A Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door review already exists on this site. Along with it, an extensive amount of posts on its content, via Traveling Thoughts. Even with this amount of information about my thoughts on the series, I couldn’t help but feel the need to clarify further. It seems my quest for constant updates upon further self-reflection will never have me run out of content to post. That, and in hindsight, I believe my prior review on this topic is underdeveloped. I had the Traveling Thoughts, but really, who’s gonna read all that? (I should do another Traveling Thoughts subject soon…)
Where to even start… Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a game that is quite dear to me. It is among the most nostalgic games of my lifetime and something that, as history has shown, I like to come back to every once in a while. Despite whatever misgivings I have, which I will definitely note later, playing the game is like muscle memory—smooth, fluid, comfortable. Much like Metroid Prime, I have many playthroughs of it under my belt. Last time I truly spoke of it for the blog, I went with the angle that it was actually immensely overrated. This time, I want to stress that that’s only one of many notable aspects.
For example, the sheer variety of environments, moods, and settings. With Nintendo and Mario games in general, it’s easy to take for granted just how colorful and unique these worlds are. Here, it may be the masterclass of any Nintendo game I’ve personally played. TTYD is silly, serious, dramatic, scary, heartwarming, heartbreaking, and borderline insane all in one. Not all shine equally, though the fact that so many get due development in itself is phenomenal.
Gentle, uplifting vivacity of Petal Meadows; thrilling, business-shrewd gauntlet of the Glitz Pit; glamor and quality of the utmost snootiness aboard the Excess Express. These and more—hell, most areas involved with every chapter—set the stage for Mario’s adventure, all with their own sense of style and wonder. I admittedly do not remember what it was like to see these decorated areas for the first time. Even upon the umpteenth time, however, it still dazzles me. The game is absolutely gorgeous, with a maddening sense of paper-like style and detail to its individual environments.
With this visual component comes the auditory finesse. I likely mentioned this in the corresponding Traveling Thoughts post, but certain music tracks in this game genuinely had me terrified. Chapter 4, centered on an dreary moonlit town of downtrodden folk, features a structure called the “Creepy Steeple.” To accompany it, a similarly eerie piece of music plays with the hairs on one’s skin in a quiet, almost sorrowful melody. As a preteen, listening to this thwarted whatever chance of sleep I may receive the same day. Memories of staring into a darkened hallway, waiting for something, stay with me even now.
Such is only one negative example. Positively, many tracks step forth to energize, captivate, and comfort. X-Naut Fortress, the final Bowser fight, Glitzville, the Excess Express during the evening; these and many more set a phenomenal mood that perhaps even the player wouldn’t expect. Most places abide by the expectations set by the situation and tone; the music tends to overachieve during those moments. Above all, they’re both memorable within and outside the context of the game. Plenty of tracks from the game are a part of my music playlist.
Have I mentioned that I enjoy grinding in games? Not all games, of course—some gameplay styles aren’t quite to my taste. Turn-based RPGs? I can get behind that.
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door features a simple, but interactive turn-based battle system that I rarely tire of. Its presentation as a stage performance, clear set of rules, partner system, and assortment of offensive/defensive tactics are satisfyingly addictive. Mastering Action Commands and Super Guards, along with calculating the most efficient method of annihilating the enemy, is a rigorous and titillating pastime. I see baddie, I fight baddie.
Having adversaries roam the area outside of battle is just another appreciable quality. One can (usually) dictate the number of battles they wish to have. In my eyes, every battle is important for EXP purposes, yet the game allows the player to choose for themselves… if they’re agile enough. This also gives each area an immersive quality of wildlife and liveliness, evoking a breathing, habitable world of color and murder-fueled creatures. With only a minimal amount of recolors, one is almost guaranteed to see a nice assortment of different species.
These three qualities—art, sound, and battles—are the basis for why I adore this game. Being able to supplant myself within these worlds and know these characters is such fun, embellished by the zaniness of specific zones. Seeing the sights, hearing the tunes, beating the hell out of anything that stands in my way. It’s interactive candy of the highest caliber.
Alas, the game is certainly not perfect.
