Allow me to introduce something new: traveling thoughts. In these entries, I will provide thoughts and overall commentary on a particular subject (in this instance a video game) through bits and pieces of its overall quantity, following a path from beginning to end, and with some miscellaneous bits thrown in here and there. As soon as I cover every bit, I’ll make a review of the game/album/book/etc. in its entirety. This is more just a way of
overanalyzing the pieces of a subject that better represent what makes the whole of it either good or bad. And hey, I need to spruce up this blog somehow.
I’ve decided to begin with Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, one of my favorite games of all time and a perfect candidate for something along these lines. The game is split up into chapters that have Mario and various comrades traveling to different areas to collect necessary items to advance through the game. What better way than to split up these traveling thoughts than with one entry per chapter? Although, the game also begins with a prologue that… well, I’ll get to that later on. For now, allow me to begin my traveling thoughts.
Oh, but one last thing. Since this is an in-depth analysis of each part, there will absolutely be spoilers.
The beginning of Thousand-Year Door isn’t anything innovative or immersive. The player has dialogue box after dialogue box of exposition and plot that is explained to them throughout the first few minutes of the game, assuming they didn’t immediately hit “start” upon viewing the opening cutscene. In case they did, the story behind the game is that Princess Peach was dillydallying in a run-down town called Rogueport when she came across a hooded figure who sold her a treasure map that revealed the location of the Crystal Stars. These Crystal Stars were the keys to opening up the Thousand-Year Door, a, hence the name, door that led to an ancient treasure hidden deep within Rogueport’s underground tunnels. The cutscene ends with the map glowing in Peach’s hands as she looks like she’s about to be suffocated by its brightened glory. The game then abruptly shows the title screen.
When starting the actual game, the player is shown even more exposition by re-telling the main plot of the game, but this time, through the perspective of Mario. He’s living at home with his brother Luigi when a paratroopa alerts them that they have mail. Luigi goes out and retrieves the mail, comes back inside, and calls for Mario. Luigi tells him of a letter addressed to him from Princess Peach, which he goes on to read. The contents of the letter re-tell what was shown in the opening cutscene, noting that Princess Peach basically orders him to make the trip to Rogueport. It then abruptly cuts (again) to a boat sailing across the open sea, with the title of the game in big letters overhead.
Depending on how fast a reader the player is (or if they skip the dialogue altogether), this opening sequence could take anywhere from 2-5 minutes. After continuing on with the oversea trip, there comes even more dialogue between a ship employee and Mario sleeping soundly in his bed. It is not until the scene finally cuts to the boat landing at Rogueport’s dock and reversing course (with some more dialogue, of course) that the player finally has any control over Mario’s actions. As is typical with any RPG, dialogue and exposition is a standard thing within the opening. Part of me wonders if they couldn’t have cut a little of that dialogue out to let the player control Mario a little sooner, or at least let them control him while in his home or something. It makes the starting point needlessly slow, and unless you’re playing this (or any RPG in general) for the first time, the story won’t grab your attention to any degree. At least the game looks great.
After taking control of Mario, you’re free to travel along the (albeit small) Rogueport Dock. The various denizens, which include Bob-ombs and Toads, will give you some starter advice and trivial Rogueport chatter if you choose to talk to them, and the immediate area provides a Save Block so that you won’t have to be subject to all that exposition again. After traveling upwards toward the Rogueport entrance, the player will be met with, surprise, surprise, more dialogue and plot. A female Goomba named Goombella is being confronted by a mysterious figure named Lord Crump and blah, blah, blah. Mario goes and “saves” her and the player is met with their first battle sequence. Goombella gives you all the battle “deets,” while facing off against a relatively easy first battle opponent. Once that’s over, Lord Crump calls in a hundred underlings to attack Mario and Goombella. Unfortunately for him, they’re useless and Mario and Goombella slip by completely unharmed and unnoticed.
