And so we come to the point in the game where the fun and games are over. The story becomes remarkably grim and not a lot is given to the player in terms of what to expect. It’s time to incorporate the title of the game into the game itself; Mario and co. will now step through the Thousand-Year Door.
It goes without saying that after the events of the seventh chapter, Mario and co. have collected all of the Crystal Stars available. The only issue is how to get back to the surface. Running along the halls of the X-Naut Fortress, the player now has access to TEC’s room, where Mario can speak with the weakened supercomputer. With his, ahem, dying words, he tells Mario to give Princess Peach his regards as he activates the self-destruct sequence to send the base sky-hi—er… space-high? Worry not, there’s no race against time as TEC gives Mario all the time necessary to travel to a teleporter in an isolated room in the lower-region of the base. The player is transported to a building in Rogueport’s sewers, where leaving the building will trigger a meeting with Professor Frankly, who explains that he saw a suspicious figure go through the Thousand-Year Door with Princess Peach. With this new development, Mario is forced to open the Door himself and rescue Peach before anything happens to her.
If you’re asking yourself how the Thousand-Year Door can open without the Crystal Stars, you’re a smart student and deserve an A. More on that later.
Going through the Door will reveal a nicely-decorated opening room, complete with shades of purple and gold to provoke a sense of uneasiness and regality. I’ll be honest: going through the Door for the first time, I thought I would step into the pits of Hell or something. Instead, I’m treated to a slightly spooky grand gala of a fortress. Make no mistake, the Palace of Shadow, as it is referred to, is no hotel stay. Of every area in the game, this area gives the player ample opportunity to use everything they’ve learned prior into a collection of different puzzles, challenges, and meager annoyances. On top of that, different styles of enemies already encountered. Ain’t that a peach?
As frustrating as I make it sound, this area is actually the most fun I’ve had throughout the game. It can be frustrating, absolutely, but nothing along the lines of brutal difficulty that games from the NES era are known for. The challenge in this particular area is in terms of patience and trial and error. There are a lot of instances and obstacles that have subtle hints as to what to do with them—whether familiar or not—that the Palace of Shadow use to hinder the progress of the player. These include a (long) memory game, multiple instances of using your cursed abilities, and a tower full of vague puzzles. The volume of things to do in each room compared to areas in prior chapters increases exponentially, giving more of a bang for your buck in terms of interactivity. Personally, I’m just glad there aren’t a million fetch quests.
What there are a million of, though, are bosses. And by a million, I mean five. Five bosses in the span of one chapter. You fight Gloomtail, the brother of Hooktail and the Shadow Queen’s personal pet. The Shadow Sirens (with the inclusion of Doopliss). Grodus, leader of the X-Nauts. Bowser and Kammy Koopa. And finally, the Shadow Queen herself. If you took it upon yourself to grind a little as the game went on, these bosses shouldn’t be much of a problem, with the exception of the Shadow Queen. However, you fight Bowser and Kammy immediately after Grodus, so that’s a minor inconvenience. Among the five (eight if you count every character), the least difficult is probably the Shadow Sirens, as the room you face them in has a HP/FP restorer and a Save Block, so one can ready themselves should they be expecting it (Or maybe not). Gloomtail is triggered upon entering a single room with little indication that he’s there, while the game gives every indication to show that Grodus/Bowser and the Shadow Queen are within a room’s notice. Pro tip: bring a lot of restoring items and spam a lot of Special Moves.
Aesthetically, the Palace of Shadow is pretty. Pretty forgettable. It’s the token “dark fortress” of any standard royal-like final boss. It doesn’t give a whole lot in terms of what any of the areas really mean for the palace as a whole, serving simply as a challenging gateway for Mario to tread through. I sometimes ponder whether the Queen goes into these rooms and wonders why there are switches to floating cubes in the corner. It’s dark, it’s deserted (aside from enemies), and it’s spooky, with a regal flair. The track that accompanies it isn’t much better. I can applaud a high-paced, stylized remix of various Super Mario classics into an ominous foray of noise, but it doesn’t really do much for me. Two versions of the track appear throughout the palace, but neither give me that sense of dread that the area probably does with its mosaic of testing grounds.
There is but one area within the palace I can applaud: the area mentioned briefly above with the tower of vague puzzles. Outside the tower is a peaceful, serene area with water streaming along the outsides and a park-like center with a variety of different structures and busts. There is no music accompanying this room, giving a sense that the area is a place of rest and relaxation, where those within can think peacefully and relieve themselves of their troubles. The color is very stark compared to the rest of the area; different shades of gray and light blue bombard the area with its presence, with a brown wall in the background implicating the depth of the palace. It is an area like this, inside a harrowing place like the Palace of Shadows, that makes its inclusion so mysterious and intriguing. The tower itself is even more mysterious. So mysterious that its entire purpose seems to be incredibly abrupt. Even so, the tower is probably spookier than the entirety of the palace. The accompanying track is like a soft whisper to the ear, with different noises popping up in wisp-like trances to throw off the rhythm and create a new one altogether. A pale blue waits upon each wall within the tower, with eerie hints guiding Mario through a variety of puzzles that reward him with pieces to progress him forward. It’s genuinely awe-strucking, in a weird sort of way.
