When I started this site, there was this unspoken rule that I wound up sticking to: “don’t review Mario games.” The reason for this was fairly simple—most everyone has either played or heard of pretty much every Mario game ever made, so I’d be helping absolutely no one. That being said, Nintendo has really been forcing Mario down everyone’s throat in an attempt to sell their new stuff, and it’s gotten to the point where the games aren’t even fun anymore. What’s especially sad about this is that some of the best Mario games out there are being totally forgotten in the deluge of new, unimaginative stuff. Super Mario RPG is one of those forgotten games, a Square-developed RPG that’s not only one of the best games for the Super Nintendo, but one of the best Mario games, period.
It’s unlike anything else
Unlike the Mario RPGs that followed it, Super Mario RPG wasn’t created by one of Nintendo’s subsidiaries. At the time, Square was banging out critical success after critical success on Nintendo’s consoles, but they were still very much a big deal apart from Nintendo (as evidenced by their eventual split that led to Square’s incredible RPGs on the Playstation). This is really what makes SMRPG so special; instead of piggybacking on the successes of previous games like modern Mario games, Square actually created something entirely new and unique that most would have thought impossible.
The best of both worlds
Not only did the Mario universe end up seamlessly blended together with a unique turn-based system (I’m unaware of any other Square game that uses a combat system remotely similar to Super Mario RPG’s), but the two actually complemented each other in surprising ways. For example, some chests contain Mario’s invincibility stars that automatically “win” fights for a short duration of time while you’re running around on the overworld, cutting down on the tedium that many RPGs face. Meanwhile, Square’s strength of creating meaningful characters allowed the Mario games to have an actual plot for the first time.
Square took the simplistic “Bowser kidnaps the princess” story and threw it on its head with SMRPG. Not only is Bowser not the bad guy in this game, but he and Peach are both playable characters. Not only that, but Bowser actually has an amusing personality that you can’t help but love, the constant bravado belying his obvious niceness being magical to watch. On top of that are some all-new characters, Mallow and Geno, who make their first and last appearance in Super Mario RPG (no doubt thanks to Square owning the characters and not wanting them milked to death). Each character has their own story and motivation for helping out, and this makes the game far more interesting than the more traditional (but still good) Paper Mario games.
Combat is all about timed hits
The combat system will be vaguely familiar to those who have played previous Square games, but there’s still quite a bit that separates SMRPG from, say, Square’s Final Fantasy games. For one, different buttons open up different windows in combat: Y opens up items, X opens up spells, B opens up the defend/run menu, and A is used to attack. This is ultimately superficial, not really offering any real benefits that the Final Fantasy-type menus can’t match, but it makes combat feel different for some reason. Also new in SMRPG are timed hits, where pressing a button at a certain point in your (or an enemy’s) attack will do extra damage (or reduce the damage you take). There are even power-ups that you can get when finishing off enemies, from one that restores your HP to another that allows you to attack one extra time. While these seem to appear randomly, you’ll notice that you get power-ups more often when you use timed hits.
The graphics are really good for the time
While Super Mario RPG may not have the greatest graphics on the Super Nintendo, the unique mix between Nintendo and Square’s distinct art styles allowed for something really memorable. You’ll never see enemies so visually memorable or epic in a pure Nintendo game.
The music is legendary
If you’ve spent any notable amount of time on Youtube, you’ve undoubtedly come across Super Mario RPG’s music without even knowing it. For some strange reason, this game’s music is so revered that many gaming videos that start with intros will play SMRPG music during that intro. This is especially true of the (admittedly memorable) Forest Maze theme:
Here’s what you should do: