It is interesting to compare the recently-released remake of Star Ocean The Second Story R with the upcoming Super Mario RPG remake. Both games are undeniably classics, and highly influential – Without Super Mario RPG proving that Mario works as an RPG hero we would never have had Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi, and Star Ocean 2 broke some major ground with exploration in JRPGs.
In spite of this, the approaches to the two remakes of these titles have been wildly different, and it’s interesting to compare the implications they have for their respective titles. That’s not to be reductive about it and suggest that one is superior to the other. It’s just interesting to see the differences.
The remake of Star Ocean 2 was, largely, an effort to totally overhaul the visual experience. With Super Mario RPG, meanwhile, Nintendo has aimed to recreate the SNES experience that fans remember as exactly as possible. The game maintains the same basic approach to aesthetics – rendered in 3D rather than 2D, yes, but with exactly the same design and construction. Even the cut scenes are exactly the same, with no deviations. I actually started a new playthrough of the SNES game just to refresh myself, and it’s almost shocking just how much in parallel the game’s design really is.
The better resolution that the game is rendered in does mean that the animation has more detail and the personality of Mario and the various characters and their little mannerisms come across better. This is particularly important with Super Mario RPG, because, with limited storytelling, the fine details of animation are critical to carrying the charm and humour of the game.
What Nintendo has done is slightly tweak the gameplay. In combat, for example, you’re doing the same basic thing as in the original – pressing a button to select an attack, and then pressing it again at the right moment as the attack plays out to do bonus damage. Now, however, you’re given a visual cue on when you need you press the attack button for a second time. This does help you get into the timing and rhythm of that system in a way that I forever struggled with when playing the original.
Additionally, if you time things perfectly, you not only do additional damage to the target enemy, but a bit of bonus damage to all the other enemies on the screen. And you start to fill up a percentage wheel on the bottom left of the screen. Get that to 100% and you’ll get a bonus or, potentially, launch into a super attack with the other members of your party, with an animated cut scene that calls to mind the summons of Final Fantasy games of yesteryear.
These are all good additions that help the game meet modern expectations for how a game should play. And that’s just as well because combat happens at an obscene rate in Super Mario RPG. These days, games are larger in scope, so battles and the like tend to be spaced out a little more. In Super Mario RPG, environments are small and densely packed with enemies running around. This condensed quality contrasts starkly with Star Ocean 2. Yes, that game came a generation later, but the world in it is huge and, consequently comes across as much more contemporary with the remake.
Players will also be surprised by how limited the puzzles and non-combat challenges are in Super Mario RPG. As the first entry in the extended series, it has the genesis of some of those puzzles and world design elements that the series would later become famous for, but the lack of complexity there is telling.
In short, the way that Super Mario RPG has been modernised in this remake make its limitations more clear than the remake of Star Ocean 2, which actually did a very good job of coming across as a “modern” game. That’s not to criticise Super Mario RPG, and I’ve still got plenty to go with the game before I draw up my full review, but this is that SNES game that you know and love, with only the lightest coat of paint to “modernise” it.
And no doubt there will be plenty of players who like it that way. After all, Super Mario RPG is an all-time classic. Why mess with that?