What’s a good story without a great villain? All right, to be fair, there are phenomenal stories where the antagonist is not an individual, but is instead a force, idea, or other non-flesh-and-blood opposition.
But c’mon, we love (to hate) those more corporeal rascals and all the mayhem they cause. So why not look at a few of the greats in this new series I’ve devised? What are the different types of baddies we can find in video games, and how do they teach us to write excellent enmity?
I’m gonna be completely shameless and start us off with my childhood.
I’m imagining the confusion now. “What the crap?” the readers say. ” Why are we looking at a Mario game for tips on writing amazing villains? These baddies are so by-the-book.” Listen here, you little upstarts. You don’t question the greats of the medium. Sit yourselves down and get educated.
(Okay, so maybe that was all a little unnecessary.)
Super Mario RPG boasts some serious randomness, and that certainly extends to its cast of villains. The plot’s primary team, after all, is made up of anthropomorphized weaponry. And what weird-lookin’ weaponry they are…
Add to these fellas a mix of sideline characters of dubious intent, and you have quite the pool to draw from. You have those villains who aren’t necessarily evil, but maybe just a tad deranged and in the wrong place at the wrong time. This leads to some thoroughly memorable characters – there’s a reason SMRPG diehards refer to the maniac manchild Booster so often, after all.
But I’m interested in exploring the nature of a villain whose motives are purely, deliciously devious. Someone who’s completely certain of her malicious intent. Someone who holds the honor of being one of only two female villains in the entire game – and the only one who operates as head honcho over her henchmen. Yes, she definitely has her ways of standing out –
-the illustrious (Queen) Valentina.
Her role in the game (for those who haven’t played – oh, and spoiler alert): in the faraway, isolated Nimbus Land, Valentina has plans to overthrow the present rulers by tricky means. With the king and queen quietly locked away and no one allowed inside the palace, Valentina raises the claim she’s found the long-missing prince of the kingdom, and he’s chosen her for his bride. But why does the prince of a fluffy cloud people look strangely like a giant black toucan…?
So why pick Valentina for this study on excellent villains? It’s true in many ways she’s “by the book” – out for power, going the most direct route by usurping a kingdom’s throne, completely rude and ill-mannered. There’s no subtlety in her designs (tactical or…illustrative). But you know what? Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Too many stories get caught up in the complex motives of their antagonist, or in the “twist” storyline where a seemingly innocent character was wicked all along. As for Valentina, she’s straight up vicious and awful, and there’s something wonderful about that.
See, because of her one-dimensional morality, the writers and developers can have all the fun they want with her. You think a “twist” villain adds interest to a conflict? Fair enough. But I’d rather have Valentina’s openly snide dialogue.
The point of creating villains is to make characters who stand out just as well as the heroes, and you don’t necessarily need complexity or a game-changing one-eighty to accomplish that. That’s why I love Valentina. She knows who she is, the audience knows who she is, and therefore we can delight in her perfectly devilish actions.
Besides, she still breaks the mold in her own way. It’s not every day you see a villainess get her own “happily ever after”.
Super Mario RPG is the property of Nintendo/Square-Enix. You can purchase it for your own enjoyment through the Wii or Wii U Virtual Console, or play it through the SNES Classic.
Even though I got rid of my “Grab-Bags”, that doesn’t mean I’m gonna forsake my fiction snippets. After all, they’re the easiest posts to do – since most of the time they’re already written. *grin*
Nope, I still don’t have original work for you. You wanted to enjoy more fanfiction anyway, right? (RIGHT?) Here’s a continuation of my last FWF.
*This is not a final draft, so all continuity errors in format should be disregarded.
— OUTSIDE THE PALACE several Nimbusans have gathered around boxes set by the palace entry. One Nimbus boy jumps up and tries to look inside. His mother peeks too.
[The mole, King, and Queen Nimbus exit the palace. Nimbusans disperse and bow to the royalty, but they still talk animatedly with each other. The mother of the peeking boy sheepishly smiles as she pulls her son away.]
