Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Review

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The magic of Mario-themed RPGs is nothing short of universally acclaimed. Aside from the roots of the Paper Mario franchise, the Mario & Luigi RPG franchise still chugs along without skipping a beat. Nintendo has that special spark with RPG games rivaling those made by Square Enix, though for different reasons altogether. Despite the differences, both have provided decades of enjoyment and verbal wit when it comes to the nitty-gritty of RPG fervor. What may perhaps be the shining beacon of passion for the genre comes in the form of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, the most beloved title in the Paper Mario series and the game all other Paper Mario games are compared to. It was among my most cherished and nostalgic games of my childhood; with twelve years between then and now, the magic of my own nostalgia has worn off and the game’s true value comes to light. Or more appropriately, the door is opened slightly further than ever before.

What has become a staple of the Paper Mario franchise over anything else is the level of commitment to making the dialogue as colorful and impressionable as possible. The amount of detail to running gags, quirky characters, flipping the script, and even some meta humor is more than heart-warming. Within Thousand-Year Door, the dialogue takes center stage in each and every chapter like a doting mother. The story is driven by dialogue, by characters’ expectations and motivations. There’s a noticeable force among every conversation, whether it be an integral aspect to moving the plot forward or even side characters with no point of existing whatsoever. There’s a love put forth that extends beyond the coding and technical jargon of making a game. There’s a harnessing of spirit and strength to ensure the player feels attached to every aspect of every snippet of the game. It helps improve the memorability of the areas, the characters, and what to reminisce going back upon replays. While not always funny, it has humor for a variety of different people, while sprinkling the clichés of other well-known RPGs with unabashed vigor.

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With dialogue driving the plot, it becomes wholly apparent that dialogue can only do so much to drive the plot forward in different ways. Should one pay attention, the chapters being played out subsequently one after another have a noticeable familiarity to them that speaks volumes. While the characters and dialogue remain consistently sporadic enough to entertain, the situations are formulaic and don’t require a lot of effort to think up. A huge indicator of this is the extreme number of fetch quests and backtracking the player has to do in order to advance. It creates an emotional slog of probable cause, simulating the walls between the player and the end of the maze as a single straight line with minor hedges inhibiting progress. This issue isn’t so apparent that one would feel as though every chapter is exactly alike, but it happens enough to entertain the idea.

As I’ve noted a few times within my Traveling Thoughts of the series, Thousand-Year Door, despite being a Gamecube title released over ten years ago, rivals that of games released only a couple years ago in simplistic charm and vibrancy. Art direction is a major factor in the quality of the game, with a number of different skins and costumes to differentiate individual characters. While many are familiar with the original design of Toad, within the borders of Thousand-Year Door, there are a number of different kinds of Toads ranging from colors, costumes, and even hair styles. Not only Toad, but many different creatures and species within the Mushroom Kingdom return with their own private wardrobes, including (but not limited to) Goombas, Koopas, Piantas, and Bob-ombs. Even so, the number of new creatures present accentuates the feeling of being outside the range of the Mushroom Kingdom. Even said new creatures are given a variety of different versions—to the point where some may question the level of effort in creating more species. If nothing else, one might only need to look at the box cover and be enticed to at least try it out.

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Despite all of the different factors to characters, dialogue, and settings, there’s a mundaneness in long stretches of playtime. Much to the chagrin of the charm of the dialogue and character count, the amount of traveling from place to place leaves much to the imagination. The player spends a good portion of their time walking back and forth from place to place, encountering enemies and little side-puzzles to keep them busy in the meantime—with only little of this changing as the chapter count increases. If one doesn’t have a specific way to keep themselves entertained and the dialogue doesn’t do much for them, they won’t find much fun outside of battles. The puzzles, while occasionally challenging, are pretty complacent. The level of effort put into the environment of each room doesn’t exude that same energy as the wordplay of the environments’ denizens. It almost feels like a big, empty room on occasion, depending on the situation. The interactivity one can do outside battles through the use of the Jump and Hammer abilities give a little shine to an otherwise darkened sanctuary, though not by much.

