Super Mario RPG: A Localization Retrospective

Super Mario RPG Legend of the Seven Stars Title

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Super Mario RPG: A Localization Retrospective

March 9, 2021

By: Jackson Wery

 
 

In 1996, Squaresoft and Nintendo decided to embark on a collaboration. Together, they would create an RPG blending Final Fantasy's turn-based combat with the Mario franchise. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was born and became a cult classic. Though its release date was in close proximity to the Nintendo 64, Super Mario RPG's characters, atmosphere, and charm carried it through the end of the SNES life cycle. Using Mode 7's pseudo-3D graphics and often phantasmagorical character designs, Super Mario RPG pushed the Super Nintendo to its limits.

Released March 9, 1996 in Japan and coming to North American markets later that same year, Super Mario RPG was a classic Final Fantasy game in all but name. Shave off the references to Mario and company, and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Yoko Shimomura (known for her work on titles such as Parasite EveKingdom Hearts, and future Mario & Luigi RPG games) composed the soundtrack. Shigeru Miyamoto produced the game, and translator Ted Woolsey localized and translated it.

The translation of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is a fascinating process. In the '90s, the world was much smaller. Pop culture references that people in Japan would understand wouldn't necessarily transfer over. Nowadays, the Neon Genesis Evangelion references present in the Japanese version would likely be easily understood. But, in the '90s, English translations and localizations were often questionable. Revelations: Persona stands out as one especially awful localization with its character edits and cheesy dialogue. Some similarly odd choices were made by Woolsey in Super Mario RPG. His work at Square in the early- to mid-'90s can be seen throughout Final Fantasy titles at the time. The most infamous line Woolsey changed may be Tellah's "You spoony bard!" from Final Fantasy IV. His work didn't necessarily butcher the product, however. To some, they were improvements or brought new interpretations to the characters. "You spoony bard!" in fact, has reached memetic status.

Super Mario RPG Cheep Cheep
This fish came in third place in a swimming contest.

Super Mario RPG's localization did, however, leave much to be desired in terms of accuracy. Koopa Troopas used their Japanese names (Nokonoko, or ノコノコ) rather than their already-established English names. This extends to the "Noknok Shell" Mario can acquire as a weapon, as it is clearly a Koopa shell. Bizarrely, other "Troopa" enemies are referred to correctly when it comes to their variants. Sword-based boss Exor's mouth is rather nonsensically called "Neosquid." Princess Peach is referred to as "Toadstool," though Super Mario 64, released a few months later, would use both. There are many other quirks in the translation from Japanese to English. Some spelling or syntax errors appear at a couple of points in the game. Croco saying "You're still a 100 years too late to catch me!" in Bandit Way, for instance, is a very strange way of writing out "a hundred" or "one-hundred." Menu boxes were altered as well to accommodate the larger English text. Many of the changes to names and locations are documented at The Mushroom Kingdom, since it's a rather long list.

 
 

Besides oddities in translating enemy dialogue and names, sometimes things such as descriptions were flat-out wrong or omitted useful information. Pieces of equipment such as Booster's Amulet ("Great item, bad smell.") don't describe the extra effects they do (in this case, halving elemental damage), leaving players to figure it out on their own or consult a guide. While easy enough nowadays, during the later half of the '90s, this was a daunting task. This trend continues with accessories such as the Quartz Charm ("Shining source of power!") not telling the player that it increases Attack and Defense by a whopping 50% in battle and blocks instant death effects. Blocking powerful or fatal attacks becomes increasingly important by the endgame, as the action economy advantage a three-person party has over a single foe is very fragile. Bundt (a sentient cake in Marrymore) has an initial phase that requires at least two party members to damage it each turn to make progress. Knowing that the Amulet halves damage from many of its spells is a huge boon.

Super Mario RPG Large Boys
You've heard of Fat Yoshi, but nobody remembers the Fat Koopa Troopas.

Though there are patchy parts of the translation, the story still flows at a brisk pace overall. Mario and company have a good deal of characterization. Despite being a mime, Mario can temporarily shapeshift into others to convey ideas without dialogue. Peach and Bowser get hints of character development they take into later games in the series. Princess Peach is a white mage counterpart who balances her compassion by wielding folding fans and frying pans. Bowser shows a hidden soft spot when reciting poetry and even demonstrates kindness to his minions, forgiving those who abandon him to pursue a new existence. Super Mario RPG doesn't really slow down until reaching Bowser's Keep, as the final dungeon actually lies beyond the castle.

Though the 3D renders used for promotional art are rather dated, the spritework still looks good. Characters are immediately recognizable, and the use of pseudo-3D sprites for many enemies gives Super Mario RPG's battles their iconic look.

Super Mario RPG Croco
Croco is one of the first major obstacles you'll encounter in Super Mario RPG.

Scratching that itch to play is fortunately very easy. Super Mario RPG released on the Wii Virtual Console in 2008 (though it can no longer be purchased with the Wii Shop's closure). It also debuted on the Wii U shop in 2018. The Super NES Classic features Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars in its lineup as well. Thanks to some legal complications between SquareEnix and Nintendo regarding rights and intellectual property, however, a remaster is unlikely to occur anytime soon. Until then, be sure to check back with TechRaptor in the future for any news regarding Mario and company.

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