In the 90s, I was floored by Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars because it was such a departure for Mario and his friends. I had to borrow it repeatedly from my local Blockbuster before finally getting a copy to call my own. However, that didn’t stop me from playing through the story often, learning all the secrets, and getting as accomplished as possible. I was obsessed with the premise of an RPG starring Mario by the makers of Final Fantasy, a crossover we haven’t seen the likes of in ages.
This video game catalyzed several spin-offs, including Paper Mario andMario & Luigi. Still, nothing came close to the magic of the Squaresoft-developed RPG, which isn’t a dig to the other games as they are incredible in their own right. So it is wildly surprising to discuss in 2023 that one of Nintendo’s best games, one that’s been stuck in the past, receives a complete remake. The original announcement took the internet by storm, and rightfully so; Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is a testament to simple game design done right, showcasing how simplicity is timeless and why so many people are fond of the partnership that shook the world decades ago.
Put Some Muscle into It
Super Mario RPG dishes out a lighthearted story with a hearty helping of visual gags and witty banter. Mario, the silent type, expresses himself through hilarious gestures and quirky animations. The residents of the game world know him all too well, so talking to NPCs often leads to amusing situations – like them asking for proof of his identity (a jump usually suffices) or wondering why he hasn’t already solved every problem in town. It’s comedy gold, and it keeps the adventure light and entertaining.
The story opens with Mario receiving a distressing letter from Princess Peach. The storyline draws players into a new narrative, which departs from the series’ typical “rescue the princess” plot. It’s a fresh and engaging experience, offering a blend of nostalgia and novelty as you guide Mario on a quest to thwart the evil sorcerer, Smithy.
There are some differences when compared to the original, but returning fans of the original will be right at home from the beginning. Graphics, for example, are familiar but fresh and easily kick up a wave of nostalgia. Many memorable moments, including finding Link in Rose Town, the fight against Not Donkey Kong, and other familiar Nintendo characters, appear and fit right at home in Mushroom Kingdom. The upgraded visuals work wonders for the setting, as much of the kingdom is colourful, vibrant, and filled with incredible sights and sounds.
I found combat to be where the most significant under-the-hood changes to be. Hitting the A button at the right moment during most attacks still gives you that satisfying damage boost, but if you nail that timing on basic attacks, you’ll be raining splash damage on every foe on the screen. This new addition creates a whole new layer of strategy. You can soften up one enemy with a precise hit and then unleash an AOE effect to clean the house. Just be ready for that “almost down” indicator – it’s your friend, but one mistimed blow and it is game over, which I often encountered in the early hours of my campaign. Each party member that joins Mario on his quest comes with their skills and attacks, and each character shares a pool of Flower Points (magic) to deal additional damage. Mallow, for example, will be essential to healing your party, while Mario’s Jump abilities can handle groups of enemies.
A perfect A-press isn’t just about damage reduction; it’s the ultimate “nope” button for enemy attacks. It comes with a neat exclamation point prompt to guide you, which initially feels a bit like training wheels. But here’s the brilliance: it only sticks around until you’ve mastered a particular move or got the enemy-blocking down part. It’s like having your coach who knows when to step back or step in, depending on your performance. Sabotage Studio’s Sea of Stars is a recent example of how this timed press system can flourish under the right development team.
Speaking of timing, it’s become crucial even against some enemies that usually drop with a single AOE attack. Super Mario RPG keeps a tally of your consecutive well-timed presses, even between brawls. I had a blast trying to break my record, and guess what? You get rewarded! Small buffs and a slowly charging Gauge meter – your hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.
And that Gauge? It starts as a random Toad buff, which is often yawn-worthy. But once your party is complete, it becomes a spectacle – the Triple Move. It’s a supercharged attack with its 3D cutscene and tailored to your current squad. Each party member that joins Mario on his quest comes with their skills and attacks, and each character shares a pool of Flower Points (magic) to deal additional damage. However, the most significant addition to combat is the Triple Moves, a new attack that sees your party unleash a devastating attack on enemies. Think of Triple Techs from Chrono Trigger, but with the necessity of building an in-battle gauge to 100 before unleashing these new attacks, each is easily one of the flashiest abilities in battle.
As a remake, Super Mario RPG is about as faithful as you could hope – most familiar story beats are still as memorable as ever, and the cast matches perfectly. The pacing is excellent, and for first-time RPG players, you’ll find a lean version of what RPGs used to be during the golden era. Levels are broken up in a way that keeps you excited to see where you head next, be it a dungeon, a new town, or even the Mushroom Derby, where Boshi is ready to steal all your cookies. Environments never looked better and resembled what I envisioned as a kid years ago.
Wow! Are you THE Super Mario?
Much of the experience remains untouched, but some excellent quality-of-life improvements make the original feel obsolete. The new menu is snappy, colourful, and easy to navigate. Further enhancements include fast travel (but only to places you’ve already visited) and the ability to auto-save. I can’t stress enough how many times I was brought back to reality after hitting a streak of victorious battles and then losing to an enemy that essentially reset my progress and beat me down.
And for all the things Nintendo modernized, my biggest letdown is the minigames. I had fun with Midas River, Gooma Stomp, and Mushroom Derby, to name a few, but I still felt there was room for improvement. Taking on Boshi means you must press face buttons to a rhythm, but it doesn’t feel as intuitive as I hoped. Similarly, Gooma Stomp is like Whack-a-Mole, where Mario needs to jump on Goombas, but the mechanic is sensitive, and you’ll overshoot your intended target more frequently than not. I eventually got the hang of each minigame, but it leaves more to be desired.
Until now, Nintendo has exceeded expectations regarding what a remake should be. The changes to combat and travel make this feel like the definitive experience, but it wouldn’t ring true without the reworked soundtrack. Original composer Yoko Shimomura returns to score the entire soundtrack and continues to prove she is one of the best in her field. The choice to switch between the original and rearranged score is a nice touch, but the truth is that returning to the original is far more difficult after hearing the new score.
Super Mario RPG is legitimately one of the best video games ever. The original is timeless, and the Switch remake excels at updating the experience to a definitive sheen. Many of the changes made are subtle but effectively update the core to a pristine level by cutting away much of the fat RPGs tend to have. You get a lean but indulgent experience that is a testament to Nintendo’s focus on fun.
[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Review: Super Mario RPG
Super Mario RPG is legitimately one of the best video games ever. The original is timeless, and the Switch remake excels at updating the experience to a definitive sheen.
Excellent graphics, updating the original buy maintaining the magic
Combat is fresh and fun, adding several improvements
Great cast and characters to interact with
A wonderful rearrangement by Yoko Shimomura
Minigames aren't as fun as the rest of Super Mario RPG