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Retro Review: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door


Sumez

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Fresh off the visceral feast that is Paper Mario: The Origami King, I decided to immediately look back and dive into the game that most fans of the series hold dearer than anything, and apparently the game that makes it hard for people to accept that none of the sequels have been following directly in its footsteps.
Free from nostalgia towards one of the few Mario RPGs that I still had yet to play I tried understanding what made this one so special, and to be honest, it's not as clear cut as I had hoped for.

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Maybe Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a good example of how your memories of playing a game might some times be a little misleading, and to be honest I had an experience not unlike that with Super Paper Mario.
Thinking back on that game, I have nothing but love for all the bizarre and obscene turns the story would take, really making it stand out next to the much more conventional video games you'd normally expect from Nintendo. But going back and reading the thoughts I had on the game when it came out, it is clear that I did not appreciate it as much as I recalled. It is very easy to forget the tedious treks between high moments, when those high moments are the ones that are memorable.
And TTYD is not short of memorable moments, I will give it that. I think I can see why some people hold it in such high regard. Every chapter stands out simply due to the creative ideas that fuel them, as well as the careful balance between relying on tropes and subverting them.
But it's a great concept moreso than it's a great video game.

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For every chapter, Mario travels from the central hub of Rogueport to a new adventure, each of them adding to a vigorous gallery of silly and colorful characters. They all form individual stories which serve to make the adventure feel like a grand one, but also function brilliantly as a setup for the inevitable end of the journey, where they all come together in support of their hero. In one chapter, Mario's identity gets stolen when he becomes unable to use his own name, and in another he solves mysteries aboard a luxury train.
Most of these bits are enjoyable, even if they don't all pay off equally well. Between each chapter you get to play small stories from Princess Peach's experiences in captivity, or Bowser's adventures following Mario's trails. But the former never gets to do anything useful, and the latter's inability to ever make any progress before the game is over is almost frustrating. I do enjoy it when the Mario RPGs turn Bowser into a goofy side character, but simply refusing him to even play a role in the story (despite being briefly playable) feels like a wasted effort.

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This is a minor nitpick though, and the game has notably worse issues, usually manifesting in its endless, kafkaesque backtracking between the same two points in a chapter, which are often designed as a singular horizontal hallway between those points (which makes sense for the train chapter I guess, but nowhere else). This is especially confusing considering how well designed the hub area is, with many fun nooks and crannies to explore, and a complete underground area with branching paths. To make it even worse, the game's sidequests - which are all picked from the same bulletin board, strictly limited to only doing one at a time, for no reason aside other than annoying the player - dial this aspect up to 11, being designed entirely around revisiting old areas and doing nothing there.

In one really egregious example you're tasked with returning to the game's first chapter and going all the way through the first dungeon to the place where you fought the boss only to open a chest there and then go all the way back again. This would have been a good excuse to add a new spin on some of the locations you've visited, or at least sprinkle in some new enemies so you don't waste your time with the old ones. Or maybe something happens along the way that you didn't expect. Or at least maybe just have a character say something? But there's nothing, and unfortunately that's how most of the backtracking in this game works - you just go back and forth for the sake of doing so, and the game's mantra seems to be "What the hell, I was JUST there!"

It's essentially padding out the game to a massive degree while adding no real new content. But after a while you realise that maybe the game generally just enjoys wasting your time?
There's a piece of dialogue in the game where a character tells her fiancee to say that he loves her 100 times, and you have to punch through 100 identical speech bubbles. I'm not making this up. One sidequest has you visit a character to ask him what he wants to eat, you then return through the main hub to a hot dog stand in another area, back through the same hub and back to the character again. After eating the hot dog the guy sends you to grab another one, and if you listen closely you can hear the developers giggling to themselves "Hurh hurh, look at this guy, he should have gotten two in the first place". But no one else is laughing with them.
And that's not even the worst example of this behavior - I'm sure vets of the game will shudder in unison if I mention the name of General White. I could go on for hours, because the game is violently littered with this, but in all fairness it is one of only few real issues with the game. It's just an extremely prevalent one.

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So, what do we want from a Mario RPG? Although the Paper Mario series especially has veered off into directions that could and has made people argue whether it's really an "RPG" anymore, some features were cemented in the original SNES game, and have remained fairly consistent throughout both this and the parallel Mario & Luigi series.
It raised the stakes to new heights, created an enjoyably goofy world around Mario that provided a brand new perspective on the mushroom kingdom world, mixed platforming elements into the overworld exploration and spiced up the battle system with real time action prompts. Oh, and somehow Mario using a hammer to wack enemies has been a staple in every single one of them as well.
I think the first Paper Mario dialed back that formula a little. The Japanese title "Mario Story" only underlines the fact that they were going for a cutesy storybook format, which is also that game's primary appeal. Bowser kidnaps the princess, and we're back on another comfortable adventure. Between this and Super Paper Mario's interdimensional extravaganza, TTYD forms what I guess is a middle ground that's attractive enough that most people tends to gravitate towards it as their favourite. It sees Mario going beyond what the Mushroom Kingdom typically has to offer, but never strays too far from the familiar. For fans of the original Super Mario RPG, this game is probably the closest they will ever get to a genuine sequel (again, the Japanese title "Paper Mario RPG" sort of exposes this).

