JRPG Journey 2020: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (March)
February’s game: Final Fantasy IX
April’s game: Valkyria Chronicles 4
Welcome back to my 12-game JRPG journey. In the past month COVID-19 has become a global pandemic, which incidentally makes 2020 the perfect year to play JRPGs all day. Hope you’re staying safe and getting some extra time in for games yourself. My selection for March is Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (which I’ll refer to as “TTYD”), developed by Intelligent Systems and released in 2004.
TTYD is the sequel to the Nintendo 64's Paper Mario, itself a spiritual successor to the SNES classic Super Mario RPG. Having played both of these previous games, I was excited to finally dig into a title that’s been sitting on my shelf for the better part of fifteen years. I hadn’t gotten to it sooner since I wanted to play the original Paper Mario first, and that only happened a few years ago. So 2020 was a great time to knock out this beast of a game.
Super Mario RPG was the first RPG I ever played as a kid, and not having revisited it in full as an adult, I won’t be able to make many comparisons to that game. Paper Mario, on the other hand, I remember quite well, and I was surprised at how similar TTYD was to the first game. I’m talking down to the party characters, badges, attacks, and even towns. I didn’t need another village full of Koopas or Goombas, and I wish more aspects of this game felt new instead of rehashed from the first game. This sours my opinion on the entire experience, to be frank, but the negatives don’t end there.
A disappointing number of chapters consisted mostly of running back and forth between one long, linear path, with little to do other than battle enemies. I can’t stress enough how much this hurts the game overall and kills any of my desire to replay it. Adding to this is the fact that many of the levels are gorgeous and original, at least for the Mario series, so not having much to do in then is a bummer.
It’s good, then, that combat is the most interesting and fun part of the series so far. (However, I do wish there were more to do in each stage aside from battles. I’ve heard Super Paper Mario fixes this, albeit at the unfortunate expense of combat.) Badge management and experimentation was my favorite part of Paper Mario, and it’s even better here. Naturally, I favor a mostly BP build and ended the game with 15 HP, 20 FP and God knows how many BP. This made every boss fight a ton of fun, and I never grew bored of the combat.
The overworld, on the other hand, is satisfying in its design, secrets, shops, and shady characters. Rogueport and the ruins beneath it make for one of the most mysterious and unique locations in the Mario series. It was nice to see old favorites like Chet Rippo as well as the abundance of new characters. This is a full-fledged RPG, and man is that cool to see for a Nintendo property.
The writers hit on many topics that aren’t necessarily kid-targeted, especially in Princess Peach’s side story. And by that I mean some of the content will go over younger players’ heads, not that it’s inappropriate for them. Refreshing to see this in a Mario game, and I hope the future Paper Mario games kept this spirit. Speaking of Princess Peach, she gets her own side story here, and it’s mostly engaging. Her segments, along with brief platforming sections where you control Bowser, serve to break up the main chapters and don’t overstay their welcome. Including them was a good choice by Intelligent Systems.
Side quests, most of which are managed by a message board system, are numerous but usually feel like padding. Almost all are fetch quests or deliveries to places in previous stages that you’ve been to many times, often involving numerous back-and-forth trips. These aren’t fun, and I only did them for the potential rewards, which were only sometimes decent. TTYD is twice as long as it needs to be, and my 35-hour playtime is proof. There’s only around 15 hours of engaging content here, and that’s a shame.
Overall, The Thousand-Year Door doesn’t quite live up to the hype that’s been built up over the years, but that may be partially my fault for waiting so long to play it. I’m glad I did, though, since the positives outweigh the negatives, and man is that combat a blast. I’d recommend it to any fan of JRPGs.
Next month I’ll be playing Valkyria Chronicles 4, a recent release in a series started by one of my favorite games of all time. Come back in May to see if it’s up to snuff with the first title.