Toadstool– or Peach if you’re not comfortable with retcons– has almost always filled the role of damsel in distress, a MacGuffin for Mario to track down. Ignoring Super Mario Bros. 2, it seems like every time Mario turns around, Bowser has kidnapped her, a fact that games in Mario’s RPG series don’t hesitate to point out to humorous effect. Yet, there have been those rare occurrences when Toadstool has been shown as a competent female, someone who is more than a piece of cake at the end of a long series of hardships. This is a great trend, but when did it start? I think that Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is her breakout title.
It doesn’t start out that way. From the very beginning of the game it seems to be pretty standard. Bowser has kidnapped Toadstool and it’s up to Mario to go save her. Of course, things don’t work out like you’d expect. Oh, Mario does save her, but as he’s about to remove her from her bonds and take her back to the Mushroom Kingdom, PLOT DEVICE happens. Toadstool remains a prisoner and Mario sets off on a whirlwind adventure to save her. There are various plot twists and yet Princess Toadstool remains what she always is, something shiny to work towards… until you save her, that is.
SPOILER ALERT! The game isn’t over when Mario saves Toadstool. In fact, the game is actually only half way done at that point. Then something truly amazing happens: Toadstool asks to come along on the adventure. Of course at first she is told that is a horrible idea by her retainers, since the Mushroom Kingdom needs stability (even if she’s kidnapped every other week). But after agreeing with him, Toadstool chooses to sneak out of the castle and join Mario’s quest anyway, as the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
She is still a woman. She still has to deal with some of the female stereotypes that continually perpetuate themselves in this kind of media. She isn’t made the leader of the group, deferring instead to Mario. Super Princess Peach this is not. However, the game sets a precedent for Toadstool to take a more proactive roll in future Mario games that are not platformers. If you look at any of the Mario RPG series games that Toadstool/Peach has been in, either she is actively opposing her captor (if captured) or she is competently leading her kingdom by playing off the expectations leveled against her.
Toadstool is not a great attacker (though she can wield one of the best weapons in the game, the Frying Pan), but she does have excellent capabilities, being able to heal individuals or the whole group and remove status effects. She is also the only character with a special ability that brings allies back to life, and she has the only way to revive allies to full health after they have been knocked out. While her special abilities have girly names like “Therapy,” “Group Hug,” “Come Back,” and “Sleepy Time,” Toadstool becomes an integral part of the team after she has been added. While different play styles may vary, she is often kept active since she is great at her support role.
Before Mario RPG, Toadstool was a figurehead, a frightened woman constantly captured and held captive by another force. She still struggles with being in this role, as hackneyed as it may seem. However, she is also able to rise above her perceived limitations and provide a solid example of a woman who is more than a pretty face. Hopefully Nintendo will remember this as it moves forward and will continue to show us exactly why Princess Toadstool Peach is the ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom. Gamers everywhere deserve it.