Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door stands as a beloved gem in the RPG world, adored by players for its unique charm, engaging gameplay, and captivating storytelling. Released for the GameCube in 2004, this installment in the Paper Mario series has captured the hearts of fans with its distinctive paper-based visuals, memorable characters, and a battle system that remains a pinnacle of the genre. As I, Brighton Nelson, embark on a journey to revisit this classic title, I'll delve into its various aspects, from the mesmerizing battle system and the captivating story to the endearing characters and the world they inhabit. Now, without further ado, RPG Ranked presents... a Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Review: My second favorite game in my favorite series.
Battle System - 10
This is my favorite RPG battle system of all time! The interactivity, the audience, the partners, the Special Moves, the bingo wheel… There’s just so much charm and personality to everything here. Executing Action Commands and Stylish Moves never gets old, and the intricacies of this battle system are elevated by the fantastic Badge System. Everything about these battles exudes charm in all things, and I literally never have gotten bored of this system after replaying this game many times—heck, as bold as this may be, I kind of like the backtracking in this game because it is an excuse for more battling! And that means more BP, more customization, and more fun. This is just an endless cycle of fun, and it took the great foundation of Paper Mario 64’s battle system, and it probably won’t change. Unless I finally get around to playing Grandia II, Wild Arms 5, Chained Echoes, and all those other games with revered battle systems, this will stay my favorite. But still, who knows, this might stay my favorite even after I play those games! Only time will tell.
Story - 9
The overarching plot in this game is not all that special. However, this game’s story is so much more than the sum of its parts. Each individual moment in this chapter-based storytelling is as memorable and unique as the last, and each small-scale story is executed brilliantly: from Koops’s tale of gaining courage to slay the dragon who ate his dad to the story of Puni oppression and X-Naut tyranny in the Boggly Tree; to the mystery and intrigue of the corrupt Glitzville, to Vivian’s redemption story in Twilight Town; to Bobbery’s story of redefining meaning and hope, to the detective tale of Pennington and “Luigi”; from infiltrating the X-Naut Fortress and opening the The Thousand-Year Door. On top of all these small stories, we get fun story segments that cut over to Peach and Bowser, which add so much depth to the game. Peach and TEC’s relationship is endearing, and Bowser’s quest for the Crystal Stars could have been removable or unnecessary, but it adds so much loving charm to the game. Speaking of loving charm, the developers also took the time to give us a whole in-depth tale of what Luigi was up to during the events of the game! It was so well done, in fact, that fans are clamoring for a spin-off game called “Paper Luigi: The Marvelous Compass”... I’ve been begging for it for years, and fans are even trying to make their own versions of the game… these Luigi tales were just that incredible! Also, new and recurring villains like Doopliss, the Shadow Sirens, Lord Crump, and Grodus are all amusing and add so much more than Jr. Troopa ever could in the original. In summary, while the overarching story may not be as good as two of the other Paper Mario games, this game had so many beautiful moments and deserves a score of 9 out of 10.
Characters - 8.5
I only have a couple problems with the characters in this game. First of all, they just aren’t as developed as other RPG characters. While I don’t expect this game’s characters to have deep backstories and very emotional character growth, I can’t compare it to games that do so. And second of all, once partners are done with their time in the spotlight, they become relegated to obscurity, but they still stick with Mario for relatively unknown reasons. While many criticize the implementation of partners in The Origami King in terms of combat, that game did a much better job giving the characters motivations and story relevance in the time they were in the party, as well as their actions leaving a lasting impact (looking at you, Bobby) on the rest of the game. It would have been great to see something akin to a Tales series game or Octopath Traveler II, where characters have skits together, even if they bear no meaning in the plot. Seeing the partners actually be friends with one another could be absolutely phenomenal, and if this were the case and skits were somehow added in the remake, I would likely end up bumping this score up to a 10! But anyway, let’s get into the amazing parts of the characters in this game. While I already mentioned my love for the characters in the story section, each character has a charming and personal story that Mario is thrust into, telling personal tales with emotional stakes. Not only do they have captivating stories, but some of these characters are just so lovable. Goombella is my favorite by a pretty wide margin because of all she says on the map and while tattling, but Vivian and Admiral Bobbery are also very lovable due to their stories and personalities. Also, the Yoshi Kid is so fun, as Mario is pretty much an adopted dad to him, and Yoshi talks to Mario like he is the center of his universe, which is so adorable! I’m in love with this dynamic; it’s so cute! Ahem. It’s time to reel back in the testosterone and stoicness. Just kidding, I never had that in the first place. Anyway, I digress. I don’t have much else to say about the characters that I didn’t mention in terms of the story, so I will move on to the next section.
Art & Graphics - 8.5
I’ll be writing a new review once the remake comes out (and I’ll be giving this score a perfect 10 out of 10), but as-is, I unfortunately have to say The Thousand-Year Door has some of my least favorite graphics in the series. Sure, it looks great for a Game Cube game, and it is very well-polished, but it is not as sophisticated and polished as newer entries, and it sure isn’t as charming as the graphics in Paper Mario 64. While everyone complains about the white outlines in Color Splash and The Origami King, I find those games to be two of the most beautiful games of all time, as flawed as they may be. Sure, this game still looks better than Super Paper Mario and Sticker Star, but overall, TTYD has excellent graphics, even if they aren’t all that special to me.
