As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, 2023 has become my year of RPGs. I’ve invested hundreds of hours in role-playing games and do not intend to stop. Recently, I completed the Super Mario RPG remake, and I’m thrilled I did. This is a game I wish I had played a long time ago. Thankfully, this remake is so enjoyable I can’t recommend it enough.

Bowser, Mario, and Mallow about to perform a special attack in Super Mario RPG

No time like the present

Growing up without a Super Nintendo, I missed many 90s classics. Over the years, I’ve attempted to catch up but have yet to succeed. I experienced the classic Chrono Trigger through the Nintendo DS version. Now, I’m playing Final Fantasy IV via emulation (although I own a copy on PlayStation Portable) and plan to dive into V and VI soon. Moreover, I purchased the Game Boy Advance version of A Link to the Past and could play Earthbound through Nintendo Switch online. I still have more to explore.

The same applies to Super Mario RPG. While part of the SNES Classic Mini (along with a few other games mentioned above), I only played it this year. I began playing it via emulation on my Analogue Pocket. I was about 1.5 hours in (just after Mallow joins Mario, but before claiming the first star) when Nintendo announced the remake would launch on Switch in November.

So, I paused and waited. Although the emulated version looks great on the Pocket, I wondered how Nintendo would handle the remake. For a nearly 30-year-old game, they could have refreshed the look or chosen a completely different aesthetic. They opted for the latter when remaking Link’s Awakening in 2017, which didn’t resonate with me. Thankfully, this game feels almost identical to the 1996 original, with certain elements upgraded to align with 21st-century gaming.

Mario attacking a foe in a battle from Super Mario RPG

A Classic I Couldn’t Put Down

Having played for only a few hours, I can’t adequately compare the two games. However, all the information I’ve absorbed over the last few weeks suggests these are two identical games with some minor adjustments. The 2023 version seems significantly more accessible because the developers retained the save system from the original while incorporating an auto-save feature.

This means that even if you fall in battle, you don’t restart at the last save point. Instead, you begin in the previous room you entered. This feature ensures you don’t lose a chunk of playtime if you encounter the “game over” screen.

I’ve read that the earlier game didn’t allow characters to switch in battle. In this version, you have that option, another accessibility feature that makes the game feel easier. If I’m mistaken, I will happily correct this blog, but it feels like a more recent addition, not something they would have revolutionized in the 90s.

The bonus Level Up screen from Super Mario RPG

Easy, but Not Too Easy

Aside from the Square-homage side quest, I died only once while playing Super Mario RPG, and it was entirely my fault for not paying attention early on. Even with that and the favorable auto-saving, this game can be challenging. I often strategically played my squad in different groups to optimize my attack. While I favored Mario, Bowser, and Peach in battle, Geno and Mallow have unique perks that work well in certain situations.

I also made sure to maximize level-up bonuses. After a character levels up, they receive a bonus to enhance health, attack/defense, or magic attack/defense. I never hesitated to take the four-point prize if an opportunity arose to increase a stat group by four points instead of one or two. Random mini-games that can double your coins or experience also exist. If they allowed me to boost my XP, I seized it and almost always succeeded.

I also appreciated seeing enemies in the environment and having the option to return to areas for multiple rounds of fights. Since each battle yields little XP, farming experience does take longer. The battle system is easy to grasp but challenging to master. I always needed help with the timing, which grants extra damage. Those who can master this system deserve commendation. I often failed, primarily misjudging the timing of an enemy’s attack.

Geno talking to a young Boy in Rose Town from Super Mario RPG

Desire for More

Super Mario RPG is the first and only Mario RPG game I’ve completed. I’ve dabbled in a few Paper Mario games, but I never managed to reach the end. The same goes for the Mario & Luigi games. I embarked on a few of these adventures but never all the way through. I’m contemplating revisiting these games with a lengthy list of RPGs I aspire to play.

Additionally, I’m eagerly anticipating the release of the Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door remake, due sometime in 2024. Hopefully, this encourages Nintendo to revive other games. While I don’t understand the Mother/Earthbound hype, the faint possibility of planned remakes for that franchise to coincide with the launch of Nintendo’s next console would be impressive.

However, I also harbor a desire to revisit the original Super Mario RPG. Although I don’t envisage playing it through to the end, I want to explore further to appreciate the minimal changes made. I’m unsure whether this will negatively affect my appreciation of the 2023 version, but I suspect it won’t.

Mario, Peach, and Bowser about to perform a special attack from Super Mario RPG

Difficult Decision to Make

As the end of the year draws closer, I find myself in a challenging position. There’s no doubt that Super Mario RPG will feature among my favorite games of 2023. While I haven’t finalized my list yet, it’s guaranteed to secure a high-ranking spot. I wholeheartedly recommend this game, particularly if you’ve never experienced the original like me. I cherished the 15 hours I dedicated to finishing the game, considering it time well spent.