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GoNintendo Thought: Remembering Super Mario RPG on its 24th anniversary

The birth of a new genre for Mario

I wrote this feature late last night. Turned out to be really great timing on my part! That's the second time this has happened with my 'Thoughts' features. Do I have magical prediction powers?! I better choose my next topic wisely! As always, thanks for reading.

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I will never forget the months leading up to Super Mario RPG's launch in 1996. I was just 14 back then, but I was already a lifelong Nintendo fan. I followed Nintendo and their adventures across their various hardware, and couldn't wait to see what was next for the company's biggest names. That of course included Mario, as I was always eager to see what the plumber's next big game would be.

That's when I found out about Super Mario RPG...and my heart sunk. This wasn't going to be a traditional Mario game or even a standard spin-off. This was a foray into a completely different genre for Mario, as Nintendo and Squaresoft were partnering up to make an RPG. 14-year-old RMC was absolutely terrified of RPGs back then. Playing games where you had no direct control over your movement in battle, and you had to fight using menus?! How in the world could that ever work?!

I had not played a single RPG up to that point in my life, save for a very quick spurt with The Final Fantasy Legend on Game Boy. My cousin got the game as a gift, and he had no idea how to play it. He turned to me for some advice, and I was completely lost. I vividly remember staring at the screen and having no idea what to do. What were all these menus? Why was there so much text? How do I move and fight back!?

This is why I broke into a cold sweat when I first found out about Super Mario RPG. I had played every Mario game up to that point, as any self-respecting Nintendo fan would! That said, Mario hadn't ever been in an RPG before! I honestly didn't know what to do. Was this going to be the first Mario game I didn't play? Was Nintendo going to turn Mario games into RPG-only affairs going forward? It was quite a scary time for me!

I followed every single bit of coverage for Super Mario RPG that came out after that point. Obviously that came from magazines back in the day. I would read blurbs about the game's mechanics, new features, and everything else. The Final Fantasy series was mentioned countless times, and each time I came across it I became more nervous. This really might be the first Mario game that I just wouldn't be able to play.

After a lot of soul-searching, I decided I would give the game a shot when it came out. I owed it to myself as a Nintendo fan, and I owed it to Mario as well! That said, I wasn't going to ask for the game as a gift or trade in other games to get it. I was too afraid that I would be mentally unable to play the game, not being smart enough to comprehend what was going on. I decided I would wait for my local video game rental store to stock the title, and then I'd grab it for a week and try my best.

After a bit of patience on my end, the day arrived. I went to the rental store with my parents and ran to the game section, as I always did. Sitting on the shelf was one copy of Super Mario RPG. I studied the box intensely, still unsure if I wanted to take the plunge. After weighing the decision a million times over, I decided to pluck the box off the shelf and bring it up to my parents. I had sealed my fate, and I was diving into a whole new world that I knew I wasn't ready for.

I can't lie...my first few hours with Super Mario RPG were extremely rough. I was trying my hand at completely new type of game for the very first time! I was used to running and jumping on enemies, having complete control over my character, and being able to move away from enemy attacks. Super Mario RPG was like learning a foreign language. It just seemed to make no sense to me.

My first major hurdle in the game came from Croco, who comes up within the first half-hour of the game. To this very day, I remember getting killed by him over and over...and over. I honestly can't remember what I was doing wrong, but I know that he was taking me out almost instantly. Hell, I was having trouble getting to him, let alone having enough health to take him on! After hours of trying, I honestly thought that this was the end for me. I just wasn't capable of playing Super Mario RPG, and RPGs in general weren't for me. They just didn't click, and sadly, I wouldn't be able to accompany Mario on his next adventure.

After giving the game a rest for a day, I decided to start fresh. I wanted to clear my mind and come at things from a different perspective. I went back and re-read some magazine snippets and tried my best to take my time and really understand what was going on. Even though I knew struggles were ahead, I wanted to take another whack at things.

