Almost all of the Mario RPG-style games have been met with both critical and commercial acclaim. This is why when the news that Alpha Dream (the developers behind the Mario & Luigi franchise) are going bankrupt hit, it was devastating to a lot of people. This, mixed with the fact that the Paper Mario games haven’t been RPGs in years, is leaving fans wanting.
With the future unknown, there are many possible outcomes and solutions but I believe there is a simple answer that would excite fans of both the Mario & Luigi series, and Paper Mario. Nintendo should give out the IP to Square Enix and have them develop a Mario RPG.
As a small side-note, I’m not ruling out or saying that I do not want Nintendo to either buy or bail out Alpha Dream, nor am I ruling out that Intelligent Systems could go back to making Paper Mario RPG games again, this is just hypothetical.
Before they became Square Enix, they were two separate companies, Square and Enix. Square developed the very first RPG in the Mario franchise, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. It is a turn-based game that had a much heavier emphasis on plot than previous Mario games.
You could have classic Mario characters in your party like Bowser and Peach, but there were also new characters/races introduced in the game. The writing also had an emphasis on comedy, which would become a staple of later Mario RPG titles.
Even though Square is now Square Enix, no one can deny that they know how to make RPGs and they have already technically made a Mario RPG as stated. They have showed that they can be faithful, yet creative with the series and make a game that fans and critics love. Super Mario RPG is a fantastic game and holds up even to today’s standards, even though Square Enix has gone on to make a plethora of other RPGs.
With franchises like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Dragon Quest, and Kingdom Hearts, Square Enix has more than enough experience to make a good Mario RPG. Both Paper Mario and the Mario & Luigi games are turn-based RPGs, which are pretty much Square Enix’s bread and butter.
Honestly though, Square Enix shouldn’t just make another Mario & Luigi game (plus they can’t make a Paper Mario game), what they should do is just make something original.
What makes both of these games so special when compared to other Mario games is their heavy use of humor, as well as having a much more in-depth story, which Square Enix has done multiple times over. They have crafted some of the best stories in JRPG and video game history. A big part of any RPG, though, is the combat, since you spend a lot of time fighting.
Square Enix could marry together what made both these series’ combat systems special. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door has some of the most unique battle mechanics in an RPG for multiple reasons. The battles are performed on stages with an audience in the foreground that gives your party “starpower” that lets Mario use special, strong moves.
There are also stage hazards that can damage your party or the enemy; the audience can throw helpful or harmful items at you and when you level up to certain levels, your audience and stage grow bigger and better.
Mario & Luigi (mostly) only had you playing and battling as, well, Mario and Luigi. Battles had simple moves like jumping on or hammering enemies, but there were special moves as well. Some games had iconic Mario items like green shells, fire flowers and POW blocks that could be used in special ways against enemies.
Other games in the series have Mario and Luigi acquiring special moves as they journey forth, that they use together in battle and require them to enter specific button commands in a timely manner. They both had very fun and engaging combat systems and Square Enix could combine what made both of them so special.
This supposed new Mario RPG game could mix the party systems from both games, so having both Mario and Luigi, but also more unique companions like Paper Mario has. Mario & Luigi has equipment like most RPGs have (things like overalls that raised certain stats) which should absolutely stay but also be built upon, like having different caps, shoes and gloves that change your stats but not outward appearance.
The badge system from Paper Mario should also be used, but with a twist. So as to not just copy everything straight from both series, the badge series should be tweaked so that it more resembles Final Fantasy VI and VII’s materia mechanic.
The party could equip badges and after keeping them on you for a certain amount of time, you master that badge and its subsequent move. Better badges would take longer to master, just like how in Paper Mario, stronger badges require more badge points to equip.
Equipment could be tied to your level, whereas badges are free reign and can be learned at any time, but when accumulate better and more badges as you progress through the story.
One thing that a lot of RPGs are incorporating these days is the use of New Game +. The Mario RPG titles have been starved of this feature and this could add much more longevity to this hypothetical game from Square Enix. Enemy level scaling could also make all enemy encounters interesting and incentivise players to always fight and not be overpowered.
Puzzle-solving has also been a staple of both series, usually both involving abilities that can be used in and out of combat in order to solve said puzzles. It makes traversing the world much more interesting and gives the player a small feeling of satisfaction when they solve each puzzle. They were never anything that hard, so casual and younger players could still play the game with ease.
This ease of entry made Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi great starting RPGs, especially for younger fans, which Square Enix should absolutely adhere to.
The future of Mario RPGs is uncertain, but Square Enix certainly is one of the most well-equipped and experienced developers when it comes to making RPGs. They have already somewhat had experience with the Mario IP and they did a fantastic job with it. It would be a smart move on Nintendo’s part to lend out the IP to this developer that is in another class of its own when it comes to RPGs.