As always, a friendly reminder that this post may contain spoilers.
This will be a RPG length post. I have decided to call them that.
The title of today’s post reflects one of my first thoughts early on in the game. When I saw this sword crash down and he named Smithy as the boss of the operation, it seemed clear that he was the big bad of the game. Though this wasn’t the case, I like to think that the overarching thought process stayed with my older brother and I as we played Super Mario RPG. We explored the crazy world and characters, logging them into our memories for years to come. This game was the game to buy when it came out, and my brother and I were more than willing to work outside in the yard in order to earn money to get the game. When it did come out, we were ecstatic and it’s one of the few games that Andrew and I have the exact same memories of. I even called him to ask the name of a boss instead of Google. How weird is that?
Yoko Shimomura (who did the music for Street Fighter II) is in the wheelhouse for Super Mario RPG. She used some arrangements of Koji Kondos original Mario music and about 3 songs from Nobuo Uematsu (since this game was made in part by Squaresoft). As per most RPGs, the soundtrack covers a lot of ground and presents the themes of many different characters and areas. So I have many choices, but I’ll try and only pick the songs that have the most significance to me.
Battle Against Koopa (or Bowser)
This is a relatively short but sweet track. This is the music that plays when you confront Bowser in the beginning of the game, and it’s a remix of the battle theme with Bowser in Super Mario Bros. 3. Obviously the purpose of this track is to help along people recall the confrontational relationship between Bowser and Mario. Instead of any build up, we jump right into the action against Bowser, reminding us that even though they’re using a final boss theme, in this game there is so much more in store. The final boss of Mario 3 becomes a tutorial boss as this awesome remix shows how small Bowser is in the grand picture of this game.
Fight Against an Armed Boss
This is the song that plays whenever Mario and company battle a member of the Smithy Gang. While certain enemies do have their own boss themes, this consistent battle theme track helps to link the Smithy Gang to each other and the main plot. Like much of the soundtrack, it’s upbeat, but with a hint of the sinister. The Smithy Gang are weapons, so they’re pretty easy to single out amongst other bosses in the game. The music just helps to accentuate that point.
You walk into the lobby of Booster’s tower and this music plays:
It’s a quaint theme, with Snifits walking around the lobby and looking at the paintings. You’re here to save Princess Toadstool so there is no time to waste. The elevator music plays until you get into a room with a train track above the entrance. The train rolls up and the owner of the tower sits on top of it. He sounds like a crazy person, and the instant he opens his mouth all wide, we get the true nature of Booster and his residence as we hear the song…
And My Name’s Booster
This is the theme of a mad man, and you can hear the similarities between this and that one scene from Pulp Fiction. You know that one scene. No. I’m not going to tell you which scene. Watch Pulp Fiction and you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s the theme of an individual living out their desires without any regard or restraint. Booster’s Tower is full of dangers but it seems clear that Booster himself doesn’t care. He loves it, and since this is his tower, we have to live by Booster’s rules. You never fight Booster if you do everything right, so it seems like Booster isn’t the kind of guy that Mario should want to tangle with. That scene.
Beware the Forest Mushrooms
Every soundtrack I cover tends to have one song that practically everyone knows. Usually this would be the part of the post where I say that this song doesn’t reverberate as well with me, but to be honest, “Beware the Forest Mushrooms” is just that good. It sounds like the song is repeating without actually doing so, helping setup the cyclical nature of the Forest Maze that it takes place in. The beauty of the song is also framed by the fact that you are following the footsteps of Geno, who after being brought to life as a star, is just one of the many mystical things that the forest emanates.
It’s no wonder that it’s so popular; so many people spent so damn long in the forest maze that it would be hard to forget. Thank goodness we had such a good song to hear.