The second time around went...better. It wasn't perfect by any means, but I did end up getting past Croco. I kid you not, I felt like the king of the world when I took him down. I remember throwing my fists in the air and cheering to myself with a huge smile on my face. That lasted for a few seconds, and then reality set in. If I had that much trouble with Croco, who is the first hurdle in the game, how in the world was I going to be able to tackle what was ahead?

Soon enough, I was met with an even greater challenge. I made my way to Mack, and he made Croco seem like the easiest battle ever. I couldn't believe how long the battle with Mack would go on for, and I saw no possible way to get past him. The day before, I thought Croco would be the end of me. Fast-forward a day, and Mack had me wishing that I were fighting Croco again. How in the world did people play RPGs and get anywhere?! This seemed like absolute torture to me!

I went through the same process over and over again. I would try to beat someone, feel like they were impossible, and then take a break for a day. I'd come back the next day refreshed and with a cooler head. This helped me to make progress, albeit very slowly. Back in those days, RPGs definitely were far outside of the realm of what I was comfortable with, but I was learning. Anyone watching me play would have required the patience of a saint, but thankfully, I was going the adventure alone. I stumbled at every opportunity, but I kept getting back up.

I convinced my parents to let me keep the game for a week longer than initially planned, and they obliged. I kept cranking away at the game, understanding it a little bit better, and gaining a minor appreciation for how everything played out. I was still scared the entire time I played, and I struggled everywhere you possibly could, but I was compelled to push on. Even though I didn't consider Super Mario RPG as much fun as a 'regular' game, I couldn't deny that it had its hooks in me.

By the time the end of my second week came, I had made it up to Monstro Town. I think that's a little less than halfway through the game, which just goes to show how much trouble I had playing it. I spent time with Super Mario RPG every single day I rented it, but that still wasn't enough to get me more than almost halfway. Still, I had finally cracked the seal on my RPG vacuum. I was learning how the genre worked, and finally understood why people enjoyed the style of gameplay. While I wasn't chomping at the bit to play Final Fantasy, I at least could see how people were intrigued by it.

I'm really glad I put time into Super Mario RPG all those years ago, even if I didn't beat it on my initial playthrough. I would eventually wrap up the game many years later, thanks to a used copy I picked up. Still though, playing Super Mario RPG was the right decision on my part, because Nintendo would indeed return to the RPG genre. Super Mario RPG left such a mark with players and Nintendo themselves, which is why the Big N would eventually return to create a Mario RPG of their own.

While Nintendo and Squaresoft had a falling out for numerous years after, their pairing gave us Super Mario RPG, which would definitely define at least one of the paths ahead for Nintendo. Nintendo got to work on their own Mario RPG a few years later, which they initially dubbed Super Mario RPG 2. That name got dropped before launch, as Nintendo decided to go with a name more fitting of the game's style. That title ended up being Paper Mario, which launched a whole new series of RPGs for Nintendo that continues on to this day.

You have to think that Super Mario RPG also paved the way for the Mario and Luigi series, which is quite close to the SNES original as well. Yet again, another RPG series for Mario that proved to be extremely popular for Nintendo, and has received multiple installments throughout the years. Even with all of its innovations and changes over the years, you can definitely see how the Mario and Luigi series was inspired by what Squaresoft and Nintendo did on the Super Nintendo.

Without Super Mario RPG, who knows what would have happened? Would Mario have ever dabbled in the RPG side of things, or would he have continued on with traditional outings, and sports/racing spin-offs? We'll obviously never be able to know for sure, but I'm happy that we live in the timeline where Super Mario RPG is a thing. It showed that Mario could be the star in a completely new type of game, and Nintendo fans were willing to follow him there. It birthed a long-running series of spin-offs that have sold millions upon millions. Super Mario RPG let us get to know Mario better than ever before, and all the RPGs since have done the same in expanding the universe.

Nintendo has had countless milestone games in their history. Titles that really helped usher in new eras in the video game industry. Games like Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time are always thrown around as titles that changed the landscape. Those experiences are definitely deserving of that title, but I think Super Mario RPG is as well. While it may not have been a mind-blowing revolution for the RPG genre, there's no denying how hugely influential and important it was to Nintendo themselves. Without that game, there's little doubt the entire Mario landscape would look very different.