Among its strokes of actual genius is the improved partner system, in which the friends Mario picks up along the way will help solve puzzles in the overworld, or tackle combat in well thought out ways that make nearly all of them feel equally useful and never redundant. Compared to the first game, their abilities often involve more creative situations that feel engaging, as opposed to simply being a key to progress.
In trying to pinpoint exactly what causes people to put TTYD on a pedestal above its successors, I'm guessing this system more than anything is missed. Especially considering it feels like it would fit really well into Origami King, it's almost surprising that it isn't there.
The "badges" that you can acquire to customize your combat style are another popular element, shared only between the first two Paper Mario games. Effectively they tend to fall into either no-brainers, superfluous, or gamebreaking, but the fact that they exist at least opens up a potential that keeps the otherwise somewhat tedious turn-based battles from going stale.

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Outside of these two, however, I struggle to think of anything else this game does better than the latest outing in the series. The strong points about the story and world building that I liked the most about TTYD are present in Origami King, and honestly stronger than ever.
Playing the two games back to back, it makes it really obvious how much Origami King relies on its presentation in order to cement the versatile experience that is at its core. The game is a visual feast that never ceases to be creative in the way it utilizes the papercraft world in new, weird, and consistently satisfying ways. Its budget is massive, and it is being put to work in the best way it could.

TTYD is a lot more modest. It establishes its format almost to a rule very early on, and never strays from it. Its most prevalent gimmick is the recurring trick of having literally hundreds of individually moving objects on screen without slowdown - something that, to be honest, still feels kinda impressive today. But the contrast between these games makes it very clear that between the two, TTYD is the traditional and grounded adventure, while Origami King is the one that truly goes off the rails. I don't want to spoil everything, but it definitely threw me off guard more than once by changing its structure. And I feel like... that's the kind of stuff I want from Paper Mario. I want the traditional RPG tropes challenged along with the tight and protected Super Mario universe, and I want to be surprised. The best parts of TTYD is definitely when the game surprised me, and I think Origami King takes this aspect to a new level, which deserves recognition!

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I haven't played most of the Paper Mario games, so I have no dog in this fight.  But it is always interesting to read alternate takes, especially when there is no nostalgia involved.

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I appreciate your review. I've played the OG Paper Mario and enjoyed it and I got about half way Super Mario RPG.  I really want Origami King and I just bought TTYD with the intention of playing it first.  I think this review solidifies that I want to play TTYD first.  I still think I'll enjoy it, in spite of the flaws you point out, but it sounds like OK might actually be the better of the two.  We'll see.

Thanks for the review.  It was well written and a good read.

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13 hours ago, RH said:

think this review solidifies that I want to play TTYD first.  I still think I'll enjoy it, in spite of the flaws you point out, but it sounds like OK might actually be the better of the two.  We'll see.

If you can find it in yourself to not strive for completion, I sincerely recommend that you skip every single sidequest on the bulletin board in the hub town with exception of the one called "elusive badge" (which you want to do as soon as you can). Most of them give pointless rewards like a couple of coins anyway.

The sidetracking is still bad in the game's mandatory chapters, but I think it's a lot less likely to challenge your patience if it isn't tag teamed by the inane sidequests, and that should help enjoying the game a lot more. 😛 

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16 hours ago, RH said:

@Sumez I might have missed it but did you 100% this game, or come close?

I guess that depends on your definition of 100%. I did all the sidequests, but I didn't go out of the way to complete the recipe or badge lists, which seems pointless. 🙂
The game adds a couple of more pointless quests after the final chapter, but doesn't really offer anything to do post-completion, even though it does let you load a completed save slot and continue where you left off.

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Fair review. I love TTYD, it has tons of charm and polish, but the redundancy and artificial game-stretching were much more acceptable when I was a student and had the time to grind them out. If I fired this game up for the first time as an adult, I don't know what I'd think. In fact, I think even back in the day, I remember reaching for this game, thinking "oh, I have to fight a whole bunch of people in the Glitz Pit. Uhh, maybe I'll do that later." Then went treasure hunting in Wind Waker instead.

I'm definitely going to check out Origami King though. Sold!

