Riding the Backlog - Super Mario RPG (Part 12)

By Chris Pranger 

Session 12: Barrel Volcano to Sixth Star
Staying consistent with working out is HARD. Over the past week I’ve basically dropped all additional forms of exercise save for my usual walk to and from the MAX train during my commute, which isn’t a whole ton of exercise. A lot of the lack of drive just comes from a bout of depression caused by multiple big triggers all in one week. Had a discussion about finances, saw multiple friends at events that I couldn’t go to, just generally stressed myself out with work. Add to that an increase of medication so my doctor could see if it really worked, and it was a perfect storm of Not Doing Anything.

And that’s a shame, because this next section of Super Mario RPG, while not overly long, gets me PUMPED. It is a culmination of pretty much everything the game has been building to, hammered home in one of the most unexpected boss fights the game could have possibly delivered. And yet, despite loving Booster, despite thinking the Johnny Jones and Yaridovich fights were cool, despite gushing over everything in Monstro Town, the Axem Rangers are the one thing that sticks in my mind when remembering first playing the game, like a needle poking out of my brain.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. They were teased slightly after defeating Yaridovich, but they are still an unknown. What is known is that the sixth star is located in Barrel Volcano, which I can conveniently fall into from the royal springs just under Nimbus Land. After a quick soak (because why not), over the clouds and into the volcano Mario and his crew fall. 

Being a volcano, the types of enemies I encounter are pretty expected, and considering it’s late in the game I’m also encountering a lot of repeats, though one always stood out to me, that being the Stumpet. Stumpets are basically just gnarled stumps with faces, but they hit me hard as a kid. Also among the new enemies is the Corkpedite, a very odd new creature that looks like an ancient Koopa statue of some sort. These enemies are broken into two halves, that being the body and the head. Defeat the head and the body detonates in a big Migraine attack. Take out the body and the head falls shortly after. Finally, I get a nice return of the Donkey Kong-like enemies, this time a stronger version called Chained Kong. I really want to know how these fit into the greater lore, but everything in Super Mario RPG is in its own little pocket canon, so it’s hard to say.

At this point, my party has gone through enough level ups that everyone in my active team (Mario, Geno, Toadstool) all have over 200 HP. They’re all also jamming hard with attack power, making things about as easy as possible. Super Mario RPG just isn’t a hard game unless you decide to make it hard. I’ve been fighting more or less every single enemy I see, meaning my levels just keep climbing and climbing. It’s more time-consuming than just rolling the dice on a lower level, but it’s saving me time and stress in the long run. I’m not playing Super Mario RPG for a challenge; I’m playing it for the enjoyment of the situations.

Situations such as random Frog Coins hovering over lava pools! Barrel Volcano is--unsurprisingly--packed with lava. It’s easy to ignore the backgrounds as you run through areas or rip through battles, but some of them are pretty striking. Barrel Volcano for instance is actually kind of intense the more you really look at it, coming off less like a volcanic region as a pure hellscape. It’s surreal.

Barrel Volcano is also unexpectedly long, especially after coming out of the relatively long area that is Nimbus Castle. The quest for the sixth star is no slouch, spanning probably the most areas and including the most bosses yet. Let’s break it down a bit. The first star involves three boss fights, four if you want to count the intro fight against Bowser, the other three being against the Hammer Bros., Croco, and Mack. Star two sends you against Belome and Bowyer, a relatively conservative group. Star three includes a rematch against Croco and a fight with Punchinello. Star four, for as long as it felt, had a fight against Knife Guy and Grate Guy, and a fight against Raspberry the wedding cake, meaning only two boss fights, three if you decided to fail Booster’s curtain minigame and fight him directly. Star five takes you into the Sea and has you fight King Calamari, Johnny Jones, and then Yaridovich, so three total bosses again.

Star six does not mess around. So far I’ve faced off against Belome a second time, Megasmilex, Birdo, Valentina, and have two more fights before everything is said and done. That’s six boss fights, not including the optional fight against Dodo for failing his minigame, and not including the Jinx or Culex optional bosses. And of the six main boss fights, five of them have unique transitions.

After traveling through most of Barrel Volcano, you encounter a guy named Hinopio along with his shop. He’s the last stop before the boss fights, so you can stock up on items, rest, and get some new armor, all fire themed. In terms of armor, Mario, Mallow, and Toadstool have been upgrading as we get to new shops, but Bowser and Geno are still rocking the Work Pants from Moleville. They don’t offer a ton of defense seeing as how they’re from the third star arc, but they do increase attack power, and since I’m blindly going for raw strength, they’re wearing some Work Pants until the very end.

Hinopio’s shop also has a weird little easter egg to it in that there’s a shelf with models of an Arwing and two F-Zero ships, those being the Blue Falcon and the Fire Stingray. This brings the total other Nintendo franchise references to four, with Link and Samus found sleeping in the Rose Town inn on occasion. I suppose five if you count the weird Donkey Kong references as not being part of the Mario universe and instead being part of the DK one. I think all that’s really missing is a Kirby reference, otherwise the game hits all the major Nintendo franchises up to 1996.

Before getting into the boss fights, I’ve managed to train everyone up to level 23, a level that’s just plain silly. I even honed some of my timing skills by testing the Geno Whirl for the first time this game against a Vomer enemy, which is a stronger version of the Dry Bones found in the Sunken Ship. Vomers and Dry Bones are annoying because they’re enemies that require getting hit by a Special Attack to pop. Worst yet, they don’t disappear after finishing their battles. They can jump back up and keep attacking after a moment or two of downtime. Not hard, but it can mess up the flow. Still managed to pull off a 9,999 damage Geno Whirl, so that was quite satisfying.

