I remember being wildly confused by Super Mario RPG as a child, having sworn I’d seen a poster of it at a Toys ‘R’ Us on a vacation to America, only to return to Australia to find no marketing, no game, and no mention of it anywhere. I’d written it off as a mis-remembered oddity until I was a lot older, with internet access, to learn that it it did indeed exist, it was a collaboration between Final Fantasy‘s Squaresoft and Nintendo, and it was yet another in a line of genre-defining games that never saw a release outside of Japan and the USA. Since then, the game has seen releases in various forms through emulation, but now Nintendo have brought a full-blown remake to the Nintendo Switch, bringing the game both to a worldwide audience and a new generation of players. A lavishly faithful recreation of the original, there are nonetheless a few updates to help make it a more modern experience, as Super Mario RPG emerges yet again as an RPG worth remembering.
Super Mario RPG helped set the template for future RPGs to come from Nintendo, and its DNA is felt throughout a lot of subsequent games, particularly the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario series. This game, which feels like a combination of elements from Square’s Final Fantasy series of the time, alongside Mario and even Legend of Zelda elements, introduced turn based combat to Mario, timed-button attacks for extra power, mini-games punctuating the RPG experience, and even the concept of allying with Bowser (albeit on his terms). Younger players who’ve known only these newer series will find a lot of familiar elements in Super Mario RPG, the originator of the format.
The Smithy gang, living robot-weapon people from another dimension, invade Bowser’s Castle in dramatic fashion as they skewer it with a gigantic sword. This breaks up the standard adventure Mario was having rescuing Peach from Bowser, and forces them to work together to evict the Smithy gang from their world, along with help from two original characters, the blobby Mallow and star child Geno. Geno’s help is particularly important as other than being a favourite for Smash inclusion, he’s been sent to repair ‘Star Road’ from whence wishes are granted, so along the way Mario and the gang have to collect its shattered pieces in the form of seven stars. Collecting each of these stars allows for the episodic adventures which make up Super Mario RPG, as the party journeys around the map, meeting a lot of memorable weirdos, with a lot of fun concepts for mini-stories along the way.
The main thing to really say about Super Mario RPG is that it’s incredibly adorable. I know Super Mario Bros. Wonder was cute, but seeing the squat designs of RPG brought to life in full 3D on a modern console really takes the adoriosity factor to a whole new level, which is compacted by Mario’s silent performance, told entirely through hand gestures, jumping and spinning. The original had only a few different pre-rendered sprite poses to work with to visually tell its story, and while the remake could have expanded on this, it absolutely made the right decision to keep things as they were, as there’s some absolutely hilarious storytelling going on with Mario’s limited poses. That’s not to say that there aren’t some enhancements, as at key moments of the story (for instance, when meeting new important characaters), new brief pre-rendered cutscenes will zoom the camera in close and give more dynamic views of the action.
As you explore the ring-shaped world of Super Mario RPG, you’ll have to enter into many, many battles, as you grind to level up your characters, and the experience is not dissimilar from, say, Final Fantasy VII which came out not too long after this game originally. This remake, however, does add some improvements to help mitigate some of the grind. Performing perfectly timed attacks used to only give you a damage buff to whoever you were attacking, but now they have splash damage, affecting all enemies on-screen. This solves a somewhat tedious issue from the original, where you would have to constantly rely on magic point-heavy attacks to fight multiple enemies at once, or spam Mario’s cute but time-draining multi-foe Ultra Jump attack. Now, battles tend to flow much more quickly. In addition, a new ‘gauge’ fills up as you perform well in battle, and when full can activate super ‘triple’ attacks. These can either greatly damage the enemy or buff your party, depending on the combination of characters you have in your party.
Beyond the battles, Super Mario RPG is full of diversions that are thrown at you at a moment’s notice, again in a very Final Fantasy VII or VI fashion. These include racing, driving a mine-cart along rollercoaster tracks, sprinting up hills or being washed down rapids. I wouldn’t say all of these are great, given they often rely on precise timing with little room for error, even though you have very little time to come to grips with them. They are, however, welcomed to break up the pace of the main game, and some can be replayed to gain extra resources to use for coming battles. The remake also includes new postgame content, in the form of a series of boss battles that are unlocked after you clear the game, which you’ll need to hunt down based on clues from ‘wishes’. These start off reasonable, but get incredibly challenging, leaning very much into the Final Fantasy side of the game, and offer a lot more reason to stick with the game past its initial 10-hour campaign.
Throughout all this, Super Mario RPG remains reverent of the original in a very heartwarming way. The dedication to re-creating the antics of its cast with their original animations, including original easter eggs, and even the loving orchestration of Yoko Shimomura’s outstanding soundtrack, shows that the team behind this really cared for the original game and wanted to show it in its best light. The additions don’t change the context or enjoyment of the original developers’ intentions, and the 3D refresh given to the whole experience just makes it even more appealing to current players. Super Mario RPG is a great example of how remakes can be done with respect, yet creativity, and is absolutely one of the most-play RPGs on Switch, as the original was one of the must-play RPGs of the SNES. Only this time, we’re all over it here in Australia.
-A faithful recreation of the classic RPG -Completely adorable -Solid battle mechanics enhanced with some quality of life upgrades -New postgame content will test you
-Some of the same flaws as the original, such as some underbaked mini-games