Many consider the SNES to be the golden era of RPGs, and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is one of the main reasons for this. As Mario’s first RPG outing, the game has had a noticeable lasting impact upon many titles that have followed, with its action-focused combat featured in spin-off series such as Paper Mario and Mario and Luigi, and also serving as inspiration for several other franchises. Most expected the game to eventually come to the Switch via Nintendo Switch Online, but we have instead been graced with a full remake of the title. Our preview earlier this month found a lot of promise in the game, but did it live up to expectations?
Super Mario RPG stars the titular hero in another quest to save the day, as what begins as a run-of-the-mill rescue mission quickly escalates into a much wider conflict. Mario finds himself tasked with retrieving seven Star Fragments to restore the Star Road, which has been broken by the Smithy Gang, a new group of antagonists who have invaded the Mushroom Kingdom and occupied Bowser’s Castle. The story moves at a relatively quick pace and is lacking in the exposition and worldbuilding that has become standard for RPGs, but more than makes up for this by being packed with humour and charm.
This is a game that is practically guaranteed to elicit a few laughs out of you over the course of the story one way or another. Whether it’s from the dry wit from the inhabitants of the world, Mario’s comical silent re-enactments that are his only method of communicating, or from the conversations your party members have with each other. The depiction of Bowser in the game is particularly memorable, and I enjoyed his interaction with the other members of the cast. His discomfort around Mario and Peach led to several humorous exchanges, and gave his character an extra dimension beyond being a displaced villain. Speaking with NPCs resulted in dialogue that was often more witty than mundane, and Mario’s celebrity status makes characters react to him in often unpredictable ways, making your relationship with the world feel unique from the beginning.
You’ll encounter Mallow and Geno early on in the game, but will also be joined by Bowser and Peach later for a total of five party members including Mario himself, who is the only one who you will be forced to use at all times. You can freely swap out your other party members whenever you please, even during combat if they’re incapacitated. One thing I appreciated was that the game actually gives you a choice of skipping the fallen party members’ turn or swapping them out if this happens, allowing you to either replace them or have another character revive them depending on the situation in combat.
Even though your characters will gain significant boosts to their stats and new special moves when leveling up, Super Mario RPG places a much heavier emphasis on strategy in combat, with the Action Command system testing your knowledge of enemy moves as well as your own. Attacks come through at a slower pace than is standard for turn-based RPGs, but this is to allow the player to time button presses to both increase damage inflicted by their attacks and reduce the damage they take from enemies.
Although this makes battles last longer, it also makes them more engaging and rewarding, as the boosts from successful Action Commands are quite significant, and can make the difference between victory and defeat. Successful Action Commands will also fill up a new metre that, once full, will allow you to unleash a Triple Move in a spectacular cutscene that always feels satisfying to pull off. This move can be either devastating or life-saving, depending upon your party composition. Each party combination has a unique Triple Move; for example, a combination of Mario, Geno, and Bowser unleashes a devastating attack, whereas one of Mario, Peach, and Mallow is defensive in nature. This gives combat an added layer of strategy without feeling too unbalanced, as the Action Command gauge takes time to build up.
Unfortunately, not every attack can be blocked, and these are always more debilitating than standard attacks, often being those that hit the whole party or inflict status effects; such as sleep that will further hinder your party. At times this can make the game’s combat feel a little unbalanced, and lead to defeats that feel like the product of aging game design rather than a lack of player skill, and the system is also heavily reliant on reflexes, as the timing is often extremely narrow. On Normal difficulty, Super Mario RPG can be a particularly challenging game without utilizing Action Commands, but on the new Breezy mode, you can comfortably push through battles without them, making it a nice quality-of-life inclusion for players who struggle with quick-time events.
