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Electric Pinocchio III: Mario Squared

One of the last big games Square made for the SNES in early 1996 before departing Nintendo’s consoles for the then new Sony Playstation1 The Playstation was released 2 years earlier in late 1994. was a collaboration with Nintendo and the first RPG to starr the mute hero Mario. It was also the first game in which Mario teamed up with his nemesis Bowser, as well as two new characters the designers at Square created for the Mario universe. One was a crybaby marshmallow who believed himself a frog2 The combination of frog and marshmallow reminds fans of previous works by Square of Glenn, a youth turned frog who’s nickname was marshmallow in Chrono Trigger, released in 1995. called Maro and the other a puppet come to life named Geno. Here’s the scene that introduces Geno:

Boy (as Peach): Mario, save me!!

Boy (as Bowser): Gwahaha, Mario, I got your precious Peach!

Boy (as Mario): Bounce bounce… Super Jump!

Boy (as Bowser): Gawahaha, how could a wimp like you hope to defeat me! Gwahaha!

Boy (as Bowser): Hoho. Peach, you’re coming back with me to the castle!

Boy (as Peach): Eeek! Someone rescue me!

Boy (as Peach): Rescu… (sees Mario)

Boy: Ah!

Boy: Ma-ma-ma…

Boy: Mama! A customer!

Mother: On my way. Welcom… Oh, if it isn’t Mario.

Mario: (greets)

Boy: Mario!?

Boy: The beard and the hat, he looks just like him! Are you… the real deal!?

Mario: > (real deal), (you’re mistaking me)

Boy: You’re really the real Mario? It’s, kinda hard to believe… Prove it!

Mario: (jumps)

Boy: Wah! You’re really Mario! Hey Mario, let’s play Geno together!

Mother: Hey hey, Toydoe. Mario came to get some rest, don’t bug him like that.

Toydoe: But mom, you never play with me.

Mother: What am I going to do with you… Mario, could you please play with my son for a bit?

Mario: (nods)

Toydoe: Great! Since Mario just got knocked down, why don’t you play Bowser? And I play Geno!

Toydoe: Let’s go! We’ll continue where I left off! You ready?

Mario: (hops twice)

Toydoe: (also hops twice)

Toydoe: Ju-u-ust a moment!

playing

Super Mario RPG, released 03/09/1996

Toydoe (as Geno): I, the great Geno, will bring you down, Bowser! Hiya! (bumps into Mario holding Bowser)

Toydoe (as Geno): Make your move, Bowser!

Mario: (bumps into Toydoe holding Geno)

Toydoe (as Geno): Crap… If I don’t turn this one around I’m done for…

Toydoe (as Geno): Here I go! Shooting Star! Shot!

Toydoe: Oops, I hit the wrong one…

Mother: Eek! Mario, are you alright!?

(screen fades to black)

(screen lights up again, no one is in the room but the puppets)

(a star floats down, circling in on the Geno puppet, which suddenly comes alive and walks away)

Geno, which rhymes with Pino, is Square’s interpretation of a Mario-like hero player avatar as a marionette.3 Footnote preview: They weren’t the first to make this connection though. The toads populating Mario’s world since Super Mario Bros. (1985) are called Kinopio in Japanese which is an anagram of Pinokio, the Japanese spelling/pronunciation of Pinocchio. So Miyamoto and the other designers at Nintendo probably already saw a connection between Mario and the word marionette. Mario at first didn’t have ... The boy imagines himself into the story by becoming Geno, one of the toys he uses to act out his fantasies. When he uses his puppets to play out his stories, he has to play all the roles. This is very similar to scenes in which the mute Mario relates past events by acting out all the roles. For example in this scene in which he returns to the castle after Princess Peach has been kidnapped yet again and he failed to save her:

Narrating: Hero

Narrating: Villain

Narrating: Princess

The game and its characters interpreted as a boy playing with his toys, Nintendo returned to this allegory in Smash Bros. for N64 in 1999 after also utilizing a similar one in Yoshi’s Island (1995) where little Bowser changes the story in his picture book. Mario and the other Nintendo mascots come to live in a similar fashion to Geno and Pinocchio in Smash Bros.‘s opening:

