Super Mario RPG Revisited

RPG purists often tout the era of the Super Nintendo as the pinnacle of role-play gaming, with titles like Final Fantasy III (in the U.S.) and Chrono Trigger often topping the lists. But Square developed another game that recalls distinct SNES nostalgia and nearly mastered the balance of traditional, turn-based RPG elements and a plucky sense of adventure: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. For this Revisited, I spent around fifteen hours re-conquering this conflagration of old-school gaming ideas and couldn’t have been happier about it.

Super Mario RPG succeeds largely with charm and character. Aside from Mario’s Time Machine and Mario is Missing, this was Nintendo’s first branch off of the Mario franchise to cast the famous plumber as more than just a jumping bean or a pill-popping doctor. Mario became a full-fledged character (though not fully-voiced) whose interactions with the world around him set up a kind of unspoken character that would hold for generations of gaming.

The mantra for the team at Square must have been, “There are no sacred cows,” because every Mario icon received some sort of makeover and in some cases a complete rewrite. Mario is constantly criticized for his gung-ho gusto and his apparently “ugly” mustache. Bowser turns into a powerless, sniveling overlord after the eviction from his castle. Peach becomes the epitome of the powerful woman — strong, confident, and able. The only character that seems to fit his pre-determined profile is Toad, who comes across as weak, cowardly, but often boastful and self-righteous. The element of humor comes through pretty strongly with these characters, along with a host of other Mario standbys (the Shy-Guys, Dry-Bones, Goombas, etc.). More importantly, they lay the base for a satiric adventure, replete with exaggerations of adventure story convention and complete contradictions. It’s smart, it’s charming, and it’s simply fun to watch.

The mechanics of gameplay in Super Mario RPG fit almost directly in line with other RPGs of the era, but are altered to fit the Mario theme. Instead of Fire, Fira, and Firaga, there’s Fireball, Super Fireball, and Ultra Fireball. Instead of the basic trekking through mountains and towns, Square added the platforming element that made Mario famous, but done as platforming-lite. For example, one challenge finds Mario jumping barrels on his way up an incline to stop the large monkey throwing them down… wait, that sounds familiar. Even without the nods to Mario’s origin, the platforming works perfectly to mix up the gameplay and offer the player a break from the battles, which can become monotonous.

super mario rpg

Overall pacing proves a triumph for Mario’s first foray into RPGs as no one segment overstays its welcome. It’s a game of moderate length, with plenty of varied worlds and bosses with decent difficulty, and almost none of it feels repetitive. Of course it is repetitive, as each level is really just another exercise in battling minions to reach a boss (and then repeating that formula), but every boss and level is framed by some new challenge that keeps things interesting. Take, for example, the hunt for Booster’s Mario doll, the Kero Sewer River Rapids, the Mine Cart segment, Jinx’s dojo, or even the optional Boshi race. It’s got everything that the beloved RPGs of old made famous, just coated in a thick film of Mushroom Kingdom charm.

The game isn’t without its flaws as certain elements lack balance. For example, if the player is able to find the legendary “Lazy Shell” items, they essentially can’t lose from there forward because they are just so powerful. And Geno’s “Geno Whirl” ability, combined with some timed button presses (another brilliant innovation worth re-examining), can do 9999 damage to almost any enemy. But these and other overpowered abilities are only available to players who know how to utilize them, so it’s not a horrible imbalance, just worth noting.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much pure fun playing an RPG. For fans of Mario games and Final Fantasy games, Super Mario RPG is a must play. I can’t over-emphasize the humor and charm that the tongue-in-cheek approach provides, and the traditional RPG aspects are spot-on. If I could make one incredibly simple recommendation to the future of Mario RPGs (I’m looking at you, Super Paper Mario) based on this game, it would be to just use bigger numbers for stats. An attack worth four hit points is for kids, and dumb ones at that. Don’t be afraid of triple-digits, and revisit Super Mario RPG, one of the best ever offerings for the Super Nintendo.


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Author: Dan Crabtree View all posts by
Dan is Managing Editor for GamerNode and a freelance gaming writer. His dog is pretty great. Check him out on Twitter @DanRCrabtree.

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