Outside of combat, Super Mario RPG strives to be as engaging as possible, and is constantly throwing new challenges and gameplay mechanics your way as you traverse the Mushroom Kingdom. Beyond the platforming and environmental puzzles that you would expect, there are numerous minigames that put Mario in a variety of different (and often entertaining) situations, from trying desperately to stay on top of a rotating barrel moving down a river, to hiding behind a curtain to avoid detection. I rarely found myself doing the same activity for longer than half an hour at most while playing from beginning to end, keeping the gameplay feeling fresh throughout. Most of these minigames can be revisited at your leisure after playing through them once for Frog Coins, a special currency that can be exchanged for helpful accessories that you won’t be able to find in shops. The rate of acquisition is quite slow, but the prizes are worth the effort, and it gives an added incentive for revisiting previous areas. There are also numerous hidden treasure boxes to find scattered across the world, and optional sidequests that span the entire game and make up for their scarcity by being multifaceted and far more rewarding than your standard RPG fetch quests.
For all its brilliance, Super Mario RPG is beginning to show its age in places, with the most prominent being in its platforming. This often requires a level of precision that can be difficult to accomplish; the fixed camera angles don’t always give you the best vantage point for judging distances, and this can become a problem later in the game with platforming sequences that will see you deposited right back to where you started if you fail. Some puzzles are also a little obtuse, as the solutions are not immediately obvious and the game provides cryptic hints that are easily missed, harkening back to a time when you were expected to comb every inch of an area and talk to every NPC in the hopes that they might give you a tiny scrap of information about what you need to do next. These are minor frustrations at worst, but become a little more prominent towards the end of the game, where trickier puzzles and platforming become more commonplace.
New to Super Mario RPG is postgame content, which is quite substantial and will provide a challenging experience for both newcomers and those already familiar with the game. Unfortunately, it doesn’t contribute to the narrative in any significant fashion and feels more like a boss rush mode, but it breathes some new life into the game and adds value for those who have experienced it before or find the difficulty of the main game lacking. Knowledge of how to best utilize your party members and Action Commands is mandatory to success, and even that might not be enough in some battles, but rest assured that if you were hoping for something more, the postgame will provide it.
Yoko Shimomura has returned to compose the soundtrack for the game, and the remastered renditions more than meet her high standards. The music is faithful to the original but enhances it in unexpected ways, with many areas having an added depth to them that the SNES version just wasn’t capable of simulating. Each melody is distinctly memorable and perfectly complements the setting, although if this is not entirely to your taste, or you just want a boost of nostalgia, you can return to the original soundtrack at any time through the menu.
Visually, Super Mario RPG is a stunning recreation of the original. It’s as faithful as you would expect of a remake, but packed with additional details that make it so much more. Eagle-eyed players will spot various cameos from other Nintendo franchises, and the level of detail in each environment make this game a real treat for the eye despite the relative simplicity of the level design. The smaller areas, rather than feeling dated, work in the game’s favour here, as the developers have gone out of their way to cram as much into them as possible. The squashed character models remain uniquely charming and distinct, and the added cutscenes are crisp and beautiful, complementing the game’s visual aesthetic perfectly. In a game where input timing is crucial to success, performance is important, and I’m happy to report that Super Mario RPG also runs flawlessly on Switch, maintaining a rock-solid framerate with no input latency to disrupt combat or platforming. Loading times between areas are also short, making this a very pleasant experience all around.
Super Mario RPG’s story can be finished in around 10 hours, depending on your familiarity with the game and the difficulty that you play on, with Breezy completely removing the need to grind for levels between boss encounters and providing a more streamlined experience than Normal. If you want to experience everything the game has to offer, including finding the Hidden Treasures, completing the sidequests, and finishing the postgame content, it could take you anywhere between 20 and 30 hours. As is often the case with first-party Nintendo titles, the main story serves as an easily accessible baseline experience, with the optional content providing a greater challenge and longevity for players looking for something more.
Super Mario RPG is a superb remake that perfectly captures the essence of the SNES original. This is not always to its credit, as elements of its platforming in particular have not aged as well as they could have, and the ability to block enemy attacks with Action Commands serves to make the times you can’t feel far more punishing. However, these are minor frustrations that do not tarnish the overall experience in any significant or lasting fashion. Its beautifully remastered visuals and soundtrack, witty dialogue, and engaging combat make Super Mario RPG a modern classic that is more than worth your time.
A copy of Super Mario RPG for review purposes was provided by Nintendo UK.