Paper Mario: The Thousand-Word Essay [SPOILERS]

(Yes I know there's more than 1000 words here)

If you read my video game Top 60, you'll know I think very highly of the original Paper Mario. It came out right before my seventh birthday, and I begged my parents to buy the game as a birthday present, which surprisingly they did (we were somewhat poor when I was younger so presents like that were usually just for Christmas). I adored the game instantly; it was funny and cozy and full of life. The locations and characters still stick out in my mind.

I originally played TTYD back in 2005, when I was about 11. I was still young, but being 11 is a world of difference from being 7, so while I remember enjoying it, I didn't latch on to it in quite the same way as the original. I definitely noticed I remembered the game a lot more vividly than I expected to, while at the same time forgetting a lot of details. It made for an interesting playthrough at least.

I'm ashamed to admit it now, but for a long time I low-key resented how much more popular TTYD seemed compared to the original, how much praise it got for doing things that Paper Mario 64 did first. Don't these people know that's not the Paper Mario *I* grew up with? Sheesh.

What I liked:

- It's Paper Mario! It takes a lot of the concepts from the original game and gets just a little bit more creative with them. For instance, a little more interesting use of the papercraft aesthetic here and there, especially with Mario's curse abilities, though not taken to quite the logical extreme as later entries. But that's fine since the paper aspect of the game isn't necessarily what defines it.

- The writing is really good! You can tell the localization team especially had a lot of fun with the dialogue, and I like the detail where you occassionally have characters talking in the background during a conversation. Lots of clever visual gags, too, some of which are even used as the basis of a puzzle. Despite it's comedic tone (or perhaps as a result of it), the game also does a good job of giving the proper weight to it's few more serious moments, like Bobbery's backstory or TEC's Disney Death™.

- Characters! One of the strongest points of the Paper Mario series for me (well, the first three) was the character designs and their personalities. Each partner is distinct and their personalities are conveyed really well in their design. I like that characters like Koops or Vivian have little subplots about how they become more confident over the course of their adventure with Mario, and I never missed an opportunity to get Goombella's thoughts on different locations and NPCs.

- Ms. Mowz! The idea of an optional party member was always really cool to me. It feels like an accomplishment having her in your party because it means you went above and beyond what the game requires of you and found a whole-ass secret partner as a reward. Admittedly, she's pretty weak in battle, but her overworld ability is really handy for people who like finding secrets (which if you went to the trouble of unlocking her, you might be).

- More varied chapter structure! You get some standard Paper Mario-style chapters in this game like Petalberg or Keelhaul Key, but you also get some very non-standard examples like Glitzville, where you fight your way through an MMA-style bracket while uncovering a mystery. Or Twilight Town, where you get the Crystal Star early but lose your body to an imposter in the process and have to find out his name to get it back. Or Poshley Express, where you spend most of the chapter on a train getting to your destination and solving various mysteries. Hmm, come to think of it, there's a lot of mystery-solving in this game...

- Costume badges! It's a small thing but I always liked that I could dress up like Waluigi. They didn't have to do that but they did and I love it.

- Good length and sense of progression! This game clocks in somewhere between 30-40 hours depending on how much rose-smelling you do, and as someone who has no attention span, I think that's about perfect for an RPG. It's all a very tight package, and one where you have a pretty good idea how much of the game you have left. As a kid I may have enjoyed the uncertainty some games provided with regards to them seemingly having no end, but as an adult I have very much grown to appreciate the games telling you upfront how much of your time they want from you.

- TTYD actually has a post-game! One thing that always annoyed me with the first game was that you never got to revisit all the locations in the game after vanquishing the evil, but TTYD lets you do that. It's also a good way to tie up some loose ends you never got around to, and I love the line of dialogue when you first start the post-game where one of the NPCs says something to the effect of "what makes you want to come back to a town like Rogueport? There must be something really special waiting for you" and like YEAH THERE IS!

What I didn't like:

- It's a minor thing, and I *completely* understand the reasons behind it, but I really wish they could have at least hinted at Vivian's transness in the NA version of the game like they did in most other versions. There is a fan translation that restores this, but I wanted to play the game as it was originally released in America for an authentic experience.

- Another very minor thing is that I wish the worlds were more connected. Getting from Rogueport to anywhere else requires either using a pipe or taking some other form of transportation. Nothing like the original Paper Mario where you could walk all the way from Goomba Village through Toad Town and end up in Koopa Village or Gusty Gulch. Again, a very minor nitpick, it's just something I liked about the original that I kinda miss.

- This may have just been my controller or something but movement in diagonal directions would occassionally register as much slower than it should? Again I don't know if this is a game issue or not but I haven't noticed my controller doing that in any other game.

- I miss the spin move. >:(


So yeah obviously I have way more positive things to say about the game than negative, and I'm glad I revisited it. I still hold PM64 with a higher degree of nostalgic regard but there are aspects of this game that are unique which I find to be excellently done, particularly with regard to characters and dialogue. I can't think of a good sentence to end on so I just won't write one.

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