(more comfortable now, like he’s in his element) Well! Haven’t had a fanfare like this any other place I’ve sold my wares. Y’all curious to see what’s inside?
[The crowd exclaims several things at once.]
Did you bring these boxes?
Ooh, what’s inside them?
We haven’t had anyone visit from Below in years!
Does everyone from Below look like you?
(child) Are you gonna show us what you brought?
I think it’s clothes. Or food. Ooh! Or dirt! I’ve heard about dirt!
[The mole pulls one box toward him and prepares to lift the lid.]
Y’know, back in my hometown we make most of our livin’ in the mines. But I always kinda hankered for a more intrepid career. And now here I find m’self, clear past the edge of the world!
(He turns back to the King and Queen, and resumes a little of his shyness.)
If, ehm, yer Majesties will permit me…
[The King and Queen motion for him to continue, and so the mole, with a bit of flair, whisks off the box’s top. Inside, there are mounds of fireworks. The Nimbusans crowd in excitedly.]
(pleased with himself) Heh, we use dynamite, see, for breakin’ the tougher rocks. But I thought to m’self, I says, “These boom sticks might work as entertainment, given the right adjustments.”
(He pauses modestly.)
So here I am, tryin’ to make a mark in the business world. If it pleases yer Majesties, I’d like to offer maybe…a few nights’ firework displays? First night’s free, ‘case you have yer doubts about my workmanship.
[The crowd buzzes and turns to their rulers.]
Yes, please, King Nimbus!
(child) Mama, we’ll get to see them, won’t we?
Too bad it’s not dirt…
[Everyone, Queen included, watches King Nimbus for his response. He strokes his mustache thoughtfully.]
(frowning) Hm, no. No, I don’t think that will do at all.
[The Nimbusans look shocked, and there’s a collective sigh. The mole’s hopeful smile droops.]
We simply must pay for the first night as well.
[The mood changes immediately. Nimbusans cheer. The children jump around the mole, who looks happily stunned.]
(aside to the King) You’re too clever, dear.
I do try. And honestly, it’s just proper etiquette. Why, when I was young, everyone knew how to treat a visitor, and I certainly learned…
(while the King rambles on) Yes, dear. Speaking of, shall we arrange for our visitor’s stay?
— Transition to NIGHTTIME in Nimbus Land, same scene. Nimbusans are gathered together, exclaiming at the fireworks the mole is setting off. Nimbus children run around with sparklers. Garro stands near the mole, and we faintly hear him apologizing for his failed escort earlier that day. Valentina exits the palace and approaches the King and Queen—mingling among their people.
(somewhat to herself) What is this ruckus for? It’s like a bunch of pillows exploded, and the fluff’s just flying everywhere.
(turning from the crowd) Ah! Valentina. I didn’t expect you’d join us, what with your tendency to loiter around the throne room while we’re away.
[King Nimbus mentions this with complete obliviousness, but Valentina puckers guiltily.]
KING NIMBUS [cont.]
At any rate, this mole fellow puts on an astonishing show, so I really recommend you stay for the rest of it.
[Garro, now holding a sparkler, is drawing detailed pictures with it in the air. The Nimbus children enjoy this immensely. Valentina wanders through the assembly of Nimbusans, turning a skeptical eye toward the fireworks display.]
(as she approaches the mole) So you’re the cause for all this fuss, hm? Ho ho… This land is so estranged from the ground, its people get excited over the craziest novelties.
(a little taken aback) Well, erm, I think these folks right kindly, an’ I don’t mind the enthusiasm. You…you look a smidge different from the folk here, yerself.
(in a brush-off manner) Oh, no no, I’m one hundred percent a resident of the kingdom. Head of the palace workers, in fact—VERY important position.
Oh! You work for the King and Queen? They seem like right nice individuals. Must treat their employees real kindly-like.
(with as false a smile as possible) Why, it’s ALMOST like being royalty yourself. Ah, ha ha…
[They watch King Nimbus play with a crowd of Nimbus children. Queen Nimbus is talking with an animated young girl who seems very pleased with the attention.]
