Super Mario RPG Review – Niche Gamer

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When Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars came out in 1996, it was a mind-blowing collaboration between Nintendo and Squaresoft. Both were titans of the industry at the time and Squaresoft, in particular, was the biggest name when it came to epic RPGs. The idea of Squaresoft doing an RPG centered on Super Mario set expectations high, and what they delivered still holds up decades later.

Full disclosure: Legend of the Seven Stars was the first RPG I ever completed. I was 11 at the time, and it served as the gateway RPG that set the standard for the entire genre for me. At the time, I was the target audience—an RPG newcomer—and the game was seemingly designed around the fact that the intended player would require an elementary-school reading level and simple-to-understand turn-based gameplay.

Remade as Super Mario RPG, the graphics have taken a noticeable overhaul and the music has been beautifully rearranged by the original composer, Yoko Shimomura. Eagle-eyed gamers may have noticed some subtle changes in the battle screen. What can returning fans of the classic Super Mario RPG expect to find in this remake? Is this remake still fun for kids? Find out in this Super Mario RPG review!

Super Mario RPG
Developer: ArtePiazza, SquareSoft
Publisher: Nintendo
, Square Enix
Platforms:  Super Nintendo Entertainment System (as Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars),  Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date: November 17, 2023
Price: $59.99 USD

Super Mario RPG begins like most people expect any Mario game to start; Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach, and Mario rushes to the rescue. However, it quickly becomes clear that something is different this time. The game has an extra layer of imagination and whimsy that is not typically found in Nintendo-made Mario titles.

Instead of simply fighting Bowser, Mario finds himself battling on top of chandeliers that are hundreds of feet above the ground. This familiar scenario is completely upended by the arrival of a new threat that disrupts the plumber and the king of the Koopas. A massive sword with a face crashes down onto Bowser’s castle, sending Mario, Bowser, and Peach flying in different directions across the world.

It turns out that the giant sword belongs to a fearsome and ruthless weaponsmith named Smithy, who has destroyed the Star Road on his way down to the Mushroom Kingdom. This is a significant setback, as, without the Star Road, no one’s wishes can ever come true.

In his quest to thwart Smithy’s industries, Mario befriends Mallow, a cloud-boy who thinks he’s a tadpole. Mallow proves to be the most developed newcomer, as he is very expressive and undergoes a character arc. Geno is the second of Mario’s companions, and he is best remembered for his cool character design. Apart from his memorable introduction, Geno doesn’t do much else in the story.

Geno seemed so much more interesting when I played Super Mario RPG as a child. Geno has very few lines of dialogue, expresses almost nothing personal, and is motivated by a vague “higher power.”

He is almost the same as he is when the story begins and only exists to exposit information that none of the other characters could know. At the very least, he is useful in battle and his design is one of the coolest in any Mario game ever.

Peach doesn’t fare much better than Geno in terms of character development. Surprisingly, Bowser emerges as one of the game’s most compelling characters. He is always trying to look tough at all times and tries to hide his vulnerabilities as much as possible… to the extent a basic RPG aimed at kids can.

New villainous additions like the insatiable Belome, the eccentric manchild Booster, and the voluptuous Valentina stand out as some of the story’s most memorable figures. Their imaginative character designs, far surpassing the typical Mario game tropes, further enhance their appeal. Booster especially gets significant screen time and exploring his tower reveals a lot about him.

While Super Mario RPG‘s writing is very effective and entertaining, don’t expect it to be Xenogears. This is a remake of an SNES game intended for children who are just beginning to take up RPGs, and the complexity of the writing reflects this. Dialogue is very brief, and most of the time there is amusing boobery to make scenes more entertaining.

Each of the seven stars is embedded within a distinct story arc that unfolds gradually. Some arcs are lengthier than others and will require players to delve into dungeons, solve intricate puzzles, and engage in platforming challenges, true to the essence of Mario games. The overall experience is quite linear, yet there’s ample motivation to revisit previous areas in pursuit of side content or to unlock hidden scenes.

In true 1990s Squaresoft fashion, Super Mario RPG is packed with entertaining gimmicky set-pieces. Embark on thrilling minecart races, engage in a rhythmic Yoshi minigame, test their jumping skills with barrel jumping, and challenge their reflexes in a whack-a-goomba minigame. The list of side activities goes on and on, ensuring that the world of Super Mario RPG is bursting with interactivity. However, the remake made an unfortunate decision to replace the casino’s blackjack game with a rather bland memory game.

Squaresoft’s prowess as an RPG developer truly shone in Super Mario RPG. Their flair for character creation elevates the familiar Super Mario characters to new heights. Mario himself remains the brave and dedicated hero he’s always been, but in Super Mario RPG, he expresses himself more than he ever has, except perhaps in the 2023 CGI movie.

