Super Mario RPG Review
I, like almost everyone else in Australia, did not play Super Mario RPG on the SNES as a child. I didn’t even play it on the Wii Virtual Console when that was released. Instead, my first exposure to Mario’s first ever RPG game was on the SNES Mini, all those years ago in… 2017. I mostly enjoyed it at the time, but was frustrated by how outdated it felt, how unforgiving it was, and how slow it was to get around and battle enemies. Now, it’s been remade for the Nintendo Switch, and so many of my initial frustrations have been sidestepped… but not all of them.
First, a little background. Super Mario RPG – subtitled Legend of the Seven Stars on SNES but left bare on Switch – was Nintendo’s first foray into making Mario into an RPG. It was developed by Square (no Enix at the time) and headed up by Chihiro Fujioka, who’d previously worked on SaGa 3 and Final Fantasy Mystic Quest — effectively an approachable version of Final Fantasy made for the West. Super Mario RPG was only released in North America and Japan, with Europe and Australia missing out until its Wii Virtual Console release.
The story is fairly straightforward, although a little bit on the weird side. After Bowser kidnapped Princess Peach (again), Mario went to the Koopa King’s castle to throw down. After a brief battle on the top of some chandeliers, a gigantic, living sword smashes into Bowser’s castle, expelling the characters and somehow(?) disrupting the ability for wishes to come true. Other living weapons were scattered throughout the lands, too, wreaking havoc on towns and villages across the world.
What follows is Mario’s quest to recover seven star pieces, restore wishes to the world, and free the land of these terrifying weapon beasts. To do so, he’ll team up with a couple familiar faces – Peach and Bowser – as well as Mallow, a “frog” that looks a lot like a cloud, and Geno, a fan-favourite character that’s essentially the spirit of a god inside a puppet toy. As I said, it’s all deeply weird, but it’s a delightful story that doesn’t take itself too seriously — an approach that would continue with much success in subsequent Mario (and Luigi) RPGs.
If you’re wondering if the story’s changed at all in the remake, the answer is no. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, very little has changed across the whole game. The lands you visit are the same, the level layout is pretty much identical, and the script is 95% identical to its SNES counterpart. This is by far one of the most faithful remakes we’ve ever seen from Nintendo, and that’s both a good and a bad thing.
It’s good because the original was good. As much as it frustrated me when I played it, I did think the core experience was solid, the story was fun, and the characters were filled with a lot of charm. It’s also bad because it means some of those frustrations are still there. You’re often left a little directionless, knowing vaguely where to go but having no idea how to get there. Some areas are very maze-like, and navigating them absolutely sucks — that was true in the original, and it’s true here.
On the upside, there’s almost 30 years of guides out there on the internet for Super Mario RPG, and pretty much all of them are still relevant. Every time I got stuck, annoyed, or otherwise frustrated with the game, I just looked up a guide, compared its crusty SNES screenshots to my glistening HD version, and I was quickly back on track. With extremely few exceptions, this pretty much always got me out of a bind.
That’s not to say there haven’t been any changes, though, just that most of the changes have been implemented in the area that arguably needed it the most: the game’s combat. Combat, on the surface level, acts pretty similarly to the original — faster characters go first, you can choose to attack or use a skill or item, or defend, and you can time button presses to do more damage or take less damage as attacks hit. Dig a little deeper, though, and you find some key changes that completely change the flow of battle.
For example, now, when you land a timed attack, extra damage will be dealt to all other enemies on the field, not just the one you targeted. It’ll also build up a gauge that, when full, will allow you to unleash a devastating move to deal massive damage. How that move works depends on which three party members are active, with certain team compositions doing big damage to just one enemy, others doing damage to all enemies on the field, and one healing up and buffing the team.
There’s also a new difficulty setting, called Breezy mode, that significantly widens the window for landing timed attacks and blocks, makes you deal a little bit more damage, and helps you take less damage. It absolutely does not make the game a walk in the park, you can’t just wander on through with your brain turned off, but it does give you much more breathing room and helps avoid unfair situations where you’re trapped in an unwinnable battle.
These changes add a surprising amount of depth to the combat, effectively allowing you to play however you want to play while still encouraging you to switch up your party and think about strategy. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel – it’s still the same combat system at its very core – but it does make key refinements and adjustments to make the experience much more pleasant. It’s almost like what you’d see from a sequel, in that way — a few improvements on an already solid system without alienating players who liked what was there before.
An interesting result of these changes is that the game is faster than it was on the SNES. Where the original took maybe 15-20 hours to complete, I was rolling the credits at 12 hours — and that was after spending a lot of time doing side content and aimlessly wandering the halls of various dungeons before giving up and looking up a guide. Being able to quickly fast travel to any area helped too, as did the inclusion of sub-areas that can be directly traveled to — I don’t remember either of these things in the original, but if they were there I definitely didn’t use them.
That said, there were still heaps of things that annoyed the absolute heck out of me. Platforming still sucks, just like it did in the original, despite the graphics making the environment much clearer. I really wish platforming as a whole had been removed or significantly altered in the remake, because there is absolutely no part of it that I would consider even remotely fun.
There’s also a part right near the end of the game, in the leadup to the final battle, that asks you to complete four out of six closed-door challenges. Two of these are gauntlets of battles against random grunts, two are puzzle challenges, and the remaining two are platforming challenges. None of them are fun. All of them are boring, frustrating, or a combination of the two. I hoped with all my heart that this part had been binned after being similarly annoyed in the original, but it somehow made its way back in.
On the upside, though, the presentation is absolutely delightful. The art style is utterly gorgeous, recreating the vibe of the original’s faux-3D sprites while still putting its own spin on things. It’s helped along by some killer pre-rendered cutscenes, and the higher resolution means characters are better at emoting than ever before. Performance is pretty much solid, although I did notice what I suspect was a memory leak — after a few hours of play, the menus (and only the menus) started to slow down quite significantly. A quick reboot fixed the issue, though.
Another thing worth mentioning is the soundtrack, which is phenomenal. My love of Yoko Shimomura is well-documented at this stage, but both her original compositions for Super Mario RPG and her new arrangements in the remake are fantastic pieces of music. You can even switch between the two at any time, which is a nice touch that I wish more remakes offered.
Super Mario RPG is a delightfully faithful remake — for better and for worse. It’s almost exactly the game it was 25 years ago, with some key improvements, adjustments, and feature additions to make it much more enjoyable for modern audiences. It’s not without its many frustrations – most of which stem from its SNES predecessor – but there’s no denying that what’s here is a wonderful experience from start to finish.
+ Fantastic changes and additions to combat
+ The new art style and cinematics are delightful
+ All the good things from the original are here
- Platforming still sucks
- It's very easy to get lost and frustrated
- All the bad things from the original are here