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"Let's a-GO!": A study in good fangame design.

Originally posted on September 26th, 2011.

When it comes to fan games, few are able to hit that "sweet spot" that blurs the line between that obvious indie project and their commercial counterpart. Fewer still are those who one day promise an expansion pack of sorts that you actually find yourself interested in waiting for. Super Mario RPG: The Seven Sages is in my opinion one of those games. It is in its nature a welcome departing from your typical Dragon Warrior/Final Fantasy fangames (or anything else we've seen plenty of (Legend of Zelda, perhaps?)) which, with its few flaws, manages to entertain with its overwhelming amount of flavor and expression in a way I've yet to see in any RM* game I've played to date. With that being said, allow me to go into detail why I feel this game deserves the score I will rate it at the bottom of this review and the praise handed throughout.


The game starts off simple enough; you're supposed to meet up with Princess Peach in the Mushroom Kingdom Castle so that you can travel together to Daisy's Palace. Why exactly you are needed there isn't explained right away (which may be considered by a few as bad writing), but like most things in this game, your reason behind everything you do is brought to light with time. As you begin making your way to your destination, you must first brave the Mushroom Pass where a Goomba Army is growing in presence. The action cuts away for a moment to introduce two of the many villains of the game: Wario and Waluigi. These two longtime Mario Bros counter-parts are seen in their typical treasure-grubbing fashion plotting to steal the key to Star Haven to undoubtedly obtain some great power or perform some dastardly deed.

Later, you are introduced to the game's main two main plot devices, the Star Rod and the seven Sages. Much like in the original Paper Mario, the Star Rod is held by the villains throughout most of the game and used to grant evil wishes. The wishes granted in Super Mario RPG: The Seven Sages tend to be made to harvest the energy of the Sages and weaken them so as to keep them from interfering with the Wario Bros' plans. Fortunately for our heroes, the Sages are still able to lend their aid during their quest to obtain the blessings of the others and stop the Wario Bros from causing more turmoil.

Throughout the game, both the heroes and the villains appear to progress at equal rates with chance crossroad meetings along the path. Although not all that rare in RPGs spanning old school titles to today, it is always encouraged to flesh out both a main storyline for the protagonists and an equally (if not more so) important sub-storyline for the antagonists. Luckily, you are greeted to both at opportune times in charming and often humorous ways. Cutscenes come together smoothly with highly expressive characters that make full use of the graphics granted to them and actions are shown in great detail.


As such is true with the rest of the game, this section is handled with great expertise and shines just as well as any commercial grade Mario game before it. Whenever applicable, you are able to stomp on switches, break rocks with your hammer, jump to hit health, save, and treasure blocks, travel behind the scenes to uncover hidden passageways, ride in a mine cart, man an airplane/submarine while blasting through enemies, turn into a Boo to gain the trust of the inhabitants of a haunted mansion, and even challenge a Yoshi to a race up the side of a cliff. All of these serve to entertain and encourage the player, though some succeed at this more than others.

In the mini-game "Track Tactics", your ability to react at the right moment while keeping a level head will be tested as you attempt to dodge rocks that lay on the tracks ahead of you. Usually this wouldn't be a problem if your game is programmed correctly, but even then this one will more than likely cause you some grief unless you take the time to drop by Youtube and watch someone else play it first. You see, not only will you have to avoid these rocks which, upon hitting, will send you back a couple of spaces and waste a little of your time, but also poison mushrooms that will take precious seconds off the clock. So now you went from jumping the tracks to avoid hitting rocks to jumping the tracks to find the most beneficial path to the end all while making constant decisions. The first time I played through this game, I very nearly almost gave up at this part but pushed onward as I had already come so far.

Another section of the game many have had trouble with is the Goomba Army raid, where you must time your attacks just so as to take down wave after wave of Goombas. This starts off simple with predictable patterns but is exchanged for a sort of shuffle which makes success on your first attempt extremely unlikely. Whether by designer error or intentional mercy, this particular scene is "bugged" so that even when your HP should be zero, you don't die. This allows anyone with enough patience to finish the hurdle and progress (at least in the version I played).

Nasty mini-game madness aside, this game is also filled with optional content such as the Pit of 100 Trials, a boss rush, many badges and suits to customize your characters as you see fit, alternative routes to access treasures, a Yoshi egg hunting mini-game, many levels of a Mario platformer puzzle game, and much more.

As for the combat section of the gameplay; for those who despise grinding, this game is for you. Only on rare occasion did I find myself in need of a few more extra levels than I left myself at, which is, for a person like me, a dream come true so that our immersion in the storyline isn't wasted. Unfortunately this makes one particular chapter in the game seem fairly small as it consists of little more than walking into the forest, getting some boots, and fighting a boss to obtain the power of one of the seven Sages.


For those who know me, this is one of those things I feel every game should have down pat: damn good mapping. For Super Mario RPG: The Seven Sages, the mapping is very good but seems to be slightly lacking in a few places. I fear this may just be because of the graphics used encouraging a basic layout, but even still the game manages to pull off a genuine Mario feel just fine. One thing that this game does have is a good sense of understanding of what makes each area stand out and fulfill the need for a theme. Whether you're sneaking through the mansion of the Boos or the recently-stolen Bowser's Castle, you really get a feel that you're surrounded on all sides by your location.

Now smooth chipsets will only get you so far, but for everything else, there's pictures. An airship, a plane, a dune cruiser, a ship, an opening door, a literal star gate, a floating castle, a flickering computer screen surrounded by all sorts of flashy buttons, things too massive to fit properly in a chipset and too animated for a static panorama, this game seems at times to be 50% solid earth and 50% living, breathing energy. What would otherwise be too stiff for fluid motion becomes a realistic take off from the Mushroom Kingdom airport. Large bosses, fire balls, protagonists being hurled through the air, expanding road signs, and even the seven Sages themselves make up another good chunk of this game's animation and it all flows together smoothly.


Where would a good Mario game be without familiar music and sound effects? Probably well on its way back to GameStop. Fortunately for all our sakes, this game also has its fair share of sound to excite one's ears. Music from all different sources come together beautifully and aid to the game's already exceptional level of charm, all leading to the climactic battle against the final boss in what is honestly one of the most perilous seeming encounters I've experienced recently. Character speeches are also graced by sound bites along with their hand gestures and other animations. One thing I must say about this part is that hearing Mario and Luigi's jumbled gobbledygook tended to grow on my nerves only slightly nearing the end of the game as I had heard this roughly one hundred times leading up to that point. That's not to say that this took away from the experience as it definitely added to that flavor I kept bringing up all through this review, it's just that recycling anything over and over becomes dull after so long.

Final Statements:

Though there were some things I chose not to do, such as finish the Pit of 100 Trials and the boss rush, I still thoroughly enjoyed the two weeks or so spent playing this game and eagerly await the arrival of the "Luigi Chronicles" so that I can begin to enjoy this once again. And as mentioned at the beginning of this review, this is one game that I'm actually excited about some tacked on expansion pack, which goes to show just how good a game can be given the right attention to detail and circumstances. With all that had been said, this game, I feel, has well deserved a...