Have to say I like this place. I’ll have to come back once I build more fireworks back home. Want to be able to support a family sometime soon, y’know. Settle down and raise a passel of mole pups. Looks like the King and Queen make fine parents, themselves. Which ones are theirs?
Theirs? Oh, the King and Queen don’t have any chil…dren…
[Valentina zones out as the thought settles in.]
(embarrassed) Oh gosh, I wouldn’t’ve asked if I’da known…Blast a bomb in my face fer bein’ so rude. It’s not my business, is it, ‘specially when it’s royalty concerned. Ohhh, I bet I’ve made a blunder. You won’t tell ‘em I been nosin’ around about their personal lives, will ya?
(blinking out of her stupor) Hm? What’s that? Oh! (chuckles) Don’t worry your little head about that. Your secret is safe with ME. Now, um, if you’ll excuse me…I have to get to some of that…WORK I was talking about…
[Valentina walks away, trance-like. Scene fades.]
[Valentina’s Plan for the Throne]
— Open on the EDGE OF NIMBUS LAND. It’s been a couple of days, and the mole is preparing to leave. King and Queen Nimbus see him off ahead of many more Nimbusans waving goodbye. Before the Mole starts down the vines, King Nimbus arrests his attention and holds a notepad up to the Mole’s face. The Mole smiles bashfully and signs his name on the page—to the King’s immense delight.
It can’t be as simple as that; it can’t! And yet—
— Cut to Valentina pacing her QUARTERS. Dodo and two Birdies are in the back of the room, watching Valentina walk back and forth, back and forth…
(stops abruptly; Dodo and the Birdies get neck cricks) —I’d be a fool if I didn’t take advantage of it. It’s practically coronation on a silver plate.
(tentatively) I don’t get it, Valentina. Just because the King and Queen have no kids, you get to be in charge?
Try to think about this, dimwits; I know it’s hard. Look, it’s not just that they have no kids. They’ve had no kids for years. And they’re getting old. If they planned to sign things over to an heir, they’ve put themselves in a corner. A corner I can definitely FILL.
[The Birdies and Dodo exchange glances. Valentina’s bust coincidentally takes up a whole corner of the shot.]
So, you’re going to be the heir instead? But you’re not even related to them. Why would they give YOU the kingdom?
[Valentina clutches the Birdie’s beak and pushes down so he’s forced to stare up at her.]
(smiling cruelly) Because YOU all are about to make me a HERO to the royal family.
[Scene fades as Garro narrates.]
GARRO (as NARRATOR)
This seems like an appropriate time for me to explain the Nimbus Land “birds and the bees”.
(beat; the screen stays completely black)
Whoa, hey wait, where are you going? No, it’s not like THAT! Just relax and let me explain.
— In a Nimbus couple’s HOME a Nimbus man is saying goodbye to his wife as he heads to work.
GARRO (as NARRATOR) [cont.]
We Nimbusans fall in love and marry like anyone would. But after this things go a bit differently for us.
[The Nimbus man enters the palace and begins his shift as a guard.]
GARRO (as NARRATOR) [cont.]
See, I hear that for others there’s a point where you find out you’re having a baby, and then after you prepare for a bit, the baby arrives. For Nimbusans…there’s no time for preparation.
[The guard returns home, walks in the door, and stops in his tracks when he sees his wife standing there with an infant in her arms.]
GARRO (as NARRATOR) [cont.]
The little one just shows up.
[The Nimbus man wanders over to marvel at the baby as his wife smiles with a “here we go” kind of look.]
GARRO (as NARRATOR) [cont.]
We can’t control it; we can’t predict it. It’s just the way things go. Oh, but we adore our children. When they come, it’s like a surprise party you didn’t know your friends were planning.
[Cut to the Nimbus couple presenting their new child to King and Queen Nimbus, who smile in congratulations.]
GARRO (as NARRATOR) [cont.]
Here’s another particular thing about our children: families usually only ever have one.
[Another family comes to the King and Queen on a different day, presenting their child. King and Queen smile again.]
