I must confess that I have never played the Super Mario RPG original. I know its importance and influence on the genre, but, as a Brazilian who grew up in the 1990s, I depended exclusively on what was available at the video store. And let’s agree that a game full of dialogues wasn’t that interesting, not even for the owners, much less for those who played and didn’t understand a word of English.
For this reason, I saw the new version released for Nintendo Switch as a historical reparation both on my part, which would finally check out one of the most acclaimed and beloved titles of the SNES generation, and on Nintendo itself, which would finally make the game more accessible for a greater number of people who, like me, were unable to experience this delightful adventure almost three decades ago.
And you don’t have to go far to understand that all the praise given to the game is more than justifiable. Not only because it introduces mechanics and ideas that are replicated to this day, but because it is a type of Mario game like nothing else. It’s just a shame that, even 30 years later, it still isn’t as accessible as Nintendo would like it to be.
Extra and unusual charisma
Although I have never played the Super Mario RPG original, I know a lot about the other mustachioed hero games within the genre. In Paper Mario to the late franchise Mario & Luigi, I ventured into some of the character’s other adventures in turn-based combat. That’s why checking out the root of it all was quite interesting.
It’s a very traditional RPG, one with a group made up of three characters and a variety of attack and spell options. Who played any Final Fantasy classic will quickly understand the dynamics — which is more than understandable, since the 1996 game was developed by the then Square.
And this is the big difference between Super Mario RPG at the time of its original release and which is even more apparent in the Switch remake. Because it was produced by a team outside of Nintendo, many of the standards and characteristics that Big N adopted in its games are not present here, either due to the studio’s stylistic decision or because they have not yet been created. And that makes all the difference.
The entire Mario universe has always oozed charisma, but this specific game exudes a different aura. There is a type of humor, which oscillates between the naive and the sarcastic, that we no longer see in any other Nintendo game, much less from its mascot. And that’s what makes the game something unique, especially today.
From the scene in which Mario needs to be restrained so as not to punch a child to the couple of Toads wanting to rush the wedding so they can go on their honeymoon, there are small situations that give a special flavor to this adventure, differentiating it from what the games that came later to present.
Keeping the appropriate proportions, it is as if Super Mario RPG it was Nintendo’s crazy Woody Woodpecker, a slightly more acidic version of the one everyone knows — a reflection of a Square that was very free to create and subvert things that would become canonical and unthinkable today. And it’s incredible to see that all of this is present in the Switch version.
Even for those who have never played the SNES classic, it is noticeable as the remake by ArtePiazza — a studio linked to Square Enix and which worked on several games in the series Dragon Quest — kept all these characteristics untouched, bringing small and slight changes much more to the dialogue than to the situations themselves. For this reason, that absurdity so characteristic of the original returns in style.
It seems like a detail, but it’s what makes it Super Mario RPG so different from all the other games of the genre that Nintendo released later. Paper Mario e Mario & Luigi They drink a little of this more irreverent humor, but they are much more naive and even silly, without all that charisma that we see returning here. It’s what has always made the SNES title unique and what remains present.
Refined to the maximum
One point that I didn’t expect and that surprised me a lot is how the combat Super Mario RPG It’s dynamic and varied in a way that not even modern games can do. I knew its importance for introducing the Action Command system, but it has much more than that.
Action Command was a very creative solution created by Square at the time to give more variety to combat. By making the player press the button at the exact moment of the attack to obtain benefits such as extra damage or perfect dodge, the game avoids the most stilted aspect of turn-based combat. The result is impressive dynamism.
The recent Sea of Stars, for example, draws heavily from this influence by bringing similar mechanics to battles. The difference is that Super Mario RPG is constantly transforming the dynamics of fights by making the characters’ equipment change their behavior.
Once again, it is a very simple solution found by the classic, but it puts it ahead of even games that came later. Mario attacks with punches, hooves and sledgehammers that significantly change the clashes, meaning you don’t have the feeling of just pressing buttons and repeating the same task over and over again.
Bringing one of Nintendo’s great classics to a new generation and a much wider audience is one of the greatest achievements of the new Super Mario RPG. After exactly 27 years, I was able to see this precious thing that the limitations of the time prevented me from seeing. However, it is frustrating to see that, almost three decades later, some of these restrictions remain.
As I said, the language was a huge barrier for a generation that was not so familiar with English. This has changed a lot in that time, but there is no denying that leaving such a fun game only in English still maintains that same barrier that, in the past, prevented me and so many other children from checking out a classic. Even though they no longer depend so much on rental companies, not understanding what is being said will continue to alienate a considerable part of the public.
In the criticism of Super Mario Bros. Wonder, I praised how Nintendo embraced a new generation that was now arriving in its universe — especially after its mascot film had won over an audience that wasn’t so connected to games. And it’s sad to see that the next release ignored all of this and turned its back on those who don’t speak English.
My five-year-old daughter fell in love with the cute look of Super Mario RPG, but I know that she will need a few more years to be able to play and truly enjoy the game, understanding not only the story, but also what she needs to do. It’s a barrier that no longer makes sense in 2023 and that, despite all the appeals and campaigns from fans, Nintendo continues to maintain here.
The new Super Mario RPG It’s an excellent game, but more because it’s identical to the 1996 original than because it reinvents the wheel. And this is far from being a problem, since he really had no need to change a game that has always been treated as a masterpiece — and it would even be a crime if he dared to change its structures too much.
And, more than being this testament to timeless quality, the new version is also a reminder of a time that never returns and that Nintendo was unable to reproduce either. With a very peculiar type of humor and the freedom to dare and play with a character like Mario, it shows how different this game is — and it’s good that it got a new look so that it can be checked out because, like me, couldn’t check decades ago.
For this reason, the lack of attention to other markets with the lack of language options becomes an obstacle that goes against what the launch of the remake proposes. It’s not just about pleasing old fans, but about bringing this unquestionable classic to new people — so why stop non-English speakers from also being able to laugh at the situations that Mario, Geno and Mallow get into?
It was this kind of thing that, 30 years ago, prevented the owner of the video store in my neighborhood from being interested in putting Super Mario RPG on my hands. The remake solved this problem for me, being this “historical repair” from five generations of consoles ago. But how many parents will leave this precious thing aside because they know their children won’t understand?
Still, leaving this issue aside, we are talking about a game that borders on perfection. Fun, charismatic and full of heart, it succeeds both in terms of narrative and gameplay and shows the power that a plumber has to enchant just with his jumps. It would only be better if more people could enjoy this gem too.