Super Mario RPG: First Playthrough – 17 Years Later
Before May 17th, 2013, I had never played Super Mario RPG. I don’t know exactly why I avoided it for so long – I love the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series, and I had many opportunities to purchase it both for the SNES and on the Wii Virtual Console. When it became available on Club Nintendo for 200 coins, I took it as a sign from the Gaming Gods that I needed to give it a shot.
One of the things I love the most about the Mario RPG games is their use of action commands – tapping “a” as you stomp on an enemy, pulling back the controller to hammer a foe, pressing a button to dodge or parry an enemy attack. They keep the combat engaging, and the variety of different attacks and actions in each game keeps them from becoming tired and boring. Because I didn’t know anything about Super Mario RPG going in, I wasn’t sure if I should expect any form of action commands or not. Luckily, I was not disappointed. Mario’s first RPG outing features timed action commands that expand past tapping the “a” button with perfect timing, something even Paper Mario: Sticker Star failed to do. For example, the game also has you rotating the d-pad, holding a button to charge an attack, and tapping “a” to defend certain enemy attacks.
In terms of weapons and equipment, I was actually quite surprised when I first found out that I could equip Mario not only with gloves to punch his enemies, but also with hammers and shells, which all control a tiny bit differently. Animations and action commands change depending on the kind of weapon you have equipped, and different pieces of equipment will change your stats and grant your characters special abilities, like resistance to poison. I really enjoyed the change in aesthetics and moves depending on the weapon equipped, especially since in most other Mario RPGs, Mario can only be equipped with a hammer. Of course, the attack variety in Paper Mario came from partners, and from special techniques in Mario & Luigi. Super Mario RPG has special techniques and partners, too, but I don’t find that I enjoy them as much as in later Mario RPGs. Special powers, especially Mario’s, can feel very samey and repetitive, and in Paper Mario, I found acquiring new partners much more exciting, because I found the characters more likeable and well-developed. Perhaps the most surprising detail about the weapon system (potential spoilers) was being able to equip Bowser with the ability to hurl Mario at enemies. I found that genuinely entertaining and unique.
I love the wacky sense of humour in Mario RPGs, and it’s easy to see that this all started with this game. Every time Mario needs to prove his identity to characters, the game makes you press the jump button to show off the plumber’s signature hop. The fact that Mario never talks is complimented by his pantomiming while “speaking” to other characters by acting out events that have taken place. This is also seen in the Mario & Luigi games, where the brothers gesticulate and spew out hilarious gibberish, but never actually speak. Bowser is a great character, too – Seemingly big and bad, but genuinely concerned about his reputation. His weaknesses shine through in the game, and he evolves beyond the big, scary monster that he has been in previous Mario games. Although I don’t really like Mallow as a character, I found it funny that his whole life he thought he was a frog, despite the fact that he is clearly a white ball of fluff. Some of my favourite moments in the game came from Booster. As you enter his tower, you occasionally see him peering from behind doors, only to scuttle away as Mario approaches. He’s kind of like a giant child who doesn’t understand the outside world (at one point he shouts out “Quick, someone boil a cake and report the results!”) and his character is incredibly quirky and unique. In retrospect, I really wish he was a recurring character throughout the game, or would make an appearance in a future Mario RPG.
Based on his appearance, I thought Booster would be more Wario-like, but the character I met instead was equally entertaining in a very different way.
Although I enjoyed my time with Super Mario RPG, I still prefer the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario series. I find the writing far more entertaining in the more recent RPGs, the gameplay more polished, and the characters more interesting and humorous. Of course, that has plenty to do with the evolution of hardware and game design. I’m not a huge fan of the 3D rendered graphics either, and find that certain enemies like goombas and koopas actually look kind of bad. There may have been a better way to approach the aesthetics of the game, but it still effectively conveys a large and diverse 3D world before the Nintendo 64 made it easier to do. Mario RPG is still a great role-playing game with plenty of interesting locales and characters, but modern-day gamers may not be able to appreciate as much as those with plenty of nostalgia for it.
Perhaps part of my enjoyment of Super Mario RPG was siphoned away because I’ve been spoiled by the excellent Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario series.
Alexandre Trottier loves RPGs of all kinds, and fell in love with the genre through Final Fantasy Legends II and Paper Mario when he was a child. He’s got a twitter, @NF_Alexandre, where he mostly just says stuff about his articles. You can head on over to the NintendoFuse forums to discuss pretty much anything with him and tons of other very lovely people. As well, he would love to know what you think of Super Mario RPG in the comments below!