Disclaimer: Writer is an investor in Nintendo.
I’m not quite as experienced with RPGs as some other writers on this site. PeaceRibbon especially reviews many every year. And while I have played a fair share, they tend to be less traditional – for example the Pokémon and Paper Mario series.
So, even though the original Super Mario RPG on the SNES was meant to be specially catered to western audiences, it’s probably still closer to the typical RPG than anything I’ve played. I was hoping for it to release on Nintendo Switch Online, but it seems they’ve chosen to remake it instead. I took the opportunity to play through it on my holiday break and am now obligated to review it as a work of Christmas charity. Enjoy!
The game begins as you’d expect any Mario game to – with Bowser kidnapping Princess Peach. However, after an introductory battle, a giant sword known as Exor falls from the sky, destroying the Star Road and landing in Bowser’s Keep. It’s soon revealed this is the work of the Smithy Gang, a group of weapon-themed villains determined to take over the world. Mario must find seven star pieces to restore the Star Road and defeat Smithy.
This admittedly isn’t all that deep, but that’s what you would expect from a Mario game. The introduction of completely original villains, companions, and locations also do a lot to keep things interesting. Even classic Mario locations, such as the Mushroom Kingdom, are designed in a sort of medieval style and are very unlike how you see them today. I would describe it as Mario being taken to an RPG world rather than RPG tropes coming into Mario’s world – even though the game is technically meant to be the latter.
By about halfway through the game, your party will consist of five characters: Mario, Bowser, Peach, Mallow, and Geno. Those last two have only ever been playable in this game, yet I’ve known about them for a long time – they’re just that beloved by fans. Both have interesting backstories, too. Mallow is of an unknown race and was raised by a frog sage, and Geno is a spirit with no physical body (sounds like an angel to me) but temporarily inhabits a doll in order to assist Mario.
Beyond party members, there are many other interesting characters to interact with. I won’t list them all, but some of my favorites are Boshi the Yoshi, Jonathan Jones the pirate, and later on you even get the chance to battle a character that wouldn’t be out of place in Final Fantasy. Also, if you do enough exploring, you might just get to meet some heroes from other Nintendo series too! Some people may feel the inclusion of so many unique characters strays too far from the classic Mario style, but I personally found it refreshing.
Typical RPG mechanics are present here – encounter an enemy on the overworld, and you enter battle. You select which moves to use, there’s a split between physical and magic attacks, you can buy and sell items to use, etc. etc. What’s a bit more unusual is the presence of action commands. Each and every move has a short window of time in which you can press A for better effects – and the same goes for blocking attacks. Since the timing changes based on which move was used, you always need to keep engaged if you want things to go smoothly.
This remake also saw the introduction of an action gauge that increases in percentage as you perform multiple action commands in a row. At 100% you are able to pull off a new triple move with the characters in your party. It takes a while to charge so its inclusion doesn’t seem to upset the game balance all that much.
When it comes to building your team, each party member has their own strengths and weaknesses as you’d expect. Mario is the typical all-rounder, Peach heals and revives, Geno and Bowser deal out huge physical damage, and Mallow specializes in magic. You can also equip one piece of armor and a weapon on each character for further customizability. My favorite party to use for the toughest fights was Mario, Geno, and Peach, but all characters are viable.
Overall, I found the gameplay to be enjoyable, albeit a bit too easy. I hear the original wasn’t too difficult either, although I suspect the large number of quality of life changes they made in this remake make it easier still. They did add some new post-game boss fights which I played and enjoyed a good deal – but only after I looked up some tips. Some of them are just plain hard, but others require very specific strategies and items to complete. This is a problem since many useful weapons and armor pieces don’t actually tell you all of their effects, which was an issue in the original that I’m kind of shocked they didn’t fix. Nevertheless, I was able to enjoy these fights thanks to the power of the internet and found the very final boss to be fantastic.
I found the visuals a mixed bag. On one hand, I’m very happy they kept character and location designs faithful and interesting. Yes, some people look a bit squashed but I think it works well enough overall. Additionally, a decent handful of completely new cutscenes were made for specific in-game events and they look amazing. Unfortunately, they did not take the time to create simple character animations for the things that take place in real time. For example, Mario uses a single “flailing” animation whenever he is falling and when something unexpected happens.
This leads to instances in conversations where Mario and company are floating inches above the ground, waving their arms and legs in perpetuity until you press the A button. This was understandable on the SNES when developers often had 2-8MB of space to work with, but it just looks terrible in 3D. I really think a handful of new animations for everyone would have gone far.
Me when mario.faint_animation = mario.disappointed_animation
From a faith perspective
All of the interesting characters in this game bring an opportunity to talk about diversity. Now, that’s a word that I know can spark unrest with the ways it’s used in culture today, but here I’m just using it in the context of differing skills and abilities. Just as certain characters in this game excel at different tasks (trust me, you’ll need Peach’s support for some battles) the same is true with us humans. God made us with differences, and while we are all called to be saints, the path we take to get there can differ from person to person.
This is most obvious in the differing vocations of people (married life, priesthood, etc.) but can also be more subtle, like in the ways we communicate with others or how we pray. Unfortunately, sometimes we can get a bit full of ourselves and assume that our ways are superior to others’ in every situation. I will shamefully admit I have a habit of making unfair judgements about people’s spiritual lives seeing how they pray or behave. As an example, I might assume that someone who always hangs in the chapel for prayer is holier than the person I only see for Mass. But for all I know, that second person might have difficulty focusing on personal prayer around others and prefers to pray at home instead – which is completely OK!
I also think there is objective beauty to be found in the differences of people. I can’t help but smile when I look around at Mass, seeing both old and young people, and my friends who are engineers sitting with those in the arts. Or at World Youth Day, when Catholics from America, France, Korea, and dozens of other countries all gathered together with zeal for the same Lord. Allow this game to remind you of the importance of all people and God’s love for each one.
Gameplay: 4/5 – Needed more QOL fixes
Graphics: 4/5 – Too few overworld animations
Violence: Very slapstick. Most characters fight with toy-like weapons, and enemies disappear once defeated. Some enemies are based after realistic weapons.
Magic/Occult: Some enemies used magic-based attacks and are undead. Geno is a star spirit that inhabits a doll. Also lots of stuff about wishing upon stars.
Sex/Nudity: There is one sequence that can either result either Peach, Bowser, or Booster giving Mario a kiss on the cheek (Bowser and Booster’s kisses are clearly meant to be comedic). One of the bosses has some cleavage.