Initial Release Date: October 11, 2004
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (“TTYD”) has been held up as the paragon of the Mario RPG series, and rightfully so. While the subsequent Mario RPGs have diverged into the more action-oriented Paper line and the more classic Mario & Luigi line, TTYD still remains a remarkably fun playthrough despite its age.
Following a similar plot line to many Mario predecessors, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door centers on the main Nintendo man’s adventures in saving the perpetually damsel-in-distress, Peach.
In TTYD, Princess Peach is duped into using an artifact which, surprise, results in her capture. However, Mario quickly finds out that its not Bowser up to the mischief this time, but instead the new X-Nauts. The X-Nauts, led by Sir Grodus, are attempting to find a cache of ancient stars which will in turn open the 1000 Year Door. Of course, it now falls on Mario to thwart this plan.
Mario’s quest for these legendary seven stars (a la the original SNES game), he is taken to a variety of different zones, each with a unique quirk. While the first area is the typical grass/forest area, later zones include a village of soulless villagers turning into pigs, a mafia boss looking for his daughter, and a gladiatorial fighting pit with a lurid secret. Rogueport, a grim and morbid pirate-esque port town, acts as the main hub for visiting the various worlds.
Along with Mario and Peach, all of the traditional Mario crew make an appearance: Toad, Luigi, Yoshi etc. In addition, some new faces accompany the adventure including an absent-minded ghost (of the none Boo variety), an bomb-omb admiral with a secret, and a tricksy mouse with an affection for Mario himself. The new companions are curiously similar to the N64 Paper Mario crew, and, in my opinion, didn’t match the uniqueness of the SNES compatriots like Mallow and Geno.
The story is fairly straightforward and compact. However, the real charm comes from the humorous dialogue and bright settings. The writing hits a consistently funny tone, which has since become a trademark in the Mario RPG series. Its on full display in TTYD, and still remains a breath of fresh air today, in contrast to all the realism and grimdark stories of modern gaming.
TTYD takes the traditional turn based combat system common to RPGs and adds a fun twist, with little need for grinding, along with a surprising depth in strategy.
TTYD is the last “classic” entry in the Paper Mario RPG series on console, with such mantle now held by the Mario & Luigi line of games. In the “classic” style, you control a paper thin Mario in a stylish 3D world, where you can interact with objects in a variety of ways including jumping, spinning, and hammering. Entering combat is similar to Chrono Trigger where contact with an enemy in the world view initiates combat on a separate screen.
The combat is built upon a traditional turn based combat, where the initiative is given to whoever “struck first” in the world view. The fun added twist is the timing based attacking and defending, which adds a skill aspect layer to the back-and-forth strategy. Well timed attacks add damage or additional effects, while perfectly timed defense can block or even reciprocate damage onto enemies. Each enemy has a different attack pattern you must learn for proper timing.
Regular attacks are complemented by special attacks unique to Mario and his companions. Even bigger star power attacks are granted as you collect such stars at the end of each segment. Items can act as attacks, healing, or even status effects.
Badges can be considered the traditional equipment. They grant differing effects ranging from new special attacks, to higher damage per attack, to higher HP or FP. FP stands for Flower Power and is akin to “mana” as it drains toward 0 as you utilize special attacks.
Each overworld zone has a key overworld ability Mario must master in order to solve some larger puzzle. This includes becoming a super thin piece of paper to enter thin cracks, launching into a paper airplane to bypass blockades, and powering up a jump or hammer attack to bash particularly large obstacles. I will gripe that there seemed to be an undue amount of backtracking required during certain segments, an artifact of an older generation of games.
Despite all these facets, the game is actually pretty easy difficulty-wise and has the potential for abuse, especially if the player can master the timing of defense. However, the unique structure of the game has allowed for some players to purposefully handicap or use specific badge builds to complete the game in new ways, similar to some Pokemon Nuzlocke-style runs.
While the game does not appear to have a bunch of behind the scenes number crunching in its leveling system, its simple and straightforward approach has a surprising amount of depth. Every level-up, Mario must choose to boost HP, FP, or BP (Badge points), and therefore must carefully balance these decisions into the overall build. Pairing certain groups of badges together can add strength to a certain style, which may be weak against other groups of enemies.
Overall, exploring each world and unlocking its puzzles involves some cleverness but never really leaves the player guessing or simply trying to brute force their way through. The combat’s straightforward approach makes finding an edge a little clearer, but given the litany of enemies and attack types, finding that balance in each world or for each boss is still a bit of a challenge. The timing inside the combat keeps each encounter interesting without feeling like a slog of a grind.
All your favorite Mario sounds fit right in – the iconic jump, coin collect etc. In addition, the game’s combat has you on a stage fighting in front of a crowd, which adds some cheering as you pump up the crowd for combat-based benefits. The game does not use voiced dialogue, so there is more reading than listening.
The graphical style holds up all these years later. The paper aesthetic is both a look and a gameplay element, and is certainly much different than what had been explored previously (and also set an example for Yoshi’s Woolly World and Tearaway). The cartoon-ish flavor of the presentation protects against some potential ugly aging of other 3D titles of the era.
The replayability is fairly strong, with the aforementioned specialized build runs complemented by collecting more and more badges, or completing the Pit of 100 Trials. The Pit is a stream of enemy encounters that progress in difficulty until you fight the ending megaboss, which is likely considered the most difficult opponent in the game.
Paper Mario: The Thousand Year door lives up to its ongoing praise. The Mario RPG lineage has become somewhat wayward and disconnected of late, and with the slick presentation and fun twist of combat, TTYD gave fans a lot to hope for. Playing through TTYD today is still a treat, and here’s hoping that Nintendo gets a true sequel onto the Switch.
+Fun, humorous dialogue and story
+Interesting and unique art style
+Skill-based layer on top of traditional turn based RPG combat
-Backtracking can be tedious at times
-Some same-y characters for those fresh off the N64 Paper Mario
Final Score: 6.9/10