Well, this post has certainly been entirely too long in coming, and hearing a credible rumor of a potential upcoming remake / port of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga for 3DS, this absolutely would be the time to get this out there.
I’ll go ahead and say it; much as I love the first three Paper Mario titles, and have done more than a fair number of playthroughs and mechanics-investigation, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is easily my favorite Mario RPG, hands-down (and the rest of the M&L series doesn’t even come close to that title). May be to some degree due to nostalgia (even though I’d already played PM64 many times by the point I was introduced to MLSS); there’s certainly nothing like playing through Superstar Saga with a sibling on a GameCube Game Boy Player w/ 2 controllers hooked up. At any case, I’m a huge fan of its simplicity, the fast-paced action as a contrast to PM64 / TTYD’s nearly chess-like calculated strategy, and its brazenness in throwing the Mario brand’s familiar locales and art style to the breeze, while still throwing in a bunch of nods to its roots (and even some fascinating cut content doing the same with other Nintendo properties at the time!).
All that praise aside, the one thing that stood out to me as subpar about Superstar Saga, even on the earliest playthrough, was that it was hardly the best balanced game. Items give ridiculous amounts of restoration for a casual player (no one in their right minds will have 120 HP upon reaching Little Fungitown), Mario’s Bros. Attacks dwarf Luigi’s in attack power (even with the Bros. at similar POW), the bosses’ EXP curve is all over the place (Cackletta gives 900 EXP at her first appearance, when the previous boss gives 260 and the next at most 300), and the Mush Badges deal downright ludicrous amounts of extra damage per hit, especially if you’re already good at dodging attacks. Strangely enough, though, a good chunk of these oddities are absent in the Japanese release of Superstar Saga. Indeed, despite the North American and Japanese versions being released only a week apart (and having been built only slightly longer apart than that), there are a staggering number of balance differences between the releases (to say nothing of the much-needed Heart Blocks in hard-to-leave areas, and a few welcome user interface upgrades; more on that on TMK’s excellent localization changes article). Presumably the versions diverged and were developed in parallel earlier than that, but whatever the case, let’s see just how many things were altered…
Obviously there’s too many changes to note in plain text here, given that there’s over 100 unique enemy targets in the game, each with a dozen or so salient parameters. The full sheet of stats can be found at the bottom of the post, alongside the stats for items and such; meanwhile, I’ll note some of the more notable changes here:
- Beanbean Castle Town enemies got their EXP yields shattered compared to the middling amounts in the US version. Sharpea and Sworm both yield 2 (whereas the latter used to give 14), and the tougher ones yield 7-14 (rather than 16-20). In addition, Lakipea got a massive SPEED increase, and Tanoombas’ stats were dramatically increased across the board (in exchange for a 20-coin reward).
- The EXP curve was smoothed considerably in most areas; notably, Bowser’s Castle enemies all yield from 90-130 EXP (adjusting the outliers 80 for Sniper Bill / 40 for Boo), and several enemies (notably “????”) from Gwarhar Lagoon give considerably less.
- EXP / coin oddities caused by improperly assigning those stats to different forms / parts of the same enemy / boss were mostly fixed. De-winged Parabeanies and Paratroopeas give more EXP than in their winged form rather than less, Chomp Bros. no longer drop their wallets alongside their Chomps, Mom Piranha yields coins regardless of her final color, and the boss EXP curve is much saner (Cackletta gives 300 instead of the unintended 300×3, Trunkle 500 instead of 1000-1030, and Wendy and Lemmy’s fakes no longer give that odd 1 coin apiece).
- The Koopalings’ HP and DEF are a lot more variant, and their EXP climbs steadily from 550 to 850 rather than being a flat 800 apiece.
- Not stat-related per se, but Cackletta’s final form allows you to get the first turn regardless of SPEED, rather than likely killing you outright if your Bros.’ SPEED are both under (the fairly high value of) 120.