[The first family returns; time has passed, and their first child is grown, with a second baby in Mom’s arms. King and Queen Nimbus look surprised, but still smile.]
…NEVER three, good lands, no. Something to do with keeping a short monsoon season, I think.
[The new infant begins to cry, and we see rain streak down outside the palace windows. The older child of the family shyly approaches Queen Nimbus and hands her a flower.]
GARRO (as NARRATOR) [cont.]
Now, as a bachelor, maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about. But I think the surprise of having a child is one of the most anticipated events for families. Ours always wait excitedly for it.
[Focus on King and Queen Nimbus as the last family leaves. Queen Nimbus holds the flower, but her smile falls, and she looks to the side. King Nimbus notices and reaches for her arm. She turns, manages a half-hearted smile, and then looks away again. King Nimbus watches her, concerned. Scene fades.]
No one’s perfect, not even our most admired storytellers. If human beings can’t even get their own lives in order, what makes you think they’ll be able to flawlessly organize alternate realities? So next time you run across a plot hole in your favorite book or movie, cut the creator a little slack and – I dunno – clean that room in your house you’ve been neglecting. REMOVE THE PLANK IN YOUR OWN EYE FIRST, NITPICKER.
*cough* But still – no one likes a story with obvious plot neglect. It’s like driving over a road where sewage maintenance didn’t bother to cover the manholes. Fortunately, there ARE ways you can help your audience overlook *minor* suspensions of disbelief:
Craft your world and story as thoroughly as possible.
Rely on solid characters.
Inject humor. Like, a lot of humor.
If you ask me, nothing covereth over a multitude of plot sins like a healthy dose of levity. Think about it: if you aren’t taking yourself seriously, your audience gets the message that this isn’t something that requires their heavy scrutiny, either. Case in point:
Now, Super Mario RPG has a GREAT story. It’s simple and straightforward, but still sweetly emotional with a sense of wonder. It’s by no means riddled with plot holes, but if I’m being straight with you, it wouldn’t have HALF its greatness if you took away the humor. Honestly, it’d be weird if such a bright, colorful game didn’t poke a little fun at itself.
If you feel obligated to critique Mario RPG‘s finer literary points, you’ll find loads of well-milked tropes. Stars and wishes, dolls coming alive, royalty that needs rescuing, the “obviously adopted kid doesn’t know he’s adopted” storyline…
I mean, you don’t have to look further than a Disney movie to find these clichés and more, yet Super Mario RPG can still hold its own. It finds originality in its heart and in its humor. Sure, you spend part of the game rescuing Princess Peach Toadstool for the zillionth time, but you can excuse the overdone plot point because this man-child with a totem pole face and zero understanding of normal social customs has kidnapped her with plans to marry her.
The hilarious scenarios continue through the whole story: Bowser fussing about losing his castle, a cake coming to life and attacking the party. a team of evil-doers based blatantly off of the Power Rangers. Not to mention the countless classic fourth wall-breaking one-liners peppered throughout the dialogue.
The Mario RPGs have continued the tradition of humor to great success with both the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series. (I just don’t have much to say about them because my partiality remains trapped in the mid-90’s.) Considering the plump plumber’s longevity in this gaming genre, the approach must work pretty well.
Clichés abound in every story ever told. Sometimes the old adage applies: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” At times it’s better not to avoid the clichés, but to make the clichés work for you. Learn to laugh at them, and your audience will laugh with you.
Super Mario RPG is the property of Nintendo/Square-Enix. You can purchase it for your own enjoyment through the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console.
I had an idea to post some personal fiction that was appropriately “cozy” for this time of year, but searching through my work brought up…very little. In fact, it mostly resulted in me saying, “Whoa, that needs to be fixed. And that. And that… And I definitely don’t write that way anymore…”
So you know what that means: ALL ABOARD THE FAN FICTION TRAIN! I decided I might give a little peek at my year-long project after all. It’s the Christmas present you never always wanted!
No preamble for you. The only thing I’ll tell you is that, yes, this is in script format.