Inside of battles is a different story altogether. The battle system to Thousand-Year Door is simplistic at best, but immensely entertaining and satisfying when the player can bend their abilities to their whim. The number of items one can use can really turn the tide of battle, while also taking advantage of certain strengths such as high defenses or airborne threats. The number of different things one can do are within a certain scope, but can be expanded upon through use of badges, which allow Mario and his partners to do a variety of different attacks and benefits to the party. The inclusion of an audience that occasionally interferes with the battle is also a hilariously inconvenient way of loosening up battles. Whether they be for or against you, it’s almost random how things can turn out during long bouts. It’s an extremely addicting aspect to what could be aggravating in other RPG games, as I find myself clamoring for battle at almost all times. Every little bit of experience points are nice, but it’s decimating the opponents without a second thought that gets me going. The little things in life.

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There’s a fine line between making fun of clichés by inclusion and simply furthering the clichés by inclusion. In terms of quantity and quality, quantity is a much more heavy factor in this case, with a number of different familiar elements to the genre making cameos within Thousand-Year Door‘s story. One will likely grow tired of the “Old people are cranky and hard of hearing” jokes that litter throughout the story, as well as the bad guy blasting off again. One would also likely be appalled by the ending sequences. It weighs down an already exuberant story with something most are already familiar with—or will be with time, assuming they still play video games afterwards. It adds to the monotony to every chapter despite being different enough to be differentiated.

At the end of the day, does Thousand-Year Door really add anything to the Mario universe? Does it give the impression of a favorably canon storyline worth going through? Altogether, I think so. There’s a lot of charm to the game that many hold dear, and with good reason. It’s an established and test-proven formula that works for a lot of people while injecting just enough Nintendo magic to boost it further than others. Even so, the game is simplistic in its approach to progression and storytelling, and is ultimately much more similar to others within the genre than it lets on—good and bad. If I were to cement its status with a single word, I would choose “effort,” as the game puts a tremendous amount of effort into making everything great about the game as great as possible. Unfortunately, effort can only do so much when leaning on basics and stereotypes as a crutch, leaving the game with a lot less substance gameplay-wise than I remember from my youth.

Final Score: 6.5/10

The rating for this title and more can be found on MyVideoGameList.

(All gameplay screenshots for this review and every individual piece courtesy of PlayingWithMahWiiMojozgothwood9PKSparkxx DatHottneSSchuggaaconroyNamiNami, and Yoshiller.)

Flame Which All Others Compare

“Stay back!” the funny little jellybean yells towards nothing in particular. “The flame is mine! Don’t anyone come near! Nobody!”

Quickly scanning his surroundings, the funny little jellybean eyes a few pieces of oxygen here and there. The dirty little infestations are hovering around the premise of the sacred flame and he would not have it! Not one bit!

“Shoo! Shoo! Nasty little things like you would only let the flame wear thin!” The funny little jellybean flails his body up and down and all around, trying to smash the invisible pieces of existence into nothing. His grunts and groans echo throughout the abandoned forest, with the trees holding firm and the sky giving birth to the encompassing moon. The trees’ afros and pretty little extensions cut segments of the darkened sky into a picture of individual perception. If from here the moon looks down upon the funny little jelly bean and his rambunctious raucous and bouncy bustling, one might be familiar with this scene.

The funny little jellybean, satisfied with his pummeling of powdered puffs, retreats back to his treasure, his reason, his utmost passion beyond everything: the flame. How enlightening, how strengthening, this particular flame is. A flame so massive it could defile any material, yet so controlled that one could mock its most sensitive areas and still remain unsinged. The quivering ferocity furnished deep within the body of the flame holds steady the constant and unwavering base magnificently. A timid maroon tucked inside, surrounded by flashes of hot pink and flickers of deep orange and light purple embody the distinctness of the flame’s beauty in color. Its warmth and inviting sensation colors the funny little jellybean with its own color of hot pink. However, the most amazing of all feelings are contained in the roar of the fire’s silence, that which sends waves of coldness and hesitation though the body of our dear funny little jellybean. “Truly,” it thinks to itself, “this is the flame to compare all flames.”

