Dashed Expectations

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 25, 2016 5:31 am 
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Image You might recall that, earlier this month, after my disappointment over Color Splash's reveal, I decided to just go back and play Thousand Year Door for the, probably, 10th time now. It really is a masterfully crafted video game no matter how you look at it and easily makes my Top 10 for the GCN (just shy of beating out Metroid Prime). And now, 12 years later, that opinion still holds, perhaps even stronger than before. I'm only just about to enter Chapter 5 and I still find myself smiling and thinking to myself that this game really is that good!

So then I got to thinking just why is it that good? What made the Thousand Year Door so special that not many can replicate? I took a deep look at came up with about 5 points that really stood out.




The World Is Very Different From The Mushroom Kingdom
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When you first start up the game and watch the opening cutscene, rather than the cheerful looking rolling green hills and sunshine that you're used to seeing in a Mario game, you are instead shown off quite a cesspit that is littered with trash, unsavory creatures, and even a freaking gallows as its centerpiece! We're barely a minute into booting this thing up on our GCNs and, already, you know this is going for a very different turn than what the N64 game gave us. It is unlike anything we've seen in Mario's world before or since, and that what gives it that extra appeal. It might seem pretty ugly and a place you don't want to spend any time in, but that's exactly the point! It stands out because Rogueport isn't the bright and shining example of Princess Peach's rule. In fact, I think it's established that they aren't even part of the same jurisdiction and live by their own laws and merits. Rogueport's streets are filled to the brim with swindlers, gangs. all sorts of unsavory folk with warnings all over telling you that maybe you should go back to your pretty little kingdom where the hills have eyes. Literally.

But the world of the Thousand Year Door doesn't just end with Rogueport's seedy appearance. It is varied in a rather unique sense. You don't have your Desert, Water, Ice, etc. worlds that you would come to expect when a game is described as having a varied landscape, but something much different. You've got a world where everything is monochrome, both flora and fauna. You've got a whole business that floats in the sky that is nothing more than a tourist trap. You've got an entire village that is forever in dusk, its citizens equally as gloomy as the sky who can't even tell if it's morning, noon, or night. They are all outside the normal conventions of video games, but when melded together, still create something worth exploring because it just is that different. Our curiosity of the unfamiliar and alien is what compels us to go forward. In simple terms, what I'm saying is, "What more secrets are there in Mario's world?" The Thousand Year Door opened our eyes to a new landscape that may intimidate us at first, but we can't help but be drawn to it.


Each Chapter Is Wholly Unique
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But it's not just the different lands Mario explores that keep standing out like a pop-up book (figuratively and literally). The Chapters themselves also stand out. So much so, in fact, that fans of the game all have their own ideas as to what they deem the "best" Chapter in the game. Because of how different they all are, a definite answer is pretty much impossible to gain. Even picking a least favourite doesn't really help anything due to this. They all stand out and have their own strengths and weaknesses in their own way and play so differently, they could be own games in their own right. To get a better idea, why not go down the list, shall we?

Chapter 1 -- Here, you can tell it's a sequel to Paper Mario and doesn't differentiate too far from what was established on the N64 game. It even plays out the exact same way as 64's first Chapter: You explore a peaceful road, you enter a village of Koopa Troopas, you befriend a Koopa party member, and you fight the final boss of the Chapter in a large castle. At this point, you're probably thinking, "Huh, so when does this game exactly stand out?"
Chapter 2 -- Right away, that's your answer! While, at first, it just seems like more Paper Mario but with a different colour palette, once you get to the main event inside a big giant tree, all of a sudden it turns into Pikmin, where you must gather 100+ critters throughout a large area to help you solve puzzles!
Chapter 3 -- Though truthfully, it's here where things really change! The area of this Chapter is deliberately tiny with no real enemies (can't even get a Game Over until the final boss) and instead pits our hero in the professional fighting ring, complete with playing up to the crowd and some dark backstage shenanigans.
Chapter 4 -- This Chapter plays with previous expectations and then flips them on its lid. At first, it seems to play out more like Chapter 1 with no real "gimmicks" and the main crisis seems to be averted fairly quickly, but then the halfway point hits and, suddenly, you feel like you are at a disadvantage! It can get pretty tense!
Chapter 5 -- And here, we get an adventure that seems to come straight out of a Robinson Crusoe styled plot, with our heroes stranded on a deserted island in search of a dead pirate's treasure. Upon getting initially stranded, you get a sort of helplessness only exemplified by one of the side characters many log entries. It really adds to the atmosphere of the place.
Chapter 6 -- A chapter that takes place almost entirely on a fancy train with three passenger cars. Much like Chapter 3, it takes advantage of the fact that it is deliberately made small by making the side characters people you constantly need to engage with, even though you'll never see most of them again, each having their own style and quirk to them.
Chapter 7 -- After an amusing spur involving Russian-accented Bob-ombs, you're launched into outer space in a very sci-fi action adventure.
Chapter 8 -- And then things take a turn for the Eldritch Horror...

