Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars vs. Paper Mario

So I recently had the honor of playing Paper Mario.  I purchased it through the Virtual Console… which simultaneously made my Wii relevant again and gave me access to a superb game that I missed because I never really owned a Nintendo 64.  I have to admit that at least a part of the reason why I missed this game was because I was a big fan of Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario looked like the complete opposite direction of the sequel that I wanted.  Luckily I have a friend with whom I’ve established a game suggestion initiative who put Paper Mario on the list of games that I needed to play.  That and I’m not a 14 year old anymore.

In response to the little story behind why I never played this game I decided that most appropriate way to review it was in comparison to SMRPG.  I think that’s kind of a scary concept for a lot of SMRPG fan-boys (trust me I know, I was one) who just don’t really ever want to put it in the same category as Paper Mario.  Time to grow up and get over it because Paper Mario is the game all the fan-boys were (and still are) pining for.  This review will account for both games and I’ll add them both into their respective spots on the list when I’m done with it.  I figure it adds quite a bit of legitimacy to my opinion that I was once a person who pretty much wrote off Paper Mario before I even knew anything about it.  I was so entrenched in my belief that SquareSoft was the RPG master and any alternative was substandard.  Gladly I grew up and so did my tastes.  While I’m not trying to say that SMRPG sucks (it‘s actually quite good), I just want people to open their eyes a little bit and give credit where it’s due because Paper Mario is clearly the better game.

If I had to describe the difference between these two games I would have you imagine two different companies given the same exact idea and being told to do whatever they wanted with it.  Super Mario RPG is SquareSoft’s version and Paper Mario is Nintendo’s.  This is more a genuine battle of developer sensibilities than anything else.  What these two Mario Role Playing Games have in difference is almost exactly what you would think they would be were one concept given to these two companies…and it’s as simple as that.  By reviewing the following categories and explaining each company’s approach to them I’ll be able to show exactly why I believe Nintendo wins the war of Mario RPGs.

Characters
Story
Music
Gameplay


Characters

So you're a doll that's possessed by a star thing. Rriiiigghhtt

SquareSoft:
If I had to pick one most disappointing aspect of SMRPG it would be this category.  I mean everyone loves Geno, clearly.  Mostly everyone hates Mallow and what you’re left with is Mario, Peach and Bowser.  Umm, that’s not really acceptable…at all.  I think the Official Written Rule laid down on stone tablets many centuries ago pertaining to the number of party characters an RPG must at least contain is 6.  Don’t get me wrong, the characters that ARE here are more than passable.  Mallow and Geno are welcome additions to the Mario universe and are interesting enough to warrant booting out your classic staple characters to try out for a while.  That’s the thing about ’em though, if you use these obviously-designed-by-SquareSoft characters you will have to NOT use Bowser or Peach.  Not OK!  Why in the hell would I… as a Nintendo, RPG and overall video game fan ever even THINK of NOT using Bowser or Peach in their VERY FIRST foray into the RPG world.  I mean, come on.  Also, everyone can now officially shut the hell up about Geno.  Yeah he was cool…then, but let’s get real with ourselves.  I could write all of Geno’s dialogue from the entire game on a sheet of paper, probably from memory.  There just isn’t all that much there to go so worked up about.  And if you want to get even more technical Mallow had ten times the character development and an entire star/city/dungeon devoted to him.  Oh yeah and where the fuckin’ hell is Luigi?  You couldn’t have thrown Luigi in there with your FIVE TOTAL CHARACTERS?  Gimme a break.

FUCKING BOOM FUCKERS

Nintendo:
Paper Mario decided to go the logical route and draw upon the ridiculous wealth of content already present in the established history, and it works so well.  It’s incredibly charming when you happen across a goomba village and there’s a young kid goomba with a baseball cap who idolizes Mario.  As a character Goombario is twenty times any character in SMRPG.  He just makes so much more sense.  Multiply that by like eight and there’s your Paper Mario party.  Every single one of the people you end up recruiting is interesting and dynamic.  Nintendo is just so good at working within and expanding upon their continuing narratives.  There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to take Mario outside of his conceptual comfort zone when you have an astronomical amount of personality and success with what’s already there.  I loved the eight new characters in Paper Mario infinitely more than the two in SMRPG and I’ll challenge anyone who says Geno is cooler than Goombario to a knife fight.

Story

SquareSoft:
The two games have a very similar story.  It’s honestly not worth getting into detail on because what’s going to be important is the tone and themes.  Square has delivered it’s classic slightly melodramatic storytelling here (again).  It’s lighthearted overall but at times feels like it’s trying a tad too hard.  Fun new characters like Jonathan Jones (a shark captain) end up coming off like they were created just so people would think they were cool but in reality come up short of being anything poignant or memorable.  In fact I had to Google his name and I just beat that game like a week ago…for the 4th time.  It’s unfortunate that SquareSoft decided to create a brand new group of enemies too.  The Smithy Gang as bosses are all whacky weapons of some sort that hardly leave an impact.  They are mostly undefined in purpose and what Smithy’s motivations are I couldn’t even tell ya.  I’m just so used to knowing everything about Mario and expecting a certain level of explanation for the things that happen to him.  Even if that explanation is Bowser kidnaps the princess.  At least then I know that character, why he did what he did and more or less what I have to do to fix the problem.  A brief explanation or even any amount of screen time for the final boss (or any Smithy characters) here would’ve done wonders to validate their existence in this game.  It’s almost like a Kingdom Hearts style mash-up where only half of it is actually a real thing (Mario) and the other half is some b-grade made up thing that’s really just there to make Mario jump through some really cliché RPG hoops.  All said and done though, SMRPG does succeed in telling a fairly entertaining story.

