Replaying Super Mario RPG: Why Am I Not Having Fun?

Posted: May 14, 2014 in Miscellaneous
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Wikipedia

I’ve had a lot of time on my hands lately. Being that I’m between jobs and without a car, I have plenty of time to kill when I’m not filling out job applications. While watching a speedrun of Super Mario RPG on YouTube one day, I thought to myself “Why don’t I just play it instead of just watching someone?” Not owning a physical copy anymore (thanks to childhood thievery), I fired up the ol’ emulator and set to work recovering the Seven Stars once again.

My history with Super Mario RPG goes way back to 1996, the year the game was released. I was only 9 years old. I was visiting my mom in California that summer. I read in an issue of Nintendo Power about this new Mario game I had never heard of, Super Mario RPG. I was blown away. I had no idea this game existed and it looked WAY different from any Mario game I was familiar with. I also didn’t know what”RPG” stood for. When my mom asked me what “RPG” was, I responded “I don’t know, but it’s Mario, so it has to be good!”

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We went on a veritable tour of Los Angeles while I was there, getting to see the sights and theme parks, and other points of interest. Unbeknownst to me, a trip to Chinatown would introduce me to this wondrous new Mario adventure. Taking in the scenery while in the famed area of town, my mom approaches me holding a bag. “Hope I got the right one!” she says. I open the bag and there it is, Super Mario RPG. The game I only found out about mere days before in my hands. Unfortunately, I had not brought my Super Nintendo to California with me, so it would be nearly 2 weeks before I would set off what would be nearly 18 years of endless replaying and wondering why a proper sequel was never made.

Fast forward to about a week ago. I find myself mindlessly grinding through the game, nary a smile gracing my face. Since I rarely engage in marathon gaming sessions, it takes me a few days to make it to Nimbus Land, home town of one-off sidekick, Mallow. This area is roughly ¾ of the way through the game. This is where I stopped. I couldn’t continue. I wasn’t having fun anymore.

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I was initially confused when I came to the realization that I wasn’t having fun. But I thought back to when I first started this current playthrough and realized I wasn’t having fun from the get go. What could possibly be the reasoning behind this? Had I become jaded by the complexities of modern gaming? I don’t think so. I enjoy retro gaming just the same, if not more than modern day gaming. I had thought about this over the past few days as I prepared to write this. I settled on a couple reasons why I was no longer having fun with Super Mario RPG.

Super Mario RPG is no longer challenging for me. This may come with the territory of playing a game on a semi-consistent basis for the better part of 18 years, but I don’t think is the sole reason. I play Super Mario Bros. on the NES way more consistently and have done so for much longer than 18 years. Yet I still feel Super Mario Bros is a much more challenging game, especially if I play through the entire game, not using warps. This is not meant to be a knock on Super Mario RPG. The game was not designed to be a hardcore RPG like Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger. The game was meant to be a sort of introduction to RPG for players like 9-year-old me who had likely never played, or in my case, heard of an RPG before. I made it to Nimbus Land dying exactly once. I don’t mean entire party. I mean one party member and it was because of an instant KO move I failed to block. I did intentionally game over once, but it was to exploit a known invincibility star trick. This brings me to my next point: I’ve seen all the game has to offer.

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Over the course of the years I’ve picked up on many tricks. Whether it was through reading the Official Nintendo Strategy Guide and memorizing enemy weaknesses and total hit points or finding about exploitable tricks like the aforementioned invincibility star trick through the Internet, I have run out of things to explore in this game. I haven’t “100 percented” the game, though. I haven’t collected every single item or found every hidden block on a single playthrough, but it’s not something the game keeps track of anyway, so viewing progress on that would be difficult. It’s also something I don’t have interest in doing. So with that said, there are outside challenges that some may create to add a layer of challenge to the game that aren’t presented in the forefront.

