The original Super Mario RPG, released for Super Nintendo in 1996, felt like it was meant to be your first RPG. In an era when Final Fantasy tried its best to tell mature stories within the medium’s limitations and Dragon Quest demanded hours and hours of your time, Mario’s adventure felt much brighter and more manageable. Familiar characters, a lighthearted story, a reasonable length, and timed button-pressing during combat made it stand out against the competition. Revisiting the game more than 25 years later in this new remade shape shows the original formula did not need much tweaking to deliver an engaging and enjoyable journey. Super Mario RPG is not entirely innocent of the sins of video games past, but old fans will relish the chance to see the game in a new light, and I’m confident newcomers will find something to love.
Beyond the fun combat, visuals, and story, the best part of Super Mario RPG is that it is incredibly bizarre. The Nintendo of 1996 was still figuring out the rules of Mario’s universe, and as a result, developer Square (not yet Square Enix) was able to create characters and put Mario in positions his parent company would likely never agree to today. The remake, thankfully, maintains all of that weirdness. I didn’t find anything salacious or offensive, but there are entire races of characters that we have never seen again in the Mario universe, Shy Guys have full conversations, and some dialogue choices make Mario come off as a jerk. In one scene, a party member has to hold Mario back from punching a child Toad who casually insulted him. I am grateful the game has not been sanitized and is still full of admittedly inconsequential references to other franchises and Nintendo games.
The story is also still quite funny. It never reaches the comedic heights of its spiritual successors like Paper Mario or Mario & Luigi, but I chuckled often. Mario’s primary means of communication is jumping to prove he is actually Mario, and every time I pressed the jump button to move the conversation forward; I appreciated the commitment to the bit. Outside of the comedic moments, the actual plot is perfunctory, with few, if any, emotional moments, but I was still eager to see where I was going and who I was going to meet next. Added in-engine character introduction moments and the occasional pre-rendered cutscene help deliver the story in new ways, but I am disappointed that the whole game doesn’t feature the same visual fidelity.
As it was in the past, combat is a highlight, and the additions for the remake improve the action without detracting from what made it fun to begin with. A new Action Gauge fills as you successfully pull off Action Commands (the timed button-pressing) across battles, and when full, you can pull off powerful and flashy Triple Moves. I went out of my way to try every party combination to see all of them and enjoyed tracking how high I could get my Action Command Chain across battles. One shortcoming, however, is pulling off Action Commands isn’t always clear beyond seeing your chain number ticked up. Subsequent games inspired by Mario RPG’s combat, like 2023’s Sea of Stars, have done a better job at iterating on this system and offering better feedback.
Much of what has changed about Super Mario RPG for the remake beyond the visuals is behind the scenes. The pace is brisker, and my hour count (even after beating the big optional boss) came in lower than the average playtime of the original. The game has been tweaked only slightly to add some new mechanics and make the adventure even more welcoming than it already was. The result is an experience that only shows its age slightly and rewards longtime fans and newcomers alike.
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