When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. I didn’t actually own it, but I did memorize the sticker number on the cartridge at my favorite video store, just to make sure I always rented the copy with my save file. (I actually bought that cartridge when the store inevitably closed years later, complete with that same sticker!) So to say playing through Super Mario RPG’s 2023 remake is a treat would be an understatement. That already excellent game has been recreated incredibly faithfully here, to the point where I can recognize not only its charming levels and witty characters, but even every goofy little animated mannerism Mario has during conversations.
With such a strict adherence to the original across the board, what has stood out to me more than anything are the ways Super Mario RPG has changed – and from what I’ve seen so far in its early hours, there’s no place this classic has been tweaked more than combat. The original’s combat was a simple but super entertaining turn-based system that rewarded you for well-timed button presses. The core of that hasn’t changed, but a host of quality-of-life tweaks and a couple entirely new systems have made each fight just a bit more engaging.
Starting simple, some subtlety has been added to the button timing of your attacks and blocks. Pressing the A button at the right time during most attacks will still give you a boost in damage, but hit that timing even more precisely on basic attacks and you’ll now deal splash damage to every enemy on screen. That adds some interesting new battle planning to the mix, where I could weaken one enemy with a direct hit before finishing them off with that free AOE – that tactic is complimented by a helpful indicator that tells you when an enemy is “almost down,” but it’s a risky decision if you end up mistiming the finishing blow.
On the blocking side, a perfect A-press will not only reduce damage, but negate an enemy attack entirely. Supporting this newly expanded system is a clever hint mechanic that will display an exclamation point the exact moment you need to press A. At first I thought this was a little heavy-handed, but the brilliance of it is that it only sticks around until you get the hang of using a particular attack or blocking a given enemy. Nail the timing a few times on a move or block the ability of a specific enemy enough and the training wheels come off as the symbol stops showing up… but if your timing starts to consistently slip it’ll come back to guide you once again.
I can’t wait to see all the new Triple Move options.
Timing your attacks and blocks has also been made more important, even against pushover enemies who could be cleared in a single AOE smash. That’s because Super Mario RPG keeps track of how many successfully timed presses you’ve completed in a row, even between fights. I loved seeing how high I could get that number, and you’re rewarded the better you do with small buffs and a slowly charging Gauge meter.
While that Gauge is initially spent on a random and frequently unexciting buff from Toad, it doesn’t take long for you to get a full party, at which point it transforms into a brand new and totally epic Triple Move. This super strong attack, complete with its own 3D cutscene, seems to be unique to whatever party you are using for that fight, and I can’t wait to see what the other ones look like.
You’ll want those harder hitting powers, too, as this remake shakes up your standard and quickly familiar encounters by occasionally throwing “Special Enemies” at you. These are just stronger and faster versions of the regular monsters, but they are beefed up enough that you can’t always breeze through fights on autopilot anymore. They don’t drastically shake things up, but they have done a good job of making me rethink my strategy when I come across one.
In fact, none of these changes feel like a total reinvention or anything, and I don’t think they should. Instead they simply freshen up and flesh out a fun combat system that was probably gathering a little dust by now – especially when similar games like the awesome Sea of Stars have recently introduced their own twists on timing-heavy, turn-based RPG combat. So far I’m glad to see that Super Mario RPG has been able to balance its faithful recreation of one of my favorite games with a willingness to improve it where it counts.
Tom Marks is IGN’s Deputy Reviews Editor. He loves card games, puzzles, platformers, puzzle-platformers, and lots more.