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Maybe I'm being unfair to this game, since I'm comparing it to later Mario RPGs (specifically Superstar Saga and TTYD), but... meh?
The constant across the other two I've played so far is that they compensate the simple combat and non-existent plot with tons of charm thanks to the character interactions, and an overworld that is more involved/interactive than usual for the genre.
This one here is very much victim of some "first game syndrome". There is barely any character interactions to speak of, and most of the charm comes from the sprite animations - which become more and more scarce the more you play the game. If at the beginning I had a goofy smile seeing Mario doing silly mimicry, by the end of it all, this becomes just a standard "people talking to each other in bland dialogue" JRPG.
The overworld also offers not much of anything, and actually annoyed me on occasion. Having to do some minor platforming with this isometric view wasn't very elegant, and I found the game visually unappealing. This pseudo-3D look hasn't aged gracefully imo.
There is also nothing to the combat. Everyone sharing the same MP pool just makes everything extremely limited, especially when the strongest attacks cost 15+ FPs (by endgame, I had 75 total). All summarized by one of the most mind-numbing JRPG final bosses I've ever faced, with its humongous 8000 HP, and a battle that boils down to "physical attacks only".
What an extraordinarily "it's okay" JRPG this is. At 15 hours long, it's harmless at least.
At least I can finally say that the crowds begging for Geno in Smash are fucking insane, what a nothing character.
This is only my second Mario RPG, but I can already tell I'll love this whole series, since they are so damn comfy.
Two things already stand out to me: they compensate the simplified battle mechanics with an overworld that is far more involved and interactive than the average of the genre. I really liked using all the overworld abilities to traverse through the dungeons (the final one in particular was a joy), even if I do share the common criticism of sometimes cumbersome controls.
And the other thing is, it's absolutely impossible to have an engaging/"serious" plot in the Mario universe, and I'm so glad they don't even try (Sega, takes notes). Instead, they crank the charm up to eleven and double down on the humor, and I end up playing the game with a goofy smile nearly the whole time.
I mostly don't enjoy the occasional mandatory minigame though. It's not the minigame themselves that bother me, it's the fact that some of them have a time limit. That barrel minigame was fairly miserable to me, why a time limit?
The bosses were a highlight to me however, they managed to make every fight feel unique, and that actually is also true for the standard enemies - since they have a huge pool of characters to use from this franchise, the sheer variety of common enemies is staggering, and I thought using stuff like the Dr. Mario viruses and making them all die instantly if you match their colors was incredibly clever.
Then we have the final boss, what the fuck happened there. His HP is gigantic and he's crazy punishing. The weak point isn't exposed through most of the fight, so you spend 80% of the battle killing his "non-vital" body parts over and over, all while they attack with some tricky as fuck attacks. You died? Go back to the 1st phase of the fight, asshole.
Hell, when the 2nd phase begins, the Bros. have 1 (ONE) HP left, and you're up against a boss you don't know, with attacks you've never seen, making it effectively a beginner's trap. The spinning arms thing was the bane of my existence for example.
Bizarre difficulty spike and the occasional padding aside, I really enjoyed this one, and am really looking forward to the other Mario RPGs. I think I have like five games to look forward to, hooray!
I had skipped this one when I did a mini-marathon of the GBA/DS Castlevanias some time ago, because of its poor fame.
And well, yeah, this one really is kinda weird. Iga is back to the producer's chair after they got another team to do Circle of the Moon, and it's pretty obvious that he was trying to replicate/emulate Symphony of the Night here.
For crying out loud, look at the main character's design. That's a Belmont, but he looks almost identical to Alucard. Much like SotN, there's two castles here, but this time they have mostly identical maps and layouts, and you just warp between them in specific warp rooms.
Now, they really should have used a Link to the Past-style item to warp between the castles - backtracking is effectively doubled because of the way it's designed. Not only that, but the way it guides you through the castle(s) also made me miss some items required for the true ending - I had properly explored, but didn't have the proper upgrades, and completely forgot about it later because my map showed it was already "explored".
But honestly, it's not as mediocre as its fame suggests. I don't know if it's the game, or the fact that I'm a total metroidvania whore though. But it is better than Circle of the Moon, absolutely - that one still sits at the bottom.
The final boss room is a complete piece of shit that actually hurt my eyes, what the fuck were they thinking. Dracula is even more of a joke than he has in Symphony, I'm glad his fight got some upgrades for subsequent Igavanias.
One thing that adds to the entertainment is that the script makes everyone sound like an idiot. Don't know if it's a case of poor localization or if the original Japanese was already likes this, but wow.
Extremely weak soundtrack though, in a console notorious for poor sound quality on top of that. Great combo there.