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I definitely want to play through Origami King so I can make my own comparison to TTYD.  As I've mentioned in a different thread, I am able to say that my praises for TTYD have nothing to do with nostalgia since I didn't even play it until several generations after it's release.  I'm hoping to pick Origami King up sometime this year.  Maybe I will get lucky and find a good deal on it if GS does any type of B1G1 deal on used games.  Sometimes Target even has B2G1 on new games which SOMETIMES includes Nintendo titles.  I just have too much going on right now to pay full price for a game that I won't play immediately.    

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Thousand year door had better character and enemy designs, in paper games since sticker star it's mostly your standard mario fair plus objects.

It's a miracle that they finally can give them toads some different clothes and use origami characters to bypass the not altering existing character rule. such a stupid rule in all honesty why would they do this. paper mario got miyamoto'd big time.

https://www.nintendoenthusiast.com/paper-mario-producer-kensuke-tanabe-modify-mario-characters/

Paper mario was known for it's whacky designs until sticker star that took all that creativity away. bosses are objects or koopalings. ever noticed how even in origami king the standard enemies are pretty much all standard mario fair. npc's and bosses are downgraded designs aswell it's not even a contest. This entry they just camouflaged it by them being origami folds. as I'd like to say the new super mario bros look.

https://www.mariowiki.com/Paper_Mario:_The_Thousand-Year_Door_bestiary

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https://www.mariowiki.com/Paper_Mario:_The_Origami_King_bestiary

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Thousand year door had a more interesting story and side objectives that touch them finer details and have depth wich could easily be missed, origami king while massively improved compared to color spash while entertaining lacks it allot. 

Sticker star onwards with origami king clearly being the best of them 3 games pretty much dropped the rpg element and story aspect and have more focus on being an action adventure game. especially in origami king

Aside from the paper gimmick art style it's hard to compare old and new paper mario games

Thousand year door is an rpg with an interesting story that has complex side topics at times

Origami king is all about the paper gimmick art style and visuals, not to mention a more action packed battle system with puzzles, it's easier to pick up and play. why don't they just turn it into a super paper mario game already it has some non turned based battles after all just drop the turnbased system already if you want to drop the rpg genre anyway.

paper gimmicks are nice and all, but paper mario 64 and thousand year door just so happened to have a paper gimmick art style, most older fans don't really give a damm about that, what they loved was the story and lively world and the rpg battle system. if it had a paper art style or not would make zero difference.

Modern paper mario took all of that away and only focussed on the paper gimmicks art style literally ignoring what the older fans liked about paper mario in the first place. as myiamoto liked to say who needs a story?

 

At the very end of the day it's all about preference because old and modern paper mario are pretty different. aside from the paper gimmick art style and exploration while losing creativity in character design thanks to restrictions by nintendo, allothas  changed what people liked so much about the original in both content and actual gameplay.

if you like an actual rpg slower paced game with an interesting story 64 and especially thousand year door are for you

If you like a more action packed game, a less deep but satisfying story and a game that looks nice origami king is for you

 

again modern paper mario has turned into an action adventure game with a simplified story that is accesible for all ages, Thousand year door is an rpg with a cool battle system and finer details in it's story and side quests. 

This ain't about nostalgia I've played the game years later past it's release different genre's really.

I could definitely see why people either hate or love origami king but both are different genre's of games I'd say. Can you really compare the two. Paper mario has turned into something else really. Unless you where in it for just the paper gimmicks exploration since the beginning I find it hard to imagine how you could compare the games.

Edited by SwordDude
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@SwordDude I actually have a lot to say about this, and considered making another post on the subject, since it doesn't really fit into the TTYD review by itself. I do touch on it slightly at the end of the review though.

Basically, after playing every Paper Mario game aside from Sticker Star, I think the stuff that you're talking about, the stuff that makes people shy away from the new Paper Mario games and long for the early ones, started making more sense to me. Despite still having more similarities than differences (IMO), they still clearly feel like different series, that's definitely true.
But I don't think the way that you and other people lay it out is completely true, or fair to the newer games, but I think that's probably heavily influenced by Sticker Star. With the next two games following the rails laid down by that game it might be easy to overlook just how unique and creative they actually are, simply due to the fact that they are that in different ways.

Yes, the Mario universe has become more tightly controlled since the "Mario Sunshine" era around which the first two games were conceived (with one being released slightly before, and the other slightly after). But I don't believe that means it can't go off the rails in similar ways.

The thing is, TTYD has its own identity, but it isn't necessarily any more "wacky" and "creative". And calling the story "good" and especially "deep" is a massive stretch. It was serviceable, and had an interesting world, and that's all it needed.
In my opinion Origami King goes all the way with that, and it does so despite using mostly toads as NPCs. I do miss some of the aspects of the original Paper Mario games, but at the same time the game's creativity doesn't suffer from it. The sense of humor is incredible, and the crazy ideas just keep coming out. Like I say in my review, TTYD is really a much more traditional RPG adventure that doesn't do nearly as much to shake up the formula as even Color Splash does.