“Say here, bean!” A voice echoes through the murky woods. The funny little jellybean turns its being towards the source of the hoarse voice and gasps. It cannot be! Beyond his sugary frame lay before him yet another flame! A flame whose magnificence radiates from its kindling frame, with strength to steady its turbulent uniformity. A flame which sparks and overflows with a decadence known only to royalty. It shines with a vivid blue hue, that which cuts into the image of the darkened sky with a feeling of insightful melancholy. “Must you waste your tasty tarts on this flacid flame? I am more suited for your jolly jelly!”

“W-What is this? How can this be?” The funny little jellybean looks from flame to flame. “Is there another that cannot compare? Is there another whose embers red flare?”

“I am that with which you seek! And if I be late, let me fight my way through! Let me warm your soul with my illuminous persona! Give me the chance to show how bright I may shine, how high my body may soar, with your precious embrace to power my core!”

The newcomer glistens in the darkness. A warmness that’s familiar, yet bizarre. A feeling so queer it leaves the funny little jellybean isolated and in fear. It’s something so recognizable, yet so sudden and foreboding that the funny little jellybean flutters from side to side. Its mind, or lack thereof, races like bees preying upon a garden. It cannot think, it cannot will. It sputters and spurts until it goes away. The thought of this, the thought of that, the thought of thoughts to thoughtfully distraught. Who is the flame? What is the flame? Am I flaming the flame I possess now for a flame that beckons me further? The flame is all it knows. The flame, the flame.

“How do I know?” the funny little jellybean beckons. “How do I know you are the one to which all flames flicker?”

“Do you not see? How radiantly I glow? The power that I embody? Do you not feel the spark between us? The friction that bequeaths us towards each other? I am everything which you already have, only more! I am the superior flame! All other flames use I as a comparison to their beauty!”

“It is true… you call unto me like no other. Even my own flame does not show the same compassion, the same fire, with which you embody for my affection, my attention, my companionship.”

“So you admit you belong to me! That we are destined beyond our current situations!”

“It may be so…” The funny little jellybean turns and gazes upon the flame with which he once held the utmost regard. The flame that dazzled his vision without as much as any excessive burst. The silence cut deep into his bouncehouse heart. “Do you not wish for us to be together? Are you truly the flame for me? Have I been wrong all this time?”

The first flame remains solitary; working itself with the same precision that was flowing within it throughout this entire story. Its simplicity works with its efficiency. However, it remains silent to the beckoning little jelly bean, who regards it with a look of puzzlement.

“Ha! Not a single word on its defense. I am clearly the better of the two!” The new flame laughs maliciously, spreading a line of fire from its body to the ground below.

“But are you?” the little jellybean coos almost mechanically.

“I am! Do you disagree?”

The determined little jellybean rolls over the the old flame’s side, taking in the comfort that used to compel him so. “I disagree. It may not be as powerful, it may not be as beautiful, and it may not have as sly a tongue as thee, but let it be known that this is the flame for me!”

“And for what reason?”

“The reason that I know in my heart to be true; this flame is the flame for me, if only for the fact that its the only flame I care to believe in. The only flame I care to beckon, to comfort, to caress. The only flame that I feel comfortable with! This is the flame for me because you are not the flame for me!”

“What nonsense! How could you possibly know without any determination?”

The funny little jellybean turns toward the new flame, whose body burns with heightened ferocity and disgust. The color goes from a mellow blue to a frightening neon glow, like the moon’s mighty eye within the form of a solitary flame. If not for the trees and the moon in the sky, only this new flame would be visible in the withering eyes of this fidgety little jellybean.

“I don’t know.”