Continuing with my series of three reviews in the Paper Mario franchise, I have now arrived at the game that is widely considered the best in the franchise. The original Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64 was a huge success and its sequel had to at least be just as good as its predecessor. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door not only delivered on its expectations, but it improved on and surpassed the first game in almost every way.
The Thousand-Year Door was released in 2004 for the Nintendo GameCube and, like its predecessor, it is an RPG where characters are flat pieces of paper in a 3-D world. The story takes place in a town called Rogueport. 1000 years prior to the events of this game, a great cataclysm destroyed a town that Rogueport now stands at the site of. Below Rogueport are ruins of the destroyed town and rumors spread of a legendary treasure that lays within them. Princess Peach stops in Rogueport for fuel, but while she is exploring she is kidnapped by the Secret Society of X-Nauts.
Before she gets kidnapped, she mails a letter to Mario of a treasure map that supposedly leads to the legendary treasure. Mario arrives at Rogueport and, with the help of a couple Goombas, Goombella and Professor Frankly, he discovers that the treasure is behind the Thousand-Year Door beneath Rogueport. To open the door, Mario needs to collect the seven Crystal Stars. Upon collecting a star, the location of the next one is revealed on the map.
Like the first game, each star Mario collects involves him going to a different place that is connected by Rogueport, which acts as the game’s hub area like Toad Town was in the first game. Mario meets many characters, gains many allies and travels to unique places such as a floating city, a big tree, a southern island and a train.
The Thousand-Year Door is one of my favorite games of all-time and the biggest reasons for that are the unique story, the amazing chapter designs and the incredible progression system. All three of these elements were present in the first game, but this game improves upon them greatly.
First, the story is tremendous and unique in the vast Mario universe. Bowser is not the main villain in this game, as he is used more of a comic relief side character. This allows the developers to tell a complex story. While the story progression with chapters is like the first game, the overarching story is much different. In the first game, you know from the beginning that Mario needs to save the seven Star Spirits to use their power to defeat Bowser who wields the Star Rod. In this game, you know you need the Crystal Stars to open the door but what then? What exactly is the legendary treasure? What is the deal with these X-Nauts? What is behind the Thousand-Year Door? These are all lingering questions as the player progresses through the story, making it much more engaging. The ending, without spoiling it, is perfection and the journey toward that point is just as fantastic.
The chapters in this game are phenomenal and are easily my favorite aspect. Each chapter takes place in a world much different than all the others as previously mentioned. This allows each chapter to tell its own story while contributing to the overall narrative. The worlds feel alive with unique and fun characters, such as the allies you meet while traveling.
The game excels at creating fun and memorable atmospheres that make me want to visit them solely for the sake of seeing them again and listening to their respective soundtracks. While the soundtrack, composed once again by Yuka Tsujiyoko, isn’t as good as the first game, it is strong and has some memorable pieces such as “The Glitz Pit,” “Twilight Town” and “Petal Meadows.”
The last aspect I want to focus on is the combat and progression system. The combat in this game is the same as the first game where it is turn-based and emphasizes user timed attack and defense. This is the section of the game where it improves from the first game the most. Some of the improvements include your partners having their own HP and badges (items that give you abilities), the ability to superguard (eliminates all damage and even deals one damage back) and the battles now take place on an interactive stage. All these elements make the combat fun and interactive.
Like the first game, areas in the hub world open as you gain more abilities. One addition they implemented was paper abilities for Mario. These include paper airplane, paper thinning, tube of paper and paper boat. These abilities combined with upgraded equipment provide a lot of areas to explore as you gain abilities, which I find very satisfying.
Overall, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is the perfect sequel to Paper Mario. It takes nearly everything that made the first game great and improved on it. I cannot recommend playing this game enough as it is a fun and gratifying experience. The best way to play it is through GameCube emulators or the Wii U Virtual Console if you do not own a copy. Stay tuned for my review of Super Paper Mario and my ranking of the 10 favorite chapters in the three Paper Mario games I review.