For Part I, in Alphabetical Order
Dodo: Valentina’s slow-witted and subservient henchbird. Looks like a giant black toucan with a metal helmet. Never speaks. He hates working for Valentina but is too dumb/lazy to quit.
The Fireworks Mole: A humble fellow who’s traveled far to sell his fireworks. He’s the first visitor Nimbus Land has seen in many years. Wears green overalls and a green cap; keeps his clawed feet and hands exposed.
Garro: The royal sculptor of Nimbus Land. He sculpts and gilds statues for the King and Queen and is also their close friend. Has a green curl of hair on his forehead and wears typical Nimbus garb: a fez, work vest, and parachute pants. (Hammer time!) He narrates Part I.
King Nimbus: The kindly, if excitable, ruler of Nimbus Land. He enjoys collecting birds, autographs, and statues and is exuberantly playful – if sometimes long-winded. He wears a pyjama set in blue and purple stripes, and has a gold medallion around his neck. His hair curl and mustache are brown.
Queen Nimbus: The calmer monarch; she is sensible and generous and keeps the King in check if he rambles. Can be the more emotional one when grieved. She wears a white head cover with gold embroidery, a pink sari and green wrap that covers her arms and hands. Her hair curl is magenta.
Valentina: The palace castellan (in charge of the workers, though she doesn’t often do her job). She plots to overthrow the King and Queen and rule Nimbus Land. She is not a Nimbusan. Wears a white dress with a slit up one side, and her bust is…voluptuous. Her hair is a parrot. Don’t question it.
[Travel to Nimbus Land]
— Open with running shot of LAND’S END & BEAN VALLEY. It’s midday. The camera pans over the sea cove, beaches, cliffs, up into Bean Valley’s vines. A quarter through the shot, Garro as narrator begins to speak:
If you are any sort of traveler, chances are you have at one time or another determined to visit the end of the world. Perhaps you’ve already been. If so, you’ve likely seen the cliffs looking out to the sea, or the sleeping volcano near the cape, or Bean Valley with all its vines climbing into a blinding bright sky.
— The shot slows as it swivels through BEAN VALLEY. you can see the ocean off the cliffs glinting in the sun.
Yes, these are wondrous sights, it’s true. And I’m supposing you took in these sights, breathed the air of adventure, and then…
[Scene cuts to black]
…promptly turned yourself around and went back home. (pause) My friend, don’t you know that there’s more when you travel…up?
— Cut back to BEAN VALLEY. Camera soars upward, weaving through corkscrew vines of all colors. The running shot moves faster and faster until it bursts through thick, fluffy cumulous clouds.
(enthusiastic) THIS, my friend, is Nimbus Land! See what all those travelers have missed for years and years?
— Pan over NIMBUS LAND: shows homes made from the vines poking through the clouds. There is a palace at the east end of the kingdom. It’s a middle-east inspired building with rounded turrets, and the vines seem to grow all through it. The palace itself is a mix of white marble and pink stone.
[The citizens of Nimbus Land are cloud people, and everyone is nice and plump and smiling.]
We’ve been STARVING for guests. It’s not easy, you know, being so far out of sight and never getting a chance to really host someone.
— Enter the MARKET AREA of Nimbus Land, where shopkeepers and the hotel proprietor bustle about. The shops show off colorful garments, bright accessories, and art creations.
We’re a social people, us Nimbusans. It’s a shame no one can find us, since we’re famed for being extraordinarily hospitable. But I suppose I can understand: it’s a hard climb from Bean Valley, and we don’t have many ways of announcing ourselves to everyone living Below.
[Nimbusans busy themselves at the market]
Of course, there was that time the mole found us. We thought maybe that would open the way for more visitors, but after the baby Prince… Well. This certainly isn’t the time for me to talk tragedy with you.
What would you like to see first? The market? Maybe our five-star hotel and accommodations? Wait—of course you want a tour of the palace. King and Queen Nimbus still keep it open, after all, and despite the melancholy air it’s as beaut—
Hm? No tours, you say? Oh, you want to know what I mean about melancholy and tragedy.
