9. Paper Mario: Sticker Star (3DS)
Kicking off the ranking of all of the Mario RPGs out there is Paper Mario: Sticker Star for the Nintendo 3DS. Just because it’s in last place doesn’t mean this was a bad game. In fact, it was pretty damn fun and perfect for some on-the-go RPG action.
Set in the Paper Mario universe, you were treated to the same papercraft world of the N64 original, only this time with the added magic of Stickers. These served as power ups and items and could be placed within the world to help you advance.
The problem with the game was that there was a lot of backtracking and it was pretty difficult. There was no real direction. So although the action was fun while you were in it, the act of getting to those fun bits was often frustrating.
8. Super Paper Mario (Wii)
This entry in the Paper Mario series took a more classic Mario approach. It played a lot more like a platformer than the previous entries in the series, but kept a lot of the RPG elements. Adding to the new style was the ability to change dimensions, going from a 2D perspective to a 3D one on the fly in order to navigate the 32 levels.
The gameplay was solid, if not too much of a departure from the RPG fare fans of the series were expecting. Sharp visuals in 2D mode helped keep the series’ signature look, although the switches to 3D were a bit lackluster. Still, the shift to a more nostalgic Mario game helped keep this one interesting.
7. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (3DS)
Dream Team is the fourth game in the Mario & Luigi RPG series, and the first one to be made specifically for the 3DS. It took the same gameplay of previous entries only this time it had more of a focus on Luigi within battle thanks to Dreamy Luigi and the Luiginoids. This allowed for huge attacks and some new mechanics such as steering a huge ball of Luigis towards enemies.
Dream Team is actually a lot of fun on the combat side. However, it suffers a problem akin to that of Final Fantasy XIII: the beginning is very slow. There are hours of tutorials, and when you tie that in with the fact that nothing is as fun as the Dream World, it starts to weigh heavily upon the game.
A lot of nifty ideas keep it from being in last place, but bad pacing and Dream Team not taking more advantage of the Dream World keep this near the bottom of the barrel.
6. Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time (DS)
You’ll pick up on the pattern that each Mario & Luigi game takes the base brotherly gameplay and throws in one major twist to separate it from the pack. For Partners in Time it was time travel and that allowed players to play as the plumber duo as well as their baby counterparts at the same time.
This makes for some really interesting puzzles as each of the four characters has their own skills and abilities. Moving all four through Mushroom Kingdom is fun and beautiful, and the quests are head-scratching, in a good way. The challenge was still there but it wasn’t as unnecessarily confusing as it was in games like Paper Mario: Sticker Star.
5. Paper Mario: The Thousand – Year Door (GCN)
The Thousand-Year Door was the first sequel in this particular series and it was released on the following generation of consoles on the Nintendo GameCube. What this meant was some even prettier visuals that took advantage of the same “paper”character designs with gorgeous 3D backgrounds.
The Thousand-Year Door brought a deeper, more humorous story along with those prettier visuals, but it didn’t change much else as it followed up the N64 predecessor. Gameplay was largely the same, and though the RPG elements were deepened it just didn’t feel like a proper sequel.
Even though it didn’t change too much, though, it stayed faithful to what made the first entry great and was still an amazing game. Sometimes more of the same is, in fact, a good thing.
4. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (GBA)
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga was the first RPG starring either of the plumbers on handheld. This GameBoy Advance game put players in control of both brothers simultaneously as they navigated the brand new Beanbean Kingdom in order to retrieve Princess Peach’s voice.
What results is not only a great Mario RPG, but a great RPG period. A battle system that keeps you involved, hilarious writing, and impressive sprites kept it lighthearted and fun, as well as perfect for the handheld console.
3. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story (DS)
Bowser’s Inside Story took everything that made Superstar Saga great and added one very important, and extremely welcome, element: Bowser. You may be thinking to yourself “but Bowser is in a ton of Mario games.” And that is true, but this game allowed you to control him in an RPG setting with his own side story and and special skills.
Even better is the fact that the game takes place both in the Mushroom Kingdom and within Bowser’s body. Both worlds are fun and beautifully illustrated and it adds to the strategy and gameplay as Bowser inhales enemies for Mario and Luigi to dispatch. Using Bowser feels like a true addition and not just a re-skin of the brothers and that adds to the greatness of the title.
Seriously, if you’ve never played a Mario RPG, this is a great place to jump in.
2. Paper Mario (N64)
This game was originally a direct sequel to Super Mario RPG, but ended up undergoing some serious changes. What resulted was a genius game that showed that Nintendo knew how to teach an old dog new tricks. Paper Mario flattened the mustachioed hero and created a story that has stood the test of time as well as a system that leveraged classic gameplay while introducing new ideas.
The involved battles that became a staple of the series, using enemies from previous games as allies, and the easy to fall in love with humor made Paper Mario an instant classic. The N64 introduced a new age of 3D worlds, but it was the idea to flatten a classic hero that ended up making one of the best titles on the console.
1. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)
If you’ve never played Super Mario RPG, then you’ve done yourself a huge disservice. Before Square merged with Enix and began mixing Final Fantasy with Mickey Mouse, they put Mario and company through their paces. What could have been one of video gaming’s most epic fails ended up as one of the most solid RPGs on the Super Nintendo and easily one of the top games ever made.
If you ever wondered why it’s so easy for Mario to hang out with Bowser at all of those sporting events, it all started with the fight to restore Star Road and take back Bowser’s Castle. An unlikely alliance leads to an adventure that takes Mario, Bowser, Peach, Belome, and Geno through worlds like the mushroom Kingdom, Yo’ster Isle, and Nimbus Land. On the way, you’ll fight tons of enemies in turn based RPG fashion, unlock more powerful gear and abilities, and help people as you try to restore the wish granting stars.
On top of all of this is one of the greatest secret boss battles in video games, Culex. This Final Fantasy styled Dark Knight is a challenge for even the most skilled gamers, and a wonderful opportunity for Mario and Final Fantasy to be intertwined in great gameplay.
Super Mario RPG set the tone for all other RPGs in the universe, and further cemented that Mario is a star that can do just about anything. Too bad Luigi wasn’t invited along for this particular adventure.