Happy birthday, Super Mario RPG!
The Super Nintendo classic (which had the subtitle Legend of the Seven Stars in the U.S.) came out in Japan on March 9, 1996, which makes it 20 years old today. Made with Square (now known as Square Enix), the developer behind the successful Final Fantasy role-playing series, Super Mario RPG brought Mario into the world of turn-based battles. Its success spawned two other Mario RPG series: Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi. The Mario franchise is the best-selling in gaming history, with sales exceeding 500 million, and the Mario RPGs have been a big part of that success.
Super Mario RPG succeeded because it was a perfect blend of Nintendo whimsy and Square mechanics. Keep in mind, before this game, other Mario titles were linear adventures with relatively little story. Super Mario RPG was one of the first games to flesh out the Mushroom Kingdom and set some important precedents for the series. For example, while Peach and Bowser became chatty, Mario remained silent. While the “silent protagonist” was a popular RPG trope at the time, Mario remains a relatively mute hero to this day. Super Mario RPG also established Bowser’s “lovable loser” personality, and it showed us that he’s willing to partner with Mario if it’ll help him defeat a bigger threat.
The actual game was kind of a “my first RPG” experience for a lot players. It wasn’t as difficult as, say, a Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. Still, it did do some innovated things. While most turn-based RPGs just have players picking attacks from a menu, Super Mario RPG allowed players to deal extra damage and even defend themselves from attacks if they were able to time certain button presses correctly. This made battles more exciting, since it gave players more to do than just navigate menus. This feature still remains in the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series.
It’s art stood out at the time for its use of pre-rendered characters, similar to what Rare did with Donkey Kong Country. Super Mario RPG also had fantastic music by composer Yoko Shimomura, best known today for her work on Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts series.
Sadly, despite the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series still going, we never did get an official sequel to Super Mario RPG. We haven’t seen Mallow and Geno, the two-party members that debuted in the game (and then quickly disappeared). Still, this 1996 gem holds up well today. It’s a fun RPG with a light-hearted, humorous story, great music, and memorable characters. It was another classic in the golden age of 16-bit role-playing games.