— Transition to GARRO’S WORKSHOP. There are gold statues on display everywhere—on the floor, on shelves, half-made on a stage at the back of the room. Garro stands by his gold vat; he’s in the middle of gilding a statue.
(sighs and shakes his head) Well, it’s a long story, and it’ll only demoralize you before you’ve had a chance to enjoy our kingdom. Are you sure you want to begin that way?
(Garro looks deliberately into camera, then shrugs and looks away sadly.)
I guess I won’t change your mind. Ah, who knows? Maybe sharing the story will help us with the grief at the King and Queen’s loss.
[Scene gradually fades.]
Let’s see…I think maybe it’s best to start our story…
[Valentina Deserves Attention]
— Close up of Valentina’s face. Her wide mouth is pursed, and her eyes shift left to right. The parrot hangs glumly on her head.
— The shot zooms out and shows Valentina sitting in the Nimbus Palace THRONE ROOM. She’s stretched across the royal settee and has a martini glass dangling in her right hand. The throne room has rose walls. The floor is lapis lazuli. The tail ends of vines have crept through the room’s open windows, and birds are perched in them everywhere. Stairs lead from the settee down to the hallway door.
[Valentina languishes over the settee’s armrest.]
So much that needs to be changed! Where do I start? More curtains over those windows. Think of the awful sun rash I’d get on my flawless skin! All along those stairs…
(She waves toward the hall door)
…I’d put rows of statues that reflect my lustrous beauty. In fact, why just by the stairs? Let’s fill the palace with them. But most importantly—
[Valentina’s thin but heavily-glossed lips twitch as one of the birds in the room chirrups happily.]
(speaks through gritted teeth) MOST IMPORTANTLY I’ll throw out all these BEASTLY twittering noisemakers! It’s enough to give me a headache! Birds are meant to serve, not sing.
[Valentina holds her martini glass up for a drink, discovers it’s empty except for an olive rolling around the bottom. She reaches her other arm back and brings her knuckles down on Dodo, who is slumped behind the settee. Valentina hits his beak with a crunch, and Dodo stumbles back on impact.]
Lunking idiot! It’s your job to keep this full. Now…FILL IT!
[Dodo pours drink from a shaker into Valentina’s glass.]
It’s enough to drive an illustriously beautiful person mad, not receiving the attention one deserves. Or the riches. Or the authority. It’s almost as flummoxing as having a vapid feather-covered lard ball as your henchman.
[Dodo bristles, but knows better than to retaliate. He screws the cap back on the martini shaker.]
(sighs) I could just stage a coup. It’d be easy enough fooling these gullible cotton-heads. But I’d have to risk…angering them. (Her eyes widen.) And it’s not a good idea to anger them… GUH!
[Valentina flings her head dramatically against the settee. Her parrot hair squawks.]
If only take-overs were as simple as your marble-sized brain seems to be, Dodo.
[There’s a sound of footsteps approaching the throne room door. The guards outside greet someone.]
(panicking, downs her drink and shoves the glass toward Dodo) The King and Queen! I thought they wouldn’t be back for at least another hour! Dodo! You cranial cavity, get out of the room!
(Dodo scuttles down the stairs.)
No, not through the door, idiot; use the windows!
[Valentina shoves Dodo toward the closest window. She gives him four good heaves before his bulk finally squeezes through, and he flaps away clumsily.]
(whips around as the door opens, prepares to greet the King and Queen) Majesties, I took the liberty to prepare the hall for recei – Oh! Garro! My, how…relieving to see you standing there.
[Garro stands just inside the throne room door. He appears to be puzzled at finding Valentina here.]
Oh, Valentina. You weren’t who I expected to see. The King and Queen are out, I’m guessing? It’s not really receiving time yet, I suppose…
(sugary-sweet) Garro, pardon me if I’m speaking out of line, but with the…dazzling work you do for the King and Queen, shouldn’t they be more considerate and punctual when you come to deliver your statues?