Seriously, each part could stand out as its own, unique story. If not for the fact that everything was connected to the Crystal Stars, and thus, the Thousand Year Door itself, you could easily have put these all off as just that: Unique stories. The Thousand Year Door could have very easily just have been a small book of short stories, and that what makes coming back to it so engaging. Everything is different from the last. While everything is still connected from the standard gameplay of puzzling solving and turn-based RPG battling, the bits that hold it all together are sewn on using very different fabric.


The Writing Is Stellar
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But everything that I just mentioned would mean nothing if the writing itself was meaningless. Thankfully, it is anything but. It is on point from beginning to end. Giving us a mix of great humor, intriguing mysteries, and even genuine heartache for fictional, 2D pieces of paper. And while this might be a game that's rated E for Everyone by the ESRB, that doesn't mean it talks down to the younger audience. In a sense, it's a lot like how some of the most enduring cartoons of our era are still worth watching as adults as they were as children; Because the writing treating its audience as adults. The Thousand Year Door does the same.

And I don't mean just by putting in bits of humor that only adults would get like that above screenshot (though it did give me a good laugh that I didn't quite "get" 12 years ago), but by giving real life and personality to them. Words can bring a world to life and it most definitely does here. The jokes they give are genuinely funny, either with clever wordplay, or just being so silly you can't help but smirk ("Huge mighty king of GUYS WHO TALK TO POSTERS!"). The mysteries are so interesting that you're totally willing to pay that minstrel atop those rooftops 5 coins just to hear him talk and learn more about the history of this fictional world. And the heartfelt moments genuinely get me chocked up, Just recently, I witnessed the part where Admiral Bobbery read the letter to his long dead wife, and it still gets to me. Virtually no other Mario game gets this close to real, genuine emotion. You'd expect something silly from a scene like this, but it is played dead seriously, its unexpected but not unwelcomed. There's a good reason Bobbery is listed as one of the "favourites" in the game.

Of course, Bobbery isn't the sole stand out in this game...


The Characters Are Memorable
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Virtually every person in the world of the Thousand Year Door stands out in their own way. Of course, you've got your 7 total party members: Gombella, who's sarcastic wit makes every Tattle worth doing; Koops, who's shy demeanor makes for a good coming-of-age sort of character; Flurrie, who's desire to be in the spotlight again gives her a sophisticated presence; the nameable Yoshi, who, really, do I need to explain? You get your own little Yoshi that you can name!; Vivian, a character that starts out as your enemy before switching sides due to you doing something as simple as showing kindness; the aforementioned Bobbery, who's passion was lost with the love of his life; and the optional Ms. Mowz, who's basically Catwoman...but mousey, and who can dislike that?

You've also got your traditional Mushroom Kingdom flair, all with far more engaging personalities and roles: Peach is much saucier this time, brandishing quite a sharp tongue against her kidnappers and showing a slightly less elegant side to her. It actually makes her seem far more competent than she has ever been before or since, despite seemingly stuck and locked away. Bowser shows off his sillier side (keep in mind, this came not long after his "family vacation" incident) but still displays a sense of toughness with every character seemingly fleeing in terror at the mere sight of him, despite him always being many steps behind Mario. And Luigi no longer plays second banana by staring in his own adventure parallel to Mario's where he must seek out the pieces of the Mystical Compass to save Princess Eclair. We don't actually witness these events, but boy have people desperately wanted to.

And then you have your side characters as well, all of which provide just as much character as everyone else. The villainous X-Nauts, who despite being rather casual with their dialogue, follow a regime not unlike some of the more feared military powers out their and even pose a genuine threat. The fighters of the Glitz Pit, who all have their own stuff they like to do behind the scenes, not to mention the staff members running the show and the mysterious doings they get involved in. The brave sailors who journey with you on the SS Flavion as you venture towards Keelhaul Key for romance, emotion, thrills, and money.

I could go on all day about them, but I don't want you all to get too tired of reading this. So I will finish this off with on last point...


