Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Review – A True Return to Form

    A cult classic that has returned better than ever.

    We’ve been living in an RPG golden age for the last few months. Starting with Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth in January and both Persona 3 Reload and Final Fantasy VII Rebirth in February, there’s never been a better time to be a fan of the genre. On the other hand, Nintendo has also been on a roll lately.

    Not only have they released several major hits like Super Mario Bros. Wonder and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, but they’ve also released remakes of beloved games from the SNES, Game Boy Advance, and Gamecube. Some have been a massive hit, like Super Mario RPG, while some have faded into obscurity, like Mario vs. Donkey Kong.

    So where does the remake of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door fit into this? The game initially released on the Gamecube in 2004 as a sequel to the Nintendo 64 spin-off to the Mario franchise, Paper Mario. The Thousand-Year Door gathered fame as a cult classic JRPG that would continue to be beloved by many as the Paper Mario franchise dwindled in quality. When Nintendo announced the remake last year, there were concerns that they would squander what made the game special in the first place.

    I’m delighted to say that, after spending 40 hours playing the game, the remake of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has only cemented its status as a classic that will undoubtedly go down as one of the best JRPGs this year…save for a few issues here and there.

    A Classic Mario Formula With a Twist

    The Thousand-Year Door Story

    Without any context, The Thousand-Year Door might seem like it adheres to a basic Mario story formula. Certainly, Peach is kidnapped, and Mario is forced to save her: if you boil down the story to its more basic terms, that’s all that is left. However, upon closer inspection, The Thousand-Year Door has a lot of fascinating elements that make its narrative compelling.

    Peach is kidnapped this time, not by Bowser, but by a new faction known as the X-Nauts. They seek to open up the titular Thousand-Year Door by gathering seven Crystal Stars scattered across the land. Before she is captured, Peach sends out a letter to Mario containing a treasure map that holds the key to finding the crystal stars. Mario enters the game’s hub, Rogueport, to find the X-Nauts harassing a Goomba named Goombella.

    From here, the story really picks up steam, as we play as Mario working his way around this strange new world in order to find the Crystal Stars and save Peach. Along the way, he meets many allies like the aforementioned Goombella, the shy Koops, and the provocative Madame Flurrie. In the meantime, we get a look at the perspectives of Peach and Bowser as the former tries to figure out a way to escape, and the latter attempts to gather the crystal stars before Mario.

    The story is very interesting and is arguably one of the first instances of a Mario spin-off trying to do something new with its story. Yet what truly elevates The Thousand-Year Door is its writing, world design, and characters.

    Welcome to Rogueport! Meet Your New Best Friends!

    TTYD Writing

    The world, characters, and writing of the Thousand-Year Door are the main reasons why this game has stood the test of time over the last twenty years. When you enter Rogueport, you’re immediately greeted by citizens who speak in slang, a noose in the center of town, and a rampant crime wave that has gripped it. Within seconds of meeting your first NPC, half of your money is stolen by a pickpocket.

    This is just the first instance of how The Thousand-Year Door builds its world and characters. Each character, whether an NPC or a player character, is unique and filled with personality. Take Vivian, for instance. Vivian joins Mario properly in Chapter 4, but before then, she is an opposing figure who works alongside her sisters, Beldam and Marilyn. However, you can instantly tell she is reluctant in the face of Beldam’s abuse.

    So when Mario and her are left alone by their respective parties, they instantly hit it off. It’s the sort of relationship we don’t see too often in the Mario franchise, especially when you learn that Vivian is canonically transgender. Originally, she only identified as transgender in the Japanese release of the game. Now, with the remake, her original gender identity can finally be appreciated by fans.

    TTYD Vivian

    The Thousand-Year Door‘s visuals and world also look better than ever. Whether you’re exploring the wrestling wonderland that is Glitzville, the haunting atmosphere of Twilight Woods, or the vibrant luxury train titled Excess Express, each area feels unique. Plus, with all the new party members adding new layers to exploration, such as how the Yoshi companion you meet in Chapter 3 grants you access to a sprint button, traversal never feels too exhausting, save for a few exceptions.

    Further, there are several charming NPCs that add more dimension to the world, such as Toadette, the shadowy creatures who grant you new abilities, a Thwomp who hosts his own game show, an eccentric captain named Flavio, and an undead pirate by the name of Cortez. As a result, despite the excessive backtracking at times (which I’ll get too later), I never got bored exploring Rogueport and the many other environments scattered around the game.

    The Thousand-Year Door is fantastic primarily due to its great writing, world, and characters. However, we can’t discuss a JRPG in detail without discussing its gameplay. Thankfully, The Thousand-Year Door‘s gameplay is addicting when you start to understand what it requires of you.

    All The World’s a Stage

    TTYD Gameplay

    Just like the story, the gameplay is not that interesting when you look at the game’s surface. Certainly, there are random encounters, much like any other RPG. Mario fights a random enemy for a bit, they get XP, then they move onto the next encounter. While the formula can get a bit tiring at times, its variety comes from how different the battle system is compared to other games.

    There are a number of different combat skills to choose from. These include the use of a hammer, Mario’s signature jump, or skills that you get throughout the game, alongside those that can be used by your partner. That said, each skill requires proper timing to execute.

