So, it’s been almost a year since I wrote one. I thought I should like, start again. I probably won’t ever go back to the crazy frequency at which I used to do them, but I figured, “Why stop doing something that I like to do, just cos I won’t make a career of it?”
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a pretty good sequel to a very good game. For better or worse, it follows the formula of its predecessor to the letter. If you came into it hoping for more of the same, look no further. If you were hoping for something new, you may be a bit disappointed, unless you haven’t played the first one. I was in the latter camp.
Does the extreme lack of innovation actually cause me to dislike the game? No, I suppose it doesn’t. It would be pretty hypocritical of me to try and make that argument, or state that I didn’t have fun playing it, given how much I loved the original Paper Mario on the Nintendo 64. It’s more-or-less an encore of the original game with new scenery.
Combat is done the same way - each attack or ability has a little timing or concentration-based mini-game to go along with it, allowing players to augment the damage or effects. The story progression is the same, too; save the Princess while acquiring seven macguffins, while sprinkling in funny dialogue here and there. Finally, the aesthetic of the original game, which featured paper-thin 3D models and cartoonish music that quotes melodic motives from classic Mario games, is conspicuously present. All the old elements that made the original into a classic are still there.
But, what’s the point of a sequel where no new ground is covered, anyways? What’s the deal with the whole theatre system in combat, where set props randomly fall on Mario and/or his foes to do random damage? Does it merit an entire sequel to put in a game mechanic where audience members can watch the fight and throw random crap at us? I do admit, giving Mario’s partners HP values and adding a timed-counterattack that requires more precise timing than the defensive maneuver were a fun and welcome change, but they’re not enough to carry an otherwise carbon copy of an older game’s combat through 25-30 more hours.
The story seems a bit disjunct, too, what with Mario taking off to the town of Rogueport to collect Crystal Stars - our macguffin du jour - because he got a letter about it from Princess Peach. Even though Peach is missing upon his arrival, he goes off to look for them anyways, because some bad guys called the X-Nauts are looking for them. And, because Peach told him so in a letter, I guess. But, shouldn’t he be more worried about finding Peach, instead of worrying about the X-Nauts, who are bad just because they said so? For that matter, did the X-Nauts have to be the most inept group of villains of all time?
The game saw fit to tack Bowser into the narrative, too. We occasionally play the game from his perspective, as he trails behind in Mario’s wake, looking for the Crystal Stars (because they open a door that contains treasure, of course). These comic relief segments were sometimes funny, sometimes not-so-funny, but always pointless. Even Bowser seems to be aware of it at the end of the game, when he shows up as the penultimate boss for no good reason. He says something along the lines of, “What’s a finale without me in it?”
The game is a decent amount longer then the original - nearly ten hours longer - and a lot of those extra hours feel like padding. I lost count of how many times in the first few chapters of the game I was asked to go all the way from the beginning of a zone (that is, the path leading up to the dungeon AND through the dungeon) to the end and back, multiple times. I appreciate the goal of making each quest to find a new Crystal Star into its own, unique, self-contained adventure; however, running back and forth all day kills any sense of progression.
Maybe I am being too harsh on Paper Mario: TTYD. The combat doesn’t necessarily need to be better if the original was already good. I may not like that, but is it inherently bad? The narrative in a Mario game doesn’t need to be wonderful, either - especially in a light-hearted, humourous game that doesn’t take itself all that seriously to begin with.
However, this sequel isn’t better. Other than having Rogueport - one of the only towns in an RPG where I got a tangible sense of it being a living, breathing, culture-infused location that keeps turning even when I’m not there to see it - We have a mundane sequel. It’s not more exciting. It’s not more challenging. It’s not funnier. It’s just…longer, with no significant improvements.
If anything, what I got out of this sequel is how much more interesting it would be if Luigi were the main character. Mario is a strong, silent type, virtuous to a fault, attractive to every woman who sees him, and infinitely kind. Luigi is way more interesting as a brash, boastful younger brother with a bit of an inferiority complex. The truly interesting part of this game is rapping with Luigi in Rogueport after coming back with a new Crystal Star. His adventure sounds suspiciously similar to our own, other than the fact that every chapter is a textbook example of Murphy’s Law in effect.
His exploits are undoubtedly the funniest parts of the game. They’re most exhilarating part, too. Perhaps I felt this way because I found myself living vicariously through him, seeing my own adventures as the droll ones. While I was traipsing from the beginning of a dungeon to the end and back forty times, he was disguising himself as a princess, having kart races, and starring in a musical called “The Mystery of the Fiery Hat of Social Awareness.” In some parallel universe, some people are playing the greatest Gamecube RPG - nay, one of the greatest RPGs of all time: Paper Luigi. When I think about it in that light, it’s hard not to feel like we living in this universe really got the shaft.