This is the one we’ve been waiting for. Mario fans. RPG fans. Mario RPG fans. Yes, it’s the remake of the original Super Mario RPG. That iconic collaboration between Nintendo and Square that we old-schoolers have been pining for a remake of, or even just a port of, for years now. Well, it’s here, and it’s almost everything you could ask for.
For a little context, the original Super Mario RPG was Mario’s first foray into the world of turn-based battles back in 1996, with Nintendo entrusting Square with the responsibility of guiding its most beloved mascot on an exciting new adventure. That’s just what they did, and the game is something of a cult classic in the Nintendo community, thanks to some engaging boss battles, fantastic writing, and a willingness to introduce new ideas and characters rather than just rely on Mushroom Kingdom’s already well-known cast. Handling the remake is the Italian studio ArtePiazza, which you may know for its work on the Dragon Quest series.
In terms of what fans of the original can expect, this isn’t too much of a dramatic upheaval. Outside of some fresh ideas in battle, it’s almost a like-for-like upgrade of the 1996 experience with enhancements to the gameplay, graphics, and sound. That said, there is the option to go old school with the soundtrack if you’re feeling a little nostalgic. However, much like Spyro Reignited Trilogy, the musical rework is impressive and reveals even more depth to the gloriously hummable compositions, so I’d recommend at least checking it out before bringing back the 16-bit soundtrack.
If you didn’t play the original, good, because otherwise there’s very little I can tell you in this review that you don’t already know outside of “it looks real pretty”. This Mario adventure starts where they usually end, with our favorite mustachioed plumber attempting to save Princess Peach from Bowser in the Koopa King’s lair. Then, the formula changes, or at least the formula as it was in 1996. Exor, a strange sentient sword antagonist, impales the castle, takes the princess for himself, and boots out the boys. This unusual big bad also destroys Bowser’s castle bridge, forcing you on a roundabout quest to save Peach.
Following the invasion of this new nemesis and his team of Smithy Gang underlings, you take off with Mario to take ‘em out Jumpman-style. As it turns out, the only way to defeat Exor is to gather the Star Pieces alongside a crew of Mushroom Kingdom characters and a couple of new arrivals. Mallow is my favorite of the bunch, with an endearing naivety that reminds me of Final Fantasy IX’s Vivi, without the existential pondering.
If you’ve played any sort of Mario RPG over the years, whether it be Paper Mario or the GBA Mario & Luigi titles, the action RPG gameplay should come quite naturally, though it does slightly differ from the original. Select your regular attack and then tap the A button just before it lands for a cheeky boost thanks to the new Action Command system. We love a cheeky boost. You can also deflect attacks by tapping A right before they land to avoid massive damage from a powerful enemy.
There are, of course, special attacks, too, with Geno’s powerful beam my personal favorite of the bunch. These special attacks each have a little gimmick to make them as potent as possible, from mashing the ‘A’ button to quickly twirling your left analog stick, much like in the original. Using each character’s unique special moves comes into play more so in boss battles, where you can take advantage of their weakness to lay down some fireballs with Mario or unleash some lightning with Mallow, adding further depth to the turn-based duels.
There is another new-to-the-remake mechanic when it comes to battle action in the form of the gauge in the bottom left corner of the screen. If you pull off a well-timed attack or block with the Action Command system, you get a little percentage boost, and if you can get that gauge up to 100%, then it’s special move time. Or, providing you have three party members, Triple Move time.
The Triple Move mechanic is the final fresh in-battle concept that lends itself perfectly to the RPG experience, providing you with a reason to try and time your Action Commands outside of the regular attack or defense boost. These Triple Moves vary depending on the three active party members, but each has its benefit, from healing up the team to dealing some serious damage to a single enemy. It makes the already fantastic battles of the original that bit better without completely reinventing the wheel, and the special animation cutscene for each is a treat for the eyes.
The introduction of these mechanics might seem like a bit of a risk, but it doesn’t feel like one when you’re playing. Admittedly, the battle system from the original does feel a little bland these days, with 25 years of advancement in the genre to contend with. Both the Action Command gauge and the Triple Move system sit nicely within the turn-based system, giving you a reason to pay attention throughout the battles rather than just clicking the same attack option repeatedly and waiting for your promised experience points.