Once the player proceeds into Rogueport’s main square, Goombella becomes one of a million female characters to kiss/swoon over Mario and his mustache. I note this only because I find it cringey in the sense that it’s self-inflating. The player is forced to combat more dialogue and plot until it is revealed that Princess Peach is missing and Toadsworth, the only old Toad, for some reason, tasks him with finding her. The game has the decency to show some random filler in the background while all of this is playing out, though, so it’s not completely mindless dribble. The game officially welcomes Goombella into your party, shows how she works, and lets you take control of Mario again. What’s cool about this game is that the player can start certain scripted events early and otherwise play the game out (to some extent) to their own basis. While the player isn’t given ultimate freedom, it does reward in-the-know players with little scripted tidbits that are only important in later chapters. The player can choose to explore most parts of Rogueport and talk to its citizens, while also challenging one member to a (rather decently challenging) fight to get to the east side of the town. There isn’t too much to do this early on, but it’s a nice way to get the player’s feet wet.
Continuing on with the plot, Mario is tasked with finding Professor Frankly, a known expert on Rogueport history and the Crystal Stars. Once found, the player gets to sit through 2-5 more minutes of dialogue between him and Goombella as he jabbers on about stupid things or basic info about the Crystal Stars. Getting through that, he leads the player to a pipe into Rogueport’s underground and tries to get you to re-visit combat basics before so. This game is an asshole because it always chooses the less convenient option first, so if the player isn’t careful, they’ll just continue to hit “A” not knowing that an option box will come up and automatically set them to do things they don’t want to. My advice: go through dialogue quickly, but carefully. I hit “B” when going through dialogue, personally. After refusing his proposal (unless you know nothing about this game), you go down the pipe and are met with Rogueport’s sewers. Going to the left leads you to nowhere but a building with a fortune teller inside that gives you hints about what you have to do, and going right will trigger a scripted event that automatically puts you into a battle that takes advantage of your multiple attacks. Gee, how convenient. Basically, a spiked Goomba that you can only Hammer, a flying Goomba that you can only Jump on, and a regular Goomba that you can choose to attack with both options. Defeating them is a piece of cake and you continue on going down Rogueport’s sewers.
While traversing the Sewers, the player is only met with two different species of enemies: Goombas and Spinias. Neither are particularly challenging and basically only serve as battle practice. In fact, all throughout the game are enemies that only serve as battle practice and experience buffers. There’s no real reason why most enemies are in the places they’re in. They’re just there because they can be and always attack you on sight. You could see them like wild animals that only protect their turf and self, but the game proves that most enemies are capable of logical thought and interaction. So… enjoy being the continual victim of self-defense, because everyone wants you dead because why not?
When the player gets to a certain room, they’ll be introduced to one of many Black Chests, a random demon placed inside a, hence the name, black chest that “curses” the player with an ability that allows them to advance the game. The placement of these things within the game on a logical level make no sense and are basically a running joke. “Oh, no. Mario got cursed and the demon thinks it’ll be a burden when in reality it helps him. Ahaha.” I tend not to think much of it, since this game is illogical and cliché almost to the point of parody, but it gets pretty repetitive after the first two or so. The player must retrieve a Black Key hidden somewhere outside the Black Chest’s room in order to activate the “curse” (and added dialogue), which is typically easy as shit to find. After achieving the “curse” that turns Mario into a paper airplane that allows him to travel across long distances, the player finally enters the room with the Thousand-Year Door. The player must step on a pedestal in the middle of the room to activate more dialogue and plot as magical bullshit takes the treasure map in Mario’s possession (which I forgot to mention was in the letter sent to him by Peach) and highlights the location of the first Crystal Star. Mario and his co-horts travel back to Frankly’s “lab,” if you will, and rack up more dialogue boxes about where Mario is supposed to go and whatever else.
There’s a lot of fucking talking in this Prologue. God damn.
