Super Mario RPG Remake Review – A Hearty Helping of Nostalgia

Twenty-six years ago, the first game for an unexpectedly massive player in the RPG genre released, being Super Mario RPG on the SNES. Nintendo hadn’t dipped into the RPG genre much previously, so they enlisted Square (now Square Enix) to help them in the development of the game, and it was a massive hit.

Fast forward two and half decades, and here we are, with a remake of the same game on the Nintendo Switch. This comes from both Nintendo and Square Enix but is primarily developed by ArtePiazza, the developers of Dragon Quest, and done in Unity of all things.

In this review, I’ll be going over how well this game holds up to the classic original and judging it on its own merits. We’ve gotten tons of Mario RPGs ever since the release of the original, so getting into the minutia of what makes this game tick and how they added to it to show why it’s still worth playing nowadays is a necessary endeavor.

Bouncing Along the Way

attack goomba mario rpg remake
Attacks have to correlate with timing, so I have to time my A press as I land on this Goomba for maximum damage, which feels awesome to do, despite taking .2 seconds in a normal Mario game. – Image by Monica Phillips.

The gameplay in the Super Mario RPG Remake is largely unchanged from the original, with the notable exception of a meter that you build up by battling to unleash a big super move with your party or get a free buff, which kind of serves to make the game easier. Otherwise, It’s the same turn-based combat with an extra layer of reaction time you know and love.

This system of typical attacks, special attacks, and items, and letting you time your button presses correctly during the enemy’s turn to mitigate or entirely negate the damage they deal, is incredibly satisfying, and there’s a reason it’s been the basis for every Mario RPG since the first. It doesn’t have an extremely unique spin on it, but it has excellent fundamentals.

triple move mario rpg remake
These big attacks feel cool to do but just amount to doing a ton of damage for free, which is a bit odd. – Image by Monica Phillips.

On top of the great, simplistic battles, the overworld gameplay is similar to the original. Still, with fully 3D environments, you can run around in more than eight directions of movement, as opposed to the pseudo-3D of the original. This makes everything feel a bit more freeing, and exploration is as fun as usual, a bunch of frog coins littered around in difficult-to-reach spots, encouraging you to explore.

As usual for Nintendo, all of this is highly simplistic and easy to understand, with a significant skill ceiling for learning enemy tells and discovering secrets. It’s not as in-depth as something like Thousand Year Door or Bowser’s Inside Story, but respecting your elders is best, especially when this one holds up so incredibly well.

Growing Stronger

river tunnel super mario rpg
The game is far more concerned with making fun little gimmicky segments, like rhythm platforming or a fun river ride, instead of bothering with intense difficulty scaling, and I can respect it. – Image by Monica Phillips.

To put it bluntly, Super Mario RPG was not a challenging game, and for some reason, the remake has opted to make it much easier, with very little on offer for any RPG veterans. If you’re trying to introduce someone to the genre, it’s a great choice, but if you’ve played the original and are just good at RPGs and timing in general, it’s completely unchallenging.

I don’t care too much about the difficulty in games (hell, one of my favorite game series is Kirby). Still, it just feels a little patronizing getting a free super move, free powerups, a way to detect hidden items in an area, and some more quality-of-life in a game that was never balanced for it. It’s just a bit weird, and I’d like a hard mode rather than an easy mode, to be honest.

There’s still some challenge to be had, namely in the really cool secret boss that I won’t spoil if you somehow don’t know, as well as the little postgame added by the remake. It’s way easier overall than the original, and for no good reason, especially since this game adds fun gimmicks in the world more often than more challenging fights, which makes me wonder why the change, other than having cool super moves.

Polish Is a Detriment

mario rpg castle town
This castle looks nice, clean, and mostly polished in the remake, and at the very least, I’m just glad there’s no solid blue background anymore. – Image by Monica Phillips
mario rpg castle original
Image from the original Super Mario RPG, for comparison. – Image by Monica Phillips.