Take a trip back through time with a gallery of Toys R' Us gaming displays from 1999/2000

It was a simpler time

Who doesn't love a good bit of nostalgia? If you were a kid in the late 90s/early 2000s, you'll likely feel a warm rush looking through the pictures in the tweet above.

As the Twitter user says, they purchased an album on eBay that was chock-full of pictures showcasing the gaming promotional displays at a Toys R' Us. You get a little bit of everything in that picture, including some SNES, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, N64, and Playstation merch. It really does make you miss the days of Toys R' Us and retail being the only place to buy games!

The above pictures are just the start though, as there's a whole collection of photos from the album to sift through. You can find all the other pics here.

The Switch has outsold the GameCube and Nintendo 64 combined

I think the Switch is going to do just fine

Want even more perspective on how well the Switch is doing? With the latest fiscal report from Nintendo, we know know that the Switch has sold Nintendo sold 55.77 million units worldwide. Believe it or not, that's higher than the total install base of the Nintendo 64 and GameCube combined. The N64 sold 32.93 million units, while the GameCube sold 21.74 million, making for 54.67 million sold in total.

We know the Switch outsold the SNES back over the holiday season, which means the next target is set on the NES. The Switch has to sell just 6.14 million units to tackle the total NES install base, which seems 99.9999999% assured at this point.

Final Fantasy VI translator recalls working around Nintendo's overbearing regulations, and dealing with fan backlash

It was a very different time

When it comes to Final Fantasy localizations, Ted Woolsey is a man of legend. He was brought in to help make for a more coherent translation on Final Fantasy VI (called Final Fantasy III in the states back then), and his work helped to create a much better localization than previous installments.

The job wasn't an easy one, especially when dealing with Nitnendo's rules and regulations. Nintendo oversaw game releases with an iron fist back then, with an entire bible of things devs/pubs could and couldn't do. For example, Nintendo didn't let publishers put out games that said 'die' or 'death' in the text. This meant Woolsey had to get creative with how he wrote. He explained the situation in an interview with USGamer.

"I wanted to pull as much of the drama in as possible, to try and retain what I could of the more shocking events in the game. I did my best to try and find alternatives and work around some of those blockers."

Many people believe Woolsey's work did even more to enrich the mood, and heighten the atmosphere of the game. That said, there were others who were absolutely against what Woolsey did. Due to the nature of things at the time, Woolsey couldn't talk about the project, and had to just sit back and watch complaints roll in.

"Yeah, there were some very angry people. I understood the passion, and it would have been impossible to explain to everyone what the huge trade offs [with memory capacity] were. We had a platform, the SNES, that came with rules and regulations that were in place and needed to be followed if we wanted to ship. I had to be pragmatic about it all, but of course sometimes was taken aback at how vitriolic some of the attacks were."

This is just a small snippet of the insight Woolsey shares on the localization project. Check out the full feature here.

Super Nintendo software developer says their team had a "blast processing" technique before SEGA coined the term

Gotta blast!

Back in the days of the SNES versus Genesis, SEGA was keen on getting any leg up on the competition they could. That included an extremely aggressive marketing campaign that aimed to show the SNES as an inferior piece of hardware in every way. It was that desire to trounce Nintendo that paved the way for 'blast processing.'

Blast processing is just a buzz term that didn't mean anything, but it is rooted in a bit of fact. SEGA of America's Marty Franz discovered a method that let devs push data onto the Genesis' graphics chip while a scanline was being drawn on-screen. When his colleague Scott Bayliss heard about this, Bayliss mentioned this method of "blasting" data to the graphics chip during an interview with SEGA's PR team. The PR people loved the word 'blast,' which eventually lead to the term Blast Processing.

You might know that part of the story, but here's a tidbit that's just surfaced. Apparently another team working on the Super Nintendo were cooking up a unique development trick as well, and they also coined the term 'blast processing' internally.

Former Sculptured Software developer Jeff Peters came across an interesting audio trick when working on the SNES port of Mortal Kombat. Peters' trick was actually tied to audio instead of video, and the team took to calling it Blast Processing during development. Peters explains in the snippet below, which comes from the Arcade Perfect book.

