Traveling Thoughts on Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (The Battle System)

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Throughout these Traveling Thoughts, I’ve neglected to mention much about the battle system that takes place within the game. As one can see now, this was intentional. This particular entry will be dedicated to analyzing the ins and outs of the battle system, but one could’ve already guessed that from the title.

As far as JRPGs go, Thousand-Year Door’s battle system is fairly basic. You can attack in two ways (at first): through use of your Hammer or your Jump. Both do the same amount of damage, but both have their advantages against certain enemies. In order to make these attacks stronger, one has to correctly time specific controls on the controller. The Hammer typically has the player pull back on the control stick for some time, while the Jump requires them to press “A” right before making contact with the opponent. There are different variations of these two moves, but those will be explained in another entry.

Aside from these two attacks, once the player advances through the second wave of dialogue in the Prologue, they will be rewarded with their first partner: Goombella. She can also attack in two ways (at first): Headbonk and Tattle. Tattle isn’t technically a physical attack, but it gives info on any enemy (Apparently her book was written by the developers), revealing their overall health, attack, defense, and any strategy to beat them more easily. Headbonk is basically just Mario’s Jump, except a tad harder to time correctly. This is not just limited to Goombella, though. As one advances the game and collects more partners, they’ll be able to use more strategy and more partner attacks to suit their fancy. There are also Shine Sprites (Remember those from Sunshine?) that the player can collect and trade in to upgrade their partners, giving them more health, attack power, and a third and fourth attack. By the end of the game, and by fully utilizing the Shine Sprites, the player can attack in about thirty different ways.

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In an effort to not be too offensive, there are also options to Defend, Appeal, Run Away, and Use Items. There’s also Switch Partner, but that’s not something worth explaining unless you don’t have the Quick Change badge, in which case it costs a turn to switch out a partner. Defending will increase the defender’s defense by 1 for the turn, but they cannot attack. This is useful for when the player can’t do anything against an enemy for the time being, such as having Goombella face a Spiked Goomba, in which she can’t jump on without taking damage. Appeal is almost like a taunt, except it allows the player to collect Star Power (more on that later). The bigger the audience is (more on them later, too), the more Star Power the player will collect. The player can also run away from battle, which involves a roulette-like bar that increases the chances of escape so long as the player furiously taps “A.” If it fails, the player will lose the turn for the character who tried to run away. If it succeeds, the player will leave the battlefield and drop coins whilst doing so. Finally, a player can also use an item, which can range from attack items like the Fire Flower or Thunder Rage, defense items like the Courage Shell and Boo’s Sheet, or healing items like the Mushroom or Honey Syrup. Using an item takes a turn to use and can even make battles end a lot faster.

This range of options are standard for most turn-based RPGs. Paper Mario has a tendency to take the clichés of other RPGs and put their own spin on it. Perhaps I’ve talked of this before. I like how it implements all sorts of Mario-themed items and enemies and attacks into the formula, but it’s really all that can be said about it. The presentation is lovely and the battle system is fun so long as your range is wide. But grinding can feel tedious especially when facing off against the same enemies over and over again. Fighting within this game becomes more fun when you have a large variety of ways to attack, but can also be fun with you can take advantage of certain characters’ abilities to dish out extra damage. It can also be fun when the battle field is equal, with the enemy having an advantage over the player and vice versa, such is the case of Hooktail Castle and, to some degree, The Great Tree. It’s a common complaint among veterans when a game becomes too easy. Thousand-Year Door’s battle system, when one is familiar with it inside and out, has a clear handicap in favor of the player, but it makes it somewhat challenging in the process. It’s a simple trick on paper, but I appreciate the effort in not having it too one-sided.

This “trick” I’m referring to is the “Guard.” A Guard is a defensive mechanism implemented to reduce the amount of damage that is inflicted on the player when an enemy attacks. In order to do so, one has to press “A” at just the right moment before an enemy makes contact. It decreases the damage of their attack by 1, somewhat similarly to the Defend tactic. But that wasn’t sexy enough. They also implemented the Superguard, a guard that prevents any damage from being taken and counterattacks for 1 (or no) damage against the opponent. This is a lot harder to pull off than a normal Guard and is accomplished in the same way, but with more precise timing and hitting “B” instead of “A.” These Guard options make the battle system a lot more involved. Instead of just sitting there and letting the enemy attack you, one has the option to counterattack in real time. It makes battles a lot more satisfying against larger quantities of enemies or stronger enemies in general. To a degree, trying to pull off a Superguard can be more fun than actually using an attack. At least with Superguards, it’s always fun to try and time different enemies’ attacks down to a single frame, while attacks are always done in the same fashion, depending on the type of attack.