Just tattlin' like it's his day job.

Nintendo:
I can almost just take the opposite of everything I just said about SMRPG and apply it to Paper Mario.  Actually I will do that.  Nintendo has delivered it’s classic warm-hearted and charming storytelling here (again).  It is light-hearted and fun overall but at times feels like there‘s a whole extra layer of depth.  Fun new characters like Bow and Kolorado (a koopa explorer) end up coming off like they have always been around but in reality are extremely memorable first-time characters that fit right in.  In fact I could probably name off every character in this game from memory and I just beat this game for the first time in my life.  It’s quite fortunate that Nintendo decided to stick with what worksBowser and his henchmen as bosses are all silly but meaningful counterparts that obviously belong.  They are clearly defined in purpose and what Bowser’s motivations are fit exactly what we already know and love about this charismatic icon.  I’m just so used to knowing everything about Mario and expecting a certain level of explanation for the things that happen to him.  Even if that explanation is Bowser kidnaps the princess.  At least then I know that character, why he did what he did and more or less what I have to do to fix the problem.  An explanation and ample amounts of screen time for the final boss always does wonders to validate his continued existence in Mario gamesIt’s just exactly what a Mario RPG should be, a complete whole that obviously has received the care and respect that a Mario game deserves.  On top of that, Paper Mario does a damn fine job of innovating within a mostly stale genre while bucking so many trends it’s hard to keep track.  All said and done Paper Mario succeeds abundantly in telling an extremely entertaining, classy and lovable story.

Music

SquareSoft:
I’ll get this out of the way immediately.  SMRPG has better music.  It just does.  It’s kind of a tough call for me but when I think back on the game there are just so many memorable tracks.  Yoko Shimomura did an excellent job here of infusing the classic Mario themes with her own style.  I think it says a lot when a composer who has to follow or represent some of video games’ most popular tunes does it successfully.  If someone asked me to take the stable of Mario music, rearrange it and add my personal flair I would be scared to death that it wouldn’t stand up against the existing body of work.  Shimomura knocks it out of the park and in turn probably established herself as the go-to-girl for Square’s next huge crossover experiment Kingdom Hearts (which also had amazing music).  It’s hard to argue with SquareSoft’s pedigree when it comes to music.

Nintendo:
Paper Mario has great music too, it’s just slightly less memorable.  There are a few outstanding tracks that I find myself replaying in my head (Bowser’s Theme in particular) and as a whole the music competently does its job.  There are some touching moments that are made even more so by supplemental tracks like right before you go to Bowser’s castle and Peach is out on the balcony asking Twink if everything she’s been doing is even helping Mario and wondering if she’ll ever see him again.  Because the story is lighthearted so is the music.  There’s nothing terribly epic or tear-jerking and that’s not a critique but a matter of fact statement.  Consistency is the name of the game here but unfortunately the five or six songs that do stand out can’t compete with the almost entire soundtrack of unique and inspiring music that SMRPG has.

Gameplay

One of the more... conceptual boss fights. I'd love to remember this singular attempt at strategy positively but I can't. That and he has no relevance to the game or Mario in general, actually.

SquareSoft:
This is another example of where both games had a very similar approach.  Because SMRPG came first I’ll give it the credit for introducing the timed-button press battle mechanic.  It’s a welcome change to the completely stale battling of almost every other RPG ever.  It’s one of the greatest mysteries in the world to me that this idea was never really duplicated.  Having actual physical, magical and defensive interaction on every turn is a wonderful meta-game that just does so damn much to keep you interested in even the most boring fights.  Other than that, this game employs a top-down isometric view (which is just downright silly and difficult to traverse almost ALL of the time) and is filled with dungeons that have abundant depth perception issues.  If you’re going to include platforming in your game-series-that-invented-platforming RPG then you should do it right.  In SMRPG it feels like an afterthought that wasn’t given enough attention.  And yeah I am critiquing the platforming in an RPG because it’s a good concept that wasn’t given nearly enough polish or thought.  The gameplay here is solid and while SquareSoft didn’t necessarily break the mold (more like slightly cracked it) their experience in the genre is evident.  It plays like a good but standard RPG with a cool new mechanic.

