I realized after starting this project that writing about the Paper Mario games would be among the hardest. Having not played either game in over a decade now, certain elements have blurred together. Add in that The Thousand-Year Door is a sequel in the most traditional sense, and how do I say enough about both without repeating myself?
There are other series with multiple entries, but most have distinct enough features that I can really hone in on those specific quirks. The Thousand-Year Door is Paper Mario but bigger and better, but not in a way which makes the predecessor obsolete. Unlike comparing Left 4 Dead to its sequel, Paper Mario and The Thousand-Year Door remain distinct experiences due to features typical of the JRPG franchise. They have their own sets of characters and stories, with both having great writing. The real sticking point for both deserving their place on this list is that Paper Mario’s charm is in its simplicity; TTYD making things even slightly more complex means certain people will prefer the original.
The two chapters from The Thousand-Year Door which have stuck with me the most come from opposite ends of the spectrum. Both highlight distinct traits that make the Paper Mario series so good. The first is chapter 3, which features Mario fighting his way through a series of arena battles. Where most Paper Mario chapters are full of areas to explore, the Glitz Pit remains focused on combat. There are a ton of battles to fight through, and each comes with their own stipulation which limits your options. This can really force the player to change up their strategy. Champion Rawk Hawk is one of the more memorable characters in the series, his narcissistic attitude perfect encouragement to climb the ranks and beat him down.
Chapter 6, on the other hand, is all about Paper Mario’s humorous sense of storytelling. Mario finds himself on a train with a bunch of odd passengers and eventually gets caught up in a series of mysteries. This pseudo-Christie narrative gives the writers a perfect opportunity to go crazy. An encounter involving a ghost’s diary plays an especially fun trick on the curious.
Changes to the battle system help make the partners feel more distinct. TTYD gives partners their own HP value, making them feel more like traditional party members. The game also introduces an audience who have various interactions throughout the game. These changes aren’t huge, but that’s key to the signature simplicity.
Like its predecessor, TTYD cuts away to Princess Peach. Getting to actually know the princess rarely happens in the main series, and she is a lot of fun here. We also get a few moments to play as Bowser in classic Mario inspired levels.
There’s not much more to say about The Thousand-Year Door in comparison to the original. The first Paper Mario is a short and simple JRPG, a genre which usually goes for complexity and epic quests. The Thousand-Year Door is more of this, but where everything feels slightly improved. The Mario series has tons of spin-offs, but few feel as key to its grander identity due to the charming handling of its universe.