RPGs have always been a genre that has had a slightly higher than average barrier of entry than other games. There tends to be a bit more complexity in the stories and gameplay mechanics that can drive people away. There are ways to engage potential interest in unfamiliar genres, including combining them with another more familiar genre. It happens with all genres, but no character has had more success with crossing genres than Nintendo’s flagship character, Mario. In addition to platformers, the Super Nintendo saw the rise of Mario-themed racing and puzzle games. Therefore, it was only natural for Mario to transition into the world of RPGs as well, and that’s what we got with Super Mario RPG.
The Role You Play
You play as Mario, the same overall-wearing plumber who has dared to go on many adventures to rescue Princess Toadstool from the clutches of Bowser. All of his jumping and fireball-throwing abilities have been well incorporated into the game. There are also many of the items you normally see in the Mario platformers such as mushrooms which are used for healing, flowers that serve as magic points, and even the occasional star which lets you take out multiple enemies at once and gather a large number of coins and experience at once.
In addition to Mario, you can gather other party members including a puffy white ‘frog’ named Mallow, an animated Doll named Geno, as well as series favorites Bowser and Princess Toadstool.
At first glance, it feels like Super Mario RPG goes through the motions of the usual Mario story. It begins with Bowser kidnapping the princess, Mario rescues the princess, and everything is as it should be. This time around, the cycle is disrupted by a new group of baddies. One of them includes a giant sword that crashes into Bowser’s Keep. It destroys the bridge, leaving Mario unable to reach it. Along his journey to finding an alternative to rescuing the princess, Mario learns that the sword destroyed the Star Road and scattered seven (7) star pieces across the world. The pieces must be reunited to repair the road in order for anyone’s dreams to ever come true again.
The game feels exactly like it should: a turn-based RPG that feels like it belongs in a Mario-centric universe. Many of the heroes, enemies and supporting characters are all reminiscent of those that would be in a Mario game. The major difference is that in place of a traditional 2D layout, Super Mario RPG takes on an isometric look. This allows for a more 3D feel and new options to explore the world. The new perspective makes everything that would have been familiar to fans of Mario games and RPGs slightly less so. The jumping mechanics, combat, and exploration are all slightly tweaked for a more original experience.
Super Mario RPG is fairly linear, a lot like a Mario platformer. While there are a few mini-games and extras in the game, there aren’t many benefits to seeking them out. Since there are no random encounters, you can skip enemies in the open world and progress through the game at your own pace. If all you want to do is play through the main game at a reasonable pace, Super Mario RPG will take about 10 hours to complete.
The soundtrack is a fantastic compliment to the familiar Mario-inspired world. It has plenty of up-tempo adventure themes, bouncy happy town themes, a couple of dreary-sounding dungeon themes and some rocking battle themes as well. What’s notable about all of these is that they had to fit in well not only to an RPG aesthetic, but to the Mario aesthetic as well because there are plenty of sound effects and even songs included throughout the entirety of the game, and all of the music mixes perfectly with it.
Super Mario RPG’s combat uses traditional turn-based combat but with one big exception. It uses a timed-hit system in place of critical hits where if you use if you hit the attack button at the right time during your attack, it will trigger a more powerful attack. This also works with special abilities and defending against attacks as well. If you get good enough at learning the rhythm of attacks and special abilities, it is easy enough to do the bonus damage almost every time.
The Talking Parts
There is some pretty incredible dialogue in this game. Any time there is a long dialogue sequence, Mario won’t say words. Instead, he will go into a full-on charades performance where he will re-enact what happened. He does this multiple times and it is incredibly entertaining to watch. Throughout the game, as you recruit more people into your party, you will also get to watch as more people engage in his performances and react accordingly.
Z…We’ve Reached the End. Anything Else?
Everything that was very familiar in the earlier Mario games has been well incorporated into Super Mario RPG. This includes the items, characters, enemies and a lot more. The main issue with the game is when there are gaps in the Mario lore that have to be filled. While the Mario characters fit in very well, it makes some of the enemies and their attacks that don’t fit in stand out.
There are a lot of enemy attacks and recurring enemies that don’t seem to belong in a Mario world. Every other enemy in the game uses some generic spell like Mega Drain, Blizzard, Diamond Saw, and a bunch of others that feels like it was recycled from a canceled Final Fantasy spinoff. They are so common and so mismatched to the enemies using them that it eventually breaks the theming and immersion.
Super Mario RPG does just about everything right. At the time the game was made, the Mario franchise wasn’t quite expansive enough to provide all of the lore necessary to make this game everything it needed to be. Thankfully, it inspired several other Mario-centric RPGs to continue the trend and that is more than enough.