smashing

Smash Bros., 01/21/1999

Square on the other hand adapted motifs from Super Mario RPG into their biggest success, Final Fantasy VII for Playstation in early 1997, as well as the new polygon rendered 3D visuals first utilized by Square in Super Mario RPG.4 Footnote preview: Not having the necessary processing power to render these graphics in real time as the new console Playstation could, Nintendo’s second party UK developer Rare made a game based on an old Nintendo character, Donkey Kong, that used pre-rendered polygon graphics that were visually even more impressive then the real time visuals of the Playstation, but lacking dynamic player controlled cameras ... When Mario and Maro chase a robber dinosaur through a forest early in SMRPG this summarizes the plot of the first RPG to be based on Mario lore: Dragon Quest (1986). Same as Mario, the hero of DQ saves a princess from a reptile, a Godzilla-like turtle in Super Mario and a dragon in DQ. A dragon kidnapper steals the princess, the robber dinosaur in SMRPG steals a frog coin. Frog is homophonous with return in Japanese, like returning to one’s childhood where boys fantasize about saving princesses.

chasing

Chasing

In Final Fantasy VII Cloud chases Sephiroth who wants to have his reunion with his mother Jenova. Sephiroth is a samurai war hero, an idol for young boys as Cloud once was. But after Cloud becomes witness of Sephiroth going insane and burning down his home town Sephiroth has become a villain rather than an inspiring idol.

On his journey Cloud and his friends will find out that Cloud’s recollection of his becoming a member of the elite force SOLDIER and meeting with Sephiroth wasn’t quite true. A first hint to this is seen in Cloud’s relationship with Aerith:

Final Fantasy VII, released 01/31/1997

Aerith: Hmm. Same as him.

Cloud: Same as who?

Aerith: The first person I fell in love with.

The person Aerith is talking about here is called Zack, another SOLDIER having fought alongside Sephiroth. After Sephiroth, a once hero turned villain that fuses Mario with Bowser, kills Aerith, she becomes the Peach who couldn’t be saved. And Cloud is told that he has no reason to be sad:

Sephiroth: Hahaha! Stop pretending to be sad!

Sephiroth: Because, Cloud, you’re nothing but a…

Later in the story, when Cloud finally catches up with Sephiroth, this unfinished sentence is at last completed:

Cloud: …this is the scene as it really happened 5 years ago.

Cloud: However…

Cloud: I’m sure the one coming out of the Shinra mansion won’t be me.

(A man dressed like Cloud but with dark hair comes out of the Shinra mansion. He is Zack, Aerith’s first lover and the actual SOLDIER that Cloud never was.5 Footnote preview: This image and paragraph were added on 11/20/2011. Both Cloud and Zack have spiky hair reminding manga fans of the heroes in Dragon Ball by TORIYAMA Akira who also designs the characters for the most widely played JRPG series Dragon Quest. The Saiyajin heroes in Dragon Ball can become even stronger fighters by becoming legendary Super Saiyajin which will make their natural hair color, most times b...)

Cloud: 5 years ago, in Nibelheim. I wasn’t there.

Cloud: Is that what you’re trying to say?

Sephiroth: Seems like it finally dawned on you.

Cloud: I don’t have reason to be sad. Because I…

(Cloud is lifted by an invisible force6 Cloud being pulled up like a marionette by Sephiroth’s mother Jenova looks similar to how Sephiroth’s ghost is floating in the previous scene where he has just killed Aerith. They’re both being manipulated by Jenova.)

Jenova: Because you are… a puppet.

Like Geno, Cloud turns out to be really just a puppet. As a character in a game his story is predetermined, his chasing Sephiroth makes Cloud Sephiroth’s marionette. The player is reminded that he isn’t a hero but just pretending to be one by playing Cloud’s story, also becoming a marionette lead by the game design:

Cloud: I never was in SOLDIER.

Cloud: All the things that happened 5 years ago, and me being in SOLDIER, it’s a fantasy I made up.

Cloud: Even though I must have seemed so very gloriously heroic when I left town, I never made it into SOLDIER…

Cloud: Being too weak to admit my shame I started to believe the story my friend Zack told me had happened to me…

Cloud: I even mixed it up with things I had seen myself and invented another me in this fantasy…

