Super Mario RPG Remake Scores High For Nostalgia and Role-Playing

Super Mario RPG
Reviewed On
Nintendo Switch
Available For

The original Super Mario RPG was a Super Nintendo RPG classic title that featured an unlikely cast of Mario, his greatest nemesis Bowser, Princess Peach, a marshmallow, and a wooden doll that should totally be the next newcomer for Super Smash Bros. I played Super Mario RPG back when it released in 1996, renting it multiple times from a local store until my grandparents gave up and just bought me a copy to save on the rental fees. Back then I was a massive fan of Mario, but also only nine years old so I didn’t quite understand JRPGs yet. Super Mario RPG became one of my absolute favorites of all time thanks to its unique platforming outside of combat and requiring the player to be reactive to action while in battle. Does the 2023 remake of this beloved game hold up? Let’s find out.

The story of Super Mario RPG is pretty simple: Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach, and Mario attempts to rescue her and dukes it out with Bowser. But his rescue attempt is thwarted by a giant sword splitting the sky, crashing into Bowser’s Keep. Mario then has to circumnavigate his substantially crazier world to rescue Peach and defeat Smithy, an alien creature hellbent on filling Mario’s world with weapons and subjugating the peaceful toads, moles, cloud people, and more. No, seriously, this was back when Mario RPGs could use more than just toads as townspeople, so there’s a huge variety in the characters you’ll encounter throughout your adventure.

Exploration in Super Mario RPG has always been one of its greatest strengths. You pick your location from the world map, and after that you can run around in the different areas, collecting items, fighting enemies, or clearing platforming challenges. Back in 1996, it was rare to be able to jump in console RPGs, let alone be expected to jump across platforms or bounce off of paratroopa shells to scale a cliff, but Super Mario RPG expects you to do all of those things and its fluidity of movement outside of combat was what led it to stand out from the crowd. What would a Mario game be without platforming, after all? You can run and jump your way over enemies, but if you touch one, you get sent into battle with Mario and his companions.

In combat, you select whether you want to attack with your weapon, use a special attack that consumes the shared flower points of the party, defend, or use an item. Attacking, defending, and using a special attack all have special timing actions you can perform with good reactions to increase your attack power, or reduce the damage you take. This remake introduces new, tighter timing windows that allow you to deal even more damage and even hit other enemies for a small bit of splash damage when timed perfectly.

Each weapon your characters use changes the timing of your attacks, which means you’ll be learning new things all throughout your adventure. The timing of Mario’s fists, hammer, and giant koopa shell are all completely different which will keep you on your toes when you encounter a new, more powerful weapon. Each special attack will also require you do some button challenge, such as Mario’s jumps requiring good timing to compound the damage (with Super Jump connecting up to 100 times) or Mario’s Fireball increasing in damage with every button press you do. It may seem rote nowadays, considering games like Legend of Dragoon, Paper Mario, Shadow Hearts, and more that released after this 1996 classic, but the timed hits system is a great way to connect the player’s reaction to in-battle performance.

The combat of Super Mario RPG has largely stayed true to its late 90s roots, but there have been some new additions. Performing action commands fills a super meter that allows the player to do powerful Triple Moves that can deal tremendous amounts of damage, gives the party a buff that absorbs any incoming damage once, or can even heal the party. For those who still struggle with combat, a new easy mode was introduced called Breezy that makes enemies weaker, which should be useful to those unfamiliar with JRPGs, or for younger players who can’t quite grasp the battle system. To add on top of this, new “!” marks will pop up when players are supposed to press buttons for action commands or guard, which gives you a more concrete indicator. Conveniently, for those that hate the inclusion of “!” marks, they go away after you successfully input the command correctly a few times.

There’s new fully rendered cutscenes that show off some of Super Mario RPG’s more impactful events with dynamic camera angles and cinematography, but some of them at the beginning of the game are especially strange given that there’s dialogue complete with lip flaps, but no voice acting whatsoever. Later animated cutscenes won’t suffer from lacking spoken dialogue, as many of them portray impactful scenes with a show, don’t tell sort of approach. When beginning combat with bosses, there’s even new, brief animations where the bosses strut their stuff before you beat their faces in with a hammer, which is nice.

