Full disclosure right out of the gate: Super Mario RPG is a game near and dear to my heart. It's a game I go back to once a year, and I know this weird and wonderful take on the Mario universe like the back of my hand. I hadn't gotten to 2023's run yet when Nintendo dropped the news of a remake on my lap back in June, so I waited with excitement and a bit of concern for this new version to drop.
Would this remake stack up to the original? Heck, would this remake retain the weirdness that endeared me to it in the first place? Luckily, thankfully, the game is fully intact, with a few new elements added to make things interesting, especially after the credits rolled. ArtePiazza understood the assignment, and Super Mario RPG is back, baby.
For those unaware, Super Mario RPG is the result of a partnership between Nintendo and Square Enix (then Squaresoft). It melded the turn-based RPG style of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest with Super Mario, and it did so with a silly and humorous bent that neither Super Mario nor FF/DQ had ever seen before. It was an introduction to the turn-based format for Mario fans, and for turn-based RPG fans, it was a new and unique spin on the format.
This new version of Super Mario RPG faithfully recaptures the feeling of the original in every way. The silliness of the cutscenes – particularly ones where Mario and friends are acting out major story beats for other characters – and the unexpected humor in the writing are both intact. I still laugh at everything involving that delightful weirdo Booster or when that one Toad screams about leaving a bazooka at home, and the list goes on. All of the secrets from the previous game, from hidden treasure boxes to optional boss battles, have also made the jump.
While the spirit is intact, the experience sees some big improvements thanks to the addition of modern mechanics. The auto-save feature takes some danger out of engaging tough bosses, letting players experiment more without losing too much progress. The item storage feature is huge, as it removes item management issues that were a big time sink in the SNES version. Fast travel also comes in handy, though the old-school player in me preferred to travel across the world map for nostalgia purposes.
The aesthetics, meanwhile, are spot on. Yes, Mario and friends look short and stubby compared to their usual looks, but within the style of Super Mario RPG, everything has been recreated beautifully. As I was playing through, I realized how this game resembled the ideal version of the game I'd been envisioning in my head since it first launched. A colorful game gets even more color splashed into it, and the remixed music is simply beautiful. I'm not sure how I ever doubted Yoko Shimomura even though I know she was the original composer too, but she nailed every piece in this soundtrack.
In my opinion, the best improvement is the revamped combat, which further emphasizes the original game's focus on timing. Before, if you timed a button press correctly, you could get extra damage on your attacks or extra defense against certain enemy attacks. That's still true here, but now precise timing on normal attacks creates a shockwave that slightly damages every enemy on the field, while similar timing on enemy attacks can sometimes negate all damage entirely.
I was worried these additions would make battle too simple, as dealing constant damage to the entire field while preventing damage to my team seems super unbalanced. However, ArtePiazza built in two failsafes I wasn't expecting; first, the shockwave doesn't happen every time – and even when it does, it's only slight damage – and second, the Special Enemy mechanic sometimes puts a buffed enemy in the mix, which neutralizes any benefits I'd get from timing my presses simply by being stronger.
Traveling through this unique take on the Mushroom Kingdom and the world beyond is virtually unchanged, though arguably, it's an aspect that could have used some fine-tuning. Platforming in Super Mario RPG is odd, thanks to the game's 2.5D nature, with some jumps being really hard to figure out from the isometric perspective. There's a section on the way to Nimbus Land and the sixth star that highlights things perfectly: Mario has to climb and jump across vines floating in the sky in order to proceed. Going through that section in this remake gave me flashbacks, but they weren't good ones. I still had the same fist-clenching aggravation this time around, and I had hoped traversal like this might be improved in this new era.
The minigames from the original adventure also return unscathed, though they too could have used an upgrade or two. The barrel-jumping section of the Midas River course has always given me fits, and those fits reappeared in this run. The mine cart ride also gave me the same trouble I experienced back in the day, though admittedly on a lesser scale. However, the rest of the minigames are still wonderful – with the Toadofsky musical composition section at the top of the list. I love how excited he gets when we figure out the song in his head!
That moment of excitement leads back to where this review started: The game's personality is on point throughout the adventure. Mario, Peach, and Bowser are all their normal selves, but the original characters truly shine in this updated endeavor. Geno is still the stoic savior of the stars, while Mallow remains the precious cloud boy he's always been. The way the party interacts not only with one another, but with the colorful cast they meet along the way, is always charming and fun, and it never fails to put a smile on my face.
Back in June, after the initial excitement of this announcement had faded, I worried that the game wouldn't translate well to the current era of gaming. Thanks to beautifully updated visuals, a few choice additions, and a wonderful soundtrack, I was proven wrong. Super Mario RPG absolutely still has a place among Nintendo's elite, and this remake removes any doubt.