    For example, one of Vivian’s later partner skills allows her to burn multiple enemies at the same time. In order to execute the move properly, you must hit a random set of buttons as soon as they pop up on the screen. A lot of times, I completely messed up the timing. However, it just made the moments where I got the timing right all the more satisfying.

    The Thousand-Year Door Gameplay/Battle

    Thousand-Year Door‘s boss fights are also very fun. The first boss being a big 3D dragon by the name of Hooktail is exciting, and the game only ups the ante with each chapter. A personal favorite boss fight of mine was Rawk Hawk, who seems like every wrestler from the ’70s-’90s combined.

    Further, when leveling up, players can choose between increasing their HP, the special points that allow them to use skills, or their badge points, which allow them to employ perks in the form of badges. Personally, I almost never increased my badge points. Although, I saw several people who were also playing the game who barely progressed HP and SP, instead choosing to focus on badge points.

    The gameplay is also where most of Nintendo’s major changes in the remake can be seen. There are numerous quality-of-life updates, such as more save points in the overworld, a hint option, more inventory slots, and you can even respawn to the beginning of a boss if you die. There are also skippable cutscenes and the ability to switch partners with the push of a button instead of needing to go into the menu. One of the other big changes is the inclusion of fast travel points to each location after their respective chapters. The new feature is meant to reduce backtracking.

    However, the backtracking in The Thousand-Year Door is still rough in a lot of places. That, alongside a few other bugs and frame drops, is when the otherwise perfect remake begins to show its age as a twenty-year-old game.

    A Not-Quite-Graceful Aging

    The Thousand-Year Door Visuals2

    When you port or remaster a game for modern hardware, there are inevitably going to be some issues. Not every game can make a seamless transition to the modern day and compromises will have to be made. In the case of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, it has largely made the jump to the Nintendo Switch unscathed. There are a few frame drops during key locations, such as when there are a lot of sprites on screen at the same time. Other than that, it’s largely the same game that shipped twenty years ago.

    That isn’t inherently a good thing, though. After doing some research, I realized that the backtracking in the remake had been improved compared to the original. This surprised me, as I had found the backtracking in the remake to be completely insufferable. There were numerous points where I had to loop around a location two, three, four, and sometimes even five times back to back. Each time, the random encounters would respawn, and I would be forced to fight the same enemies I just fought two minutes ago.

    It didn’t help that fast travel options were very limited, and there was no sprint option until Chapter 3. Movement often feels excruciatingly slow, and in the bigger areas like Keelhaul Key and the final dungeon, traversal can take thirty minutes to an hour just to make it to the end of one location.

    The Thousand-Year Door Aging

    The new changes do help a lot, don’t get me wrong, but when I’ve had to pass by the same location over and over and over again just to collect an item, which I must trade with another item that I have to collect from the place I just left. It’s in moments like these where the game truly shows its age.

    Yet, even with all those faults I just mentioned, even with the extreme levels of backtracking and dropped frames, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is more than just a remake of a game we’ve all wanted to see return for decades: it’s a return to form for the Paper Mario series.

    Paper Mario Is Back

    The Thousand-Year Door Conclusion

    The era of Mario RPGs used to give us some of the best games on their respective consoles. Whether it was Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, the Mario & Luigi games, or Super Paper Mario. Now, though, the Mario & Luigi games are long gone, and the last few Paper Mario games have either been divisive at best or terrible at worst.

    For a while, we all hoped for a remake of The Thousand-Year Door because it took risks that no other RPG would dare try. It reminded us of an age when Mario games would introduce exciting new characters and when Nintendo would incorporate a message and a theme into their stories. Yet, with those hopes came dread. Would Nintendo remove those messages? Would they squander what made those games special in the first place?

    With the recent successes of Super Mario RPG and now The Thousand-Year Door, I can confidently say that Nintendo has brought that long-gone era back. They have not even remotely squandered what made those games special, only enhanced them for a modern audience. I can only hope that in the future, we don’t just see remakes of games like Super Paper Mario or Mario & Luigi, but we see new installments in the respective series that remember what made their predecessors unique.

    For now though, I am more than happy that the remake of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door exists and that more people get to experience one of Nintendo’s best games.

    Nintendo provided Final Weapon with a Nintendo Switch copy of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door for review purposes.


    Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a great remake that brings one of Nintendo's best RPGs to modern consoles. With a litany of new quality-of-life updates, great writing, an addicting combat system, intriguing characters, and a stunning world, The Thousand-Year Door is a near-perfect game, save for a few frame drops and the frustrating use of backtracking.
    Saras Rajpal
    Saras Rajpal
    Saras is a passionate creative writer, with a love for immersive sims, superhero games, and Persona. He is currently writing a thesis about Persona 5 and is pursuing a career as a full-time writer.

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    Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a great remake that brings one of Nintendo's best RPGs to modern consoles. With a litany of new quality-of-life updates, great writing, an addicting combat system, intriguing characters, and a stunning world, The Thousand-Year Door is a near-perfect game, save for a few frame drops and the frustrating use of backtracking. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Review - A True Return to Form