Super Mario RPG Review: Back to the Future


Super Mario RPG

By: Jason Siu


7 min read

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Super Mario RPG Review, FullCleared

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Quick Verdict

Although basic in terms of its role-playing mechanics, Super Mario RPG remains an absolute delight to play, whether it’s your first or 10th time. While the story and its cast might not reach the iconic status of other classic 16-bit era RPGs, they still carve out a special place in your heart. However, with a playtime of only 10 to 15 hours, the game offers a relatively short experience, which might not justify its full $60 price tag for some players.

A True Legend of the Seven Stars

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It feels like several lifetimes ago, late in the 1990s, but I have many fond memories of the SNES era of gaming. Back then, every game felt like a mystery. Sure, you had reviews from magazines like Nintendo Power, but I was also young enough to not really care what a “professional” had to say about a particular game. While there were physical guides you could purchase for some games, you were mostly left alone with your friends to go on a journey and if you ever got stuck, you had to figure it all out on your own. There wasn’t a YouTube or a Google to get you out of a bind. This often meant getting so stuck that you gave up on a game, because you could never figure out the solution or even where to go.

As you can probably guess, I’m telling this story because I never did manage to complete Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars when it was originally released on the SNES in 1996. I can’t quite remember where or why I stopped playing, but I do know I never saw the credits roll. So I don’t have as many fond memories of the game as other people. I could recall its clever gameplay mechanics and certain memorable characters like Mallow. But overall, there wasn’t much I could tell you about the game, so I was extremely excited when the remake was announced. I genuinely couldn’t wait to finally experience the adventure in its entirety and see if it aged well over the years.

Mellow Mallow

Super Mario RPG Review Gallery, FullCleared

The original Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars released as the SNES era was coming to an end and the Nintendo 64’s launch was imminent. For its time, the game was considered fairly complex, especially since Square brought in some RPG elements from its Final Fantasy series. It blended traditional and familiar Super Mario Bros. gameplay with turn-based RPG combat, equipment, and items. However, compared to games like Final Fantasy VI (III in the U.S.), its RPG elements were relatively basic. This is even more true in 2023, where there aren’t any significant decisions to be made when it comes to equipment or customizing your characters. Skills are gained as you level, and while they are varied from character to character, you’ll often find yourself defaulting to the most powerful skill, rather than strategizing for specific situations. Equipment does alter gameplay when it comes to the timing of your button presses, but you’ll still be choosing the one with the largest number.

That said, some of these weaknesses can be overlooked as the game was intentionally designed that way in the mid-1990s. I believe Super Mario RPG was created to introduce Super Mario Bros. fans to the RPG genre, which meant keeping things simplistic. Despite that, the game remains one of the best examples of how to successfully blend elements from different genres in an accessible way. Experienced gamers will more than likely find Super Mario RPG to be a very easy game, and some of its gameplay to be too basic, and those are fair criticisms. And yet, Super Mario RPG is such an enjoyable experience from beginning to end, thanks to its humorous, light tone and lovable characters—especially this version of Bowser.

Smithy’s Meltdown

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The beginning of Super Mario RPG will be familiar to anyone who has ever picked up a classic Super Mario Bros. game. Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach of the Mushroom Kingdom, and it’s up to Mario to rescue her. Except this plotline is short lived, as Bowser’s Castle gets occupied by a strange new foe. Mario then sets off on an adventure that features new characters to the franchise, such as Mallow and Geno. The overworld map is reminiscent of Super Mario World, where players move from node to node. Unlike Super Mario World, however, the environments in Super Mario RPG are in 3D. Admittedly, this can take a little time to get used to, as I found myself missing certain jumps when going from platform to platform.

