Since I have two semi-related topics I wanna talk about, I’m going to make this a split post, or two posts mashed together, like a punk rock split 7-inch (or should that be grindcore, given the topic?? HA! I’m funny.)

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So first, I finally made it through Super Mario RPG, as I reported starting nearly a month ago. It only took me 22 years of being asked, “WHAT? You’ve never played Super Mario RPG?” to get around to it, but it’s not the first time I’ve come to a party late (see also: most of my “What are we playing?” posts), nor will it be the last. But I’m glad I did it!

Overall, I liked SMRPG, and it helped me appreciate where the Paper Mario games took their direction from. The main complaints I’ve heard from others are pretty much true: the isometric view is a hindrance to accuracy when it comes to jumping sections, to put it nicely. In other words, I missed crucial jumps and fell a lot and it was kinda bullshit. Some of the puzzles were ridiculous (the 3D maze and the Triathlon quiz come to mind), but most of the game was fairly breezy. Combat was fun enough, though sometimes frustrating if you didn’t have the right team members assembled (there are 5 total but you can only have 3 at a time). I used Mario, Geno, and Mallow most of the time, although near the end swapping Mallow for Princess Toadstool becomes very essential for her mass-healing abilities. The story was okay, serving to introduce some new characters such as Geno and Mallow, but most importantly allowing the novelty of Mario and Bowser finally teaming up, which makes it too bad that I didn’t really find Bowser all that useful throughout the game.

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My favorite moment was actually the way I happened to defeat Smithy and beat the game: After using heavy attacks from Mario and Geno, and Toadstool playing healer almost the entire battle, my party was near full health and the Princess had the opportunity to attack — and she ended up taking out the final boss with a slap to the face from her dainty little white-gloved hand. It was one of those hilarious fluke gameplay moments I’ll probably always remember (note to self: that’s a great blog post topic idea).

I played SMRPG on an emulator — no regrets there, savestates proved to be a godsend as I felt that save points in this game were way too few and far between (over the years I’ve come to resent RPGs that don’t let you save anywhere). It also allowed me to go back and retry sections I felt I could have improved on, or explore different routes through some sections (like the six doors in Bowser’s Keep).

I know the game is packed with extra minigames and sidequests and hidden items, but I didn’t explore too many of them. Although I obtained the Shiny Stone, I unfortunately neglected to keep a savestate from which I could go back and fight Culex, the secret hidden super-boss seemingly crossing dimensions from the world of Final Fantasy (he’s not actually in any Final Fantasy games, but he’s a very traditional FF-style boss, with the FFIV boss battle music). I tried once just to check him out and got stomped, but I had every intention of leveling-up and taking him on for real later on. Ah well.

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I did think to grab a screenshot though, so that’s exciting

So! That’s Super Mario RPG under my belt, then.

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Sure, no sweat

Every time I finish an RPG, I kind of want to start another one. Which leads me to part deux of this post…

When in Doubt, Grind it Out

20+ years ago, I actually considered myself bad at RPGs. I know — how can anyone be bad at RPGs?? They’re the videogame genre that’s literally made for anyone to be good at.

I started playing JRPG videogames pretty much at the beginning — when the first Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest) was released in the US. (I actually bought it for 40 bucks, before it was a free giveaway with Nintendo Power magazine.) And I beat it! As I was playing it, I did quickly familiarize myself with the concept of “grinding,” or just running around fighting enemies for the sake of building up experience points and/or money. It was kind of annoying that it stopped the flow of the game, but it was necessary to advance in many cases.

My RPG career started off well enough, before things took a turn

The next RPG I played was the original Final Fantasy — again, when it came out in the US. I never actually made it all the way through that one — I think perhaps I lost interest and dropped it in favor of something else, I’m not sure.

So, heading into the 16-bit era, when RPGs really started to make a bigger impact (especially outside of Japan), my standing for RPGs was 1-1 — I beat one, and one beat me. But I liked them, and was excited for Final Fantasy II (or IV, which is how I’ll refer to it here) to come out on the Super NES, and I bought it when it came out.

I loved FFIV and was enjoying a nice, fun game the whole time — then all of a sudden, the final dungeon on the moon beat the stuffing out of me. It had only taken me about 20 hours of game play to reach it, but I found myself overwhelmed when I got there. What happened? Well, frustrated, I put the game aside, unfinished, and there it sat…for two years.

Stuck on the moon, just like Rock Volnutt

In that time, I kind of avoided RPGs, feeling like I really didn’t have the hang of them. Action games with RPG elements, like Zelda: A Link to the Past or Illusion of Gaia, weren’t a problem for me, but the menu-driven, item-juggling, party-building RPGs started to intimidate me. Of course, during that period, games like Final Fantasy III (VI, which I will again refer to as such from here on out), Chrono Trigger, and Earthbound gained a foothold in gaming culture and I was starting to feel like I was missing out. Also, my friends were giving me shit. Yeah, I was definitely missing out, and I kinda had no excuse to be “bad” at RPGs.

Eventually — I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes, I guess — I realized that I had rushed through FFIV, running from battles and trying to squeeze my way to the end, which is why I found myself completely underpowered when I got there. So I decided that before I took on FFVI or Chrono or any more RPGs, that I had to finish Final Fantasy IV.

My saved game from 2 years prior was still on the cartridge, so one night I fired it up, and took some tentative steps around that last dungeon. I fought some random battles and won. And then some more. And then I gained some levels, and saved my game, and began to lather, rinse, and repeat. Being near the end of the game, the battles were pretty tough at first, but that meant the levels were coming fairly quickly. After several more hours of gameplay, I tried my luck at some of the final bosses, and won! I was not only gaining XP, but confidence! Finally, after maybe a few days of working on it, I took on Zeromus, and beat the stuffing out of him. Man, was that a great feeling!

Wow, there it is — my old save is still on my FFIV cartridge

And there I was, feeling proud and accomplished, but also feeling foolish that I had let Final Fantasy IV weigh me down for two years when all it took was a few extra hours of work to polish it off. After that, I had the confidence to take on Final Fantasy VI (finished), Chrono Trigger (finished), Lunar: The Silver Star and Lunar: Eternal Blue (finished and finished), and many more RPGs over the years. And although I never went back and finished the NES Final Fantasy, I did play all the way through the PSP remake.

So I learned a simple but valuable lesson, which I keep with me to this day when I’m having trouble in an RPG: When it doubt, just grind it out. In fact, I’ve gotten into the habit of over-grinding a lot, just to make sure I never have another FFIV situation again.

So where next to conquer? Well, I do still have some unfinished business in the Final Fantasy world