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After the player acquires the location of the first Crystal Star, they’ll be able to use a move called “Sweet Treat,” which lets Mario attempt to regain HP for himself and his partner, along with some FP (more on that later). This is what’s considered a “Special Move,” which is, again, typical for any turn-based RPG, and not much different here either. It’s disappointing for me to see them do next to nothing in terms of “Mario-tizing” the Special Moves. It’d be cool to see Mario do some trademark Nintendo thing as a special move or something. Like, imagine if he turned into Dr. Mario and shot pills at enemies? If he got his cape and unleashed a tornado? Instead, it’s just the Crystal Stars doing random shit, like bulking Mario’s stats or slamming against the ground to cause tremors or whatever. Using these special moves takes star power, which can be acquired from the audience. In every battle, Mario and co. will have an audience watch their battle, like a stage play. If Mario and co. perform well, they’ll reward them with star points. If they perform badly (such as getting hit or not pulling off the button commands for attacks), audience members will leave. If you perform well afterwards, more audience members will take their empty seats. It’s not really that eventful. Filling up star points is almost as easy as defeating a Goomba. If you’re good at the game, it’s not an issue.

But the importance of the audience doesn’t end there. There are also occasions where some audience members will throw shit at Mario, whether it be coins or items, or rocks that cause damage. There are even times when they’ll run (or float, depending on the species) onstage and assist a certain side. It’s usually someone dropping stage props on someone’s head, but it’s still annoying when it happens. Speaking of stage props, the stage will also change based on Mario’s level. Up until level 10, the stage is small and compact, only holding fifty audience members. Past that, it’ll become bigger and less likely to have falling props or issues. It’ll also incorporate little spray hoses that sometimes shoot at Mario or the enemy to freeze them for a few turns. After level 20, the stage will be able to hold a 150 audience members and also adds firecrackers that can also damage anyone on the stage. These things provide little for the overall battle and rarely ever happen regardless. I would suppose one should be prepared for anything if these things were to happen, but I don’t think it really adds anything overall. It’s nice that Thousand-Year Door makes almost everything about the battle interactive, but in these cases, I feel they need to happen more often and with more consequence in order for them to become something to strategize for.

There’s also a little Bingo involved in battles. After every turn, in the upper-right portion of the screen, there will be symbols that line up from left to right. These range from Mushrooms, Flowers, Stars, Shine Sprites, and Poison Mushrooms. Aligning two in a row will trigger a roulette after Mario’s next attack in which the player has a chance to get a Bingo. All the symbols have different effects, like Mushrooms replenishing all health and having the stage fill to maximum capacity. All of them fill the stage except Poison Mushrooms, which balances out the amount of good that can come from Bingo. All symbols help the player in some way, but the Poison Mushroom cuts the player’s HP and FP in half and has the entire audience leave. This is a huge inconvenience, which makes the player fear whenever two Poison Mushrooms line up in a row. This is a lot more prevalent than, say, audience interaction, so it becomes more a part of battle than otherwise, with a nice boost most of the time, or the fear of something as draining as the Poison Mushrooms.

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FP, I would argue, is the single-most important aspect to a battle aside from the Superguard. I won’t go too much into detail as FP is more notable for Badges than anything, which I’ll save for another entry. FP, which stands for Flower Points, is required to use certain moves. These moves tend to be more powerful or more useful than normal moves. Replenishing FP is also less convenient than replenishing SP, and it drains fast if one isn’t careful. It makes a battle go a lot faster and allows a wider range of strategies and attacks in the player’s arsenal. Most attacks range from 2 to 4 FP, depending on the flexibility of the attack. Without badges, most moves won’t require FP until much later in the game.

Every time you defeat an enemy, you’re rewarded with experience points. Collecting one hundred allows Mario to level up. With every level, one can choose to upgrade their HP, FP, or BP (more on those in my Badges entry). With every level up, enemies begin to give less and less experience with every battle. Every time you upgrade your HP and FP, Mario is rewarded with 5 additional HP or FP, or 3 BP. I would recommend more FP as HP isn’t too important if one is good at Superguarding. I would also recommend more BP.

Have I missed anything? Oh! One last thing: First Strike. Before entering battle, you can Hammer or Jump on an enemy to inflict damage on them before the battle begins. But be careful: the enemy can do the same to you (A badge can change that later on). It allows (another) handicap for the player (or enemy) and can make a battle easier or slightly more irritating. Not much more than that.

This went on much longer than I thought it would. The Battle System of Thousand-Year Door offers a lot of variety and color when it comes to replayability. The special moves are a little underwhelming, but fun to use most of the time. The fact that the stage is interactive and the audience provides a spice of random effects brings a tad more to the table for boss battles and stronger enemies. It’s a lot of fun using a variety of different moves to see which is most effective and most efficient for a particular type of enemy. Superguarding is probably my favorite part of battling, though. Probably because it provides the most challenge pulling off with the best of rewards. Superguarding alone makes battling all the more enticing. There’s a really lovely feeling involved when accurately predicting the timing of enemy’s moves. Aside from that, I would only complain that battling against one-dimensional enemies becomes tedious when grinding and some of the partners are more useful in battle than others. Otherwise, it’s probably the best part of the game. Story and character-building? Meh. Battling is the true joy I receive when playing this game.

(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of PKSparkxx DatHottneSS.)

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