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3 hours ago, Sumez said:

@SwordDude I actually have a lot to say about this, and considered making another post on the subject, since it doesn't really fit into the TTYD review by itself. I do touch on it slightly at the end of the review though.

Basically, after playing every Paper Mario game aside from Sticker Star, I think the stuff that you're talking about, the stuff that makes people shy away from the new Paper Mario games and long for the early ones, started making more sense to me. Despite still having more similarities than differences (IMO), they still clearly feel like different series, that's definitely true.
But I don't think the way that you and other people lay it out is completely true, or fair to the newer games, but I think that's probably heavily influenced by Sticker Star. With the next two games following the rails laid down by that game it might be easy to overlook just how unique and creative they actually are, simply due to the fact that they are that in different ways.

Yes, the Mario universe has become more tightly controlled since the "Mario Sunshine" era around which the first two games were conceived (with one being released slightly before, and the other slightly after). But I don't believe that means it can't go off the rails in similar ways.

The thing is, TTYD has its own identity, but it isn't necessarily any more "wacky" and "creative". And calling the story "good" and especially "deep" is a massive stretch. It was serviceable, and had an interesting world, and that's all it needed.
In my opinion Origami King goes all the way with that, and it does so despite using mostly toads as NPCs. I do miss some of the aspects of the original Paper Mario games, but at the same time the game's creativity doesn't suffer from it. The sense of humor is incredible, and the crazy ideas just keep coming out. Like I say in my review, TTYD is really a much more traditional RPG adventure that doesn't do nearly as much to shake up the formula as even Color Splash does.

 

have you seen the super paper mario designs? that might be even less of the mario universe than thousand year door was.

Those might be even more creative than a thousand year door and that's well past sunshine. 

Super paper mario wii still had an amazing story. arguably the deepest story in the series only brought down by it's inferior gameplay. and just in comparison as a fan of the older series, origami king still doesnt have great gameplay and not a great story. at least super paper mario kept the designs and the interesting story that made past games so great. even with origami king I can't say the same. the only thing that's left is the paper mario art style and exploration. also if where ignoring rpg elements anyway, I actually enjoyed super paper mario's more action based real time battles allot more than even origami king. They should just drop the turn based battle system already.

Again like I said though, modern paper mario games are about the paper gimmicks  that do indeed stretch up the formula allot. it's the reason why they wanted to get rid of the rpg and story elements in the first place. And yes I agree in terms of paper art both color splash and origami king are nice. and sure they do swap up the gameplay most definitely wich especially in color splash was really boring. even the boss battles where bad in color splash. I've never been so bored of koopalings.  origami king with it's battles definitely swaps up the gameplay it's creative but I can't say it's more fun. It's better than color splash but color splash was pretty bad. 

Still though if paper mario just had the mario & luigi rpg style it would literally make zero difference to me. the paper art style is cute but those designs could easily work with the mario & luigi art style aswell. The paper gimmicks are not the reason what made these games good in the first place. 

if you like action packed gameplay especially origami king is an improvement. but where not talking 3d mario here. for me personally i don't like it to much. it's middle of the road really slower paced action adventure game story ain't that complex. Switching up the gameplay was imo not for the best, only the boss battles are somewhat entertaining in origami king.

If I want action I'm playing odyssey galaxy sunshine 64. Paper gimmicks while nice visually in terms of the actual action is not that interesting. There is definitely a market for it but for me it isn't a great action genre. While dropping the rpg aspect and more serious story from previous entries that actually made it so good. 3d mario always keeps the exact same gameplay. the paper gimmicks could have worked the same way as 3d mario did it. galaxy sunshine and odyssey all have different lvl design and power up gimmicks but the raw 3d platforming and movement options are still present unlike paper mario in wich the battle system is just changed completely. story was pretty non existent in sticker star and color splash. that part has seen a bit of a recovery in origami king at least.

In terms of story origami king was definitely an improvement over color splash absolutely. but moments such as bobby are rare, and it's still a far cry compared to super paper mario wii or thousand year door. it's still ironic how even a mainline 3d mario games has more unique character alterations than the current paper mario games.

Exploration could argubaly be better, but the more standard mario designs do lessen the experience for me if they stuck with the creativity of the OG trilogy the games would have been amazing. The characters do have funny dialogue from time to time but it's not as good as the OG paper mario trilogy

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Speaking of thousand year door

in terms of more complex topics vivian was a transgender in a paper mario game suitable for a kids I'm just saying. Dialogue and story in thousand year door and super paper mario was just so much more interesting to me. but again I definitely see modern and classic paper mario as different genre's it's only logical. your right though the older games might have less whacky stories because they are actually a bit more serious while having funny moments aswell it's all about preference at the very end of the day. Paper gimmick jokes where a bit to much in color splash though. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vivian_(Paper_Mario)

Edited by SwordDude
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