Super Mario RPG Review: A Timeless Adventure

A worthwhile, modern remake for fans of the original and first-time players.

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With its lighthearted story and fun turn-based combat, it’s no wonder Nintendo and Square’s 1996 Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars garnered acclaim from Mario fans everywhere. Now, 27 years later, Super Mario RPG has returned with a faithful remake to capture us with its charm all over again. 

Super Mario RPG Review: A Timeless Adventure

What I love about this era of remakes is that I can try classics that I missed out on growing up. Legend of the Seven Stars wasn’t in my humble collection of SNES games that I played at my grandpa’s house, but I’ve still faced my fair share of Boos, Goombas, and Pirahna Plants over the years. Most recently, Super Mario Wonder‘s weird, delightful world has become a staple during my family’s couch co-op nights. And in the realm of Mario RPGs, my nostalgia for the Paper Mario series runs deep. So I’m glad I finally got to try the title that kickstarted Nintendo’s venture into the genre. 

At the start of Super Mario RPG, you think you know how things are going to go. Princess Peach is kidnapped yet again by Bowser, and Mario immediately jumps into rescue mode. But a few Terrapin fights later, you’re already facing — and outwitting — Mario’s fire-breathing nemesis. Things are going well, too well.

Subverting the format we’re used to, a gigantic sword plunges through the sky and destroys Star Road, sending seven star pieces scattered across the land. Then, it plants itself right into Bowser’s Keep. This is the evil-doing of Smithy, the leader of the Smithy Gang who wants to replace wishes with weapons, and it’s Mario’s job to make sure they don’t overtake the world. 

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Super Mario RPG’s narrative isn’t groundbreaking, but it doesn’t have to be. I love it for its wholesome simplicity, and there’s just enough conflict to make the adventure feel worthwhile. But overall, it’s a story where you’ll find genuine fun and goofiness between the lines, in the margins, and especially in the bulk of its beats. 

Most notable are all the loveable characters you meet along the way. The standouts, of course, are your party members. Your fluffy partner, Mallow, is a cloud with all the positivity anyone needs, and Geno is a wooden doll who’s actually a star warrior from Star Road. Princess Peach and Bowser also join your team, shedding their typical roles of damsel and villain. What makes this group great is their interactions with Mario and each other. I couldn’t help but laugh whenever Bowser would try to maintain his malevolent reputation while also condemning the evil-doings of others. Even better are Peach’s quips about being kidnapped multiple times. The way they make fun of their dysfunctional dynamic feels almost like a fourth wall break in these moments.

The side characters are also extremely memorable. I loved composing songs for the music-obsessed Toadofsky, seeking advice from the Frog Sage, and crashing a wedding photo with a bunch of Toads in Marrymore. The villains continue the feel-good, goofy vibes, too. Hiding from Booster’s Shy Guys behind a curtain was just good fun, and Booster himself is also one of the most eccentric characters you’ll meet in the game with his wedding shenanigans.

Some of my other favorites include Belome who’s constantly hungry, attempting to eat your party to no avail, and Croco, who’s always on the run like a dog with a case of the zoomies. The Axem Rangers deserve a mention, too, as they’re a colourful, zany group of warriors. I could go on, but I’d honestly end up listing the entire Super Mario RPG cast. 

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The main highlight of the game is its turn-based combat. It’s the straightforward business of choosing your attacks, special abilities, items to use, and even running away if the going gets tough. But each time you attack, or an enemy attacks you, you can press the A button at the right time, yielding more damage or blocking an incoming hit completely.

Nailing the timing can be tough at first, especially since it varies between the types of attacks (outgoing and incoming), but it’s so rewarding to engage with the mechanic. Hit A enough times consecutively, and you’ll notice a Chain building on the left side of your screen; the higher it goes, the more benefits you’ll receive. At Chain 10, for instance, you’ll get a boost to your Action Gauge.

Raising your Gauge to 100% allows you to use Triple Moves, which are a new addition in the remake. These are ultimate abilities that change depending on who’s in your party. Mario, Geno, and Mallow can band together to unleash Star Riders, a combined attack on a single target. But if you have Mario, Geno, and Peach, you’ll materialize a barrier with Spare Us All, protecting you from a single attack. The nice thing is that you can switch out your party members mid-fight depending on what you need, though Mario is the only one who has to stay. They’re enjoyable to use and are very useful against bosses. Each one also gets its own animated cutscene, though you can skip them if you like.

