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GoNintendo Thought: Remembering Super Mario RPG on its 24th anniversary

The birth of a new genre for Mario

I wrote this feature late last night. Turned out to be really great timing on my part! That's the second time this has happened with my 'Thoughts' features. Do I have magical prediction powers?! I better choose my next topic wisely! As always, thanks for reading.

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I will never forget the months leading up to Super Mario RPG's launch in 1996. I was just 14 back then, but I was already a lifelong Nintendo fan. I followed Nintendo and their adventures across their various hardware, and couldn't wait to see what was next for the company's biggest names. That of course included Mario, as I was always eager to see what the plumber's next big game would be.

That's when I found out about Super Mario RPG...and my heart sunk. This wasn't going to be a traditional Mario game or even a standard spin-off. This was a foray into a completely different genre for Mario, as Nintendo and Squaresoft were partnering up to make an RPG. 14-year-old RMC was absolutely terrified of RPGs back then. Playing games where you had no direct control over your movement in battle, and you had to fight using menus?! How in the world could that ever work?!

I had not played a single RPG up to that point in my life, save for a very quick spurt with The Final Fantasy Legend on Game Boy. My cousin got the game as a gift, and he had no idea how to play it. He turned to me for some advice, and I was completely lost. I vividly remember staring at the screen and having no idea what to do. What were all these menus? Why was there so much text? How do I move and fight back!?

This is why I broke into a cold sweat when I first found out about Super Mario RPG. I had played every Mario game up to that point, as any self-respecting Nintendo fan would! That said, Mario hadn't ever been in an RPG before! I honestly didn't know what to do. Was this going to be the first Mario game I didn't play? Was Nintendo going to turn Mario games into RPG-only affairs going forward? It was quite a scary time for me!

I followed every single bit of coverage for Super Mario RPG that came out after that point. Obviously that came from magazines back in the day. I would read blurbs about the game's mechanics, new features, and everything else. The Final Fantasy series was mentioned countless times, and each time I came across it I became more nervous. This really might be the first Mario game that I just wouldn't be able to play.

After a lot of soul-searching, I decided I would give the game a shot when it came out. I owed it to myself as a Nintendo fan, and I owed it to Mario as well! That said, I wasn't going to ask for the game as a gift or trade in other games to get it. I was too afraid that I would be mentally unable to play the game, not being smart enough to comprehend what was going on. I decided I would wait for my local video game rental store to stock the title, and then I'd grab it for a week and try my best.

After a bit of patience on my end, the day arrived. I went to the rental store with my parents and ran to the game section, as I always did. Sitting on the shelf was one copy of Super Mario RPG. I studied the box intensely, still unsure if I wanted to take the plunge. After weighing the decision a million times over, I decided to pluck the box off the shelf and bring it up to my parents. I had sealed my fate, and I was diving into a whole new world that I knew I wasn't ready for.

I can't lie...my first few hours with Super Mario RPG were extremely rough. I was trying my hand at completely new type of game for the very first time! I was used to running and jumping on enemies, having complete control over my character, and being able to move away from enemy attacks. Super Mario RPG was like learning a foreign language. It just seemed to make no sense to me.

My first major hurdle in the game came from Croco, who comes up within the first half-hour of the game. To this very day, I remember getting killed by him over and over...and over. I honestly can't remember what I was doing wrong, but I know that he was taking me out almost instantly. Hell, I was having trouble getting to him, let alone having enough health to take him on! After hours of trying, I honestly thought that this was the end for me. I just wasn't capable of playing Super Mario RPG, and RPGs in general weren't for me. They just didn't click, and sadly, I wouldn't be able to accompany Mario on his next adventure.

After giving the game a rest for a day, I decided to start fresh. I wanted to clear my mind and come at things from a different perspective. I went back and re-read some magazine snippets and tried my best to take my time and really understand what was going on. Even though I knew struggles were ahead, I wanted to take another whack at things.

The second time around went...better. It wasn't perfect by any means, but I did end up getting past Croco. I kid you not, I felt like the king of the world when I took him down. I remember throwing my fists in the air and cheering to myself with a huge smile on my face. That lasted for a few seconds, and then reality set in. If I had that much trouble with Croco, who is the first hurdle in the game, how in the world was I going to be able to tackle what was ahead?

Soon enough, I was met with an even greater challenge. I made my way to Mack, and he made Croco seem like the easiest battle ever. I couldn't believe how long the battle with Mack would go on for, and I saw no possible way to get past him. The day before, I thought Croco would be the end of me. Fast-forward a day, and Mack had me wishing that I were fighting Croco again. How in the world did people play RPGs and get anywhere?! This seemed like absolute torture to me!

I went through the same process over and over again. I would try to beat someone, feel like they were impossible, and then take a break for a day. I'd come back the next day refreshed and with a cooler head. This helped me to make progress, albeit very slowly. Back in those days, RPGs definitely were far outside of the realm of what I was comfortable with, but I was learning. Anyone watching me play would have required the patience of a saint, but thankfully, I was going the adventure alone. I stumbled at every opportunity, but I kept getting back up.

I convinced my parents to let me keep the game for a week longer than initially planned, and they obliged. I kept cranking away at the game, understanding it a little bit better, and gaining a minor appreciation for how everything played out. I was still scared the entire time I played, and I struggled everywhere you possibly could, but I was compelled to push on. Even though I didn't consider Super Mario RPG as much fun as a 'regular' game, I couldn't deny that it had its hooks in me.