That was before Sega adopted the slogan. We could just blast sound from the cartridge onto the game scene. That allowed us to keep the resolution and sample rate of the VO higher, as well as be able to have more sound samples to use in a given fight, or on a given level.

In other words, the SNES had its own Blast Processing as well, but the term never left the inner workings of Sculptured Software. Even if Nintendo heard of it, I doubt they would have used the buzz phrase in marketing. That wasn't really Nintendo's style back in the day. They took the high road for the most part...for better or worse.

Secret of Mana gets a ridiculously gorgeous fan-made animated tribute

Stunning!

There was a time when the Mana series was dormant for years and years, but we're certainly not living in that era now. Square-Enix has embraced the series with Trials of Mana, Collection of Mana, and interest in a new installment. Of course, none of that would have happened without the original, Secret of Mana.

What better way to pay tribute to the classic than with an animated tribute? The video above was put together by Benoit Tranchet, and he's created something truly special. This feels like a high-quality intro you would have seen in the early Playstation days. Man, I'd love to see more games do something like this nowadays.

Mega Man & Bass fan-made demake in the works

Mega Man goes 8-bit again!

Mega Man & Bass originally saw release on the Super Nintendo, and then made its way to the Game Boy Advance. Now the game will live again, thanks to fan efforts. This time around, it's going to get a demake, rather than a remake!

A Mega Man & Bass Famicom/NES demake is currently underway, and you can check out the game's progress in the trailer above. There's still lots of work to do, and the team is looking to bring in new people. If you think you can help out, reach out to the team and let them know!

Japan Retro Game Association giving out 100 Super Famicoms for families to enjoy while they're stuck at home

Millions of people are staying home in order to help flatten the curve of the coronavirus. That includes people in Japan, where a state of emergency has been enacted. What are people to do while they're hanging at home? The Japan Retro Game Association thinks they have the perfect solution in the Super Famicom.

The JRGA has announced that they're giving away 100 units of the Super Famicom for families to enjoy during the pandemic. In order to get one of these units, you'll have to sign up via the official site, and you'll need to have at least one child under 16 in your home. Once applications close on April 27th, 2020, 100 lucky winners will be chosen. They'll get not just a Super Famicom, but copies of Final Fantasy VI and Donkey Kong Country as well.

Out of This World/Another World creator shows the rotoscoping process used to create the game's intro

An out-of-this-world technique

I've talked numerous times about Out of This World/Another World numerous times over the years, as it's one of my favorite games of all-time. It's a cinematic platformer that really pushed what the genre could be, and it also had some amazing visuals for the time. Ever wonder how those visuals were made?

In the case of the intro, rotoscoping was used. Rotoscoping is an animation technique where animators trace over footage frame by frame to produce realistic action. Eric Chahi, creator of Another World, used some rotoscoping techniques in creating the game's intro. You can see how that worked out in the video above.

Rotoscoping has been used in a few games, especially other cinematic platformers. Stuff like Prince of Persia and Flashback put the technique to great use for realistic animations of characters and more. While it might be a simple and commonplace technique today, this was pretty forward-thinking stuff for gaming back in the day.

Thanks to ArmoredFrog and Kolma for the heads up!

Square-Enix had a tough time adapting Seiken Densetsu 3's event scenes into 3D cut-scenes in Trials of Mana

The extra challenging aspects of an already tough project

Square-Enix has really put their all into Trials of Mana. They took the original Seiken Densetsu 3 and translated that 2D experience into a 3D polygonal game for today's audiences. The entire project took a lot of hard work, but in an interview with Nintendo Life, producer Shinichi Tatsuke said adapting the event scenes from the Super Famicom release were especially challenging.

The event scenes in the original game pushed the 2D graphics technology that we had at the time to its limits, but when we came to bring it into 3D using today’s technology, we had to use our imaginations to create some of the things like facial expressions and motions that were difficult to express back then. Doing that was quite tough, and in some scenes, we had to add in a few new lines of dialogue or extend character performances. You might notice some things if you compare it to the original game.

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