Super Mario RPG review — Star Road revisited

Super Mario RPG has a glowing reputation among gamers and developers alike. Despite only playing it for the first time last year, I can see that is for good reason. It made turn-based battles more involved through timed hits, added some light platforming to exploration, and perhaps most importantly, remained delightfully silly through dialogue and animations. Just as the Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters delivered on the promise of their originals with modern technology and artistry, so too does Super Mario RPG’s remake deliver on the faux 3D style of the 1996 original. In an era of remakes turning out to be sequels, it’s nice to see something so faithful to its own legacy.

The game starts off as standard Mario fare. Peach gets kidnapped by Bowser, but things take a turn when a giant sword falls into Bowser’s castle. The Smithy Gang is invading Mario’s world, and he’ll have to team up with a boy named Mallow, Geno the star spirit, Princess Peach, and even Bowser to defeat this new threat. Along the way, he’ll encounter oddballs both friend and foe on a journey to repair the Star Road and restore the power of wishes to the Mushroom Kingdom.

Super Mario RPG first 30 minutes - Switch [GamingTrend]

The story isn’t complicated in the slightest, but the events and dialogue are incredibly memorable and hilarious. Toad can’t help you because he forgot his bazooka at home, Bowser inducts Mario into his army of minions, Mallow makes the dumbest but most adorable faces; the game has some serious moments, but humor and general silliness is far more the focus. It’s a short title too, so having so many jokes allows them to hit all over again on another playthrough. There were so many moments I just had a dumb smile on my face even though the original is fairly fresh in my memory. The majority of the game’s script is exactly the same as the 1996 release, though there is new dialogue in the newly added post-game.

The visuals are equally faithful to the SNES, with models following that game’s pre-rendered sprites exactly. There are new animations for good measure, like enemies reacting to damage or falling down before exploding after defeat, but there are just as many moments where characters simply snap into a pose just like sprites would. It’s incredibly charming, keeping the magic of the original while adding a bit more polish where appropriate. As gorgeous as the game is though, it does suffer from very frequent frame drops in some cutscenes and when exploring. It doesn’t harm gameplay, but it is very noticeable, especially at the start of the game.

Slightly bucking the faithful trend, some key aspects of the battle system have been changed. You can now swap party members (aside from Mario) in and out of a fight at a moment’s notice, not even losing your turn. If you think that would make an already easy game even easier, it does, but I’m actually a big fan of this change. It gave me the chance to use every character equally, whereas for quite a bit of my original playthrough I stuck with Mario, Peach, and Geno exclusively. Here, I ended up using Mallow very frequently for his Thought Peek spell (which shows an enemy’s HP, weakness, and their thoughts when timed correctly) and his devastating magic that hit all enemies. This new system lets every member of the party shine in their own niche way, rather than creating a party to deal with every situation.

Every party composition now has a super move available to them. Correctly timing your moves by pressing A will not only make an attack or spell more effective, it will also increase a meter in the bottom left of the screen. Once it reaches 100%, you can press the – button to unleash a powerful team move that can deal massive damage, heal and revive the entire party, or buff your currently active characters. The animations that come with these are very cool, but the moves themselves are far too powerful for my liking. It’s essentially an “end boss fight” button, with Mario, Bowser, and Geno’s attack and buff absolutely devastating even the post-game superbosses. I wanted to refrain from using them, but I also needed to see just how much they break the game, and it’s a very big break.

Less game breaking is the final addition to combat. Perfectly timed hits will now deal light damage to all enemies. In contrast to the other two changes, I’m torn on this. It can have its moments, like seeing that an enemy is about to go down so you shift your focus to another baddie and let the first go down with splash damage. That adds some genuinely fun strategy to otherwise rote battles. On the other hand, the final boss was made super easy because I didn’t have to even attack his minions or part of his body, they just went down while I was doing other things.

It doesn’t feel like the game has been rebalanced around these features, and that can be a good thing for certain demographics, like young children playing just because they like to make Mario jump. There’s even an easy mode implemented for this purpose. As an adult, however, I would have appreciated a hard mode or the ability to restrict these new features. I’m not asking for Shin Megami Tensei difficulty or anything, I just want battles to last more than a few seconds. As it is, the most difficulty I had was actually refraining from dealing damage to get an instant kill with Geno Whirl.

If there’s one thing that has absolutely no flaws in this remake, it’s the soundtrack. Yoko Shimomura’s original score was already a bop, and the orchestrated arrangements here really bring out what made those tunes so special. Even the single song I didn’t enjoy in the original, Tadpole Pond, is catchy as heck now. Even better, you can swap between soundtracks whenever you want through the options menu. The only thing really missing is the option to play the original game itself.

After beating the final boss, you’ll be prompted to save your clear data rather than simply turn the console off. Loading this data will take you to Mario’s Pad before you beat the game, with new bosses available to tackle. Well, I say new, but they’re technically powered up versions of previous bosses. Defeating them will earn you even more powerful equipment, such as a staff for Mallow that massively buffs his magic attack. There’s a surprising amount of optional things to do here, and it’s always great to have more Super Mario RPG.

David is the kind of person to wear his heart on his sleeve. He can find positives in anything, like this is a person who loved Star Fox Zero to death. You’ll see him playing all kinds of games: AAAs, Indies, game jam games, games of all genres, and writing about them! Here. On this website. When not writing or playing games, you can find David making music, games, or enjoying a good book.
David’s favorite games include NieR: Automata, Mother 3, and Gravity Rush.

Super Mario RPG review — Star Road revisited


Super Mario RPG

Review Guidelines

Super Mario RPG is a classic for a reason, and its remake stands just as tall as the original. The visuals and sound are both top notch, and while some new features make the already easy battles even easier, this is still an excellent game that will have you grinning from ear to ear the whole way through.

David Flynn

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