The visual style of the remake is kinda hit-or-miss for me; it’s usually fine and mainly faithful to the original, but it doesn’t go for much outside of that faithfulness and could’ve used a bit more time in the oven. It looks like an older game on something like the PSP at times, though other times, it looks like the Smash Ultimate trailers, so it’s a bit conflicting.

I’d say the game has the vibe of a studio’s first big-budget project, which is absolutely wild coming from two of the biggest game studios ever and a developer who’s made an incredibly stylized and prolific game series. Seriously, they could’ve shifted this far more in the lovely, cel-shaded style of Dragon Quest, and I don’t think you’d see anyone complaining.

super mario rpg saving pad quest
These menus look a little too refined and “sanitized” from the original, and I don’t like it. – Image by Monica Phillips.
mario rpg original save pad
The original Super Mario RPG, for comparison. – Image by Monica Phillips.

It all looks fine, but I often prefer the original style. It looks great for areas like the castle town, where it’s now fully rendered with no bright blue background in sight, but the UI has been reduced to overly simplistic neon instead of the stylistic textured surfaces of the original. It’s strange, and I would’ve preferred a more substantial shift in style here, even if this is tolerable.

Froggy Tracks

forest maze super mario rpg
Despite driving some peeps insane, the Forest Maze has some of the most iconic music in gaming history, and the rendition in the remake is incredible. – Image by Monica Phillips.

Yoko Shimomura, the composer for the Kingdom Hearts series and Mario & Luigi, has returned to remaster the tracks she did on the original, and man, they’re absolutely incredible. They’ve all been completely re-done and orchestrated in a beautiful manner, and every boss theme feels intense, with every area theme feeling light and cheery.

I was never book-smart, so I don’t exactly know the words to express how great this soundtrack is, but listen to the remade version of Beware the Forest’s Mushrooms and tell me you don’t feel an incredible sense of nostalgic bliss. Even as someone who barely grew up with the original, I absolutely adore every track in this game.

It’s an incredible OST remade in such wonderfully high quality that I can’t help but sing its praises. I’d also like to mention the music for the Secret Boss, which sounds right out of a Kingdom Hearts game despite being from an entirely different series. Even if you dislike the remakes, you can toggle the originals back on whenever you want, so no complaints here.

A Standard Storybook

star 2 super mario rpg
We out here with a fake frog and a possessed puppet collecting big stars, average Tuesday. – Image by Monica Phillips.

The story of Super Mario RPG is the story of a Mario game, so no one particularly cares. To be real, though, there is quite a bit more at play here than in most Mario titles, and focusing on characters that are foreign to the Mushroom Kingdom invading and causing havoc, all servants of Smithy, including the giant sword, plunged in Bowser’s Castle.

There is nothing added to this tale from the remake, aside from some excellently animated pre-rendered cinematics that better showcase what’s happening in crucial moments of the story. It’s all pretty good, and while I still prefer the story of later Mario RPGs, this one holds up and was the inspiration for many Flash animations back in the day, which is the cornerstone of human society.

Technically Sound, Usually

belome super mario rpg
Trying to get through fights quickly is impossible; the menus lag a bit, and every animation takes forever. Let me leave!!! – Image by Monica Phillips.

For the most part, the game runs fine, but there is a bit of noticeable lag when menuing. Using menus efficiently is like 90% of getting good at playing turn-based RPGs, so having some noticeable delay between input and output contributes to a pretty meh overall game feel. Otherwise, It’s usually okay, running at a smooth 60.

I do feel as though the somewhat lacking visual style was partly because of the limitations of the Nintendo Switch. It’s not very detailed, covering that fact up with some bloom and intelligent usage of textures. Still, it’s not enough to make me think this would be way better with a better console able to run an uncompromised vision for what the original could’ve been.

