Replaying the game that kinda started it all.
When I first heard that the original Paper Mario game was coming to Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack, I started waxing nostalgic. This was one of the very first N64 games I bought when I was in elementary school and I have played it at least four times since then. But being able to jump into this classic again on Switch is most definitely worth a fifth playthrough.
If you haven’t gone through this adventure yet, you definitely should now that it’s in the Expansion Pack. For one, it works well on the Switch, mainly due to its simple controls, which mostly only use the joystick and A button. Additionally, it’s not nearly as intensive as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, so lag isn’t an issue. I and many others also consider it to not only be one of the very best Paper Mario games in the series, but also one of the best RPGs of all time.
As much as I love Paper Mario, I always feel a little sad playing it since I know it means I’ll never get a true sequel to Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, the SNES game that inspired it. It was developed by Square in collaboration with Nintendo and released back in 1996, and we haven’t seen a true follow-up since. So, what happened?
Paper Mario’s creation Square, Nintendo, and Mario, Oh my!
Back in the 90s, Square was a popular JRPG developer in Japan, but it was having a difficult time breaking into the U.S. market. Attempt after attempt to win over Western audiences didn’t yield much, even as its games saw enormous success in Japan, so the company turned to a partnership with Nintendo. You see, Nintendo was the gaming company in the U.S. Business was booming with the successful SNES, which only saw some competition from the Sega Genesis. As such, Mario was a household name, and a very recognizable character even among non-gamers.
Shigeru Miyamoto, Mario’s creator, was approached by Square with the idea to create a Mario RPG. Super Mario RPG director Chihiro Fujioka explained in a 1995 interview some of the challenges Nintendo and Square went through to make this dream come to life. Miyamoto helped rein in some of the Square team’s whackier ideas, like insisting Mario have a hammer rather than a sword and magic. Together the companies worked to create a world that made sense within the established and iconic Mushroom Kingdom. Impressed by the 3D look of the recently released Donkey Kong Country, the team at Square also decided to create an isometric perspective that made Mario and the cast stand out from other 2D Mario games at the time.
Super Mario RPG released in North America on May 13, 1996. For some context, that was just four months before the Nintendo 64 launched in the region. (Sadly, players in Europe didn’t get to experience Super Mario RPG until 2008 when it finally came to virtual console.) To the surprise of Nintendo leadership, who hadn’t expected it to perform well at all, it far exceeded expectations, selling over two million units and ushering in rave reviews. Today it’s often listed as one of the very best JRPGs of all time.
The long-standing nostalgia isn’t surprising given the hilarious dialogue, quirky cast, and fun battle system. Players got to see the Mushroom Kingdom heroes interact in ways they’d never saw before. Brand new locations and characters were introduced and there were even several cameos and hidden things for players to find, like a sleeping Link at an inn or a secret Final Fantasy boss. With the game’s success, it seemed inevitable that the two companies would work on a sequel, but it wasn’t to be.
Square and Nintendo had a falling out Enter the spiritual successor
So where does Paper Mario fit into all of this? The stylized 2D franchise is the spiritual successor to Super Mario RPG. Square wasn’t involved, however, because it had a falling out with Nintendo. You see, Square wanted to move into the future with modern technology, meaning games on CD. However, Nintendo opted to stay with cartridges, which tangentially was one of the reasons why the N64 was a commercial failure.
Square then developed its games for the PlayStation rather than the N64, which gave the company more freedom to create the experiences it envisioned. As history has shown, this was the right move for Square as it lead to massive success with the Final Fantasy franchise. The company was finally able to fully emerge into the U.S. market without needing to lean on Nintendo any further.
Nintendo wasn’t going to let the success of Super Mario RPG go, though. It teamed up with Intelligent Systems to create a sequel. While Paper Mario ended up being the name of this spiritual successor, it was originally shown off as Super Mario RPG 2 in early builds. The name change probably had something to do with legal complications and the fact that Square holds a lot of rights to the SNES game.
Ironically, while Super Mario RPG’s 3D appearance stood out in a sea of 2D graphics, Paper Mario stood out for having 2D stylization in a flood of new 3D visuals. This art direction also made Paper Mario look very different from Super Mario RPG while still being able to have very similar battle mechanics and the same light-hearted humor.
Paper Mario sold 1.3 million copies. Though it wasn’t quite as profitable as Super Mario RPG, these high sales made it one of the best-selling N64 games.
Paper Mario’s legacy
Paper Mario has continued to live on and currently has six games in the series, likely with more coming. The first two Paper Mario games are phenominal, including battle mechanics similar to Super Mario RPG, along with a unique cast of characters.
However, later Paper Mario games have moved away from the original battle system and have dabbled with experimental mechanics that haven’t always landed well with fans. Additionally, while your companions might have been a Goomba with a hat or a Yoshi with a mohawk in the first two games, the newer games strip sidekicks of their unique style and make them look like the rest of the background characters, which is something many fans have been upset about.
It seems pretty telling that as the series gets further and further away from the SNES game that inspired it, it doesn’t perform as well. Paper Mario: The Origami King, which released for Nintendo Switch, was a very fun adventure, partially due to companions finally returning after being gone for two games. While they don’t really have unique appearances, the characters have a surprising amount of depth to them. However, the game would have been far better had it used a similar fighting system as the first Paper Mario/Super Mario RPG and not the strange Ring Battle System is uses.
Will we ever get a true Super Mario RPG 2?
It’s hard to say. It’s not impossible, but highly unlikely. Square Enix and Nintendo’s relationship has gotten better over the last few years, evidenced by how many Final Fantasy characters have made their way into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Hell, even the Super Mario RPG character, Geno, appears as a sprite. If anything, the two companies are now at a place where some collaboration is more possible than it had been in the past. However, like just about every show that got canceled too early, a reboot isn’t likely as all creative members associated with the project have moved on to other things.
Paper Mario’s legacy is Super Mario RPG’s legacy
I’d probably foam at the mouth if I heard that a true Super Mario RPG sequel was in the works in a combined effort from both Square Enix and Nintendo. However, this isn’t all that likely.
Fortunately, the first two Paper Mario games have an especially close relationship with that SNES classic and are probably the best we’ll get. So you should definitely play them if you get the chance. It just got that much easier now that Paper Mario is available on the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack.
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Emulators for Sega Genesis and N64
Play your favorite N64 and Sega Genesis games when you purchase a Nintendo Switch Online subscription with an Expansion Pack. This also gives you access to the Animal Crossing Paid DLC, with more games promised for the future.