The combat and visuals of this game are great and are just as good in 2023 as they were in 1996, but one major thing that Super Mario RPG has always offered has been its sheer amount of variety. Defeating a boss might result in a huge torrent of water washing away Mario and company, tossing them into a minigame of snagging coins and flowers while falling down a waterfall. In another instance, you may have just defeated some enemies at the top of the tower to save Princess Peach, but the bad guy whisked her away to wed her, so that he can have an excuse to eat cake… so you have to chase him up a hill to try and save her. There’s Yoshi racing, a space invaders style minigame featuring a beetle, and lots more to do that adds so much variety to Super Mario RPG.

The locations you visit throughout the adventure, especially when coupled with the wacky characters you meet along the way, make for an extremely pleasant experience that somehow meshes together perfectly despite its eclectic nature. The Forest Maze would seem right at home in any Super Mario game, as would exploring a sunken ship, but an entire town filled with cloud people where a lady is trying to pass off a corpulent parrot as their prince? How about a Dollar Store Final Fantasy boss just relaxing in a room by himself until you disrespectfully interrupt him? In nearly any other game, the incongruity of these ideas would be laid bare for all to see, but in Super Mario RPG everything clicks together so well you never question it.

The upgraded graphics have done a ton for the readability of the silly characters of Super Mario RPG. Some enemies didn’t translate perfectly to 16-bit sprites back on the SNES, and this remake features characters lovingly crafted using artwork we only previously saw in strategy guides or art books. The visuals of this remake are absolutely joyful, with environments and characters carefully designed to capture the appearance of the SNES classic with modern technology. Other remakes have tried to modernize their visuals in a Chibi design style such as this, with easy examples being Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, but none have succeeded to match the original’s atmosphere and pure joyous appeal like Super Mario RPG’s remake.

It’d be remiss to just talk about the graphics of Super Mario RPG without discussing what is quite possibly its best quality: the music. The SNES classic’s original composer, Yoko Shimamura, was brought back to rearrange the soundtrack, and she did an absolutely incredible job. The remixed soundtrack respects the original tracks but adds new instruments and elements that make nearly every track what I heard in my mind as a child. The best part is, should you not be the largest fan of the new arrangements, you can access the original soundtrack from the options menu!

All in all, Super Mario RPG for the Switch was an absolutely amazing time. Featuring superbly upgraded visuals, an outstanding soundtrack, and combat that hasn’t aged a day, this is an excellent title to be anyone’s first JRPG if you’ve never played one before. The only unfortunate thing is that there’s no hard mode for more experienced fans. Super Mario RPG was never a particularly difficult game, and this remake can be argued to be even easier with perfect action commands from attacks resulting in splash damage on other enemies, or how powerful the new Triple Moves are. There are some nice challenging boss fights in the postgame, but if you’re in your mid 30’s like I am, you’ll largely be playing this for nostalgia, not for challenge.

I found Super Mario RPG easy enough when I was a child, as it was the JRPG that began an entire lifelong love for the genre starting back when I was under ten years old. So, I have a strong feeling that this remake has two intended markets: Children who are now the same age as I was when I first discovered Super Mario RPG back in 1996, and adults in their 30’s who may have significantly less hair on their heads nowadays (I rocked my afro as a 9-year-old. Nowadays? Not so much). I adored my time with this remake, even though I did find it quite easy, but seeing a child who played this remake for the first time ever excitedly talking about Geno as if he’s the coolest thing in the world with his rocket punches and laser beams… Well, let’s just say that I’m happy a whole new generation gets to argue over whether or not Geno should be added to Super Smash Bros.

When it comes down to it, if you’re looking for a laid back JRPG that’ll require you to keep your hands on the controller to beat combat encounters, or maybe you want to see what all the fuss is about, or perhaps you even just want to relive some memories from simpler times in your life, Super Mario RPG for the Switch might just be for you. It’s rare that I recommend JRPG titles to people who aren’t already interested in that genre, but Super Mario RPG is one of those that’s just different enough that even those who don’t care for JRPGs can have fun with it.

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