(laughs) What a bizarre thing to say, Valentina! I have no deliveries today. I was looking for their Majesties so I could inform them – Oh! (suddenly VERY eager) I should tell YOU! Valentina! You won’t believe this: we have a VISITOR from Below! Isn’t that wonderful? It’s probably been decades since our last one! And he’s right here, ready to be introduced!
(looking over Garro’s shoulder) ‘Right here’…where?
Why, behind me where I just came…through…the door.
[Garro turns around and realizes he’s entered alone.]
Oh dear. I seem to have lost him.
[The Mole Meets Royalty]
— Panning through a hallway in NIMBUS PALACE. The scene design looks very much the same as it did in the throne room. The Mole appears as he turns into the hall. He wanders around and looks very lost.
GARRO (as NARRATOR)
Yes, It’s true what they say: a Nimbusan would forget his own face if it wasn’t stuck to his fluff. But I hope you don’t blame me. I promise you we pride ourselves on our hospitality. It’s just that…with so few guests to entertain, our hospitality can get a little rusty. And we might accidentally LOSE our guests.
[The mole approaches a couple tending to the birds in the hall. It’s the King and Queen, but the mole hasn’t realized this yet.]
(slightly exasperated) Beg pardon, are y’all workers in this palace? Call me lost as a carrot in a crowd of potatoes, but I just got no clue where I’ve gotten myself.
[King and Queen Nimbus turn to greet the mole. The King is holding a light blue bird.]
I say! You’re certainly an unfamiliar face. I don’t think I’ve seen you before. Need a bit of direction, do you?
(scratches under his cap) Well, see now, I come from a place where our mazes are all underground, so this cloud stuff’s got me all dizzy and confused…
[King Nimbus turns excitedly to the Queen]
Do you hear that? He’s someone from Below! I can’t think how long it’s been since we’ve had such a visit. (leans conspiratorially closer to the mole) Might I have your autograph?
[The mole blinks back, stupefied.]
(patiently) Perhaps we should try to help him first, dear. (She turns to the mole.) Where do you need to go?
Eh…well, I came fixin’ to speak with Their Majesties about an enterprise of mine, and that statue-makin’ fella said he’d right take me to the throne room. But I lost sight of ‘im ‘bout ten turns back, and I got not even the faintest where I should look nex—
[He takes in the crowns that rest on both King and Queen Nimbus’s heads. His mouth widens.]
(hushed) Cake my nails in dirt an’ call it a manicure. (He flattens himself to the floor in an exaggerated bow.) Your most illustrious…er … magnificent… SUPERLATIVE rulers. Thousand pardons; I had no idea this hall would lead me bargin’ in on your Worships all rude-like. Don’t take no offense at my manners, just an earthy mole like m’self—
(interrupting) Offense? I say, you’re being a tad excessive, don’t you think?
[The mole peeks up from his supine position.]
No need, dear. Nothing wrong with having a pleasant conversation, after all. Now, what’s this enterprise you wanted to show us?
Poor Geno. Even though he’s the poster boy of my childhood I still have no blog idea planned out for him. (His introduction is definitely dynamic, though. SMRPG sure knows how to give its characters an entrance.)
But yeah, we’re still talking about Mallow. The main reason may be that even though Geno is super swag, he’s kind of Mr. Exposition and therefore a bit of a clunky plot point.
Super Mario RPG was an incredibly fresh game in so many ways: visuals, gameplay, story… *cue old codger voice* Back in the day it was a surprising detour from what we’d come to expect from Mario in years past. Being an RPG in a heretofore platform-specific series, it had to introduce plot and new characters in a way that convinced players this story was worth investing in.
Enter Mallow, the first party member Mario encounters on his quest to save the princess (or IS that the main goal? Plot twist impending…). Mario fans were already well-exposed to smiley-faced clouds at this point in the franchise, so there’s an established familiarity with this fluffy character.
But how (the game writers may have asked) can we make sure he’s immediately intriguing to the players?
