As someone who has been gaming a (very) long time, I get the benefit of seeing games come around again, especially those from my childhood. I even, occasionally, get to see games that I never got to play on the original platform for whatever reason get shiny new releases. So, when a remake of Super Mario RPG was announced for Switch – a game that wasn’t originally released in Europe for the SNES, and that I only played on the Wii eShop release. I was all in.
Super Mario RPG starts the same way that almost every Mario game does, with Princess Peach being abducted by Bowser. Mario triumphantly arrives to rescue the fungal monarch, but after a tussle with Bowser the plot takes a sharp left turn. Cue Bowser’s Castle flying in the sky embedded by a huge sword with a creepy face and our cast (including Mario) being flung across the world.
This kicks off a story that is markedly different from your standard Mario fare. For one thing, it is very funny at various points, especially considering that Mario doesn’t talk in the game and communicates via jumping or through dumb little mime-based skits instead. It still feels like a Mario game, but is taking itself far less seriously – which is becoming more of a theme recently (looking at you, Wonder).
Super Mario RPG plays out like a standard JRPG. It might be less novel since we now have the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario series, but this was the actual first JRPG with Mario. You’ll be wandering around a large world, searching for magical McGuffins, completing quests for various odd folks, stealing from said folks’ houses, and getting into a whole load of turn-based battles.
If you touch an enemy in the overworld you’re thrown into a battle with both your party and the enemies standing in neat little rows taking turns to beat the hell out of each other. The set-up here is simple, with each of your party members having a standard attack based on their current weapon and a set of special abilities that use the communal pool of Flower Points (FP) to use in battle.
These special abilities can be straight damage like Mario’s Jump, can heal your party members like Mallow’s HP Rain, or cause status boosts or effects on your allies or enemies like Geno’s Geno Boost. You can restore your FP with various Syrups or by resting at Inns, and if you find Flowers in chests and the like, you can increase your maximum to allow for even more uses of these abilities and shake up your strategies.
Super Mario RPG isn’t quite that straightforward though. Every attack and ability in the game has some sort of contextual enhancement with a timed press of the A button. For example, with the basic attacks of each character if you press the A button just before the hit connects, you’ll greatly increase the damage dealt. This also applies to defence too, where pressing A just before your character is hit will result in less or even no damage being taken.
This gives the player a real incentive to learn not only the abilities of their party, but also the attacks of the enemies to battle effectively. If that isn’t incentive enough, each successful context button press will add to a little gauge in the bottom left of the screen. Once filled, you can do a team attack with your entire party, resulting in various effects that change depending on your current party composition. These are new additions for the remake and the little cutscenes for each one is delightful.
That’s not all that Super Mario RPG does differently, both at the time of its original release and even arguably now. Firstly, you can switch party members in battle (except for Mario, of course), letting you keep on top of healing and other things. Secondly, when a character levels up you can choose a pair of stats to give an extra boost to on top of the regular boost from the level up. Thirdly, even your choice of party matters as different compositions will give you different stat boosts to your party.
They’re all little things, sure, but they add to the overall unique-feeling experience of the game.
I cannot move on from the battles without talking about the bosses though. Super Mario RPG has some of the most goofy and fun boss encounters of any JRPG. Each boss is simply brimming with character, plus they aren’t just comedic jokers and do pack a punch if not tackled effectively. These encounters can still have their damage reduced by the context button presses, so definitely keep an eye on their animations.
One complaint I do have about the game, however, is the overall simplicity of it. Everything I said above is true, but the game is on the shorter side for a JRPG and is not overly challenging. This is remedied a little by the post-game content, which does add a little to the overall playtime and ups the ante, but there isn’t quite enough to do in the game to fully scratch that JRPG itch.
The visuals, which honestly aged well from the original 1996 release, have had a modern 3D overhaul and ArtePiazza has done well to keep the slightly boxy and cute look for everything. The only visual troubles are found within the isometric perspective of the game. It isn’t a bad thing per se, but it really does make some of the platforming in the game an absolute chore because of how difficult it can be to judge distances. A minor gripe, but nonetheless frustrating.
I was definitely skeptical about the music as I find that a lot of remasters of older music lose some of their charm in the update, but I needn’t have worried. The updated soundtrack in Super Mario RPG is stellar, hitting that nostalgic feel with a modern twist. Plus, if the new soundtrack doesn’t quite strike the right chord (hehe) with you, there’s an option to switch to the Classic soundtrack at any time in the options menu, so the mustachioed plumber’s adventure has you covered either way.