- Thankfully, for the completionists, Piranha Bean no longer has mutually exclusive one-time item drops (pawning off his rare drop on Ludwig instead).
Item / Equipment Stats
Again, a lot of changes, but these are among the most notable:
- Non-MAX Item restorations were reduced considerably; Mushrooms and Nuts both restore 25 / 45 / 75 HP, and Syrups restore 20 / 35 / 55 BP. In exchange, the prices for the MAX items (including 1-Up Supers) and Nuts ballooned considerably.
- Red / Green Peppers’ effectiveness were halved, from a +50% boost to POW / DEF to only +25%, and sell for only 30 (to 60) coins rather than 50 (to 100).
- Turn-order affecting clothing was made preposterously more expensive; #1 Trousers and Beanstar Pants (which were for some reason made Mario- and Luigi-exclusive), as well as Peachy Jeans and Scandal Jeans were all put in the slowest-growing STACHE discount group, and their base cost is upward of 1,000 coins apiece (for comparison, nothing was sold for over 600 in the US version).
- A handful of the later “standard” equipment got bumps in price and stats (i.e. Casual Slacks got boosted from +70 DEF / +20 HP to +70 / +30, and General Badge changed from +45 POW / +15 BP to +55 / +12, in exchange for ~doubled prices).
- If First Strike was considered broken before, apparently Random G was considered worthless; both Harhall’s and Random Slacks got substantial boosts in stats (+60 HP to +100 HP, +60 DEF to +90 DEF).
- Finally, Mush Badges got a three-fold and much-needed nerf:
- The added damage from each Mushroom shrunk from ~0.20 / 0.20 / 0.25 / 0.30 to ~0.08 / 0.10 / 0.12 / 0.20 for each normal / Super / Ultra / Max Mushroom, respectively, for a total possible boost of 48 damage per hit rather than 93, most of which comes from expensive Max Mushrooms.
- The badges no longer have a base POW stat increase, but nominal increases in BP instead.
- Their prices roughly doubled (probably could have stood to be higher still, but oh, well).
On the note of STACHE, item discount rates were generally slowed across the board in the JP version, both intrinsically in the discount growth functions, and extrinsically from the Bros. getting less STACHE from level-ups (especially after 40; more on that later).
Here’s a comparison table of how many STACHE points are needed to make each of the six STACHE “discount groups” hit a given buy discount in the US version:
|Rate||DG 0||DG 1||DG 2||DG 3||DG 4||DG 5|
And here are the respective rates in the JP version:
|Rate||DG 0||DG 1||DG 2||DG 3||DG 4||DG 5|
Bros.’ Level Up Progression
Not a lot of huge tweaks here; in the JP games, Mario & Luigi both get a BP boost during the early levels, have slightly higher POW / DEF respectively through the mid levels, and (similar to most successive games in the series) get substantially lower stat gains after level 40. The EXP required for level-ups wasn’t tweaked at all between versions, notably.
Here’s the sum of the Bros.’ natural level-up stats through levels 10, 40, and 99 in the US version:
and in the JP version:
Since I haven’t as of yet done a post on Superstar Saga‘s battle mechanics, here’s the base damage formula used by solo and Bros. attacks:
0.4 * (Attacker POW – 1/2 * Defender DEF) * (attack constant K)
0.4 * (Attacker POW – 1/2 * Defender DEF) * (success constant S) * (attack constant K)
(Enemy attacks are calculated the same way as the Bros.’ solo attacks, with an attack constant of 1.)
As it turns out, all of the solo attacks have the exact same constants between versions, but for the sake of completion, I’ll list the basic attacks’ constants here as well (yes, the Hammer constants do vary based on the type of Hammer!):
|Attack||Normal (Mario)||Lucky (Mario)||Normal (Luigi)||Lucky (Luigi)|
Most of the Bros. Attacks’ base attack constants and success constants were changed between versions. Rather than list all of the possible constants for all possible Action Command combinations for all attacks (since there are a lot, and they’re all in the doc at the bottom anyway), I’ll just list the (success constant S) * (attack constant K) products for each attack’s perfectly executed form, and whose POW is responsible for dealing the hit.