Well, how about this: when he cries, it rains buckets. Also, he thinks he’s a tadpole.
From this introduction we understand there’s more to Mallow than meets the eye. Not only does he have some uncanny emotional control over the weather, but he’s also naïve enough to believe that tadpoles can look like cauliflower heads.
So while we help him solve the current dilemma of a stolen Frog Coin, we’re also interested in what more this character has to offer – and where his personal journey will take us. It’s simply done – it’s a simple game, after all – and Mallow’s origin is pretty obvious from the start, but it’s still a clever set-up. From the Exor reveal at the game’s get-go, to this cute sub-story beginning with Mallow, we’re already aware that this game intends to broaden the Marioverse beyond what we’ve previously known.
Honestly, when I first played SMRPG, I was far more interested in discovering Mallow’s home than I was in reaching Smithy to repair the Star Road. The foreshadow was just that appealing to me.
All right, all right, I’ve said all I want to say. But I’m sure I’ve missed talking about quite a few dynamic introductions. Want to share a few in the comments? You know the drill.
Super Mario RPG is the property of Nintendo/Square-Enix. You can purchase it for your own enjoyment through the Wii or Wii U Virtual Console.
When I was a kid I had these stickers of all the main characters, and I thought they were meant for glass so I slapped ’em up on my bedroom window.
As it turns out…they were regular stickers, not window clings. And man, they were tenacious little suckers. I couldn’t even peel them off to take with me when I moved out for college.
They might still be on that window down in Wyoming, perplexing some new 10 year-old girl who wants to know why she’s got the Mario crew plus a cloud kid and blue-caped wooden doll obscuring her view outside.
(No doubt my mom scraped them off during the move. But it’s a romantic thought, okay?)
Since Super Mario RPG is pretty much the epitome of my childhood, I can’t think of a better way to launch this blog than by opening up a big ol’ can of nostalgia. Plus, we’re coming up on the game’s 20th anniversary! (Wow, now I feel old.)
So let’s start by talking about this game’s adorable, cottony protagonist: Mallow.
This kid cringes at fights, forgets even the most important things, is totally naïve, and thinks he is what he’s not. And yet – you won’t find a gutsier person on the SMRPG team. Why?
Consider this: lost as a baby, Mallow floats into a community of tadpoles where, though he’s fluffy and short and not at all a good jumper, he’s raised to believe he’s a frog. Say he lives eight to ten years thinking he’s a tadpole, and he tries all the while to do the things a tadpole is expected to do – but badly.
But it’s not that rotten a life for him, really. Even if he can’t play the part of a tadpole that well, his grandpa Frogfucius loves him, and he seems to get along swimmingly (haha…puns are great) with the other polliwogs.
Then, after blissfully living this lie for most of his childhood his grandpa sees fit to inform him: no, you’re not a frog. No one knows what you are or where you came from.
Now, the game plays this revelation for laughs (it’s clear Mallow’s more fit for a s’more than as an amphibian), but think about it: has your world ever been shaken in a similar way? How did you handle it?
Well, Mallow does this: after a bit of a cry, he bids his grandpa farewell and heads out to find his real home. Just like that! Hardly a complaint, no existential crisis, not any sort of “why me” attitude. Sure, he’s sad that he’s not a frog, but he’s also brave enough to find out what he really is.
I love the way the trope gets flipped with Mallow’s story. Instead of playing out in a Little Princess fashion – where the adopted tyke is mistreated until s/he finds her/his “real home” – Mallow has to have the courage to leave a life he doesn’t mind and a family he honestly loves. That’s a whole different sort of conflict with its own challenges to overcome.
On a note of personal application: There’s a great deal of pain in this world, and there’s a time and a place for the “why” to be asked when we grieve and are confused. But let’s not become stuck in that attitude! Sometimes we have to lose what we cling to in order to make way for a better perspective. We cry that we’re not frogs so long that we miss what Mallow found: the value of our true heritage.
Super Mario RPG is the property of Nintendo/Square-Enix. You can purchase it for your own enjoyment through the Wii Virtual Console.