Final Fantasy VII‘s story is a joint effort by many people among them Final Fantasy inventor SAKAGUCHI Hironobu who also produced Super Mario RPG. But it was compiled from its many sources and finished by NOJIMA Kazushige who had earned SAKAGUCHI’s recognition7 Footnote preview: Kitase: Before Nojima-san came to Square (currently Square-Enix) he had already made other games like “Glory of Heracles III” (an RPG for the Super Famicom using motifs from Greek mythology, published by Data East) so we knew he could write interesting scenarios. I’m guessing that is why Sakaguchi-san insisted on having him join the FFVII team. From an interview in Final Fantasy... with the scenario for his classic Glory of Heracles III.8 Footnote preview: ヘラクレスの栄光III. Since Heracles means glory of Hera (Hera being Heracles’ adopted mother) the title actually translates to the glory of the glory of Hera. Heracles’ relationship with his mother is pronounced in his name and he becomes her successor as a giver of glory in the game title, similar to Sephiroth becoming the marionette of his alien mother Jenova and idol to youn... Many motifs from this game found their way into Final Fantasy VII, among them the search for oneself after having lost your memory, the planet Gaia as mother (in the opening Aerith’s pose is very reminiscent of Gaia’s in GoH3) and the legendary hero Heracles inspiring youths to become heroes. Cloud failed to become an elite SOLDIER but gets a second chance, living another man’s life. Fallen to rise again, Super Mario RPG and Glory of Heracles both feature this image right at the beginning of their stories:

Having their strings cut both Mario and Bowser fall down. One a western type hard working hero, the other a devil general, they will have to join forces to save their princess and world from alien invaders. The earlier Glory of Heracles III features a similar scene in which the immortal mute hero9 A game character never really dies as he has unlimited lives or continues. survives a deep fall:

Glory of Heracles III, 04/24/1992

In Smash Bros. Brawl (released on 01/31/2008) NOJIMA brings his Greek themed game writing to Nintendo’s Kid Icarus before returning to the Glory of Heracles series with the latest DS installment (released on 05/22/2008), the first one to also make it to the US (in early 2010).

Game chronology10 Added on 11/20/2011

First release11 All release dates taken from gamefaqs.com. System Title Notes
1981 (Japan) Arcade Donkey Kong
introduces Mario and the hero-villain-kidnapped woman constellation, based on Hollywood movie classic King Kong
09/13/1985 (Japan) NES Super Mario Bros.
introduces reptile enemies and a mushroom population, in Japanese the mushroom population are called kinopio which is an anagram of the Japanese spelling of Pinocchio, in English they are called toads which can also refer to frogs/reptiles
05/27/1986 (Japan) NES Dragon Quest
first original Japanese RPG to find great commercial success in its home country, published by Enix, adapts the Nintendo hero-villain-kidnapped woman constellation
07/27/89 (Japan) NES Mother
reinterprets Dragon Quest in a Hollywood movie like contemporary setting, reinterprets the kidnapped woman as a mother figure and the earth itself, scenario by copy writer ITOI Shigesato
04/24/1992 (Japan) SNES Glory of Heracles III reinterprets and deconstructs the hero-villain-kidnapped woman constellation, scenario by NOJIMA Kazushige
02/21/1993 (Japan) SNES Star Fox first real time 3D graphics on a Nintendo system
11/24/1994 (Europe) SNES Donkey Kong Country first high quality pre-rendered 3D in-game graphics
12/03/1994 (Japan) Playstation Hardware Sony console that would succeed the Nintendo consoles in leading the market and establish 3D graphics as the new standard
03/11/1995 (Japan) SNES Chrono Trigger
first team up of JRPG rival companies Square and Enix12 Actually it wasn’t Enix proper but only two creators, HORII and TORIYAMA, who usually worked with Enix but represent Enix’ biggest franchise, Dragon Quest., reinterprets motifs like battle with reptiles and kidnapping of the princess
08/05/1995 (Japan) SNES Yoshi’s Island
Mario world as picture book, Bowser as brat
03/09/1996 (Japan) SNES Super Mario RPG
first RPG starring Mario, team up of Square and Nintendo, introduces toy puppet as playable character
01/31/1997 (Japan) Playstation Final Fantasy VII
first JRPG to heavily utilize polygonal graphics and to commercially succeed world wide, deconstructs the hero-villain-kidnapped woman constellation, scenario by NOJIMA Kazushige
01/21/1999 (Japan) N64 Super Smash Bros. Nintendo characters as action figures
01/31/2008 (Japan) Wii Smash Bros. Brawl story mode by Final Fantasy VII writer NOJIMA Kazushige
05/22/2008 (Japan) DS Glory of Heracles first game in the series since GoHIV in 1994, ties up many of the above mentioned motifs
  1. The Playstation was released 2 years earlier in late 1994. []
  2. The combination of frog and marshmallow reminds fans of previous works by Square of Glenn, a youth turned frog who’s nickname was marshmallow in Chrono Trigger, released in 1995. []
  3. They weren’t the first to make this connection though. The toads populating Mario’s world since Super Mario Bros. (1985) are called Kinopio in Japanese which is an anagram of Pinokio, the Japanese spelling/pronunciation of Pinocchio. So Miyamoto and the other designers at Nintendo probably already saw a connection between Mario and the word marionette.