Culex Battle Theme
We’re going to take a pit stop in our journey here with a look at the boss theme of one of the two optional bosses in SMRPG: Culex. After you unlock a door in Monstro Town with the Shiny Stone, you step inside, but instead of a house, you’re in an empty void of time and space. Culex approaches you as a smallish sprite and in true Final Fantasy fashion, turns out to look like this:
Culex is the hardest boss in the game and is a crossover character from no specific Final Fantasy in particular. This is a slightly remixed boss theme of the one from Final Fantasy IV, and the first time I saw Culex, I had no idea that he was from that franchise. Weird, as it seems pretty clear now. From the detailed spritework and characteristics that anyone who played a Final Fantasy game for the SNES would have identified him as such.
Culex was just a beast of a fight. When you finished your battle with him, a modified version of the Final Fantasy victory fanfare played and then Mario has a conversation with Culex. He breaks the fourth wall, mentioning that if he and Mario had met each other in a different time or game, they could have been friends. All this happens while the original Final Fantasy theme plays in the background. These mark the three Nobuo Uematsu songs that Yoko Shimomura arranged for use in the game, and they’re used to great effect.
Fight Against Smithy, Part 1
Back in the Chrono Trigger post, a made it seem that World Revolution was the end-all and be-all of final battle themes. First of all, if I made it sound like that, I apologize. There are plenty of amazing final boss themes, so I don’t wish to belittle any others. Second of all, this track is one of the default songs that I think of when I am told to imagine a final battle song. Smithy is the one who has been creating all of the weapons (as his name might imply), so when you finally confront him, it’s a big moment. The organs that start us off get you right into that moment of terror. It implies that just because Smithy doesn’t fight on the frontlines, it doesn’t mean he’s a weakling. The continuous thumping of the bass plays off the factory setting where you battle Smithy, and there are small parts that hint at Smithy’s madness. This was the first RPG that both my older brother and I had played through, so that made the impact of this music all the more terrifying and blood-pumping.
After you deal enough damage to Smithy, his minions try to tell him to watch his blood pressure. He slams his hammer down repeatedly on the ground and causes the platform you are all standing on to fall. You land in a room full of creepy robotic heads and so Smithy transforms and begins:
Fight Against Smithy, Who Likes Transforming.
As the song title says, Smithy enjoys partaking in the act of transforming. He’s so filled with rage and contempt that he repeatedly slams his smith hammer against his head, morphing himself into a new shape. He can’t really get complete sentences out anymore while, so the song tells the rest of the story. Smithy has lost control of himself and is no longer in a state to think about anything other than destroying you. He may destroy himself in his frenzy, but will make sure you go down with him. The song represents pure chaos and unchecked rage. No longer is there a sense of an epic struggle, but instead there is a monster who would much prefer to tear you to pieces than have a duel.
With this song, I like to imagine that if there were no restraints to the engine, then Smithy would spend this entire fight screaming bloody murder at you. I’m always relieved when I defeat Smithy, because I’d always prefer to spend the least amount of time fighting this beast as possible. As an added note, the hundreds of Smithy heads in the room make me think that this isn’t the first time Smithy has lost his cool, to the point of keeping spare heads as backup.
Super Mario RPG is a game that is so thoroughly ingrained in my system that I could quote from characters who only said one to two words. It also reminds me of a time that my brother and I shared, experiencing our first JRPG together. It was so long before I played another one that before I did, I assumed Super Mario RPG was a totally separate kind of game. It isn’t, of course, and I appreciate Squaresoft for being such a huge part of my childhood.
Now, I know what you may be thinking: “Alex, you just did a Mario RPG, now you won’t do any more :(.” I thought about this for a while, and have decided that despite covering one Mario RPG, there are three more that I will tackle in order. Here’s a hint, one of them isn’t really much of an RPG at all, but falls into the category because of the series it’s named after. Expect those posts to be quite long, and maybe even longer than the RPG length posts normally are since I have so many tracks to choose from and intend to use them.
Thanks again for reading and I’ll see you tomorrow for a new post!
Here We Go!