The fight with Gloomtail is a coincidence, but the Shadow Sirens reveal that the Professor Frankly Mario had talked to was Doopliss in disguise, tricking Mario into opening the Thousand-Year Door for them so that they could get inside. Good on you for paying attention, Mario. Encountering Grodus reveals that while initially he wanted Mario gone after the first Crystal Star, over time he began to let Mario do his dirty work for him, collecting all the Crystal Stars so that he wouldn’t have to waste the resources to do so himself. This is kind of half-assed, but hey, we need more plot twists. Bowser’s appearance is a joke, instigated by his antics in his side-quests throughout the game. Because of his intrusion, Grodus is able to sneak off with Princess Peach into the Shadow Queen’s… resting room, probably? It serves as her resting place and there are a lot of candles surrounding it. It is here where the game goes full RPG.
Ready for a shit-ton of explanation? No? Then why are you still reading this? Grodus’s ultimate plan was to use Princess Peach as a vessel for the Shadow Queen to be revived in a physical form. Grodus assumed the Shadow Queen would be so thankful for this that she’d be willing to serve him. He was wrong, of course, and the moment Grodus tries to order her around, the Shadow Queen “kills” him. (He doesn’t actually die because E rating.) It is then revealed that Beldam, the eldest sister and leader of the Shadow Sirens, was the one who started everyone on the wild goose chase for the Crystal Stars, telling Grodus about their power and even being the one to sell the map to Princess Peach at the start of the game. With all this talking out of the way, the Shadow Queen imprints herself onto Princess Peach and turns her into this blackened, evil form of herself, where the Shadow Queen has complete control. Once this happens, a (long) cutscene shows the world around Rogueport being shrouded in darkness, with the denizens looking on in confusion. Afterwards, the Shadow Queen offers a job to Mario to serve as her underling. Fun fact: the player can say yes, which triggers a game over screen. With the obvious answer being no, the final fight commences.
The player is not supposed to win in this segment of the battle, so all you’re required to do is damage her all you can and not die. During the battle, she turns back to her original form, which makes her immune to all of Mario’s attacks. Assuming the player doesn’t die, this drags on for some amount of turns when another (long) cutscene occurs. It shows Mario on the edge of defeat, WHEN SUDDENLY! The Crystal Stars start glowing and sparkling! They spin around Mario and shoot to the respective locations where Mario found them! The friends Mario made along the way speak into the Crystal Stars and give encouragement to Mario and co. in their greatest battle yet! The power! THE POWER OF EMOTIONS PREVAIL!!! This development causes the Shadow Queen to lose control of Princess Peach but for a moment, where she wishes Mario to take the last of her “power” so that he may be able to defeat the Shadow Queen once and for all! Completely rejuvenated by her last wish, Mario is riled up and ready to rumble—the power of friendship on his side!
Mario can now damage the Shadow Queen, but believe me, this bitch is one tough nut to crack. One will likely be using quite a few healing items and maybe a few Life Shrooms in order to finish the battle. It took me quite a while of fulfilling my FP and SP to be able to get her health down at a consistent rate. Her attacks are relatively hard to avoid and can do a lot of damage. She can even poison you, confuse you, or absorb your health, which makes the battle all the more tedious. Pro tip: General Bobbery’s Bob-ombast move is a wonderful way to shoo away the Queen’s hands prior to her attacks. Just be sure to have a lot of FP generators with you.
Once the Shadow Queen has been defeated, she screams and cries “impossible,” like all of them do. She’s whisked away back into her tomb where she will stay forever(?). Princess Peach regains consciousness and the Shadow Sirens run away. Mario and co. leave the palace and a bright and sunny day awaits them outside. They say their farewells to the partners that accompanied them and the friends that they made as they sail back to the Mushroom Kingdom, where everything is normal once again. The player even gets a letter from Goombella telling them what everyone’s been up to after they’ve left. But that’s a post for another blogger. The game is done as far as I’m concerned.
Chapter Eight is the big finale, the granddaddy of them all. Aside from the incredibly cheesy ending sequences, the chapter is a fairly good one. Lots to do, a load of fun challenges (accompanied by a few annoying ones) and the story takes a few too many twists to be ignored. It’s a good way to send out the game with a lot of positive impressions, though one would likely believe this more from an emotional standpoint. It does what it must and more, providing good closure for everyone who cared for it. What else could one ask for?
I have one more post to document on this game (it’s not the Pit of 100 Trials) before doing the full review, then I’ll move on to my next subject for Traveling Thoughts soon after. Thanks for reading up until now and for those who continue to read over yonder!
(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of NamiNami.)