Once refreshed and armored up from Hinopio’s shop, it’s time for Barrel Volcano’s boss: the Czar Dragon. This fire beast looks goofy and sort of like a classic Blargg from Super Mario World, but also like a big deformed rubber ducky. He’s all about fire attacks, and Geno is all about taking no damage from any elemental attacks thanks to his Safety Ring. Once he gets bopped, he sinks into the lava before re-emerging as Zombone, the undead version of Czar Dragon and decidedly ness goofy and more OMG this is a skeletal nightmare. Instead of fire attacks, he hits with big spells like Boulder, Storm, and Blast. But being undead, he suffers a great deal in the defensive realm, so despite having 1,800 health, he’s sunk back into the lava after only a few turns of Mario and Geno laying down the severe hurt.

This is the part where you finish the boss fight and then walk up to the star and everything is all great. Then again, it’s been somewhat hard to predict exactly when and where the stars will come into play. We earned stars for besting Mack, Bowyer, and Punchinello, found a star on Star Hill without any sort of boss fight whatsoever, and had to fork over the star we earned from Johnny Jones before winning it back in the fight against Yaridovich.

Raising the sixth star up goes into the usual “star get” jingle, but it’s suddenly cut short as the star is vwinged away. Mario looks around, confused, and who should he find? THE AXEM RANGERS! IT’S FINALLY HAPPENING!

The team of five appear, revealing that they’ve taken the sixth star. They introduce themselves before vwinging away, forcing you to chase after them. I love the sound they make when moving super fast. I keep saying it’s a vwing, but the sound is closer to a “schffving.” It’s a good sound is my point.

The Axem Rangers and their ship Blade seem like they come out of nowhere, but we did get a mention of them at the end of the fifth star arc where Yaridovich mentions that Blade was supposed to be their ride and it never showed up. Johnny also mentions that he saw a huge axe fly off into the sky. There’s been some great lore and world building happening throughout the game, and this is where a lot of it comes together for me. It struck me as very interesting that the Smithy Gang weren’t originally collecting the star pieces for any reason until some lackeys overheard Geno explain just how important they are. This lead to Yaridovich actively trying to grab one, and now the Axem Rangers making a full-on assault to claim the sixth one. Once they reach Blade, Mario and his team hop on, ready for the fight.

Battling the Axem Rangers is rough if you’re underleveled. Each of the five specializes in some way, causing a ton of havok if not properly managed. Axem Pink was always my first focus as she’s the team’s defacto healer as well as the member capable of ripping out the dreaded Petal Blast. She also only has 400 HP, so a one-two smackdown from Mario and Geno took her out of the fight.

Next up for me this time was Axem Yellow, the burly fighter who can deliver devastating Body Slams. He actually managed to crank a mean axe at Geno and KO the ragdoll, which is no easy feat. He’s also a bit bulkier with 600 HP, so he takes a few more turns to remove from the fight, especially after stalling my offensive when I had to revive Geno.

My attention shifts to Axem Green next, the powerful magic user. He only has 450 HP, which isn’t crazy, but each turn I ignore him is a chance for him to bust out a Meteor Blast. I remember going in a very wrong order when I played this as a kid, making things harder on myself. I think I left Axem Green for too long since he wiped my team at least once. This time, nah, he’s Lazy Shelled right out of the fight.

Axem Black goes next. He definitely gave me trouble as a kid as he’s the only member of his team who gets to attack twice per term (and if Mario Wiki is to be believed, sometimes three times). He usually just takes a couple swipes with his axe, but he can also toss some bombs that do pretty decent damage. At 550 HP, he’s got some heft, but he’s also just no match against my levels.

With the other four rangers defeated, Axem Red is the only one left. He’s also the most unremarkable member of the Axem Rangers, despite having the highest HP with 800. He can sometimes pull out a Vigor Up spell that increases his attack strength, but beyond that he’s just there to be the red leader of a ranger team. On his own, he’s easily steamrolled.

Once all five Axem Rangers are defeated, Axem Red naturally refuses to give up and jumps behind the big Megazord head that’s been in the background of the fight the whole time. It only has one attack--Breaker Beam--and has to wait a turn to recharge after using it. While it hits the whole team for a pretty significant bit of damage, Toadstool undoes all of it with a simple Group Hug. Even with 999 HP, Blade and the Axem Rangers are defeated once and for all.

I just love this fight. On my replay it was a whole lot easier than it’s ever been, so to compensate I made sure to stay at the boss resistance level on the exercise bike from the moment the sixth star was swiped to the point where it was reclaimed on top of the volcano. I’ve always hoped for a rematch with the Axem Rangers in a Mario game at some point, but that’s asking for a lot. Paper Mario did at least pit Mario against the Ninja Turtles, but since then he hasn’t tackled with any more of my childhood idols. Here’s hoping the next Mario RPG has him fighting Goku and Vegeta.

Acquiring the sixth star only leaves one last place unchecked, and that’s Bowser’s Keep. Before diving headfirst into the final arc, I make a quick stop to get Toadstool’s Frying Pan weapon from Moleville. It’s also stupid how powerful she becomes once she has it. Not only can she heal everyone for a measly 4 FP (I currently have 96 FP), she can lay down serious hurt with her physical attacks. It’s not common that you see the healer in an RPG turn into the second-strongest physical character of the game.

With no real sidequests to address, we’re off to Nimbus Land to request a ride to Bowser’s Keep. Next time, we’re taking on the big ass sword!

Current Feelings: 

Bonus Current Feelings: 

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