A faithful remake of a charming if simplistic RPG classic.
- New visuals and soundtrack retain original’s charm
- Bonus battle damage mechanics
- Lots of character variety
- Battles a bit simplistic and repetitive
- Some frustrating mini-games and puzzles
- Quite short for an RPG with not enough incentives to replay
This year’s biggest Mario game has come and gone already, which makes you wonder where else can Nintendo possibly go as its ridiculously successful hybrid games console must be entering its twilight phase. With the beloved plumber’s extensive history, it never hurts to mine the vault and refurbish a classic for a new generation. In this case, it’s the turn of Super Mario RPG.
Originally released on the SNES in 1996 (though not in Europe) with the subtitle ‘Legend of the Seven Stars’, this role-playing spin-off was developed by Final Fantasy creators Square. It took Mario out of the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond two dimensions with an isometric 3D perspective, while the plot was about more than saving the princess. There would be more RPG spin-offs, including Paper Mario as well as Mario & Luigi, but this was the OG.
Super Mario RPG has already had its share of re-releases, including on the Wii – where it made its official European debut – and as one of many games included in the now rather rare SNES Nintendo Classic Mini console, just how does a full remake fare compared to other RPGs fighting for your time?
Super 3D World
The immediate difference is that Super Mario RPG is now properly rendered in 3D, whereas the SNES had relied on pre-rendered models turned into sprites. Nonetheless, it retains much of the original’s look and feel. Even the characters look closer to how they were envisioned; a little shorter, rounder, and with bigger eyes. It’s an interesting creative choice given how easily the team could’ve stuck with the modern Mario look, as Ubisoft has done with its Mario + Rabbids spin-off.
This isn’t a wholesale reimagining like Final Fantasy VII Remake, more a largely faithful refurbishment of a classic title. This includes its fixed isometric perspective, which is not without its annoyances – platforming sections in this perspective are far from optimal. That said, you do have moments in battles where the camera might change or zoom in for dramatic effect, while there are also new short and snappy cinematics for introducing new characters or bosses.
Most iconic however is the wonderful score from veteran composer Yoko Shimomura (also of Street Fighter II and Kingdom Hearts fame). It’s a mixture of whimsical charm that also gives a playful spin on some of Koji Kondo’s classic Mario themes. She returns with a brand new arrangement that feels well suited to the remake, but you also have the option to select the original soundtrack at any time.
Baby’s first RPG
As far as RPGs go, the Mario ones have always been on the simplistic side, and so it remains here. You have a fairly small roster to build your party of three with, though everyone gains experience regardless who’s active. You can get hit by status effects, while enemies have elemental weaknesses. Ultimately, the one surefire tactic comes from well-timed button presses which increase your attack power or nullify incoming damage, indicated by both a sound effect and haptic feedback when done correctly. These timings also differ depending on the character as well as the kind of weapon they have equipped.
A nice addition to this remake is that timing your attacks perfectly means the damage doesn’t just increase on the enemy you’ve targeted but bonus damage also splashes onto other enemies in the arena. This perhaps makes battles against multiple enemies too easy. After all, why waste your team’s FP (short for flower points, used for magic or other special abilities) on a multi-attack spell when you’ll get just as good results with a normal attack?
But then Mario RPGs have never really been about battles. You can even keep it to a minimum since these aren’t random encounters, and have the new option of lowering the difficulty to avoid any grinding. It’s really about exploring the world and encountering a variety of weird and wonderful characters, with writing that’s not afraid to poke fun at the Mushroomverse.
There’s huge variety too, including two original party members Mallow, a frog who actually isn’t a frog, and Geno, a wizard warrior in the form of a toy puppet. Sure, there are variations of Toads as expected – but whereas more recent Mario RPGs would leave it at that, you’ve also got the moles in Moleville or the cloud people in Nimbus Land. The list of enemies is so exhaustive that there’s even a new bestiary to keep track of them all.
In between battles and exploration, Super Mario RPG also sprinkles a variety of mini-games that are faithful to their originals, to a fault. That means the eternally infuriating rhythm-based racing game against Boshi on Yo’ster Isle, and other challenges are made more frustrating by having to use an analogue stick to navigate a fixed 3D isometric space. It’s perhaps no surprise the one highlight for us was a minecart mini-game that switches between head-on and side-scrolling perspectives.
Even with optional side quests and challenges this RPG is on the short side; you’re likely to wrap up in 10-15 hours. It’s not that the adventure skimps on locations but more that you don’t hang around too long, and the battles don’t have the depth to keep you engaged for much longer. It’s probably a plus for folks normally put off by lengthy RPGs, but a New Game Plus would’ve been nice for extra replay value.
Not that there aren’t extras after you beat the game, such as the opportunity to have boss re-matches that are tougher and therefore require more strategic thought. This feature requires a bit more legwork to actually unlock, though. Other than that, a music player where you can listen to the soundtrack’s classic and new arrangements to your heart’s content, and a report of your play stats, are about your lot.
Super Mario RPG verdict
For a spin-off that subverted the tropes and expectations of a Mario game, Super Mario RPG is a rather safe remake that stays faithful to the original SNES classic. It might not expand on what was there but still includes just enough quality of life touches to appeal to a modern audience.
However, there have also been better versions of this formula. RPG fans also have plenty more in-depth titles to choose from this season, such as Square Enix’s HD-2D remake of Star Ocean: The Second Story. You also can’t help but think that this had its thunder stolen by the announcement of the Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door remake (often heralded as the best of the Mario RPG titles) coming next year.
Nonetheless, this is still a charming game that Mario fans will find much to like. Considering I didn’t get the original SNES release back then, it’s better late than never to have it now in its most accessible package.
A faithful remake of a charming if simplistic RPG classic.
New visuals and soundtrack retain original’s charm
Bonus battle damage mechanics
Lots of character variety
Battles a bit simplistic and repetitive
Some frustrating mini-games and puzzles
Quite short for an RPG with not enough incentives to replay