After leaving Frankly’s lair, he gives Mario his first Badge as the game tries to trick you into getting him to explain the concept of Badges. Basically, the game runs on a “BP” system that allows Mario and his partners to boost up their stats or give them extra abilities based on Badges collected throughout the game. These Badges are essential for toning down the difficulty later in the game and otherwise making battles more convenient or less repetitive. Badges are an absolute God-send for the battle system of this game, because let me tell you, simply jumping on or hammering enemies is boring as shit. Truth be told, the beginning of this game is rather dry with the amount of dialogue you have to sit through and the limited amount of attacks present in battle. It’s not until later on when you’ve collected a nice assortment of attack badges and acquired more partners that the game becomes more enticing, especially when dealing with enemies that have conditions set upon them.
Going back down into the Sewers, Mario and Goombella take advantage of his Airplane ability and travel into a room not yet seen. There, they face the first mini-boss (unless you count Gus) of the game: a giant Blooper. The fight is caused because Mario has to Hammer his tentacle in order to progress through the game. Seeing as Mario can’t swim (for whatever reason), this is really the only way he has to communicate with him. ‘Cause c’mon, the player is itching to battle after sitting through all of that nothing. Assuming the player knows what they’re doing, the battle isn’t too difficult, but serves as a nice first real test for something as uneventful as the Prologue is in this game. Upon defeat, the Blooper will shoot up into the air(?) and reveal the path to a pipe that will lead into Chapter 1 of the game.
In essence, the Prologue of Thousand-Year Door is basically plot summarizing and dialogue. It’s the set-up, as its name implies, and sets everything in order for the main point of the game. I realize that a lot of this entry has just been me summarizing the events that take place, but that’s because that’s all that really happens. What the player is capable of doing is pretty enclosed before at least finishing up Chapter 1, aside from a few triggered events and some Rogueport citizen interactions. A good portion of the beginning of this game—I would argue at least half of it—is just going through dialogue boxes. It’s a lot of talking and a lot of plot-explaining. That’s the gist of the Prologue. In all honesty, it’s not too fun, and based solely on this alone, in another dimension where I’ve never played this game, I’d hesitate to continue. The story is bland, the constant talking is irritating, and the battle system is lackluster, but it shows good promise with the introduction of badges, the art style, and the promise of a bigger and better adventure.
One thing I didn’t really focus on throughout was the art and music that is set in this Prologue. The art of Thousand-Year Door in general is absolutely magnificent. Twelve years after the release of this game and it still looks fantastic. It might be one of the best looking games on the Gamecube. Its simplicity does wonders for its cartoon-ish color palette and overall vividness. It really makes Mario pop out when the run-down town around you is such a putrid blend of brown and gray. I love the attention to detail with the graffiti painted on walls, the ragged and casual wear of the citizens of the town, and the overall lack of morale shown within most townsfolk. It really paints an image that the town is known for: run-down and full of crime. But at the same time, it’s silly and it’s fun. It perfectly blends the sense of both juvenile rebellion and genuine corruption of self-servitude and money. While I feel the art is magnificent, the music is catchy and stylized, but doesn’t necessarily set the mood of Rogueport or its underground counterpart. I like the music based on overall catchiness and memorability, but it doesn’t necessarily suit the area in which it plays over, for the most part. The battle music is okay, but gets on my nerves sometimes.
Overall, the Prologue sets up potential for the rest of the game, but isn’t something one should necessarily point to as a highlight of the game. Filled to the brim with dialogue and lack of control, many players will find themselves skipping all the dialogue just so they can get on with the game. What they will find, however, is a bombastic style of art and catchy music along the way. An overall mediocre start, but the game can only get better from here on out. After all, most RPGs tend to be fairly dialogue-heavy, and Thousand-Year Door is no exception. I just only wish they were as creative with the implementation of its dialogue’s length as it was with the overall satirical nature of the dialogue itself. That, and the limit of control and things to do outside of the main objective. Play on, young soul.
(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of PlayingWithMahWii.)