    Mario at first didn’t have a name and was referred to as Mr. Video then Jumpman in Donkey Kong. He got his name only later from American businessman Mario A. Segale. []

  4. Not having the necessary processing power to render these graphics in real time as the new console Playstation could, Nintendo’s second party UK developer Rare made a game based on an old Nintendo character, Donkey Kong, that used pre-rendered polygon graphics that were visually even more impressive then the real time visuals of the Playstation, but lacking dynamic player controlled cameras which meant the gameplay basically had to be kept in 2D. Still the second step was made (the first being the also UK developed Star Fox (released on 02/21/1993, developed by Argonaut) that used a special chip to render low polygon real time 3D).

    Square used the same kind of pre-rendered 3D graphics as Rare’s Donkey Kong Country (released on 11/24/1994) in SMRPG and pre-rendered environments with real time polygonal characters in Final Fantasy VII on Playstation. So these two games mark Square’s venture into 3D. Added on 11/20/2011. []

  5. This image and paragraph were added on 11/20/2011.

    Both Cloud and Zack have spiky hair reminding manga fans of the heroes in Dragon Ball by TORIYAMA Akira who also designs the characters for the most widely played JRPG series Dragon Quest. The Saiyajin heroes in Dragon Ball can become even stronger fighters by becoming legendary Super Saiyajin which will make their natural hair color, most times black, go golden blond. Children of humans and Saiyajin will usually achieve this transformation more easily. The unnatural blond hair color is often reason for them to be referred as yankees or furyō, delinquent youths who are into American popular culture like black music or sneakers and sports wear.

    Cloud never having gotten into SOLDIER and being called a failure as a Sephiroth clone (or copy in the Japanese) can be seen as him being an avatar for Westernized Japanese players who failed to live up to old samurai moral concepts (bushidō) which were fused with Western ones during the modernization of Japan since the Meiji restauration in 1868. Zack with black hair represents an older generation whereas Cloud represents the younger one which has started to dye their hair and become shinjinrui, a term meaning new human breed used by adults to refer to the younger generation that has grown alien to them.

    Cloud emancipating himself from fabricated memory and defeating Sephiroth can be seen as a defense of the shinjinrui generation, the story of Final Fantasy VII a symbolic retelling of a change in Japanese society. It draws on imagery from Dragon Ball, which also affirms the furyō and shinjinrui with positive protagonists and frequently demonstrates the futility of suicide attacks. The readiness to give up one’s life for one’s lord is a major requirement of the samurai code. []

  6. Cloud being pulled up like a marionette by Sephiroth’s mother Jenova looks similar to how Sephiroth’s ghost is floating in the previous scene where he has just killed Aerith. They’re both being manipulated by Jenova. []
  7. Kitase: Before Nojima-san came to Square (currently Square-Enix) he had already made other games like “Glory of Heracles III” (an RPG for the Super Famicom using motifs from Greek mythology, published by Data East) so we knew he could write interesting scenarios. I’m guessing that is why Sakaguchi-san insisted on having him join the FFVII team.

    From an interview in Final Fantasy VII Ultimania Ω, page 567. Footnote added on 01/30/2012. []
  8. ヘラクレスの栄光III. Since Heracles means glory of Hera (Hera being Heracles’ adopted mother) the title actually translates to the glory of the glory of Hera. Heracles’ relationship with his mother is pronounced in his name and he becomes her successor as a giver of glory in the game title, similar to Sephiroth becoming the marionette of his alien mother Jenova and idol to young boys. He was born from a human mother called Lucretia though. The Japanese word used for glory literally means light of honor. The members of SOLDIER gain their superhuman abilities from makō, demon or magic light. This magic light is showered on them, kind of like the light of the TV showering the player with heroic imagery. []
  9. A game character never really dies as he has unlimited lives or continues. []
  10. Added on 11/20/2011 []
  11. All release dates taken from gamefaqs.com. []
  12. Actually it wasn’t Enix proper but only two creators, HORII and TORIYAMA, who usually worked with Enix but represent Enix’ biggest franchise, Dragon Quest. []
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