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It’s definitely an enjoyable combat loop, but it has its minor faults. As mentioned, the timing for the A button can be tough to master. Sometimes, it seemed less like my fault and more like the button wasn’t responsive enough, making it unreliable across many fights. Additionally, the animations are quite slow, drawing out the encounter for longer than I felt was necessary.

Status effects like Sleep and Mushroom last for one too many turns, too. If your entire party is affected, all you can do is wait. What makes up for it, though, is ability variety. You get access to Geno’s highly effective Beam attack, Mario’s wildly fun Super Jump, and so much more. Plus, enemy variety is great across the game. You’ll encounter so many foes along your journey, including cute Goombas and hard-hitting clones of your party, all of which are logged in your Bestiary. 

When it comes to stats, you don’t necessarily have to min-max like you would in other RPGs, such as Final Fantasy. Super Mario RPG is very forgiving with its level-up system. There’s not much grinding needed to gain XP, and you’re given three stats to boost with each level, either Physical, Magic, or Health. At the start, I picked these haphazardly, but once I got familiar with the strengths of each character, I narrowed down what worked best with whom.

As far as equipment goes, you’ll get upgraded gear at each zone’s item shop, and they’ll be enough to get you through your next boss encounter. It’s a pretty easy, straightforward system that will definitely benefit young gamers just getting into the genre. But if you’re looking for something with more depth, you probably won’t find it here. 

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Though I didn’t play the original, I have indulged in side-by-side comparisons of the two games, and I’m so impressed with ArtePiazza’s faithfulness to the original. The level design and maps are much of the same, just transformed from retro 2D pixel art to vibrant 3D worlds. The graphics of Super Mario RPG inject so much life and color into each level, so it looks crisp and modern, but it also retains its old-school charm.

At no point did I feel like I was playing a game in 2023 because the heart of it stays true to the SNES version. It felt like Nintendo briefly let me teleport back to 1996 to experience it all for the first time but with the nice addition of aesthetically rich levels and detailed character design. The redone soundtrack is phenomenal as well; I couldn’t help but bop along while navigating the Forest Maze or running around Nimbus Land. 

You’ll get at least 15 hours out of the game if you’re just focusing on the campaign, but there’s so much more to do in terms of side quests and easter eggs during your playthrough. Like other games in the franchise, you’ll be rewarded for exploring. Whether you’re hunting for hidden treasure chests or looking for cameos of other iconic Nintendo characters, you’ll find them. Plus, engaging in challenges can yield equipment with excellent stats, and minigames are great ways to gain gold beyond traditional combat. 

I definitely didn’t want the game to end as I was getting closer to retrieving the final star piece, but once you defeat Smithy, you don’t have to set Super Mario RPG down. Along with the side activities mentioned above, post-game boss rematches keep the fun going after the world is saved. And with new equipment to obtain, you can create an unstoppable party. For those who played the original, these post-campaign additions add some novelty to the experience. There’s also more Toadofsky music if you want to jam out to the SNES and remastered tracks.

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Super Mario RPG Review — The Bottom Line

Pros 

  • Wholesome, fun writing
  • A fantastic cast of heroes, villains, and minor characters
  • Great enemy and ability variety
  • Excellent soundtrack and visuals 

Cons

  • Slow Combat Animations 
  • Finicky timing with the A button

Super Mario RPG has officially taken Super Mario Wonder’s spot for being the most lighthearted and delightfully quirky game I’ve played this year. The lovely characters, goofy villains, and vibrant world offer so much fun to be had. It’s also frequently funny, a testament to how enjoyable and unserious the writing is. As someone playing the game for the first time, I felt nostalgic for a time when games felt as light as laughter and as warm as a good hug. Overall, it holds up today, which I think would be true even without the updated visuals, since at its core, Super Mario RPG is simply timeless. 

[Note: The copy of Super Mario RPG used in this review was provided by Nintendo]

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Super Mario RPG Review: A Timeless Adventure

Super Mario RPG is feel-good adventure worth experiencing again or for the first-time.

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About the author

Alyssa Payne

Alyssa is a Seattle-based freelance writer and editor. She’s always playing too many games at once and never gets through her backlog. Dragon Age: Origins, Final Fantasy IX, and World of Warcraft are just a few of the games she loves.