I know, I know. My last throwback review was also on a Mario RPG. But to be fair, I always planned on reviewing Super Mario RPG eventually. Writing about Paper Mario was more of an impulse review than anything else. If you happened to miss that one you can read it here.
Super Mario RPG is a very special game to me for one very particular reason. It is the first video game I’ve ever played in my life. As least as far as I can remember. But Super Mario RPG is special for other reasons. It is a one of a kind game. Nintendo has released several Mario RPGs, but this game is still so different. It is a one of a kind game, and chances are there will never be anything quite like it ever again.
For some background, Super Mario RPG was released in 1996. It was a Super Nintendo collaborative project between Square (now known as Square Enix) and Nintendo. Essentially, Nintendo gave Square permission to use all Nintendo assets and make a game. The goal was to integrate parts of both Mario and Final Fantasy… uh I think. If so, fantastically done.
The game starts as you might expect from a typical Mario game. Bowser kidnaps Princess Toadstool (yeah, Peach was called Toadstool back then), and Mario goes to save her. Only 10 minutes in and you’re already at the fight with Bowser! So something is a bit off. After an easy turn based battle, Mario wins. Suddenly, a giant sentient sword crashes into the castle, sending Mario, Bowser, and Toadstool flying into different directions. Mario returns to the castle to learn the sword has no interest in kidnapping the princess and he and the rest of the Smithy Gang seek to dominate the world. So Mario sets off to find the princess and to find a way to put a stop to the Smithy Gang.
The game functions like your everyday RPG, you have a world map and select where you need to go pertaining to the story. You don’t have an overworld map with random encounters with monsters, rather, it’s almost like a stage select and you can decide which town or dungeon you need to venture to. Once there,the game sets you in a 3D world as opposed to a side-scroller or top down view. That is pretty huge for its time, believe you me.
Encounters are visible, meaning not random and you have turn-based battles with lots of Mario type enemies. Back in the day, could you imagine messing up a Goomba by punching him in the face instead of stomping on his head? It’s awesome! There are plenty of enemy designs that don’t return in the later Mario universe, but they are designed very cartoonish to the point that they really don’t look out of place. Aside from some bosses. They actually tend to look quite sinister and even grotesque.
So yeah, you encounter enemies and fight them and gain experience to level up and learn new moves. The game also presents the timed hits mechanic. This was the first game to integrate such a function. When you attack, if you hit the button during the animation with perfect timing, you’ll do extra damage. If you hit the button when an enemy attacks you can also reduce damage taken. This forces a bit more concentration than just scrolling through menus like a normal RPG. You have to be alert and focused, but this makes the game more fun, rather than monotonous.
Despite being an RPG at its core, the game seamlessly integrates several Mario elements. When walking around in a dungeon or a town you can sometimes jump randomly to find hidden blocks that contain mushrooms, coins, and stars. The stars let you defeat enemies just by running into them and gives you experience for it. Mushrooms restore health and coins are now currency for equipment. Mario’s special moves aren’t anything outlandish either. He can perform multiple jumps on an enemy with precise timing and shoot fireballs from his palm too. A platformer hero turned RPG sounds kind of weird… but this is also the studio that decided to combine Disney and Final Fantasy. And just like that title, Square brings it together perfectly.
Like other RPGs though, you gain other party members, both from the Mario universe and characters of Square’s own design. Mallow and Geno are the first two characters to join Mario. A mage, and a balanced character respectively. Mallow is out to find his parents and who he is, whereas Geno is here to stop the Smithy Gang and restore the world to its natural order. Geno is also here to become a ridiculously popular character among the fan base and many outcries to put him in Smash Bros. Too bad. Square Enix still holds the rights. Of course, that hardly stopped Cloud from being a Smash character.
In the search for Princess Toadstool, you find Bowser raging about and ready to lead a full-frontal assault on his own castle because Smithy and his gang kicked him out. Eventually he finds his troops deserting him and grudgingly joins Mario instead, as the heavy hitter. Yes. Bowser and Mario team up! Not just that, once you find Princess Toadstool she also becomes a member of your party, as a healer. Technically these are spoilers, but this game has been out for over 20 years.
I think I’ll have to spend an entire paragraph talking about just the music. The music is perfect. Some music is remixed from previous Mario games, like the underground levels when you go into pipe dungeons. The music is so catchy and light-hearted in the right places, as well as fantastically sinister and ominous in others. All of the songs are great, however, it always seems that the Forest Maze theme gets the most praise. I could listen to the OST for hours. I have on more than one occasion.
The story is pretty all right. Mario is searching for the princess, but it becomes more when they learn the destruction the sword has caused. It destroyed Star Road, which means that wishes can never come true so long as it stays broken. The villains are intent on collecting the pieces so they can continue their evil. So Mario and the rest need to stop that from happening. The story is basic, but the game tells it well. The story is really humorous and actually has a few good pop culture references. If you ever played Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga, then its humor a lot like that, but Super Mario RPG came first.
Your party members are sort of one-dimensional, but funny and each have a proper place as well as a good reason for joining Mario in his quest. What is wonderful is how the characters all play off one another. Every once in a while, you have to remember Bowser and Princess Toadstool are in the same group and leads to banter back in forth a few times, while Bowser likes to remind everyone that this alliance is only temporary until he gets back his castle. Then he promises to go back to his old ways.
Along the way you meet tons of great supporting characters. Most of the time they are antagonists, but they are so unique and hilarious. Such as Booster who has the sinister plan of forcing Toadstool to marry him. But then you learn that he has ZERO IDEA as to what a marriage is, and thinks it’s just a way for people to have fun and eat cake. To be fair, I guess it is for some people.
The villains for the Smithy Gang are good too. Instead of Final Fantasy games where the villains shame them and ignore the fact that the heroes beat up all their followers, the bad guys get it. The bad guys are collecting star pieces, so is Mario and Co. They first try to fight Mario for it. When that doesn’t work, they get Mario to retrieve one, and hold hostages to force the heroes to hand it over. When even that doesn’t work, they decide to let Mario get the piece for them and then steal it. Then run like hell. When all that fails, the minions decide to let the big boss know so he can make the proper preparations. It’s kind of cool to see smart antagonists, instead of them just throwing themselves at the heroes and inevitably die.
Not every bad guy is part of the Smithy Gang either. About half of the villains are after their own thing, and reminds us that bad doesn’t always mean world domination. Power, fame, vanity, and honor are good motivators for battle.I should mention the difficulty. When I was a wee child, I thought this was the hardest video game ever. I assure you, I was completely and utterly wrong. This game, as far as RPGs go, is actually pretty easy. Even if you are a bit underleveled, you’ll be fine if you use Toadstool as your medic. And with proper equipment you can even make your party effectively invincible, though said equipment is hard to obtain. You shouldn’t have any trouble if you know how RPGs work.
I enjoy challenging RPGs, so breezing through bosses can annoy me. It’s a small gripe, but it is a Mario game after all. Usually directed for more casual gamers. Considering how old the game is though, there are several rom hacks that increase the difficulty. So take a look into that if you want something a bit more challenging.
All in all, this game is spectacular. A lot of new things this game brought about is common nowadays, so I wonder how a gamer today would feel if they went back and played it for the first time. I’m sure they would enjoy it, but I can’t imagine they’d be over the moon like I was when I first played it. Either way, it is without a doubt one of the best games ever made on the SNES and something you should strongly consider playing if you want a simple, yet fun RPG.