The Gameplay Remained Fun and Engaging Throughout the Entire Run
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No matter how you spin it, no matter how you write it, no matter how gorgeous it looks, ultimately, a video game will fail if it doesn't deliver on the most crucial aspect: The gameplay itself. It is what sets video games apart from any other medium out there. How you engage in a book or a movie is very different with how you would engage in a game. All those previous points I mentioned would work just as well in a film or book as it does here, but without the gameplay, they are all a moot point and would make me want to ask, "Well, where's the game?"

Thankfully, as has been Nintendo's usual motto (for better or for worse), gameplay is always the first and foremost part of their first-party offerings, and The Thousand Year Door is no different. On its surface, it just seems like a more polished up Paper Mario 64. You run around a large world with several different NPCs to speak to and turn-based battles to take part in with a few minor puzzles to solve in between it all. But beyond that surface lies something more.

The battles incorporated a sort of audience, as if you are putting on a show, and being "Stylish" actually became a game mechanic so that you can pull off "Special Moves" more often the bigger your audience got and the more excited they were. Each beating you laid on the enemy, each guard you made, it had that extra weight of impact because people were cheering you on, wanting to see you succeed. The Action Commands also got redone, with every character having unique ways to do their attacks, while the partners of the last game had variations of what Mario could already do. They felt more inspired, more integral to the overall flow of the game.

And while the puzzle solving is by no means difficult, they still got you involved, incorporating the skills of your partners in a lot of distinct ways, each getting more complex than the last, from holding Koops's shell back as you walk to launching Bobbery up into the air to hit a switch just out of reach.

Every time I come back to this, I always feel like I am having such a great time, and that everything I do has impact and meaning to it. Every action is important. Something a certain recent Paper Mario failed to recapture...


And...that about sums it up, I think. I apologize if this went on for too long, but I really wanted to get my feelings out in the open. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is a wonderful game, and I'm just more than a little sad that we may never see another like it ever again.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 25, 2016 11:40 am 
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I gotta say, I am one of those people interested in Paper Luigi's exploits. That's some real potential for a game there, and it could tie into The Thousand Year Door easily!

If I had to mark anything against the game, it's specific things in the chapters. The backtracking in Chapter 4, otherwise a chapter with great atmosphere and moments, some parts of Chapter 6 (if not the whole thing) that some people wouldn't like, Chapter 7 with that goddamn general white, and maybe others. Doesn't bring those chapters down enough for me personally though, and the gameplay itself is still marvelous. You could hate the RNG with the crowd if you need those special moves badly or the roulette system, but I kind of like it at times. Overall I agree with just about everything you said here, can't nitpick anything if I tried.

This is by far one of the GameCube's best, and perhaps one of Nintendo's best. The GameCube had an amazing array of titles, most of which I still need to track down.

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"See, their morals, their code, it's a bad joke. When the chips are down, these civilized people, they'll eat each other. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. I'm not a monster. I'm just ahead of the curve."


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PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2016 12:08 pm 
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Yep, this game is glorious, and it provided some of the most inspired characters outside of the Mario & Luigi series. I still think the X-Nauts are pretty cool in a dorky sort of way.

I remember Waluigi the Underdog once said that he thought this game didn't deserve a difficulty rating, and while I agree that it is easier than Paper Mario 64 (mostly due to the introduction of the Superguard), it bugs me that some people see this game as too easy.


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 05, 2016 5:18 pm 
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THE ADVENT OF COLOR SPLASH ALSO MAKES ME NOSTALGIC FOR THIS GAME. Definitely tops the list of favorite games I've ever played, to the point where I sought to buy another copy JUST for the sake of keeping.

DON'T NORMALLY DO THAT, EITHER.

While I give props to Nintendo for wantin' to do somethin' new with their newer installments, somethin' new isn't always somethin' worthwhile.

Gimme some more PARTNERS and I'll be set.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 16, 2016 6:37 pm 
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https://mynintendonews.com/2016/06/16/n ... are-vocal/

I dunno...if a remaster would do much besides send a message to Nintendo. I'd buy it (especially if it wasn't full priced) for that notion and if they added enough extras to make it worth while. Unlike the Zelda remasters there isn't much in terms of gameplay I'd want fixed.

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"See, their morals, their code, it's a bad joke. When the chips are down, these civilized people, they'll eat each other. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. I'm not a monster. I'm just ahead of the curve."


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 20, 2016 11:52 am 
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While the advent of a remastered Thousand-Year Door sounds great, especially if buying it does indeed send Nintendo a message that we want more games like it, I'd personally like to see the original Paper Mario remastered first. Its graphics are pretty outdated, and I only played through it once, so I'd be all for re-exploring it with a modern look. ...Even if that might take longer to produce due to the sheer overhaul the graphics would need.


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