By the time the end of my second week came, I had made it up to Monstro Town. I think that's a little less than halfway through the game, which just goes to show how much trouble I had playing it. I spent time with Super Mario RPG every single day I rented it, but that still wasn't enough to get me more than almost halfway. Still, I had finally cracked the seal on my RPG vacuum. I was learning how the genre worked, and finally understood why people enjoyed the style of gameplay. While I wasn't chomping at the bit to play Final Fantasy, I at least could see how people were intrigued by it.

I'm really glad I put time into Super Mario RPG all those years ago, even if I didn't beat it on my initial playthrough. I would eventually wrap up the game many years later, thanks to a used copy I picked up. Still though, playing Super Mario RPG was the right decision on my part, because Nintendo would indeed return to the RPG genre. Super Mario RPG left such a mark with players and Nintendo themselves, which is why the Big N would eventually return to create a Mario RPG of their own.

While Nintendo and Squaresoft had a falling out for numerous years after, their pairing gave us Super Mario RPG, which would definitely define at least one of the paths ahead for Nintendo. Nintendo got to work on their own Mario RPG a few years later, which they initially dubbed Super Mario RPG 2. That name got dropped before launch, as Nintendo decided to go with a name more fitting of the game's style. That title ended up being Paper Mario, which launched a whole new series of RPGs for Nintendo that continues on to this day.

You have to think that Super Mario RPG also paved the way for the Mario and Luigi series, which is quite close to the SNES original as well. Yet again, another RPG series for Mario that proved to be extremely popular for Nintendo, and has received multiple installments throughout the years. Even with all of its innovations and changes over the years, you can definitely see how the Mario and Luigi series was inspired by what Squaresoft and Nintendo did on the Super Nintendo.

Without Super Mario RPG, who knows what would have happened? Would Mario have ever dabbled in the RPG side of things, or would he have continued on with traditional outings, and sports/racing spin-offs? We'll obviously never be able to know for sure, but I'm happy that we live in the timeline where Super Mario RPG is a thing. It showed that Mario could be the star in a completely new type of game, and Nintendo fans were willing to follow him there. It birthed a long-running series of spin-offs that have sold millions upon millions. Super Mario RPG let us get to know Mario better than ever before, and all the RPGs since have done the same in expanding the universe.

Nintendo has had countless milestone games in their history. Titles that really helped usher in new eras in the video game industry. Games like Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time are always thrown around as titles that changed the landscape. Those experiences are definitely deserving of that title, but I think Super Mario RPG is as well. While it may not have been a mind-blowing revolution for the RPG genre, there's no denying how hugely influential and important it was to Nintendo themselves. Without that game, there's little doubt the entire Mario landscape would look very different.

Categories: Consoles, Feature

Comments

pc
Thu May 14 20 08:14pm
Rating: 1

Great story, RMC. I personally wasn't intimidated when Super Mario RPG first came out, probably because I was only 9 and had no idea what an RPG even was. If the game had come out several years later, I would have been terrified! To this day, I've always been intimidated by RPGs that weren't Mario or Pokemon. Despite that, Mario RPG remains my favorite RPG and one of my top 5 games of all time.

Super Mario RPG was made at a time both Square Enix and Nintendo were really the best in the business. There's a mastery in the design of that game that just seems effortless. Also a good localization since the game is a product of it's time given it has some dated references (nowadays people would see those as memes).

I also can't place exactly the art direction, since it really mixes the Nintendo and Square Enix style at different points with the Mario characters and then the bizarre ones that don't fit the Mario aesthetic like Valentina, Punchinello or the Smithy Gang.

Also while future Mario games added mechanics and minigames to the progression I think the original was focused more on platforming at some points. We just don't see levels like the Booster Tower or the temples which had a lot of jumpin around in the latter games.

All in all, there have been other good Mario RPGs some even with a better story. It's just that the original seems more unique, perhaps because it never got a direct follow up of its particular flavor.

This game should come to the Switch Online. I'd easily play it in flying colors.

Huh. I’m a little confused by your use of the term “flying colors”. I’ve never seen it used that way.

I'd have more reason to use Online service than I have now is my point.

Thanks for the story! I can't remember what the first traditional RPG I played was, it would be something on the 3DS. Fantasy Life was probably the first ARPG, but I'm not sure what the first turn-based one was.

jd
Fri May 15 20 12:31am
(Updated 1 time)

Ahh Mario RPG... had the game for years, but didn't get around to playing it until the SNES Mini... was actually quite enjoyable. I think maybe because it was simple and too the point; no excessive stat building to worry about, no complicated upgrade systems, a story that was enjoyable yet doesn't force choices or challenges that potentially risk a less desirable outcome... basically, no pressure to be perfect. My experience with Final Fantasy 6 (also on the Mini) is proving to be fairly similar... quite unlike my experience with Final Fantasy 10, which left me feeling constantly pressured to be perfect, until I just lost interest...

Probably didn't hurt that Mario RPG has an easy EXP exploit that allowed you to skip all the monotonous grinding... the grinding in FF6 is kind of annoying, but at least there's a few spots that make it go faster...

I loved Mario RPG as a kid... so much, that when Paper Mario came along, I wasn't interested. I wasn't a fan of the flat look with the soulless dot eyes. I would have much preferred more games like Mario RPG.

I know I've probably missed some good games in the Mario RPG franchise, but the same is true for a great many other franchises, and I only have so much time.

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