Super Mario RPG
Release Date: May 13, 1996
Platform Played On: SNES
2018 Placement: #10 (-2)
What It Is:
Square Enix and Nintendo teamed up to bring Mario into his first RPG. While Mario had previously been featured in sports games, racing games, and also got his Ph.D. as a doctor, this was the first real foray into narrative-based non-platforming that the silent plumber enjoyed. Alongside a cast of (mostly) unknowns, it was a new look at the Mushroom Kingdom that captured the imagination of many, many Mario fans and turned them to a new genre for the first time.
The game itself is fairly standard as JRPGs go, although it did introduce and pioneer the “timed hits” mechanic that is featured in a lot of RPGs now: do more damage by hitting the button again right as you attack the enemy. It made you a more active participant in the turn-based battle system, and also allowed for fun combos with Mario like jumping on a target’s head multiple times if you timed it correctly. It doesn’t get too complex with the mechanics, instead running with a beginner RPG vibe that is entirely appropriate for Nintendo’s main character.
Why It’s Important To Me:
Like many others, this was a formative RPG for me. I can’t remember if it was my first (it was either this or Earthbound) but if it wasn’t the first, it was one of the first. I mean, what Nintendo kid wouldn’t be excited to explore the Mushroom Kingdom in a more narrative-based story instead of platforming? This game definitely solidified the JRPG as one of my favorite genres of all-time and pushed me to get into the “more mature” JRPGs like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger.
The music was fantastic, of course: Smithy’s First Battle still pops into my head randomly with no warning 25 years later. The big boss battle music is a bop, too. And both Booster’s Tower songs (one and two) are fantastic, and one of them actually led to one of my favorite video game remixes of all-time (and may have actually jump-started my love for techno/trance music back in the day).
Some of the villains are my favorite Mario villains as well: Mack the Knife (a pun I wouldn’t get until years later), Bowyer (instead of Bowser, haha!), Jonathan Jones, the Axem Rangers, and the aforementioned Booster: all of these are great characters that I consider Mario staples in my head, even though they only appeared in this game.
My Strongest Memory:
The first time I made it all the way around the world, finally got back to Bowser’s Castle and was able to take on the big-ass sword that had fallen into the castle and ruined the world, only to discover it wasn’t Smithy and was instead some punk named Exor?! I was flabbergasted! Now, I don’t know if I just had poor reading comprehension at that age or what, but I was gearing myself up for a final battle with Smithy the Sword, only to discover there was an entire last dungeon before I got to see the real Smithy and take him on. It was such a shock I still remember it to this day.
The other strongest memory was taking on the secret boss, Culex. I knew of Final Fantasy at that point, but fighting Culex made me realize that hey, maybe I should get into this Final Fantasy JRPG stuff. This art style is so cool and the music rocks. And the rest was history.
Why It’s #12:
Despite all the later RPGs – the Mario & Luigi series, Paper Mario, so on and so forth, Super Mario RPG still stands out as a completely unique experience that was never revisited. It’s the best narrative game that includes our favorite plumber and the fact that it never got a true sequel and its system was never iterated on again (despite the Mario & Luigi series getting close) is one of my biggest disappointments. It remains a perfect testament to what can happen if known quantities are allowed to take a risk and branch out into new genres.