When Squaresoft and Nintendo teamed up to make a crossover RPG in 1996 starring everyone’s favorite Italian plumber, it was a dream come true for fans of role playing games. Nintendo was in their height of 32-bit success with releases on Super Nintendo like Super Mario World and the very first Mario Kart. Squaresoft had arguably their best stretch of games including Finaly Fantasy IV, V, and VI, as well as SNES classic Chrono Trigger. The idea of getting a Final Fantasy-like game with Mario was a dream I didn’t know I needed come true.
Releasing late in the SNES lifecycle, and with the Nintendo 64 literally months from launch, AND with RPGs being less popular then as they are now, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was critically and commercially successful. However, that didn’t stop the original SNES cartridge from being incredibly expensive in the used game market. It was routinely ~$50 or more loose, and easily over $100 or even $200 for complete in box copies. Nintendo gave the game some re-releases way later, with the Wii’s Virtual Console port coming in 2008, followed by an inclusion on the Super NES Classic console in 2017. Licensing issues seemed to be at the center of the re-release issue, but as time went on Nintendo and Square Enix seemed to have made some agreement, and this true classic RPG was at least available in some form for all gamers to enjoy.
All of this hype and buildup around a 25+ year old game getting a simple port was eventually met with an even more exciting announcement, when a full-on remake was announced and eventually released in 2023. Enhanced visuals, improved sound, better writing, improved gameplay, added cutscenes, and more made Super Mario RPG on the Nintendo Switch a wonderful new way to experience this all-time classic RPG. The new game didn’t take any wild new approaches. It didn’t re-write any scenes. It didn’t try to do more than it needed to do. Instead, it was made as a love letter to fans of the original, and as a new, approachable way to for series first times to enjoy this game.
More games need to do this.
So often we get games that re-release and something entirely different. Or a game will keep its title but be something completely “Other” to the original. Recently games like Flashback and Flashback 2 have done just this: a remake comes out, delivers on nothing the original game did to come to fame, and then a sequel no one asked for releases years later still trying to capture the magic of the original. Video games are often a relic of their time (have you seen the original Flashback? It’s very telling of this thought). When looking to bring the game back, what is it that truly makes it stand out, and will today’s audience be willing to play it? Something like Fallout might be a good example here: the original games were isometric RPGs, and the rebooted sequel took the Elder Scrolls formula and added guns to great success. It was smart, and still adapted the source material into a believable extension of the world. In other words, it was made with passion to the originals, and not just to make a game.
Super Mario RPG does just this: it understands what it was and recaptures that for today’s audience. Implementing things missing from the original that moderns gamers might need to see is a good move. I would attribute the game’s combo mechanic and team-based attacks to this: sure it makes an already easy game even easier, but it takes a core principal of the original game (this is an easier “Intro” RPG) and adapts it to today’s gaming landscape. Same goes for the visual styling: the SNES produced some truly unique, memorable sprites with Super Mario RPG, so doing something chibi and cute and colorful on the Switch carries this legacy on further. We should all be so lucky to see other games do just this with their remakes.
When wishing for future projects, I hope developers look at Super Mario RPG and take pointers. How can the new game recapture the essence of the original? In what ways can modern gaming conventions be implemented to enhance the original’s experience? What can be added, if anything, to entice returning players to enjoy the game once more? If Capcom were to make a new Mega Man X game, should it be 2D or 3D? If we get a full-on remake of Chrono Trigger, does Square Enix make any changes to gameplay? How much do they change when they remake Quest 64? It’s not a one-size-fits-all answer, but it can be addressed universally by making change or updates that compliment your original game. Using just a name and attempting to survive off nostalgia and pedigree alone is a surefire way to diaster.
What other games do you want to see receive the Super Mario RPG remake treatment? Which series needs to make a comeback in as strong a way as this?