Mario Role-Playing Games, also simply called Mario RPG's, are role-playing games featuring the Nintendo mascot Mario as a main character. Since their debut in 1996, there have been a total of nine released, from a number of developers.
The original Mario RPG, named Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, was unveiled in 1995 at a Japanese event. The game was a collaboration between Square and Nintendo, and would be an indicator of the close relationship the two companies shared for the next decade or so. As one of the last major Nintendo games released for the SNES, Super Mario RPG featured impressive isometric 3D graphics. The game also used several concepts unusual for Role-Playing games, such as "timed Hits" to maximize damage and greater freedom of movement than in Square's own Final Fantasy series.
Super Mario RPG was a hit upon its release in 1996. Despite being released mere months before the Nintendo 64, it was the fourth best selling game of the year in Japan, losing only to Mario's N64 outings and the original Pokemon games. The game also sold well abroad, especially for a role-playing game, though not as well as within Japan.
As Square and Nintendo's strong relationship continued into the N64-era, the two companies considered making a second Super Mario RPG game for the new platform. As early as 1997, the project was revealed to be in development. However, Square at the time decided to invest in their own series instead, such as the increasingly popular Final Fantasy, Chrono, and Mana. Therefore, the project was given to Nintendo's first party developer Intelligent Systems, which had proven its ability to make quality role-playing games in the past with the Fire Embelm series.
The final result, Paper Mario, would be the first in a series of Paper Mario RPG's. Released in 2000 and 2001, making it one of the latter notable RPG's for the system, Paper Mario was notable due to its art style, which resembled paper and cardboard cut-out models. Despite this, it was in many ways similar to Super Mario RPG, featuring timed button presses to maximize damage, a sense of humor, and a greater emphasis on action than most RPG's.
Paper Mario sold roughly the same amount as its predecessor, albeit less in Japan and more in the West. Furthermore, it solidified Intelligent Systems' position as one of Nintendo's key studios. From here on forth, Intelligent Systems would be tasked with continuing the Paper Mario series
Meanwhile, however, another parallel series of Mario RPG's was in the works, from developer AlphaDream. Founded in early 2000 by former Square staff, including some of the staff behind the original Super Mario RPG, AlphaDream developed a couple of Japanese exclusives in cooperation with Nintendo before creating Mario & Luigi for the Game Boy Advance. M&L, as it is often abbreviated, would be the first Mario & Luigi game, a subseries of games similar to the Paper Mario games and yet distinct. Mario & Luigi games focused on the two titular characters and their cooperating in and out of battle. Superstar Saga further expanded the idea of timed button presses by making it the chief method of both inflicting and avoiding damage.
Within less than a year of the release of Mario & Luigi, the second Paper Mario game, named The Thousand Year Door, was released for the GameCube. The game was largely a straight sequel to the original Paper Mario, building upon mechanics created in the first game. Nevertheless, the game was the most successful Mario Role-Playing game yet, making the Top Ten list for the best selling games in Japan of 2004 and ending up with over 3 million sales worldwide.
The sequel to Mario and Luigi, simply called Mario & Luigi 2, was one of the last major titles for the Game Boy Advance. Released in 2005, it featured a time travelling plot and darker themes than most Mario games. It sold relatively poorly for the series, only garnering about a million or so sales worldwide. Nevertheless, this was enough to ensure the future of the series.