Something that came up quite often (that I recall) from my Traveling Thoughts series is the number of fetch quests present throughout the game. This is still true, though with further analysis, it’s deeper than that. Per my view, a lot of chapters aren’t particularly creative in the way it requires the player to progress.
Go to a place, get an item, go back to the first place, do a thing, maybe get another item, battle, go back to the other place, get another item, talk to people, more battles, puzzles maybe, go back to the other place a third time, talk to people again, puzzles maybe again, boss.
Albeit generalized, the flow chart above the image is the extent of what one can expect through each chapter. Some variation can occur, of course, although the bulk of what I’m trying to get across is that chapters are pretty small in structure. Half of Chapter 3 can literally be spent inside one building, and consists of 20+ required battles. A majority of Chapter 6 is on a train that spans five rooms (with sub-rooms, but I digress). Chapters 4 and 7 (and maybe 5) necessitate a disgusting amount of backtracking. Some alleviate it through a clever twist or theme, even if it only lessens the monotony of running around for yet another item.
For whatever reason, TTYD seems to have a vendetta against giving the player a straightforward path. Backtracking isn’t always a terrible fate in games; this title almost has a fetish for it. Two words: General White. Why? What made the developers think the situation surrounding him would constitute as “fun”? And the gall to add it again as a trouble? What an absolute waste of time. White is just the most egregious example; various chapters implement it in doses of varying size. Chapter 4 has one go from the starting town to Creepy Steeple three times. Hell…
As a child, I had a favorite chapter. Last time I played, I had a different favorite chapter. After this most recent playthrough, I don’t know if I have a true, distinctive favorite chapter. All have qualities to enjoy and go for a different theme that suits their respective purpose. At the same time, many have qualities that end up making it feel less than advertised—smaller, in particular. I’m all for a tighter, more jampacked experience in games. The difference here is that chapters are “jampacked” with filler—backtracking and fetch quests and exposition galore.
Speaking of exposition, skimming old Traveling Thoughts pages, it seems I was quite harsh on the story and writing of this game years back. While my opinion hasn’t changed too much, the personality present in characters are for the most part likable. Even minor characters, made important for the sake of specific chapters, end up sparkled in my memory. Flavio, who I used to find terribly annoying, was among my favorite side-characters this time around. His enthusiastic naivety and indominable ego was quite charming—almost reminded me of how I’d like to be represented in media.
Even the story itself, albeit very standard, tends to get a pass for the sake of its enthusiasm. Good-natured and goofy, with the occasional solid joke. What it doesn’t do well is develop characters past their respective chapters. Koops, this timid young Koopa, wants to fight Hooktail and search for any trace of his lost father… in Chapter 1. Past that, he exists. Bobbery is a “salty seadog” that is haunted by a tragedy in his past due to his love for sailing… in Chapter 5. Past that, he exists. I hope you like these characters when they’re introduced. They’ll never be as interesting again.
Still, it’s commendable that the game allows the chance to have the player care for these characters when they’re most integral. Most chapters wouldn’t be all that special without them, nor the kind of insane events that occur in the game. Transporting from one locker room to the next via toilet; participating in a life-threatening quiz show; being shot out of a cannon to the moon; fighting a dragon with a cricket phobia; having your identity literally stolen from you. What even is this game?
These events, writing, characters—everything assimilates into a sturdy, chaotic package of fun and spontaneity. If not for the rather rigid formula of chapter structure and requirements, combined with a disturbing amount of not-fun requirements of progression, this would be something absolutely special within the gaming world. I adore this game, as I’ve already stated, but I don’t think it’s an amazing game. There are too many noticeable issues that bog the experience just enough.
My last review “awarded” Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door with a 6.5/10. This time, I don’t have any concrete rating, though it’s better than before. I’ve told siblings that it’s “anywhere between 7 and 7.5,” as I can’t quite find a comfortable spot between the two. (7.25?) It only seems appropriate that a game I’ve always been drawn to, that I continuously return to for comfort and fun, should have something more than a paltry 6.5. Then again, Custom Robo sits solidly at a 6/10; what do I know about consistency?
(All screenshots taken from playthrough videos by WhatThe’Eff’Gaming.)
For more reviews on this topic, be sure to check out the associated archive.
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.