Here are those constants for the US version:
|Attack||S * K (Normal)||S * K (Advanced)||Attacker|
|Swing Bros.||5.76 (max speed)||5.76 + a marginal amount||Luigi (M+L on Advanced)|
|Chopper Bros.||3.66 (for 10 hits)||4.56 (for 5 hits)||Mario|
|Fire Bros.||2.0 (for 8 hits)||3.60 (for 8 hits)||Mario|
|Bounce Bros.||3.00||1.20 apiece||Luigi (both on Advanced)|
|Knockback Bros.||2.88||4.90 (for 5 hits)||Mario|
|Cyclone Bros.||2.16 (for 5 hits)||2.52 (for 6 hits)||Mario|
And here are the constants for the JP version:
|Attack||S * K (Normal)||S * K (Advanced)||Attacker|
|Swing Bros.||4.80 (max speed)||4.80 + basically 0||Luigi (M+L on Advanced)|
|Chopper Bros.||3.48 (for 10 hits)||3.96 (for 5 hits)||Mario|
|Fire Bros.||3.08 (for 8 hits)||3.96 (for 8 hits)||Mario|
|Bounce Bros.||2.94||1.56 apiece||Luigi (both on Advanced)|
|Knockback Bros.||2.40||4.08 (for 5 hits)||Mario|
|Cyclone Bros.||2.31 (for 5 hits)||2.90 (for 6 hits)||Mario|
In addition to balancing the attacks, the JP fixed a bug where the fewer Action Commands were landed during Thunder Bros., the stronger the stat-dropping effect would be on its target (presumably due to setting the multiplier directly, rather than subtracting it from 1.0). Here are the (outrageously broken) effect strengths in the US version:
|First Command||Second Command||All Commands|
|Normal||DEF x0.0||DEF x0.12||DEF x0.333|
|Advanced||DEF x0.0||DEF x0.275||POW x0.285|
Whereas the JP version only drops stats if all action commands are executed properly (x0.7 DEF for the normal form of the attack, and x0.8 POW for the Advanced).
Finally, for one brief bit of trivia, the calculations that go into Lucky hit calculation vary considerably between the US and JP versions of the game. The formula for Lucky calculation is as follows:
luckyChance = clamp(LuckyBase + LuckyMult * playerStache / enemyStache, MinChance, MaxChance)
where the enemy’s STACHE is determined by the average of the Bros.’ natural STACHE stats at its own level, and LuckyBase, LuckyMult, MinChance, and MaxChance are constants that depend on how close the enemy and player levels are (one set for if the levels are within 10% of each other, another for less than 25% apart, and a third for more than 25% apart).
The values for those constants in the US version are as follows:
and the values for those constants in the JP version:
In addition, wearing a badge with the “Lucky Attack” effect increases chances of a Lucky hit by a flat 15% after the previous calculations (to a max of 25% in the US version and 40% in the JP). But in short, the JP version has a higher cap on Lucky chances, but scales more evenly regardless of the level difference.
Also as a side note, I haven’t looked into it particularly deeply, but I suspect the JP version’s formula implementation has the potential to overflow to particularly low Lucky chances if the attacking bro’s STACHE stat is a bit more than 128 (or 128 + a multiple of 256) above the opposing enemy’s. Not likely to occur without a bunch of StarBeans drink farming, at any rate.
Well, that pretty much sums up the stat-based changes between the US and JP releases of Superstar Saga. Given that most of the balance changes in the latter were in my opinion for the better, I’m hoping that the alleged Superstar Saga remake ends up basing its stats off of that version. We’ll have to see, anyway.
You can find a spreadsheet of all the enemy stats, item stats, attack constants, and level-up progressions in both versions of the game here. Fingers crossed that we get a bunch more M&L:SS stuff to look at in an upcoming release!