By 2023, it feels like Mario has done almost everything there is to do in video games. In 1996, however, he was stepping into an undiscovered frontier. The character was getting into his very first turn-based RPG. His first, for many, is still his best. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, co-developed by Nintendo and SquareSoft, is considered by some to be one of the greatest video games of all time. Nintendo and Square (now known as Square Enix) have since parted ways, so it was a genuine surprise when Nintendo announced earlier this year that a remake was on its way. Now simply titled Super Mario RPG, this is a modernized take on one of Mario's most memorable adventures, and Shacknews recently had a chance to try it out.
For newer generations or those who haven't read our 25th anniversary retrospective, Super Mario RPG begins as another day at the office for Mario and his cast. Bowser kidnaps the princess, Mario heads off to save her, and everyone clocks in and out to make it home by the end of the day. The routine quickly gets turned on its head when a never-before-seen entity in the form of a giant sentient sword plunges through the sky, through Bowser's Keep, and sends Mario, Bowser, and Peach skyward in different directions. Needing to find Peach and discover what's happening, Mario sets out on a journey unlike any he had encountered up to that point.
The new Super Mario RPG plays that story out without missing a beat. The original game was constructed with pre-rendered sprites, considered a technical marvel for the time. Today, the remake is created with a more animated CGI art style and is much quainter by today's standards. It can be jarring at first to watch an animated cutscene play out with Mallow running through the Mushroom Kingdom. That's not to say the new style is bad. In fact, in many instances, it's a wonderful update, reimagining timeless scenes like Geno's origin story in a captivating new way.
While the story is familiar in many ways, it's worth noting that Super Mario RPG is not a straight 1-for-1 remaster. Certain game design elements have changed. The first thing to note is that while the core of the turn-based combat is totally intact, controls have changed slightly. To fit with more conventional setups, all attacks are confirmed with the A button, though this can be changed to its more classic layout in the Options menu. The biggest addition to the combat formula is the addition of Triple Team moves, paired with an Action Gauge tied to the Minus button. This allows Mario's present party to team up for a hard-hitting attack that can even throw bosses for a loop. The manner in which this new mechanic is introduced is a treat and something that even Super Nintendo veterans who have played the original game 100 times may not necessarily expect.
Modern gameplay ideas have also found their way into this game. Fast travel and autosave are among the 21st-century ideas to make their way into Super Mario RPG, though manual saves are still available through the classic Save Block. The rest of the additions are mainly for quality-of-life purposes. That includes a new Breezy difficulty for those looking for an easier path through the story.
Some changes will take some getting used to. There are classic moments that play out faster and more fluidly than their original counterparts because of the new art style and modern engine, which can be slightly jarring at first. Names have changed since the old days for one reason or another. Frogfucius now goes by the name Frog Sage. Mack the Knife is now known as Claymorton. And some dialogue has been tweaked slightly. Apologies to anybody who was attached to the old Bruce Lee reference prior to the Bowyer fight. Changes like these make it sink in that the original game is a time capsule and its magic can't ever be entirely captured again in the same. But, even with those changes, Super Mario RPG is shaping up to be a beautiful update to one of gaming's greatest gems.
Oh, the revamped soundtrack from original composer Yoko Shimomura is fantastic, too. Don't worry if you can't let go of the original tracks. There's an option to switch to those for players who feel nostalgic.
Look for Super Mario RPG to come exclusively to Nintendo Switch on Friday, November 17.
This preview is based on Nintendo Switch code provided by the publisher. It may not be representative of the final product.