Traveling Thoughts on Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (Chapter 5)

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Chapter 5

This is the part of the game where my nostalgia tends to wear out. This chapter is as far as I made it before I had to return the then-rented game back to the local Family Video. Playing it now as a 22-year-old, this chapter is… pretty unenjoyable, despite getting what was once my favorite partner in the game. It doesn’t reach the concept of feeling like a pirate or sailing to much of a degree, and a good majority of the chapter is, ugh, fetch quests and backtracking. The only real shining moment is the very end of the chapter. Yeah. The very end of the chapter is the best part. Great time we’re in for today.

The chapter begins with Mario and co. trying to figure out how to get to a deserted (and rumored to be haunted) island to retrieve the next Crystal Star. This requires the player to go into the Inn located in Rogueport to speak to a flamboyant, ego-maniacal creature named Flavio, who has a sudden thirst for adventure and, ahem, romance. He agrees to provide Mario with a ship and crew, but prior to departing, he tasks Mario with retrieving a navigator, which then requires the player to take advantage of their new ability to roll down a chimney into a house on the east side of Rogueport. This leads to all sorts of back and forth and diving deep into the past life of a rogue sailor named Bobbery.

As a teenager, I thought this was quite charming and a heartwarming way to develop a character and their motivation. Playing it now, I can’t help but feel the way it’s executed is trivial. It turns out that the bartender in the Inn in Rogueport holds a letter from Bobbery’s former lover, Scarlette, telling him to never quench his love for the sea, even after her death, which Bobbery blames on himself. The excuse (because it’s a fucking excuse, not a reason) the bartender gives as to why he didn’t give the letter to Bobbery earlier is that he couldn’t bear to face Bobbery in his depressed state. Well that’s pretty fucking convenient for Mario now, isn’t it? Mario takes the letter to Bobbery and he, after a moment of “being alone,” decides to become the navigator to Flavio’s ship. Gee, bartender, maybe you should’ve given this letter to him earlier so he wouldn’t be so depressed for all those years, eh?

In any case, it’s a bunch of back and forth between Flavio, Bobbery, the bartender, and whoever else decides to be a part of it. You get to dive into Bobbery’s motivation for leaving the sea and help him resolve his burdens (fairly quickly). That’s pretty much it.

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Once you’re at sea, you do absolutely nothing. Just sit through some dialogue and some scenes of people interacting, up until right before the boat lands on the island, when some fire ghosts sink the ship, with everyone abandoning it beforehand. Afterwards, it cuts to a few days afterwards, when the salvaged members of the ship build a little camp outside the island’s jungles. Soon enough, Flavio tasks Mario to forage for stuff or something (I don’t entirely remember). He goes into the jungle and finds the other members of the ship that were lost in the chaos, including Bobbery, who sacrifices himself in the face of oncoming fire ghosts to let the others escape. And thus begins the agonizing back and forth.

Bobbery wants a “last memento” of his life, because he believes he’s dying. He wants Chuckola Cola, a beverage he saw on the outskirts of the island before he landed. Turns out, Flavio has it. He offers to give it to you… if you find him something else on the island in return, which turns out to be a coconut found fairly far in the jungle (the “jungle” is four rooms long). He gives you the Cola, you bring it back to Bobbery, he “dies” (falls asleep), and you acquire him as a partner in your adventure. You go back to Flavio and then he asks you to take him to go treasure hunting with him. So, you go back to the farthest-most point and you do a puzzle and it leads to the dungeon portion of the chapter. Fantastic. The player has to go from the campsite to the farthest-most point (or second-farthest) four times. It has the decency to not be very long, but that in of itself destroys the concept of a “large and foreboding deserted island.” It’s pretty barren and holds very few secrets, along with enemies already encountered, except with enhanced abilities. It’s a chore going back and forth through this jungle. And it makes the area feel pointless and cheap. It’s padding at its finest.

Even worse, the dungeon is little different! It’s not anywhere near as annoying as the jungle, but it offers a lot of backtracking and overextensive use of a newly acquired ability. The track that plays is pretty harmless, albeit repetitive, but it settles the mood nicely, even if it’s not entirely spooky. The puzzles and obstacles within are also relevant enough to pose some challenge or focus from the player, so it’s not entirely barren, either. I just can’t stand how much the player needs to backtrack in this place. By dungeon’s end, Mario will have visited some rooms three or four times! Again, the dungeon is pretty compact compared to some dungeons, so it’s not like the player will be spending a lot of time with this one, but it’s still irritating enough to note. In fact, completing this dungeon felt awfully short. Not including the bullshit jungle segment, this dungeon took me maybe thirty minutes to get through, give or take with the number of enemies I faced. It’s awfully short.

