Super Mario RPG was a wonderful surprise in the dying days of the SNES. The N64 and Super Mario 64 were both due out in September 1996, mere months after the release of this collaboration between Square and Nintendo. For me personally, it was one of the three RPGs that finally made me a fan of the genre, paving the way for Final Fantasy VII to become one of those defining pieces of media from my childhood.
Super Mario RPG amazingly came to one of the two stores in my bleak Vancouver Island town that carried a select range of movies, 20 or so video games, and a lot of softcore stuff. I was lucky to be the first person to rent the only copy in town, rushing home to discover that I really did like RPGs. This charming, surreal Mario game combined the best of that character and his universe with RPG mechanics. Throw in some truly strange creative touches, and you create what I found to be a perfect game. It was the final bit of evidence that I wanted to play more JRPGs in particular.
In 1996, I was maybe two years away from having more JRPGs to play than I’d ever be able to actually buy. Super Mario RPG aspired to be an extremely simplified RPG experience with accessibility to non-genre fans being the ideal. There’s no question it succeeded with me. I continued to rent Super Mario RPG for almost a full week before the store told me I had to let someone else play it. It would be a little while before I got another chance with the game.
Super Mario RPG added interesting depth and variety to Mario’s world in a way no other game had done before. This was still a long time off from truly appreciating the versatility of this character and the types of games you could put him in. The visual potential of this universe was still expanding, with titles like Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island and Super Mario RPG beginning to show the already iconic plumber and his ability to power RPGs and platformers almost simultaneously.
What’s interesting about Super Mario RPG in particular when compared to other Mario games is how compulsory it is, much like the platforming games the character is better known for. The best Mario games get addictive in the best way possible, and there’s a similar energy to Super Mario RPG and its then-unique blend of RPG and platform gaming. The new characters also helped to give the game a feeling of new ideas mixed with our expectations of a Mario title. Geno and Mallow were welcome additions, and there’s always the fun of having Bowser in your party.
There has yet to be a true sequel to Super Mario RPG, though we’ve seen other Mario games with RPG elements. Some of them have been quite good, but none of them have been a legitimate follow-up to one of the best SNES games of all time, and that’s a small shame.
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