I have absolutely no interest in speedrunning this game. Like I mentioned before, I’m not a marathon gamer. Unless a game truly sucks me in, I usually take a break after an hour or so. The top speedruns on this game clock in at ~3 hours. I really don’t have much of an interest in speedrunning games in general. I enjoy watching them. But outside of seeing how fast I can beat Super Mario Bros., which is only a 10-minutes or less commitment, I don’t like speedrunning games.

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There are only so many ways you can play Super Mario RPG. Using a different combination of party members, making different choices when choosing level-up bonuses, and utilizing different equipment, were just some of the ways I tried to jazz up my latest playthrough. But ultimately, it fell short for me. There’s just not a lot of variation you can create when playing through again. Maybe I’m not imaginative enough, I don’t know. I think this may be the biggest problem I have for why I wasn’t having fun. Aside from nostalgia purposes, Super Mario RPG does not have a lot of replay value, for me at least. It hurts me to say that as a gamer that loves the feeling of nostalgia while playing Super Mario Bros. 3 every now and then. Super Mario RPG doesn’t give you a real good reason to jump back into the game for another adventure. There is no New Game+ mode like Chrono Trigger (also developed by Square), and there is nothing that unlocks after beating the game. For the average player, replaying the game entails nothing more than doing it again.

In a weird way I feel kind of guilty for feeling the way I feel now about Super Mario RPG. I don’t think it’s a bad game. In fact, I feel just the opposite. Super Mario RPG is an absolutely fantastic game! I implore anyone that has not played it to give it a look. It’s not as deep in story and features as some other Super Nintendo RPGs, but it’s a unique game and experience in the Super Mario universe, one that hasn’t been replicated by “spiritual successors” like the Mario & Luigi games or the Paper Mario games. For me, the shiny veneer of nostalgia has washed off. It’s not a good feeling. I hope I don’t continue replaying old games only to realize it’s not as good as it once was. I still have very positive memories of Super Mario RPG to hold on to, whether it was through gameplay, or even when I first got the game at 9-years old. In a trip to California that included visits to Disneyland, Universal Studios, a giant water park, and a dip in the Pacific Ocean, I hold receiving Super Mario RPG that day in Chinatown in just as high regard as those other events.

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I think it takes a lot for someone to admit when they no longer get the “warm-n-fuzzies” from engaging in a favorite childhood activity. Especially for me when it comes to Mario. This doesn’t mean I like retro gaming any less. I feel that possibly, as I get older and my tastes continue to change, that I’m starting to weed out what I actually still like and what I only think I feel nostalgic about because I continue to look at it through rose-colored glasses. I challenge anyone that reads this: if there is a game you enjoyed in your more youthful days, and you haven’t played it for a while, go ahead and fire it up and see if you still feel the same about it afterwards. This experience has made me realize I can’t be afraid to lose nostalgic feelings about a certain game. The Super Mario franchise is my hands-down #1 favorite, and realizing Super Mario RPG wasn’t fun for me anymore hurt, but I learned a lot about myself through this, and writing this and sharing it with the world is kind of cathartic in a way. Just before I finished typing this up, I redeemed some coins on Club Nintendo for a free download of NES Kirby’s Adventure on the 3DS. I’m going to be very interested to see from here on out if other retro games hold up with the memories I have of them.

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(All screenshots used are from GameFAQs.com)

Comments
  1. I’ve had that experience too, but with Bomberman 64. I felt just the same thing actually and didn’t play through the whole thing.

    It’s just part of gaming life! Sad but true.

  2. Omega King says:

    I feel the same way about this game.

    I agree wholeheartedly, it’s a great game. Good story, fun mechanics, a good play through, but otherwise after playing it 2-3 times, there isn’t much of a reason to go back to it. I like how you pointed out a lack of customization, either through level ups or character choices and agree. One can only do so much to “spruce it up”.

    I even argued with my friends the other day that this game doesn’t have the same “feeling” (nostalgia) it once had and my friends thought I had grown a third arm for how they looked at me. Different opinions though

    Good review overall. I enjoyed the read and look forward to more of them.

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