Take a look at any Best Super NES RPG list and you’ll see a veritable bounty of genre favourites. Chrono Trigger. Final Fantasy VI. EarthBound. Terranigma. Dragon Quest V. The fact that Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars often finds itself on those lists is a real testament to its status as a classic.
In 2023, we’re getting the chance to relive the origins of Mario’s RPG adventures in Super Mario RPG, a Switch remake of the 1996 original, which saw Nintendo and Square team up to blend Mario’s colourful platforming charm with traditional turn-based RPG mechanics. And, after playing through the first three hours of this remake, we’ve been reminded of just why Super Mario RPG is often considered not only one of the best SNES RPGs but one of the best RPGs ever.
What struck us about this 2023 remake in the opening hours is just how incredibly faithful the game is to its 1996 original. From a look-and-feel perspective, this is essentially the same title we first played all those years ago. The visuals have of course been entirely redone, but the 3D top-down perspective and the squished-down character models are straight out of the SNES original. The new visuals and colours look fantastic, and the true vibrancy of the Mushroom Kingdom (and neighbouring locations) has been brought to back to life. If we’re to use a cliché, this is exactly how we remember it looking back in 1996. Whether it retains that feeling throughout is yet to be seen, but the opening hours are extremely promising.
Of course, not everyone is going to be returning to Super Mario RPG, and this rerelease gives many a chance to experience Mario’s RPG origins for the first time. Early on, this remake proves that it’s an exceptional gateway into the genre – there are plenty of tutorials, the controls are simple, and it effortlessly blends Mario’s platforming prowess with all of the tricks of the RPG genre.
this is exactly how we remember it looking back in 1996.
No time is wasted throwing you into the action. The first few minutes see Mario running through Bowser’s castle to save Princess Peach, after all. Things don’t quite go to plan, but they also don’t go in the way you’d expect, either. This is an RPG that trims all of the fat from the genre – there’s no complicated story about crystals, personal growth, or defeating God, you don’t need to grind, and the early game’s pacing is extremely brisk. But it’s also stuffed full of charm and humour.
Super Mario RPG is really, really silly. Mario communicates through gestures and re-enacts events to hilarious effect, and NPCs interact with him as though he’s a celebrity, tricking him into jumping and freaking out when he’s talking to them. That lighthearted tone also carries through into the pacing: you’ll go from a town to a dungeon to a short minigame within minutes, and every single aspect of the game feels daft or fun. Rolling down the river on a barrel is surprisingly challenging, it turns out. But we were grinning from ear to ear all the time.
Ignoring those minigames, the basic gameplay is split into two separate styles. On the field, you can explore, talk to NPCs, and find treasure chests, which are floating in the air like boxes which Mario needs to jump to hit, or – in dungeons – fight enemies. A truly 3D Mario game was still a few months away in 1996, but Super Mario RPG’s 3D-esque environments let you look around towns, walk into houses, and jump in eight different directions. The remake retains that picturesque box-like feel to a tee; each location and screen is small, but now you can use the full 360 degrees.
If you’re coming back to the game, then a lot of the magic will be spotting those minor tweaks and extra details. The Mushroom Kingdom is full of Toads – some have facial hair, while others have actual hair, and the attention to detail in the grass, water, and brickwork is beautiful. Rose Town, the second town in the game, also gets a similar treatment. If you’re new, however, then the way the early game breaks up the locations – from towns to dungeons – is what will stand out the most. Early locations tend to have a handful of buildings, a shop, and an inn, to explore, and each place is easy to navigate. Even the dungeons are fairly linear, with the Kero Sewers and Forest Maze being two locations that require a bit more puzzle-solving or navigation.
Super Mario RPG is really, really silly.
Then there’s the combat. If you’ve played Mario & Luigi or Paper Mario, then a lot of the elements will be familiar to you. But if you’re completely new to Mario RPGs, then Super Mario RPG is probably the best place to start.
Characters can do a standard normal attack or use a Special – skills that use Flower Points (like magic) – to do damage. There’s an added level of interaction with the Action Command, where if you time an extra button press perfectly, you’ll do extra damage. You can also guard against enemy attacks when they return the favour.
Combat is also where the most new additions have come in, and so far, they slot in perfectly to the gameplay loop. If you time your Action Command just right, not only will you do extra damage, but you’ll also do splash damage to the rest of your opponents. If you get really good at this – and it’s not as easy as it sounds – then turn-based encounters become breezy, fast-paced affairs that are over in seconds. And while this doesn’t factor in much during the early game, depending on the characters in your active party, you’ll get a Party Buff if you manage to chain perfectly timed hits together.
There are also Triple Moves, a brand new attack that sees all three of your party members team up to deal devastating damage to a single enemy (or group). Throughout fights, you’ll charge up a meter in the bottom-left corner of the screen by timing your attacks or blocks perfectly. Once the meter is at 100% you can unleash a dazzlingly animated Triple Move featuring all three characters in your party. We’ve only seen Mario, Mallow, and Geno’s so far, but like everything else in the game, we’re sure they will all put a smile on our faces.
All in all, the first three hours of Super Mario RPG’s Switch remake have reminded us of just how delightful the original was. The SNES game is timeless, and so far, the Switch remake retains that level of excellence that we experienced in ’96. If it manages to retain the charm and joy all the way through, all while sprinkling in a few little touches throughout, then we reckon every Mario fan – of Super Mario RPG or the character in general – will have their wish come true come 17th November.
This story originally appeared on Nintendo Life