Overall, Super Mario RPG’s turn-based combat system is pretty standard RPG fare with the exception of time-based button prompts. This means pushing “A” at just the right time before an attack on offense will result in more damage or even AOE splash damage. The same goes for when your characters are being attacked, where a well-timed push can negate damage altogether. This system has made its way in other modern RPGs, including the recent Sea of Stars. But as I mentioned earlier, the game’s overall difficulty isn’t high, which means most fights will take a minute or two. Boss fights, while longer, were never really too challenging. The game suffers slightly from annoying and unavoidable debuffs, occasionally trapping you in loops where your only option is to skip turns. This is less of an issue once you have all your party members, since you can freely swap while in battle, except for Mario—he always has to stay on your team.

Those who are familiar with the original game will find some updates to the combat system. The AOE splash damage effect I mentioned earlier wasn’t in the SNES version, and the addition of Triple Moves deal massive damage and are accompanied with gorgeous cutscenes. These aren’t groundbreaking additions, but they are welcomed and do help modernize the game.

Shy Guy’s Symphony

Super Mario RPG Review Gallery, FullCleared

If you follow my other content on FullCleared, you might have noticed I’m a huge fan of video game soundtracks. Super Mario RPG’s soundtrack was composed by none other than Yoko Shimomura, who has since worked on the Kingdom Hearts franchise, Final Fantasy XV, and has contributed to Xenoblade Chronicles. She’s one of the best in the business and her take on Mario’s themes in a light-hearted RPG is sublime. Players can swap between the new and the old soundtracks, which makes it even easier to appreciate how much work went into the new version. It’s a fun and whimsical soundtrack that’s designed to put a smile on your face.

It’s widely believed the Nintendo Switch’s successor is debuting next year, which means Super Mario RPG is once again serving as a swan song of sorts for an aging console. The original for the Super Nintendo, and the remake for the Switch. Graphically, the remake is impressive and one of the best the Switch has to offer. There are plenty of loading screens to deal with, but they’re all relatively short. There are some performance issues in certain areas, and there are some framerate drops when dealing with the menus in the game. These issues won’t completely ruin your experience, but they show just how old the Switch’s hardware really is.

The Last Star Piece

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I know Super Mario RPG is considered a remake, but it really is more of a remaster. The base game, its stages, fights, bosses, and overall experience remains the same. There have been some quality-of-life upgrades, but I don’t believe it justifies calling the game a remake. But I’m not here to argue semantics, I just want to make it clear that you shouldn’t expect an overhauled experience like Final Fantasy VII Remake. Nonetheless, it’s a great opportunity to experience this adventure if you haven’t yet, and I’m glad there’s an entirely new generation (or two) that get to play it for the very first time. It’s always nice to see how games have influenced others over the years, and you’ll find Super Mario RPG’s fingerprints in many modern games.

Super Mario RPG takes Mario and friends on a journey around the Mushroom Kingdom to collect seven Star Pieces. Some may find an issue with the game’s length. Veterans will likely complete the main story in 10 to 12 hours, while newcomers may take up to 15 hours as they try to explore everywhere and speak to everyone. Although the game has added some new post-game content, it’s fair to question whether Super Mario RPG is worth its $59.99 price tag. Ultimately the decision is yours to make. If you’re looking for a lighthearted, yet simplistic and fun RPG experience, Super Mario RPG fits the bill. If you prefer to get a lot more hours of entertainment out of your investment however, you may want to wait for a sale.

Super Mario RPG was released on November 17, 2023 on Nintendo Switch. This review is based on a purchased retail copy of the game on Nintendo Switch. While FullCleared does have affiliate partnerships, they do not influence our editorial content. We may, however, earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links.

Super Mario RPG box art

Buy Super Mario RPG

Release date: November 17, 2023

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With over 20 years of online publishing experience, Jason Siu is currently the Content Director at VerticalScope and used to spend most of his time writing about cars. His work can be seen on websites such as AutoGuide, EV Pulse, FlatSixes, Tire Authority, and more. As the former co-founder of and West Coast Editor of Modified Magazine, he has also authored two books for CarTech Books. In his spare time, he founded FullCleared to indulge in his passion for writing about games. Although Jason is a variety gamer, he generally prefers RPGs.

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