There are many little 90s-era Square-isms throughout Super Mario RPG. Amusing side stories that flesh out the world go a long way in making players feel connected to the setting. Exploring towns getting to know the villagers and stumbling upon some secrets was something that fans of Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III (VI) will feel right at home with.

In Super Mario RPG, even the most minor characters are given depth and personality. This is evident in the game’s treatment of Booster’s minions, the Sniffits. While they could have easily been portrayed as generic, faceless enemies, the game takes the time to develop them into distinct individuals.

This attention to detail extends to the game’s main cast as well. Mallow and Geno, the two original characters created by Squaresoft, feel right at home alongside Mario, Peach, and Bowser. They are designed in a style that is reminiscent of other Nintendo characters, but they also have a unique flair that only Squaresoft could deliver. As a result, they feel like they could have been obscure Nintendo characters from an unmade game.

For its time, this role-playing game strikes a balance between complexity and simplicity, paving the way for the more diverse Paper Mario series and other similar games. The most significant addition is the introduction of ‘timed hits’ during battles, where you can influence the damage you deal or receive by pressing the A button at the right moment.

This adds a layer of engagement to battles that often become rote in other series, where you can sometimes even look away while mindlessly mashing the A button to execute default attacks. This addition forces you to stay actively involved throughout the numerous battles. Similarly, most spells require some form of action, transforming them into Wario Ware-style micro-games of their own.

Beyond the exhilarating battles, players are launched into an immersive world brimming with exploration, reminiscent of the classic Mario games. Navigate a labyrinth of box-bashing mayhem, conquer jump-infested zones, and unravel the occasional mind-bending puzzle.

Unfettered exploration awaits without fear of harsh penalties for missed jumps. Even a fiery lava plunge merely results in a slight setback, respawning you just a few steps back. This is a game aimed at kids and the overall level of difficulty is generally kept low enough to allow most children to make it to the end without much fuss.

A welcome addition is the absence of those pesky random battles. Encounters are initiated by on-screen enemies, who you either bump into to unleash a brawl, or they bump into you. It means you can evade them or choose to engage in fisticuffs which cleans up the maps of threats, making it easier to explore uninterupted.

The story and flow of this remake are almost the same as it was in the SNES game from 1996. The most notable difference is the 3D graphics. The original utilized prerendered 3D sprites that made the visuals look ahead of their time. It gave the aesthetics a hand-crafted model look to everything, making the environment resemble miniature dioramas.

This remake goes for a 1:1 match for all the sprites, but in 3D and with more frames of animation. The new visuals are very faithful to the original and in some instances, the artists captured some very obscure details like the inconsistency between boss characters having slightly different designs on the field and in battle. If you have played the original Super Mario RPG, then you have played the remake.

The land mass remains the same, but now the background seamlessly extends into the distance, eliminating the jarring black or blue void that used to surround it. This alteration enhances the game’s world-building, creating a more cohesive and immersive experience.

Certain elements have undergone modifications. For instance, Mario no longer performs the “peace” sign, and Valentina’s chest no longer jiggles. However, these changes are balanced by the inclusion of key scenes rendered in stunning, movie-quality animation.

The gameplay retains the same semi-3D platformer and turn-based RPG format, but this remake inexplicably makes the game easier than the original. The 1996 Mario RPG was already a very easy and breezy RPG designed for children. This remake introduces splash damage for timed hits and the combo gauge, which allows players to unleash powerful attacks when full.

Being able to switch out party members in battle like in Final Fantasy X is a godsend and encourages gamers to use everyone. Sadly, no matter what, Mario cannot be switched out ever and must always remain in battle or on the field. This addition makes the combat and strategy more flexible than it ever was on the SNES.

In addition to these added combat mechanics that simplify the core experience, there’s also an easy mode. This excessive hand-holding appears to be catered towards game journalists who lack the inclination to engage with the game on any meaningful level. Instead of catering to a disinterested demographic, the developers should have implemented a harder difficulty mode to challenge Super Mario RPG veterans who grew up with the game.

Returning fans will have to get to the end of the game and defeat the final boss to get a chance to experience something new in this remake. In the post-game, new challenges with rematches with some bosses become available and this is the toughest Super Mario RPG gets. These battles will push veterans to their limits and will feel the choke of the level 30 cap.

Why would anyone want to experience these white-knuckle battles? Defeating these foes earns new and more powerful gear. Becoming more powerful so late in the game seems a bit pointless since there is already almost nothing that can stop you, but it is always welcomed when battling powered-up foes for extra frog coins. Apart from this post-game content, this is almost the same game from 1996.

Super Mario RPG was never a deep RPG and it still isn’t, but it is a very entertaining one that manages to have some striking imagery and plenty of funny moments. The gameplay and scenarios are varied to never have a dull moment. Despite what the 3D graphics suggest, this is still an SNES RPG.

Super Mario RPG was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided by Nintendo. Additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy can be found hereSuper Mario RPG is now available for Nintendo Switch.

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