Super Mario RPG Review - Stars Reborn
I said it in my preview of Super Mario RPG, and I’ll say it again: when remaking a game, it’s not easy to get the balance right between preserving the heart and soul of the original and changing enough to make it feel like a new experience. This game, by keeping most of what made Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars into such a classic and modernising it where changes are needed most, artfully executes what others have failed to do – it makes this classic feel perfectly suited for the modern gaming landscape.
The story of this particular adventure both follows and subverts what we’re accustomed to when it comes to a Mario game. Princess Peach, minding her own business and picking flowers, is kidnapped very early on by Bowser, prompting Mario to begin a journey to Bowser’s castle to rescue her – as he always does. Once he gets there, however, things take a turn, and Bowser is no longer his biggest concern – there’s a much bigger threat looming, one that plans to usurp Bowser’s title as the biggest pain in the ass in the land, and who wants to destroy not just the Mushroom Kingdom, but parts of the world beyond it.
From here, Mario is forced to form alliances with those who are usually his enemies, as well as meeting some new friends along the way. Though Mario starts his journey alone, he quickly collects additional members for his party as he traverses the Kingdom. There’s Mallow, a “frog” boy who looks nothing like a frog, Geno, a somewhat concerning puppet with mysterious magical powers, the badass healer Princess Peach herself, and Bowser – traditionally your foe, but in this case, willing to take you on as one of his minions for the pursuit of the greater good.
Each party member has their own skillset and inherent abilities, with each excelling in a different area. Characters like Bowser or Geno focus on hitting hard, while Mallow or Peach are better used to create area effects that incapacitate many enemies at once, or strengthen and heal your own team. It’s easy to rotate characters in and out through the course of a battle, which means you can become familiar with the benefits of each three-character combination. When enough hits are executed, you can build up a gauge that allows you to unleash a special attack that changes depending on the active members of your party – and sometimes a strategy can be built around this attack alone. The rotating cast is small, but in this case, small feels perfect – there’s no chance of being overwhelmed by choice, or letting characters fall too far by the wayside.
Because the reality is, you will die. The game isn’t hard, but there sure are difficulty spikes, and you will find moments during which your usual strategy simply won’t be sufficient. In cases like this, you can use items you’ll pick up along the way – which the game offers quite generously – or you can adapt your strategy; both are valid paths. You’ll have an easier time if you understand the ins and outs of RPGs, of course, given that this is at heart an RPG inspired by classics like the Final Fantasy series. But it’s also, obviously, a Mario game, and there’s a clear awareness that a big chunk of their audience will be Mario fans, not RPG fans. So you don’t have to be a connoisseur of the genre to make your way through this journey – the game is there to teach you anything you might not know.
When it first starts, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to do anything of the sort. It’s an abrupt beginning that assumes knowledge of how to navigate turn-based combat – an almost exact replica of the original game’s opening. But it soon switches gears. After the game properly begins, you’re taught everything you need to know, and the game’s modernisations kick in – including much-welcomed autosaves, which it calls attention to in what quickly becomes an obvious sense of self-awareness. It isn’t afraid to poke fun at the tropes of the genre – including the ones it perpetuates – both in terms of plot staples of the series and the mechanics of RPGs at large.
Above everything else, this game is funny. It has an off-beat sense of humour that’s both self-deprecating and oddly wholesome, and it presents some of the most endearing versions of classic Mario characters to date. Bowser is easily at his best, acting as both a bumbling antagonist and relatable loner with an innate charm. Peach is a boss who is barely in need of rescuing, and who isn’t afraid to be clear about what she wants. The new characters, Mallow and Geno, are introduced in interesting ways and add their own layers to the game’s depth and humour. I laughed more playing this than in almost any Mario game to date – and it’s cool to experience a Mario game where a narrative is at the forefront.
There’s an inherent whimsy to everything in this game, from the characters, to the incredible soundtrack, and the modernised art style. Even the game’s enemies, captained by the Smithy gang – a group of anthropomorphised weapons traditionally inanimate objects who are out to ruin Mario’s life – are cute and cranky in equal measure. That’s not to say there isn’t a depth to the combat – the game requires skill and clever levelling of the party and their abilities – but it’s all wrapped in a bright and colourful facade that makes it a joy to play.
This was my first complete experience of Super Mario RPG, and though at times it was very clear that it was a game made for a different time, it didn’t carry the baggage of games that usually fall into that category. There’s more than enough modernisation in this remake to make it feel completely at home in Nintendo’s current line-up, and I hope it unites fans of different genres in their appreciation of this oddball gem of a game. In classic ‘Nintendo original IP’ style, it feels polished, deliberate in its choices, and it inspires a sense of wonder that makes it a good RPG entry point for slightly younger gamers. I had a great time hunting down the Seven Stars, and am excited for new and old fans to discover the surprises it has to offer.
Super Mario RPG was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code kindly provided by Nintendo.