Nintendo:
Man, Paper Mario is so damn smart.  It took the timed hit idea and just made it better.  There are more appropriate indications of how to do them, when to do them and what effect they have.  You might call that ‘easier’ if you’re fourteen but an intelligent adult would call that ‘smarter’.  The battles in Paper Mario are just so much more interesting.  You can get a first attack by striking your enemy out in the field before he strikes you, which is immensely meaningful.  The overall philosophy to the battling in Paper Mario is quality over quantity with an emphasis on strategy.  Your attacks start out as doing 1 damage to enemies with 2 hp.  Just for context’s sake the final boss has a WHOLE 99 hp and you’re doing about 5-8 damage per round.  That’s just so awesome.  I mean it’s almost like Nintendo knows more about making RPGs than credible RPG companies.  There are serious ideas at work in Paper Mario that deserve a good hard look at to help dissect the fundamentals we just accept as part of RPG culture.  Why does a guy have to do 15072089374827 damage with some crazy ultimate weapon against some absurd 2nd form angel/demon version of the final boss in every single RPG ever made?  I can’t even begin to describe to you how much more intense it is to see 99 hp on Bowser and to do about 5 damage to him.  8 damage was like HOLY SHIT I’M ROLLIN 8’s BOW DOWN.  It’s through this simplistic approach to RPGs that Paper Mario reminds us why RPGs can be so damn fun.  They managed to not only innovate but make a game that is both user-friendly and extremely strategic and sometimes complex.  When you roll up on a boss and he has 5 defense power and your attack is only 4 (you’re hittin’ him for 0) it means that you actually have to figure out how to kill the damn guy.  It’s absolutely never a matter of just doing x amount of damage, and I love that.  In most RPGs there are maybe 2 or 3 bosses in the whole game that force you to use alternative tactics to best them (pictured above).  What is the exception in other RPGs is the rule in Paper Mario and that puts it in a class all its own.  Instead of obtaining 15 useless skills that maybe apply to a single enemy type while just holding down X to win, Paper Mario forces you to explore every option in your arsenal.  What this does is take what seems to be a simple or dumbed down RPG and elevates it to an almost genius level.  Who would’ve thought that you would find the most genuine representation of strategic, robust and thoughtful gameplay in a cartoony Mario role playing game where all your characters are paper and your first party character is a little goomba with a baseball cap?

When Super Mario RPG came out it was a definite fan favorite,  a meeting of two very creative companies.  Still today people talk about it, remember it and wish there was a sequel.  I was one of those people.  I was one of those people until 2 days ago.  I used to be upset over the Nintendo-SquareSoft fallout and even more upset that Nintendo had attempted to carry on the Mario RPG legacy in the form of some bullshit Paper Mario thing.  I wanted to see Geno in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.  What I failed to realize for SO LONG was that not only did I get everything I already wanted but I got more.  Or rather I was given more but I chose not to receive it.

And the winner is... !!

Paper Mario delivers in so many ways that it’s a legitimate Unsolved Mystery why so many people (like me) failed to give it any sort of credit.  I mean…I feel dumb.  It’s like Nintendo took Super Mario RPG and was like hey good try SquareSoft but this is how you do it right, and then they just did it.  Paper Mario showed me lots of stuff about games, the state of gaming, RPGs…but mostly myself.  The shit I always thought about SMRPG (like, “Why isn’t there a sequel?”) have now been replaced by more general and serious complaints about RPGs because of Paper Mario.  “Why can’t RPGs be more like this?“ was a constant thought that ran through my head while playing it.  I will always have a soft spot in my heart for SMRPG because it really is a good game but Paper Mario helped me realize that I should take off my nostalgic goggles and bump it off the pedestal I had it on.

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7 thoughts on “Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars vs. Paper Mario

  1. Yeah, it’s like…hey, I’m a Mario fan. Am I NOT going to put Bowser and Peach in my party? I mean, I’d love to branch out here…but I’ve got three slots, three Mario characters…and two underdeveloped wierdies who aren’t from anything. Let’s do the math, Square.

  2. One of the things I love most about Paper Mario was how they handled experience points.

    And it’s one of the few RPG to actually have side-quests you look forward to. The rewards are significant, and you know to look forward to the side-quests because it deliberately sets up a pattern for introducing them.

  3. Yes, Paper Mario is, in my opinion, the best Mario RPG ever made. Here are my top 3 Mario RPGs to prove it:

    1) Paper Mario
    2) Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
    3) Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga

    Paper Mario is our hero!

    1. Wow. I didn’t expect myself to bump into you here. Anyways, you’re totally wrong. Mario and Luigi partners in time is the number one Mario rpg of all time because it has everything the other Mario rpgs lack. Paper Mario and the thousand door is the only good paper Mario game in the series and that’s the fact. Now please get your facs right.

  4. I completely agree. Paper Mario is one of my favorite RPGs of all time and was basically THE RPG that got me into RPGs. It really improves upon everything that made Super Mario RPG great but made it so much better and felt more Marioish that Final Fantasyish. Now excuse me for saying this, but I have to disagree on you comments about both these game’s music. I prefer Paper Mario’s soundtrack over Super Mario RPG’s personally because I found Paper Mario’s more versatile. There are catchy themes, rock themes, tear jerking themes you name it and all of theme feel like they belong in a Mario game. I still prefer Peach’s theme, Mario and Peach’s Firework song and the wish of the princess, shiver mountain, Tubba Blubba’s theme over some of Super Mario Rpg’s best songs.

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