Appearance-wise, the look of this dungeon is pretty sweet. I have no complaints about the color palette or the placement of nearly anything in here. It almost has a misty quality about it, full of grays and dark colors. The inclusion of ghosts, cannons, and giant bob-ombs was a nice touch, even if the bright pink of the bob-ombs felt kinda misplaced. The emphasis on water travel (the acquired ability is the ability to turn into a paper boat) also serves the chapter’s theme well, and controlling the ability is pretty adjustable, if not a tad hindering. I would say this dungeon is mildly irritating, but overall decent. I’m just a little taken aback by how short it was. I remember hating this dungeon as a teenager. It’s nowhere near as annoying as I remember it.

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Eventually, the player will encounter a big, disheveled boat. This boat houses Cortez, a pretty sweet-looking pirate-ghost-corpse-thing that warns Mario of a grim fate should he choose to enter his treasury. I forgot to mention, but Cortez will talk to the player throughout the dungeon with echoes of “OoOoOoOo’s” and vague threats. It doesn’t happen often, but it lets the player know he exists. In any case, Mario enters the treasury and faces off against Cortez, who is actually a decently-challenging boss. I’ve always had fun facing off against Cortez. Not only does he rapidly change form depending on how much damage he’s taken, but he’s also no pushover. He has a huge arsenal of attacks to his disposal and plenty of ways to fuck you over. He even plays the Hooktail card and recovers health from absorbing the audience’s souls. Special Moves and high-range items will be your best friend for this battle. In case you were wondering, this was part of the “very end” I mentioned earlier that was genuinely good about this chapter.

After defeating Cortez, he concedes defeat and begrudgingly allows Mario to take his treasure. However, since this is Mario, he only asks for the Crystal Star hidden conveniently in the corner of the room. This surprises Cortez, stating that he never even cared for the Star in the first place, which leads me to believe that the entire battle against him was pointless. Nevertheless, Mario gets the Crystal Star and the chapter ends accordingly.

Just kidding.

Along the way to Cortez’s ship, Mario comes across a sea of Toads (and Francesca and Frankie from Chapter 3) that were stuck within the caves for some amount of time. He saves them by lifting conveniently placed barrels out of the water via “!” switches. They make their way to a secluded area before Cortez’s ship. Once Cortez is defeated, a giant crack will appear in the wall behind them, which Bobbery can blow up to serve as an escape route. Once outside, Flavio and the other shipmates congratulate Mario on a job well done, when Lord Crump comes out of nowhere with a giant, armored ship that begins to shoot cannonballs at the shore where everyone is standing. I also neglected to mention that one of the crew members was Lord Crump in a very bad disguise. No one recognizes him because plot and he ends up with the upper hand. Flavio then hatches an idea and tells Mario to take him to Cortez. Once there, he reaches a deal with Cortez that if Mario can use his ship to attack the oncoming X-Naut threat, Flavio will give him the Skull Gem, an item that was required to enter Cortez’s dungeon and an heirloom passed down in Flavio’s family for generations (Cortez reveals that the Skull Gem was stolen from him many years ago). Cortez accepts and a pretty cool cutscene ensues with Cortez and the X-Naut ships duking it out side by side. After the scene ends, a battle with Lord Crump begins.

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This is also pretty interesting on a part of this chapter: two boss fights almost back-to-back. Lord Crump isn’t nearly as hard as Cortez, but he’s certainly harder than he was back in Chapter 2 with Magnus Von Grapple. He also does the whole “heal himself when he’s about dead” shtick. Once again, Special Moves and wide-range items will be your best friend for this fight, because he also uses an army of X-Nauts at his disposal. And let me tell you: they hurt like hell. It’s a fun battle without being too difficult, but don’t be surprised if you may have to use a healing item or two. Once defeated, the X-Nauts retreat and then the chapter really ends. Almost abruptly, in fact. I believe someone says something and then it transitions to something else, lickety-split.

The chapter is pretty stale, in my eyes. The entire beginning segments when you’re running around playing Dr. Phil with Bobbery doesn’t have the same impact on me than when I was younger. The beginning segments of being on the island is literally just running back and forth. The dungeon is fine, but short-lived, and the only real entertainment I found in it were the boss fights against Cortez and Lord Crump. Even my brother admits that this chapter really isn’t all that great, and I was hesitant to believe him before playing it again recently, but fuck, he was right. My most major problems with this game can be wrapped up in the first half of this chapter: fetch quests and backtracking. Over and over and over and over and over—

(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of PKSparkxx DatHottneSS.)

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