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How Square struggled to fit Mario into an RPG for  Super Mario RPG

How Square struggled to fit Mario into an RPG for Super Mario RPG

April 5, 2018 | By Alex Wawro

April 5, 2018 | By Alex Wawro
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More: Console/PC, Design



"I think we’ve managed to combine the action gameplay of Mario and the turn-based RPG system in a way no one has seen before. Another big point was to make 'an RPG where no blood is shed.'"

- Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto, in a 1995 chat with Japanese game magazine "Game-on!" that has recently been translated into English.

Ubisoft earned a wave of attention last year when it announced it was partnering with Nintendo to make a turn-based tactical strategy game featuring the cast and locales of the Mario games.

The fact that Ubisoft convinced Nintendo to give Mario a gun was surprising, but it wasn't the first time Nintendo partnered with an external company to put Mario in a new kind of game. Notably, in the '90s Nintendo partnered with Square to make Super Mario RPG for the SNES, and now you can read a bit more about how that came about thanks to a few newly-translated interviews with the dev team published by Shmuplations. 

"During a business meeting with Nintendo, the topic came up of us working on something together. Nintendo has Mario, and Square has RPGs… well, why not simply stick the two together?" Super Mario RPG director Chihiro Fujioka said in a 1995 interview with FamiCom Magazine. "The main concern for all involved was that we didn’t want to make a 'normal' RPG that simply substituted in Mario characters, like some cheap Final Fantasy sprite-swap."

When the game was released in 1996, it was a strange beast: players would move through the world with a party of characters, just like a traditional Final Fantasy game -- but it was an isometric portrayal of characters and landscapes from Mario games. Like a traditional JRPG, players would select options like "Attack" from a menu during turn-based combat -- but most of the Mario characters didn't carry weapons, and their action would be affected by whether or not the player successfully performed timed button presses during the attack.

"Before we even started making Mario RPG specifically, we had this pre-conception at Square that RPGs == weapons. As our conversations progressed with Miyamoto, however, it became clear that this would be weird for a Mario game, that it didn’t seem to fit," said Fujioka. "When we realized that, it was a huge change in the direction of the development. We had always imagined the enemies would have weapons though. One thing we did leave in was the hammer, which Miyamoto insisted on having. Personally, I think getting hit with a hammer is more painful than being cut by a sword."

Fast-forward to now, and while the characters in Ubisoft's Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle all carry an array of weapons, Mario still has his iconic hammer. 

The rest of the interviews are well worth reading in full over on Shmuplations, as they also include a bit more color commentary about the making of Super Mario RPG as well as some assets (see below) from development.



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