Two Divergent Paths: Super Mario RPG Turns 25 (Part 5)

We conclude our look back at Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars by examining the game's aftermath, in which Nintendo and Squaresoft parted ways.


There has been much about Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars that is worth celebrating. Over the past week, we've taken a look at the game's origins, the world, the story, the stakes, the characters, the relationships, and the various ways it made history in the Mario series. For Nintendo, it successfully opened a brand new avenue for one of its biggest characters. For Squaresoft, it was one of the developer's first major successes in North America. A sequel felt inevitable. Unfortunately, it never wound up happening, because within the next year, Nintendo and Squaresoft would part ways.

The relationship between Nintendo and Squaresoft looked to be solid at first. As explained by DidYouKnowGaming, former Squaresoft President Hisashi Suzuki approached Nintendo about putting together a sequel before the original game ever hit shelves. But if Super Mario RPG was such a hit, then what happened? Why did the sequel never materialize? The answer involved gaming's next generation.

Super Mario RPG released 25 years ago in Japan (May 1996 in North America), roughly six months before the debut of the Nintendo 64. It was considered the Super Nintendo's greatest swansong and the striking visuals for the time showed why. As noted earlier in the week, Square went to painstaking measures to make Legend of the Seven Stars work on a Super NES cartridge. With the Nintendo 64 also set to run on cartridges, a Super Mario RPG sequel would likely require another herculean effort on Square's part to surpass what they had put together in the original game. Therefore, as noted by 'The Gaming Historian' Norman Caruso, Square saw the inherent restrictions of working on cartridges as an insurmountable hurdle. In order for Square to branch out creatively, they had to turn to a newcomer to the gaming space: Sony.

After the release of Super Mario RPG, Nintendo and Square ended their working relationship. Square would instead partner with Sony, creating games for their new PlayStation console. For Square, the result was some of their best work ever made, which led to a boom period that continues to carry the company to this day. Nearly 18 months after the release of Super Mario RPG, Square put out what some would argue is the company's opus: Final Fantasy VII, a game that spanned three CD-ROMs and would have been impossible to run with the Nintendo 64's cartridge-based media. Square would continue enjoying success with the Final Fantasy series, while also putting out games in the Chrono Trigger and Mana series. Five years after Final Fantasy VII, Square would enjoy crossover success once more with a new dance partner, Disney, as the two parties would join forces for the worldwide phenomenon known as Kingdom Hearts.

Kingdom Hearts showed that Square could still win the crossover game even without Nintendo

For Nintendo, losing Square was a major blow, but far from a death knell for Mario's new foray into RPGs. The Super Mario RPG sequel would originally be unveiled at the 1997 SpaceWorld event, where fans were treated to an early concept trailer. This trailer showed off some of the turn-based battles from the original game, some early menus, and a series of overworld puzzles that would require Mario to work with some new friends. More intriguing than any of that was a new art style, one that traded in the isometric 3D visuals for something more akin to brightly-colored papercraft.

Even with Squaresoft out of the picture, development on Mario's next RPG would continue, though it would no longer be a "true" sequel to Legend of the Seven Stars. Instead, it would be an all-new series called Paper Mario, which would utilize some of the original concepts pitched for the Super Mario RPG sequel. Intelligent Systems would take over work on the new game and utilize several elements of Super Mario RPG, such as the turn-based battles and the quirky dialogue. The Paper Mario series would go on to craft (no pun intended) its own identity, eventually overhauling the typical JRPG turn-based combat formula and creating something entirely unique. Intelligent Systems remains on the Paper Mario series to this day, most recently putting out Paper Mario: The Origami King in 2020.

The Paper Mario series remains a hit to this day

That wasn't the only RPG series that Nintendo had in mind for Mario, though. The handheld Game Boy Advance and its eventual successors, the Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS, would get their own Mario RPG series, entirely separate from the Paper Mario games. The Mario & Luigi games would be turn-based JRPGs that would center almost exclusively on the titular brothers. These stories would combine the high stakes of an RPG plot, the turn-based combat, and character building elements. However, the Mario & Luigi series would stand out with its lighthearted dialogue and its slapstick humor. In fact, the typical four to five character parties would go out the window in favor of Mario and Luigi handling adventures on their own with Luigi often serving in a comedy relief role.

Mario & Luigi was handled by AlphaDream, which employed several members of the original Super Mario RPG development team, including Legend of the Seven Stars co-director Chihiro Fujioka. With that pedigree, Mario & Luigi carried on the spirit of Super Mario RPG's "timed hits" mechanics, taking the concept even further with outlandish tandem attacks that saw Mario and Luigi team up for special moves. The brothers would go on to team up with their past selves, with the big bad Bowser once more, and even with Paper Mario in a one-time-only clash of Nintendo's two Mario RPG series. Unfortunately, after four entries in the Mario & Luigi series, AlphaDream declared bankruptcy and is no more.

The Mario & Luigi games' slapstick comedy helped it stand out and also keep the RPG spirit alive

On this 25th anniversary of Super Mario RPG's release, both Nintendo and Square are richer for their collaboration. Nintendo got to take the face of its company in an exciting new direction while Square planted the seeds for its future creative efforts. Decades after their initial falling out, Nintendo and Square have at least mended their relationship to the point that Square Enix games have started to emerge on Nintendo platforms once again. That includes Square's PlayStation efforts, which have found a home on the Nintendo Switch, as well as Nintendo console exclusive titles like Octopath Traveler. Square has even offered Cloud Strife and Sephiroth, the hero and villain of Final Fantasy VII, as playable characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. While the two publishers may not be working in a direct collaborative capacity like they did with Super Mario RPG, the gaming world looks to be in a better place with both parties back on speaking terms.

Will there ever be a direct sequel to Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars? That feels highly unlikely, especially as Super Mario RPG's story ended conclusively. Smithy was defeated, Geno returned to the Star Road, Mallow settled into his new role as Prince of Nimbus Land, Bowser returned to his role as chief series villain, and Mario and Toadstool (renamed Peach just months later) returned to the Mushroom Kingdom as heroes. Of course, in the world of pop culture, where nostalgia is king, stranger things have happened. Maybe there will be an official Super Mario RPG 2 someday. Regardless of whether or not Nintendo and Square opt to band together one more time and return to these characters, it won't change Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars' place in video game history. It's Mario's first and arguably best RPG, it's the game that helped launch Squaresoft to new heights in North America, and it's one of the last truly great Super Nintendo titles. And, of course, it still stands the test of time 25 years later.

Thanks for reading! If you missed the first four chapters of this week-long feature, be sure to catch up with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of Super Mario RPG Turns 25

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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