Traveling Thoughts on Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (Chapter 3)

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Chapter 3

Perhaps ironically, the worst chapter in the game is followed by what I once considered the best chapter in the game. Chapter 3 has always been a favorite of mine, for whatever reason. It might have been my love for the WWE while going through my first playthrough. It may have been my current love for rankings and pure competition. If you have no idea why any of this matters, allow me to explain, but in due time.

Chapter 3 begins in a slightly different manner than other chapters. Instead of being able to just take a warp pipe directly to your destination, you have to travel around Rogueport and talk to the right people. Mario’s destination is Glitzville: a flying arena full of gladiator-like duels (though not as gruesome) in a, hence the opening paragraph, WWE-like style of smack-talk and special moves. To get there, he needs a ticket to take a blimp directly there. Trouble is, these tickets aren’t handed out to just anyone. One must have connections.

Thousand-Year Door has an issue with fetch quests and back-and-forths. I’ve stated it twice to this point. However, in these kinds of situations I can accept it. Not only are you exploring new parts of an overworld you’re always running through, but you’re collecting info on the people who inhabit it. It’s one thing to have fetch quests in areas you’ll explore once and then come back to only if the plot or side-quests call for it, but Rogueport is an area you will always come back to, will always need to explore. And with every chapter comes a new aspect of the town that one can explore, even if it doesn’t cover a whole lot of ground. The chapters that require the player to explore and speak to people in the town of Rogueport (which is nearly every chapter after Chapter 2) are some of the most memorable ones to me. Chapter 3 being the first has the most prevalent place in my mind.

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One lead leads to another and eventually Mario comes to the source of his tickets: Don Pianta. He’s a mob boss for a group of Mafia-like Piantas (remember those from Sunshine?) and he has a problem: his daughter has run off with one of his employees and he wants her back. He tasks Mario with getting her back in exchange for a ticket to Glitzville. This whole process is cheesy and dumb, complete with stereotypes and overtold storylines, but I think that only adds to an already cheesy and dumb overall plot. Mario gets the ticket and flies off to his destination. Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.

Upon arrival at Glitzville, one can see that the area in of itself is so small that exploration will inevitably not be a factor in regards to the chapter. One will also be greeted with the most carnival-like and cheeriest tune in the entire game to this point. I will admit that I enjoy the tune, but if I needed to listen to it throughout a majority of the chapter, I’d probably mute the TV. Glitzville is flashy, colorful, exaggerated, and filled to the brim with vendors and businesses. It almost is like a carnival… in the sky, with not a lot of people inhabiting it. In terms of visual splendor, it might be one of the most dazzling areas in the game, but you won’t spend a lot of time outside of a particular building, so the effort almost feels for naught. Still, the game knows how to make an entrance feel spectacular.

Mario and co. enter a large building where all of the battles take place. Entering the crowded stadium, they see a wras’ler named Rawk Hawk gloat and berate an opponent he just clobbered into the ground. At the end of the word vomit, Rawk Hawk holds up a championship belt with what appears to be a Crystal Star on it. Seeing this, Mario and co. decide they need to sign on as wras’lers and work their way up through the ranks to get that belt and get the Crystal Star. In doing so, the player is subjected to a whooooole lot of dialogue and rules concerning the “Glitz Pit” and how it runs. Speaking of “runs,” it’s run by a Clubba named Grubba and his Toad secretary Jolene. You will see these two a lot throughout the chapter.

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It plays out like this: you sign a contract with Grubba saying that you’re a wras’ler, renamed “The Great Gonzalez,” and Jolene basically babysits you all the way through the chapter. In order to rise up through the ranks, you have to defeat your opponent and satisfy a certain condition brought upon by Grubba before the match. These conditions range from not using certain attacks, using a special move, defeating the enemy within a certain time frame, among others. For the most part, these conditions aren’t really notable, but once the player gets higher up in the ranks, Grubba seems to become more ruthless with his conditions. It’s happened more than once when I couldn’t hurt an enemy by jumping on them, so Grubba told me I couldn’t use my Hammer, limiting me to special moves and partner attacks. After every match, Jolene gives Mario some compensatory coins and his rank rises, so long as the player satisfied the condition and beat the opponent. If not, the player gets a coin and his rank stays the same. If the player wins the match but doesn’t satisfy the condition, their next match will be against the same opponent in defense of their rank, rather than facing a higher-ranked opponent.

It is here where this chapter faces its first real problem.

