You know, I was worried when I learned that Mario & Luigi Dream Team wouldn't be out in America by the time my review went up. Because my reviews usually benefit somewhat by coming out a few weeks after the general release of a game, when everyone's had time to play it and let it percolate in the old brain meats. What I was really worried about was that I might have spoiled something, namely that Bowser ends up being the main villain. Because that's not the case from the start. It happens a little way in.
Now, at first I chided myself at the thought. Who in their right mind could possibly be offended that I spoiled the fact that Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach and Mario has to rescue her? That's the fucking default setting. It's like spoiling the fact that standard acceleration in Earth's gravity is approximately 32 feet per second. But then again, it's a Mario RPG, and what makes the Mario RPGs interesting to me is that Bowser being the villain is more the exception than the rule.
In fact, it's not even the case in the very first Mario RPG, creatively titled Super Mario RPG, on the SNES. Bowser being the villain was already being treated as an ironic joke, and it started the occasional trend of Bowser being a playable character, or at least a party member. There have been nine Mario RPGs in total, the SNES one, four Paper Marios and four Mario & Luigis. Of those nine, games in which Bowser is the straight villain are in a clear minority - the first Paper Mario, and the two of most recent memory: Paper Mario Sticker Star and Dream Team. And yet, I described both those last two games as 'tired'. When it seems I should have been praising their innovative spirit.
Except not really of course, because Bowser-as-villain takes the majority again the moment you extend the survey to every non-RPG Mario game. The role of the Mario RPGs was to be a sort of voice of dissent to show that Nintendo weren't completely above a bit of a nudge-wink self-effacement and congratulate the audience for having been clever enough to realize how tired Mario vs. Bowser is as a concept. Mario RPGs going stale is bigger than just one franchise - it's a symbol of Nintendo's ever-decreasing capacity for self-awareness. In case we needed another one after the Wii U.
The ongoing gag in Mario RPGs, when Bowser is enlisted as an anti-hero, is that he opposes the new villain because he considers kidnapping the princess to be his territory alone. This is a pretty firm indicator that Bowser is just as invested in the status quo as everyone else. His attempts to kidnap the princess seem almost ceremonial. I believe that the very first Super Mario Bros represented the only time when Bowser was genuinely kidnapping the princess to pursue his goals, presumably the attainment of power and influence. And he succeeded. From that point on, he is occasionally seen wearing a crown and being identified as 'King of the Koopas'. He lives in a castle and employs most of the land's monster workforce. Why does he need to keep kidnapping her? He's already a king. I don't see the saccharine lands she rules appealing to his taste for lava and perpetual twilight. It must just be some regular ceremony recreating the original successful revolt, like a friendly game between two rival footballing nations.