The original Paper Mario was my first game review and it set a high standard for the sequel, which I hadn’t played in almost 10 years. The Thousand Year Door (TTYD) thankfully has lived up to the memories I had of it, and exceeded any sort of expectation the first one could have set.
The game starts when Mario receives a treasure map in the mail from Princess Peach with a request to join her in Rogueport, a town that has a less than glamorous reputation for criminality. After he leaves Luigi back at the house (again), Mario departs to find, not Princess Peach, but instead a lot of information regarding the treasure of Rogueport, which is tied to his map he received. He soon discovers that the map is actually bringing him to the Crystal Stars (with no reference to the first games Stars) and he has to find them all before a gang of goons called the X-Nauts do. He befriends a knowledgeable Goomba named Goombella and they go off to get their first Crystal Star at Hooktail Castle. But those aren’t the only stories going on, Peach is kidnapped by the X-Nauts and is trying to escape, and Bowser is upset about the competition to take Peach and the world and you get to play as him during his segments too! After getting your first Star, you are quickly enveloped in a wild and unpredictable ride as you fight tons of battles, befriend a wacky cast of lovable characters, and save Princess Peach and the world.
TTYD is very similar to the original Paper Mario in terms of presentation and combat, with the exception that everything is 10 times better. Mario travels around and can jump and hammer just like before, but one thing that changed for him was the fact that he actually gets his own abilities now instead of having fifty friends for fifty scenarios. He can roll into a tube to get into lower spaces or turn into an airplane so he can fly across longer distances. This change made the game less menu dependent than the original, because you no longer have to swap your friends every five steps. One major difference is how the combat can play out. In the original, Mario fights on top of a stage with no audience but the player, while in TTYD he fights in front of an interactive audience of good guys mixed with bad guys. The audience can randomly attack, help, or support you, which really breaks the monotony RPG battles can have. The inclusion of this helps give the fight scenes a more interactive feeling; you’re not just pressing three buttons and the combats done, but are constantly engaged to see what the audience is doing or what they can do to help you.Their main function, however, is to rate you after you attack your enemy. If you press A at the right time to perform a Stylish pose, they give you more and more star power for your star moves the more Stylish you get. Badges are still a very major function for Paper Mario and strategic planning will prove to be very helpful as you acquire more and attach them to the man himself.
Apart from the combat, which you will get more than enough exposure to, the real gold of the game is its characters and their story. Its entertaining storytelling and immersion make it more than just a story, but a tale that you really feel apart of. Talking to the regular townsfolk provide a wide assortment of hints, tips, and even comedic dialogue as you find your way to the stars, but your partners and the relevant NPCs all help give each scenario and chapter its own separate feel. Whenever someone would ask me where I am at in the game my answer could vary from, participating in the Wrestlemania segment, solving the Murder on the Orient Express section, or just backtracking to see what else I could go back for, its almost never a dull point.
While I am praising the game a lot compared to some other games I played, TTYD is not without flaw. A good portion of the 35 hours I put into this adventure was running around doing almost meaningless fetch quests. You would be forced to go on an elongated quest for something like a wedding ring on a tropical island, and after the dialogue, travel time, fights in between, it would be another 45 minutes to an hour of wasted time. I gather that it may have been to help strengthen Mario up so that you would be ready for the upcoming challenges, but I found that I didn’t really have to grind to be ready. I didn’t run away from battles unless it was a dire situation, but I never really had to struggle against any of the groups of baddies or their boss.
Playing through TTYD was an absolute blast. It takes the original and improves what it did well to provide a more immersive and interactive experience for the players. It is its own separate story from the first one, and there are only 2-3 references, so don’t feel obligated to play the first one if you don’t want to yet. I am so glad it stood more than the test of time and clout of nostalgia goggles don’t hinder its greatness at all. If you start this one, prepare for not only one of the best RPG’s on the Gamecube, but one of the best RPG’s ever!