The player starts off in the Minor League, which is littered with weak-level enemies and/or few new enemies. The player is tasked with nine straight battles with enemies of this type. Outside of these matches, very little happens story-wise. A few cutscenes here and there and some foreshadowing sprinkled in, but for the most part, the player isn’t tasked with going outside the room very often. This makes the first half of the chapter feel more like a chore than anything. Fight enemy. Talk to someone. Fight enemy. Talk to someone. Fight enemy. Over and over. Things within the chapter don’t start to pick up, both from a battle perspective and a story perspective, until Mario faces the Iron Clefts. It is the only time in the game that requires you to lose in order to progress the story.

But before the Iron Clefts, one has to go outside the fighting room and pick up a Yoshi egg that is trying to be cooked up by a hot dog vendor outside the Glitz Pit. After saving it, the egg will follow Mario and co. around everywhere. It doesn’t serve any purpose and will stay in the room before each bout. That is, until after losing against the Iron Clefts, when the egg will hatch a brand new baby Yoshi for your playing pleasure. I think anyone can guess that the Yoshi becomes the only weapon capable of defeating the Iron Clefts. Anyone would guess correctly, and upon defeating the Iron Clefts, Mario is allowed into the Major League, where the chapter finally starts to become engrossing.

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Mario now faces newer and tougher enemies (while competing under tougher conditions), along with a little more backstory and intrigue to the conditioning of the place you’re contracted under. There was some minor foreshadowing before this point, but only if the player chose to talk to a certain few people. Once Mario enters the Major League, a figure known as “X” (How trite) will begin to e-mail Mario tasking him with various things such as… fetch quests. But it’s cooler because ThEy TyPe LiKe ThIs. OoOoOoOoOoOoOo!

As the player rises through the ranks, more and more of the true nature of Glitz Pit reveals itself. Wras’lers begin disappearing and all sorts of rumors begin to swell up. Mario becomes a target of sort and is given all sorts of drawbacks before and after matches. At one point, Mario and co. are confronted by Rawk Hawk, who warns them not to try and take him on or else. In doing so, one of Mario’s partners walk up to inspect his championship belt, but are shocked to discover that what appears to be a Crystal Star is nothing but a fake. This being the case, X (coincidentally?) leads the player to investigate various rooms in the Glitz Pit, finding things such as research papers on the power of Crystal Stars and secret compounds that allow eavesdropping on Grubba inside his office.

By the way, Grubba is evil and is using the Crystal Star to make himself young forever by draining the life out of aging or suspecting wras’lers.

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This type of story is among the more intriguing plotlines that Thousand-Year Door uses, but I feel they didn’t incorporate it early enough in the chapter. Things really only start to bend for Grubba’s reputation until halfway through the chapter. And by that point, it should only take about an hour, hour and a half to wrap up the rest of it. The ending is also cliché to the highest degree. Not even in the sense of parody. It’s genuinely there to conclude on a happy note and it’s gross.

As I alluded to in earlier paragraphs, the entirety of Glitzville isn’t very big. Exploration is used sporadically throughout the chapter, but the travel shouldn’t take the player more than a minute or so to get to any specific place. Seeing as you’re spending a majority of your time in a single room continuing to raise your rank in the Glitz Pit, the area doesn’t feel too big or memorable aside from “the carnival place” or “the fighting place.” There isn’t really any interesting architecture or meaning below the surface of anything. The Glitz Pit itself really only has one “secret” that wasn’t in the original design for the building (Or maybe it was?) underneath the fighting ring. Going through and discovering more discreet areas around the Pit is fun for the later portion of the chapter, but they only serve the plot rather than the fun or enjoyment of the gameplay itself. Basically, this chapter relies almost entirely on the player’s immersion into the story and intrigue behind the rumors of the Pit. Aside from that, there isn’t really much dazzle to this chapter in terms of variety of gameplay or new features. Mario receives the Super Hammer in this chapter, but even that is really only useful for the plot, as it doesn’t even hurt the Iron Clefts, despite it launching them against one another.

It’s really a shame. As I went through this chapter again, the glamour I once had for the story had all but evaporated. There wasn’t enough build-up and it went by too fast. If the player does everything perfectly, going from the Minor League all the way to the championship bout with Rawk Hawk should take no more than an hour and a half. There just isn’t enough to this chapter aside from its story to really hold up better than the other chapters. At the time that I’m writing this, Chapter 3 is no longer my favorite. I haven’t really decided if it has a replacement yet, but I still have five chapters left to go through. Just know that Chapter 3 has a lot of nostalgic value to me. But once that’s taken away, Chapter 3 is no more than a repetitive gauntlet with an interesting story.

(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of gothwood9.)

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