Around the halfway point of your adventure, the party of five is perfectly balanced for the turn-based battles ahead. It’s a shame that in all the years since, we’ve never had a party of characters quite as effective in a Mario RPG as this original fivesome, not only in terms of balance between attacking power and healing magic but also in terms of group dynamic. Sure, Geno is a little on the quiet side, but the interactions between Mario, Peach, and Bowser here are more entertaining than anything you can find in the plumber’s platforming adventures.
One of the highlights of the original game was the boss battles, and they feel great here too. It’s classic Square, latterly Square Enix, in that there’s a gimmick or weakness to each boss that feels rewarding to uncover. At no point do the bosses become samey, and the distance between each gives you plenty of opportunity to level up and pick up some more healing items before taking on a challenging foe. Each of these end-of-level challengers also benefits from the visual improvements, particularly Booster and Jonathan Jones, who each portray a little more character than their pixelated predecessors.
Exploring the world of Super Mario RPG is better than ever thanks to its colorful redesign, with areas like the Forest Maze and Pipe Vault feeling incredibly atmospheric. Forest Maze is especially dazzling, with a strange purple haze floating to create a sense of danger and mystery. Mario feels great to control as you explore, too, and considering one of my biggest complaints about the last Mario RPG outing, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, is how stiff he feels in the overworld, it’s a joy to feel almost as if you’re playing a 3D Mario platformer outside of the RPG battles. It’s not quite as freewheeling as Super Mario 64, but it still rings true to the energetic spirit of Nintendo’s beloved mascot.
Considering that dialogue has never been the strong point of the Mushroom Kingdom lot, the writing in Super Mario RPG is incredibly endearing. This isn’t much of a surprise considering this game lands on the Square timeline somewhere between Final Fantasy VI and VII. There’s a moment up on Star Hill where you can read the wishes of Mushroom Kingdom denizens, including that of the missing member of the gang, Luigi. Luigi’s wish simply reads as, “I wanna help out my older brother, Mario.” It’s moments like these that make you realize just how right Nintendo was to trust Square with its beloved characters, and if you’re like me, might maybe even make you wish that one day the publisher might do it again.
In terms of character designs, they almost all benefit from modern graphics. However, for some reason, Mario seems a little strange to me. This isn’t the case with the full cast, Bowser, Peach, and the many Toads all look quite normal, while Geno, a Super Mario RPG original character, is the biggest glow-up of the bunch. Mario, on the other hand, looks like he’s been victim to a Thwomp squashing. This is pretty subjective, though, and I’m sure large parts of the community shall accept Chibi Mario with open arms.
It’s hard to find fault with ArtePiazza’s direction in terms of remaking this cult classic. There’s clearly a lot of love that’s gone into this recreation, from the sprucing up of the turn-based battles to the cinematic cutscenes and everything in between. Anything I could pick out would be pedantic, like perhaps a way to store clues when searching for them in the Sunken Ship, but to dig into minutiae like that seems a little petty, like Bowser levels of petty, so I’m not going to engage with it any further. Put simply, the original is great, and the new ideas just make the remake even better.
I’m also not going to delve too deeply into the post-game here, as I don’t want to spoil the fun for any first-time Super Mario RPG-ers, but it’s certainly worth adventuring further than your final battle. Here is where ArtePiazza has the most creative influence outside of the new battle mechanics, so even if you think you know what’s ahead, be sure to keep on adventuring after the end-game boss gauntlet.
All-in-all, Super Mario RPG is everything that so many of us have been asking for. It’s a finely polished remake of a fantastic game that doesn’t try to shoehorn in too many new ideas, giving a new generation a way of finding out why so many of us have a special place in our hearts for the original 1996 release. Still, the fresh battle mechanics do breathe life into the most archaic parts of the original experience, redressing them for a modern audience in a way that fans of the original shouldn’t find offensive. It’s a must-play for Mario and RPG fans alike.
There you have it, our little Super Mario RPG review. For more on the latest Switch titles, check out our WarioWare: Move It! review, Spiritea Switch review, and Persona 5 Tactica review. Or, if you’re feeling like a visual makeover yourself, try our Fashion Dreamer review.
The Super Mario RPG remake delivers a finely tuned reimagining of the incredible original with welcome updates to the turn-based battle mechanics. If the 1996 version was the best Mario RPG game to date, this remake goes one better.