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Super Mario RPG

Super Mario RPG Preview: Modern improvements elevate this beloved RPG

Nintendo has remade the iconic title, but how does it stack up the hybrid platform.

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Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars may just be one of the most unique and unusual Mario experiences there has ever been. While we've become used to the red-hatted plumber and his friends leaping and bounding around in platformers, zooming about in kart racers, and competing against one another in party and sports games, the idea of sending these characters on a sprawling RPG adventure has never really been explored to much further of an extent. Nintendo has however re-launched this very RPG on many different platforms ever since its debut on the SNES in 1996, and later this November, we'll once again be getting a similar offering when Super Mario RPG lands on Nintendo Switch.

This is the complete experience that we have come to know and love over the years, but it's been overhauled to suit the hybrid platform, and this means it has better and more detailed graphics and more impressive performance, all while retaining the excellent gameplay systems and narrative that made this game so iconic. While I'll be able to tell you about my full thoughts on Super Mario RPG in a few weeks, I am allowed to chat a little about the opening portion of the game, to tease how this title is shaping up in the year 2023.

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It should be said right off the bat that Super Mario RPG feels very dated in its overarching style. This is a game from the mid-90s, so it features an RPG design that is very rigid and doesn't excel in player choice and intuition. While the original game was developed by Japanese RPG experts over at Square (before they became Square Enix), Super Mario RPG doesn't stack up with the likes of Octopath Traveler II, for example, where the narrative is so intricately wound and yet built so that the player can experience it in the way that suits them. No, this is a game where you predominantly follow a storyline, and the RPG aspect of the game comes in the minor side quests and activities you can find and complete and also in the progression and character customisation suite.

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But just because Super Mario RPG doesn't come across as that complex and ingenious of a game doesn't mean that it doesn't work. Whereas some RPGs are frankly too big for their boots, Super Mario RPG instead wants to be very refined in how it offers narrative and gameplay elements. To this end, you get a compelling storyline that doesn't feel bloated or like it is missing elements, you get gameplay that can be challenging but doesn't require a statistics degree to be able to understand, and this is all on top of signature minigames and events that feel so fundamentally Mario that it makes the title feel welcoming and familiar.

The idea of Super Mario RPG is to lead a collection of characters, headlined by Mario, on a adventure where the aim is to rescue Princess Peach, and to repair the Star Road by defeating Exor the Giant and his Smithy Gang, who have destroyed it in their siege of Bowser's Keep. This takes the gang throughout the world to visit all manner of interesting locations, be it the Mushroom Kingdom, Moleville, Tadpole Pond, and beyond, all in the hope of finding star pieces necessary for repairing the Star Road.

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The locations you will visit throughout the story are wonderfully detailed and truly charming. The characters you can talk to are delightful and often lead to interesting conversations that can point you in the direction of secrets, and likewise, this translates to the group of heroes who bounce off one another. To add to this, the enemy variety is fantastic, and you'll be constantly taking on different foes who each have their own attacks and damage resistances, meaning you have to learn as you progress to determine the best way to overcome threats.

While Super Mario RPG does well at explaining each of its unique gameplay features and systems, it is a game that requires a bit of an understanding with how these old school RPGs play, as the limited HUD will mean that you often have no clue how well you are doing in combat or even if the enemy you are facing is too powerful for you. The battling systems are simplistic and turn-based, but there's no denying that this is a game built on trial and error in many ways, and no doubt for the uninitiated in the RPG space, it could become quite frustrating to come to terms with.

Nintendo has attempted to modernise and make the combat feel a bit more interactive by adding an Action Commands system and an Action Gauge to the battling. This sounds fancy, but the Action Command is essentially just a feature where you can press A when one of your attacks are about to land to make them more effective or harder hitting, and likewise press A when about to be hit to block or limit the oncoming damage. The Action Gauge builds on this by steadily filling up with each successful Action Command, and when it is maxed, you can use a powerful Triple Move that combines the powers of three members of your party. It's cool, but it's hardly redefining for the RPG space.

As I mentioned earlier, there are minigames and additional ways to expand the Super Mario RPG experience beyond the main story, and this includes hunting secrets and completing minor side tasks for NPCs. But it also includes finding minigames that feel Mario Party-like in many ways. This could be pressing buttons in time to win a race as Yoshi, or attempting to play the correct tune by jumping on tadpoles that arrange themselves into notes on sheet music. With minecart time trials, barrel riding, and waterfall climbing, among other activities, there are a multitude of ways to play beyond exploring the world and battling enemies in the turn-based combat system.

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Super Mario RPG

But anyone who has played a version of Super Mario RPG in the past will be more than familiar with these features, systems, and flaws. What makes the Nintendo Switch version of the game so special is how it has been updated to suit this modern platform, and that comes in the form of glossy and striking visuals that don't at all make you think of this as a game that's nearly 30 years old. The performance is also exceptional, with the game playing smoothly and quickly. This is a remake that makes you wonder why so many other Nintendo classics only got a minor upgrade as a remaster.

So far, after just a few hours with Super Mario RPG, it's clear to me that Nintendo is rounding out an already incredibly impressive 2023 with another winner. This game has always been a blast, but the updated visuals and presentation and the minor new mechanics and systems all combine to make this remake a must-play. Whether the whole experience will continue to reflect this remains to be seen, but so far, Super Mario RPG has definitely impressed me.

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Super Mario RPGScore

Super Mario RPG

REVIEW. Written by David Caballero

One of Nintendo's finest remakes elevates the retro charm of a rare gem.



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