly varying worlds. This style of play was simple but effective...and then Super Mario RPG came about to break up the formula. And let's face it -- it was an awkward transition. RPGs and platformers, at their foundations, are just as opposite as Courtney Love and Dakota Fanning.

The naysayers were quickly silenced, however. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, upon reaching the states, was given a king's welcome. Quite simply, the game was absolutely amazing. The localization was flawless, the gameplay was unadorned but extremely fun, and in short this new title was absolutely teeming with the wonder that made Mario what is is today. Many players vaunted the game as one of the best RPGs of all time (and still do, in fact), and Nintendo Power even dignified it with a Best Game of the Year award in 1996 above Donkey Kong Country 3 and even Super Mario 64. With such a handsome pedigree, anyone would place some pretty high standards for this unusual new fusion title. Whatever those might be (unless you're looking for a dark, evil psychological-drama epic), Super Mario RPG is sure to exceed them.

What made the game so sensational to start off with was the unbelievable graphics. Super Mario RPG's visual accomplishments are unmatched on the Super Nintendo. The camera takes an isometric point of view in 3/4 display, something relatively unheard of on the system. This setup allowed the developers to add even more detail to the already meticulous character designs, settings and animations. The game is in full '3-D', similar to the style of the Donkey Kong Country games, which it executes with no slowdown and spectacular style. The character models look great, featuring dynamic animations for the Mario icons we've come to know and love and comical yet strangely badass foes. Spell animations are splendid (my personal favorite is Bowser Crush). And of course, every single locale you visit on your journey is vivd and full of personality, just like the game itself.
On a similar note, the sound is composed in very much the same way. The music is great, peppy and bouncy but also appropriate to the corresponding environments. Sound effects are a melange of the new and old, with such bytes as the "boing!" for jumping all the way to the fire-flower sound for when Mario shoots fireballs.

Some may deem the overall style childish, but it only serves to accentuate the lighthearted adventures that Mario and his crew embark on in Super Mario RPG. The game never gets particularly dark or serious, choosing only to dip a toe in the waters of drama and stay humorous and fun. The game gets off to a familiar start, with Mario rescuing the poor Princess in an entirely routine manner...before a gigantic sword hurtles through the sky and crashes through Bowser's castle, sending everyone flying. Mario ends up back at his house, dashes to the Mushroom Kingdom to report this unusual turn of events, and is charged with rescuing the Princess once more. On his journey he meets allies, new and old, and even after rescuing his fair Toadstool from imminent peril Mario is still confronted with a new problem. Granted, the plot is a little simple; who cares? No one wants a deep, disturbed story in their Mario RPG. What the game does offer up, in keeping with its cheery and fun demeanor, is involving dialogue, hilarious situations, and characters you couldn't forget if you wanted to. This is the kind of game that burns itself into your brain once you've played it, begging to be re-experienced even a week after completion.

It would be fallacious to assume, however, that great graphics and a fantastic plot and characterization would make the game worth playing. (HAYYYY ETERNAL DARKNESS) In keeping with the high quality of the rest of the game, naturally, Super Mario RPG is just as fun to play as it is to watch and experience. The game's formula is kept very minimal, which is probably for the best. Combat takes place between the enemy party and a squadron of three allies; the character with the highest speed acts first. As per RPG tradition, you can attack, use a technique, throw out an item, defend or run away -- all of these options are keyed to one of the buttons on the SNES control for easy access.

Once you've chosen your action, the character executes it and the desired effect is reached. It doesn't completely leave your hands upon selection, however. Physical attacks and a majority of the techniques have something called a Timed Hit: if you press the A or Y button right at a specific time (it varies based on the weapon or spell), then it will add extra damage or heal more life. Because the window for a Timed Hit is always different, this system effectively keeps the gamer's attention on the battles at all times, which is the most important part of any RPG. If you aren't involved in a combat and choose to run away, then you probably aren't having much fun with the game overall. You can also perform a Timed Defend in response to an enemy's attack, obviously lessening the damage you sustain.

With five different playable characters, the style of combat will obviously differ between them. Your band of merry men (and a woman) consists of beloved Mario, sort-of tadpole Mallow, animated doll Geno, Princess Toadstool and even the reviled Bowser himself. Each of the warriors contributes their own strengths and weaknesses to the party -- unlike many RPGs, no character is flat-out useless, or better than another character overall. Since there are only five playable characters, balance is far easier to reach, and the simplicity of the gameplay is maintained. Each of the characters usually has a common theme to their Timed Hits: Geno requires a timed charge and release, Mario needs to jump on his enemies at exactly the right moment and Bowser's moves call for rapid rotation of the control pad. These subtle variations keep the combat fresh and entertaining; the player will surely be enjoying battles up until the very end of the game. And of course regular exploration is no slouch as well, full of puzzles, mysteries and even a few harrowing jump sequences to keep any gamer on his toes.

The one problem, and possibly the only problem in the game as well, is that it is never particularly challenging. The game can throw a few boss fights your way that will have you frustrated (my personal least favorite is that God-awful Yaridovich, who can basically wipe out a poorly-trained party in one Water Blast), but on the whole Super Mario RPG won't really test your limits. The bosses can be beaten with the same fairly repetitive strategies, and little mix-up is required -- just be sure to keep your fighters healed and free of status conditions (easily done once you get Toadstool) and you should glide through any combat. Granted, this game's demographic is younger, and once again a high difficulty level wouldn't really have gelled with the overall tone of the game. It's unthreatening, but not easy enough to be downright boring.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars may have been a strange idea, but it is a thoroughly entertaining one. This synthesis of both new and old ideas is met with an outstanding degree of success; it is not only a fun game to play, but also one with a memorable plot, lovable characters and an overall amazing structure. This title is an absolute gem on the Super Nintendo, and a hallowed hallmark of the Mario universe.

Reviewer's Score: 10/10, Originally Posted: 04/03/06

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This title was first added on 5th April 2008
This title was most recently updated on 29th March 2012

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