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I never played the original Super Mario RPG. While I had my brushes with Mario RPGs in the forms of Paper Mario and the Mario & Luigi series, my only experience of Legend of the Seven Stars was the unending waves of people clamouring for some strange wooden puppet man to be added to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Over the years, its dedicated fanbase has curated the reputation of the original Super Mario RPG as the definitive Mario RPG – a bonafide cult classic worthy of its place alongside the other RPG greats of its era.
And you know what? They are absolutely right.
For those unfamiliar with Legend of the Seven Stars, Super Mario RPG starts off as any Mario game would, with Mario heading off to rescue Peach from Bowser’s castle. Things quickly take a turn when the game’s real antagonists, a group known as the Smithy Gang, take control of the castle and invade the Mushroom Kingdom. Upon freeing the Mushroom Kingdom, you receive a Star Piece, and learn that you need to collect all seven pieces to repair the Star Road so that wishes can be granted once again.
It’s a fairly simple, if not a little clunky plot, but certainly serves its purpose well, and improves the further you get into the game. You’ll explore the world collecting Star Pieces, visiting forests, mountains, and caves, helping the locals clear out the Smithy Gang and any other unsavoury characters you come across on your journey.
No RPG is complete without a colourful cast of characters to make up your party, and Super Mario RPG is up there with the best of them. As well as series staples Peach and Bowser, two original characters join the team – an endearing cloud named Mallow and an animated wooden puppet named Geno. These characters give the combat a bit of variety and strategy, but where they really excel is through their chemistry together.
Super Mario RPG is a supremely funny game. The writing throughout is a joy, and the animations of each character make each of them all the more endearing. Mario and his crew’s interactions with the people of this world are peppered with silly jokes that never failed to get a laugh out of me. Every time you use Mallow’s Thought Peek ability to read an enemy’s mind, you get a funny little quote to enjoy, and some of the side characters, like the Frog Sage and Booster, are among the best characters I’ve come across in any Mario title. Where the plot itself may be a little lacking, it’s more than made up for by the top-class writing and worldbuilding.
As for the combat, for the most part it’s your standard RPG fare: turn-based combat where you choose between standard and special attacks to damage your enemies. It lacks the complexity of more modern RPGs, with a small cast of characters and not too much variation in attacks, but this is by no means a bad thing.
A simple combat system is supplemented by the timing system found in other Mario RPGs. Hit the A button at the moment your attack lands to deal extra damage to every enemy, or press it as your enemy is about to hit you to fully block the attack. This keeps the combat engaging throughout, and prevents you from playing on autopilot as you might in other RPGs. Eventually, you build up a power gauge to 100%, at which point you can unleash a powerful triple attack, combining the power of all your active party members to deal heavy damage.
The standard mobs are all fairly easy to beat, and while the bosses require a little more strategy to take down effectively, you likely won’t find yourself taking too long to defeat them, especially once you’ve mastered the timing mechanics. Some genuinely challenging post-game bosses are there for anyone who wants to take them on, but the base game is fairly straightforward. Super Mario RPG doesn’t have the deep and complex mechanics of many modern RPGs, but its simple combat system is fun and engaging, and certainly does the job required of it.
As a remake, the graphics have naturally received an overhaul, and the game looks fantastic. The world is bursting with colour and charm. The game has been reworked into full 3D, with the high-quality models we’ve come to expect from Mario games. A catchy soundtrack underscores the game throughout, with the choice to use the original or modern versions, and whichever you choose, you’re treated to some bright and memorable tunes.
And yet the game still has an intangible retro feel to it. Whether that’s the isometric view, the delightful character animations, or the simple but familiar RPG UI, Super Mario RPG managed to make me feel nostalgic for a game I never even played, warmly welcoming me back to a simpler time and conveying the same childlike glee I had playing games 20 years ago.
In the nearly three decades since Legend of the Seven Stars’ release, RPGs have come a long way, continually evolving in depth and complexity, so the most die-hard of RPG fans may find the game a bit lacking compared to the likes of Baldur’s Gate 3 or Sea of Stars. But thanks to its simplicity, the game flows seamlessly, and I found myself playing for hours without even realising, utterly unable to put it down. For RPG lovers and Mario fans alike, there is plenty to love about this game.
There really is only one word to describe Super Mario RPG – fun. Its simple mechanics and plot are nothing groundbreaking, but the sparkling humour, rich world, and colourful cast of characters make experiencing this game a blast from start to finish. At a time when lifeless remakes litter our shelves, this game is the gold standard and a joyous illustration of how it should be done. I had never played the original Super Mario RPG, but I finally understand its well-deserved reputation as a classic of the genre, and I can guarantee that this won’t be the last time I enjoy it.