Music - 9
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door boasts a fantastic and memorable soundtrack that complements the game's whimsical and charming atmosphere. The music perfectly matches the various locations and events throughout the game, enhancing the overall experience. One standout aspect of the music is its ability to evoke emotions and set the tone for different scenarios. From the jazzy tunes of Rogueport to Twilight Town's mysterious and enchanting melodies, the music immerses players in the game's world and story. The battle themes are catchy and dynamic, making the turn-based battles even more engaging. Music during battles, especially when executing Special Moves and Action Commands, adds excitement and a sense of accomplishment to each encounter. Furthermore, the soundtrack features a variety of styles and instruments, ensuring that each area and situation feels distinct and memorable. Whether it's the upbeat and energetic tunes or the somber and introspective tracks, the music in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a true highlight of the game. In summary, the music in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a delightful and integral component of the game, earning a well-deserved score of 9 out of 10.
Customization System - 10
This is one of my favorite RPG customization systems of all time! The badge system adds so much depth to Mario’s and the partner’s abilities! Compared to its predecessor, there were so many more fun and unique badges here, and they were much more fun to find than before, with many more shops to buy them from and ways to steal them from enemies! Another significant upgrade from Paper Mario 64 was the amount of BP Mario could have! Instead of the measly 30 that ruined that system for me, the player can get up to 99 this time, making it fun to do runs where you never upgrade your HP or FP. The last time I played Paper Mario: The Thousand Year-Door, I beat it without upgrading my HP or FP once. Granted, I used some HP and FP Plus badges, but this made the game much more fun and strategic! This system allows for entertaining challenges for the player, such as Prologue Pit! The possibilities were truly endless for me. In one playthrough, I went on the full defensive, getting tons of HP and badges like Damage Dodge and Defend Plus to make Mario into the ultimate tank. Another playthrough, as aforementioned, I only upgraded BP. Another playthrough, I utilized Danger Mario and Peril Mario for most of the game! In the end, this system is fun without bounds, and if you look at any forum on the Internet, you can find the most absurd ways this system has been broken and utilized to create new gameplay experiences every time you play the game. This badge system is one reason many swear by the original two Paper Mario games, and it is one of my favorite systems of all time and the reason I’ve replayed The Thousand-Year Door so many times. While I loved Super Paper Mario and The Origami King, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that those two games even come close to having as good of a customization system as this entry did. Overall, the badge system is just so good that it may never be beaten, but I’d love to see Intelligent Systems try it in the next Paper Mario game.
Chapters - 10
While some of the chapters in this game were definitely flawed, every single location was pretty much perfect in my eyes. From a chapter set in an ethereal forest taken over by the authoritarian X-Nauts where you team up with the questionable actor Madame Flurrie, to a flashy fighting ring city in the sky full of epic characters; from a mysterious chapter where everyone is being turned into pigs in a gloomy forest, to a chapter where Mario and friends get stranded on a deserted island with some awesome twists and turns; from a distinguished train chapter with awesome mystery elements, to a chapter where Mario literally gets rocketed to the moon. Quite simply, the locations in this game are so good and some of my favorite locations in any RPG ever. These locations have so much charm, and everything here is pretty much perfect in my eyes. Sure, the locations were rather linear at times, and Chapter 1 wasn’t all that inspired, but overall, the few minor flaws about the chapters in this game do not lower this below a perfect score for me.
Sidequests - 9
Yeah… I don’t love the Trouble Board, I will admit. I’m hoping they fix the BS of that system in the remake coming up soon. However, every other sidequest here is awesome. I had a great time finding Star Pieces, Shine Sprites, and badges. I had a fun time searching around the Rogueport Sewers, I loved the Pit of 100 Trials, I adored listening to Luigi’s tales, I got a kick out of the arcade portion of the game… there is just so much to love here. While a ton of the troubles weren’t great, there were definitely some good ones, from helping Jolene clean up after the fighters, to getting Ms. Mowz in the party, to finding the cookbook at the Creepy Steeple. I just love the sidequests here, and I genuinely feel like if they fix the troubles up a bit, this category could hit a perfect 10 for me. In summary, I loved the sidequests in this game, but they could use a little more work.
Quality of Life - 8
The backtracking and Trouble Board issues take two points off of the score, but really, I think that issue is a little overblown. Sure, I didn’t love the General White sidequest on repeat playthroughs, but the rest of it wasn’t that bad. I would have also loved if the Spin Dash stayed in this installment, but in the end? There isn’t all that much here for me to hate! As somebody who loves grinding, I wasn’t complaining about the backtracking when I just got to fight more fun battles. It might just be me, but in the end, I think the quality of life in this game was very solid!
Fun Factor - 10
Overall Score - 92%
Letter Rating - S+
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door deserves its status as a beloved gem in the RPG genre. The captivating story, memorable characters, fantastic customization system, enchanting music, and spellbinding chapters all contribute to a game that has stood the test of time. Whether you're a long-time fan or a newcomer to the series, this classic title is a must-play and a testament to the enduring magic of the Paper Mario franchise and is one of the best RPGs ever made to this day.
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Primary Version: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (GameCube)