Retelling Over Again

hidden frog coin intro mario rpg
Hope you didn’t think you 100% this game cause there’s actually a frog coin right at the start that you can’t get after the intro. I love this. – Image by Monica Phillips.

Replay value in Super Mario RPG would be better if there were, say, an unlockable Hard Mode or something of that variety, but it’s already not too bad. Finding Frog Coins hidden about the areas is pretty difficult to get on your first go without a guide, especially since there’s one at the beginning you can’t get unless you restart once you’ve missed it.

Otherwise, there’s not much to get you to come back other than wanting to try the easy mode for whatever reason. There are no achievements because it’s a Switch game, and no specific reason to go back other than re-experiencing the story or trying to find the boatload of easter eggs and secrets hidden throughout the game.

Alternatives

There are a bunch of RPGs out there that focus on the fundamentals and are very beginner-friendly. Still, I’m going for a few I know of that have a way to fight back, whether in their timing-based elements or just letting you finish before the enemies can touch you.

  • Other Mario RPGs are easily recommended since both Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi have their roots in this game. I’ll go basic and recommend Bowser’s Inside Story and The Thousand Year Door, with the latter also getting a remake on Switch next year.
  • Persona 5 Royal is the turn-based RPG for people who don’t like turn-based RPGs, and given it lets you end fights instantly as long as you’ve got the knowledge and ability to do so, it’s pretty great for people looking to get an edge in over their enemies and not take damage. It also has a fantastic world, exploration, and social simulator.
  • Sea of Stars is an indie RPG inspired mainly by Chrono Trigger but also by Mario RPG, with it including the same timing-based attack system in its turn-based combat. You can’t perfect guard to avoid all damage like you can in Mario RPG, but defending works similarly. On top of it being a great game, it’s one to consider for its Mario-style gameplay.

The Verdict – 8/10

super mario rpg nintendo
Image from Nintendo.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with the Super Mario RPG remake, at least because I miss Alphadream so much, and Paper Mario hasn’t been great for a hot minute, so this is at least something. It’s a great game, even nowadays, and I only really wish the remake served to make the game better rather than something that’s about on par with the original.

I guess that’s why they decided to call it “Super Mario RPG” instead of adding “remake” or “remastered” to the title. It is remade entirely from the ground up with some new content, but by and large, this is the original game as if it was made today, in 2023. It’s a great trip down memory lane for fans of the original and an excellent game for those looking to play a fun, beginner-friendly RPG.

I guess I just feel a little bit of disappointment after seeing remakes like FF7R or even Nintendo’s remakes of something like Xenoblade Chronicles, which make either drastic or largely positive changes while still keeping the spirit of the original alive. This remake certainly does the latter, but you wouldn’t miss much by just booting up your SNES again.

Pros

  • Everything from the original Mario RPG is preserved, including every unique animation and odd detail.
  • The music has been excellently orchestrated by Yoko Shimomura.
  • The gameplay is still incredibly satisfying, and the timing elements make it more engaging than a typical turn-based RPG.

Cons

  • The visual style feels a bit unpolished and leaves something to be desired.
  • The menus have a bit of delay, sometimes making the game feel sluggish.
  • The game is straightforward (more so than the original) and relatively short for an RPG.

Questions and Answers

Question: What is Super Mario RPG on Switch?

Answer: Super Mario RPG is a remake of the SNES original, but made from the ground up in full 3D, with a few enhancements and gameplay additions.

Question: How much is the Super Mario RPG remake?

Answer: Super Mario RPG on Switch will cost you a steep $60, as is standard for most first-party Nintendo releases.

Question: How long is Super Mario RPG on Switch?

Answer: The game will only run you about 8-12 hours, maybe up to 20 if you go for 100%.

Play Log

I played Super Mario RPG for around 8 hours (I wish I could tell, though, but the Switch is terrible about telling you your playtime until an arbitrary amount of time has passed). I quite enjoyed it, getting through all of the main story content.

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