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Paper Mario Falls Flat of Expectations
By: Jeremy, the Duke of Otterland
Most can agree that the N64 era was hardly a golden age for Nintendo and RPGs; none really stood out, except perhaps for the RPG-like Zeldas. In 2000, however, Intelligent Systems decided to make an attempt at giving an oasis to the desert wasteland that was the systemís RPG selection with Paper Mario, the second RPG starring Nintendoís trademark plumber, nearly five years after the original, Super Mario RPG, the brainchild of the companyís long-passed alliance with Square. Square, of course, had long since moved on to the Playstation, so another alliance with them was out of the question. While Nintendo alone was no stranger to the RPG genre, Paper Mario, unfortunately, fell short of my expectations.
The second Mario RPG marks a drastic simplification in combat for the plumber. Many of the originalís elements, such as a collision encounter system, flower points, and timed button-pressing, return, however. Concerning the collision system, Mario can jump on an enemy or smash it with his hammer to net himself a first strike, and enemies can do the same with whatever maneuvers are at their disposal. Mario or the enemy, upon gaining the first strike, may deal preliminary damage before combat officially commences. When it does, Mario has a variety of moves at his disposal, such as various hammer and jump attacks (some of which consume Flower Points), not to mention star powers, gained from completing the gameís chapters, utilized through up to eight levels of Star Energy, sort of like Force Points from the Wild ARMs games. Each Star Power consumes a certain amount of Star Energy levels, which gradually replenish after each round of combat, expedited with the Focus command. Mario also has an immortal ally (though enemy attacks can rarely stun him/her for a few turns) with his/her own moves, some consuming Flower Points, of course. Both Mario and his ally take their turns, with timed button pressing and holding being necessary to execute moves effectively, and then the enemies go, with their attack damage reduced, and status changes blocked, through timed button pressing, as well. Outside of battle, furthermore, Mario can upgrade one of his allies up to two ranks with special blocks found throughout the game, granting them more powers. Mario can also equip Badges, granting him more hammer and jump attacks, not to mention the occasional stat boost, with Badge Points determining the number he can equip.
The battle system, unfortunately, suffers from a multitude of flaws making it short of fully enjoyable. For one, since Marioís party includes only himself and one ally, battles with large enemy parties can take quite a while without the use of Flower Point-consuming skills hitting all enemies. Stats are also quite low in comparison to other RPGs; for instance, HP and MP will always number in double digits, Badge Points have an eventual cap of thirty (which is a bit irksome, given the number youíll find throughout the game), and Mario and his allies will rarely reach ten points of damage or more with their attacks. Additionally, the encounter system can be annoying at points, especially in the case of quick enemies and aerial ones; some enemies also have characteristics, such as spikes on their heads, dealing damage to Mario if he tries to get the first strike or subsequently attack, although a badge can remedy this. Furthermore, switching out an ally in battle consumes the allyís turn, though again, a badge can remedy this. Timed defense, furthermore, can be a nuisance, especially when normal enemy attacks take a long time. Leveling up, additionally, takes a while; though only a hundred Star Points, this gameís experience, are necessary for a level-up, most enemies will typically drop low amounts, even none at all if Marioís levels are high enough. After a level up, Mario can choose to increase his maximum HP, FP, or BP, with the first two increasing by five points and the last going up by three. Overall, however, the battle system couldíve definitely used more polish and balance.
Interaction is one of the gameís weakest aspects. Primarily, Mario can only hold up to ten items at once, forcing discarding decisions if he gets another item with a maxed-out inventory, although storage facilities exist at shops; storage space, though, contains a limit itself, though I never reached it during the game. Concerning dungeon navigation, many parts of the game require use of Marioís allies to progress; for instance, one, Bombette, can blow up cracks in walls. As for the translation, I didnít see any noticeable errors, though the choice of font was a bit weird, for instance, with Pís and Gís being as tall as capital letters in the middle of words. Generally, interaction couldíve been better.
Paper Mario isnít that original, either. As Iíve said, many elements present in Super Mario RPG return (the story also involves seven stars), and the Badge System itself resembles the skill-equip system from Final Fantasy IX, which came out about a month earlier in Japan, the only notable difference being the ability to buy and sell Badges. Mainly, Paper Mario doesnít revolutionize the RPG genre.
Paper Mario begins when Princess Peach Toadstool sends Mario and Luigi an invitation to a party at her castle, whither they travel, only for Bowser to bring it into outer space (or close to, since no one seems to suffocate) with his own castle buried underneath. Bowser has stolen the Star Rod from the Star Haven, using it for invincibility and sending Mario falling back to earth, where he must gain the powers of the Seven Star Sages in order to defeat Bowser. While the story is easily short of a masterpiece, itís nonetheless quirky and humorous, and does manage to introduce some new faces to the Mario universe, despite having little to do with its SNES predecessor.
The soundtrack is equally average. The game is a bit dependent upon Mario theme remixes, and most other tunes are forgettable and repetitive, despite fitting the mood of the game. The sound effects, while a bit comical, also fit the titleís milieu. Overall, though, the gameís aural aspect could have been better.
Paper Mario departs from its predecessorís realistic visual style, settling instead for bright, colorful, picturesque graphics, making the game resemble a pop-up storybook. While the graphics are quite possibly the gameís strongest aspect, the flatness of the sprites and some elements of the environments is a bit strange, though the visuals overall reflect the gameís comical disposition.
Depending upon how well the player adjusts to the gameís combat system, Paper Mario can be either easy or hard. Depending upon whether or not the player decides to perform the extras, furthermore, such as delivering all mail and finding every badge, the game can take anywhere from fifteen to thirty hours to complete.
In conclusion, Paper Mario was a disappointment, hardly enriching the N64ís meager RPG selection. Iím sure itís better than say, Quest 64 or Aidyn Chronicles, but it was barely reason enough in its time to buy an N64.
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