Here's a fun fact about me: I had this game as a kid, but I never beat it. I got stuck on the final boss and just never ever managed to pull through and actually beat the game. But then, last night, some 20 years on, I finally, finally did it. But I still had trouble. That final boss battle really ups the difficulty out of absolutely nowhere. But, I had a lot of fun with this game, and now that it's on Switch it's avalible for a whole new generation of gamers, and I highly endorse it. That doesn't mean it's perfect, as we'll get into, but it's a great game.
The very first thing I want to address is a bug that almost made me quit playing, that is exclusive to the Switch version, and that I am hoping desperately that the team over at Nintendo will fix pretty quickly. When playing on the Switch Virtual Console, there is a bug that will absolutely delete your save data, setting you back hours and hours of play time. I lost all of my playthrough of Flower Fields. Twice.This is a game breaking bug. It's not OK that the game shipped with something this bad wrong with it. It's also a point in emulation's favor, because had I been playing on an emulator, this would not have been an issue, at all. In porting the game, Nintendo created a huge problem that did not need to be in the game, that rendered it almost unplayable.
Having said that, it is avoidable. What you have to do is depend on the save states (I think in the system they're called suspend points) rather than the in-game save feature. This is a pain in the ass, but nowhere near as big a pain in the ass as completely losing all your progress and making the game completely unplayable. But there's no way to know that without looking it up. There's nothing in the game itself that would indicate this is a thing you need to watch out for. So there's no way to know that it's going to happen until it actually happens.
Youtube user JCog put together a video explaining this glitch, why it happens, and how to deal with it. And I want to make that the first thing I share in my review here, because he did an excellent job, and this is a huge issue that I think that anyone who is wondering whether or not to play the game genuienly needs to know, because I would go as far as to call it the single biggest consideration that you would need to make to make that decision.
Now having said that, I wrote Nintendo myself through my Nintendo Account, as did many other users, so sure to god they will fix this. Hopefully it won't be an issue by the time anyone reading this would want to play the game. But as it stands right now, this is something you need to know.
But, let's get to the game itself. Is it good? Is it worth playing? I already gave my opinion on this in the opening paragraph, but let's look a little at the background of this game. Firstly, keep in mind that I love Super Mario RPG for the Super Nintendo. I'm quite disapointed that it isn't on the Switch virtual console, because I would love Switch users to be able to play it as well, but I understand why it isn't. You see, Nintendo and Square had a tiff around the time of the N64's launch, because Nintendo was originally working with a company called Sony on a console called the Nintendo Playstation. Nintendo decided not to go with that console, but rather the N64, because they didn't think the technology for a disk-based system was ready yet, and that consumers wouldn't want to use memory cards. Sony went ahead with the project anyway, and released the Playstation without Nintendo, which made Nintendo angry, and Square backed Sony rather than Nintendo, so Nintendo was also mad at Square. That meant that they would not be working together on Super Mario RPG 2, which is what Paper Mario is. Sony was heavily involved in the first game, and to lose them for the sequal over this console rivalry seemed at the time to be a big blow. But I think that the game speaks for itself, and even without Square stands on it's own two feet and is quite good. It is just sad to lose some of the lore that Square put into the first project. I might do a review of Mario RPG as well, because it is a great game. It's difficult not to draw comparisons, and I might even go as far as to say that I do like it better than Paper Mario.
The reason for this lies in the story elements of both games. Paper Mario is a return to form for the Mario storyline; you can really tell that you lost the epic writers of RPGs from Square. Whereas the original Mario RPG was an epic tale of a new evil invading the Mushroom Kingdom, forcing all the Star Children, including Bowser and Princess Peach, to team up (except for Luigi, I guess, Luigi gets screwed until the Mario and Luigi series) to overcome this new evil, Paper Mario really returns to the story that we all know and love, where Bowser is the ultimate bad guy, kidnapps Princess Peach, and you, Mario, have to save her. It's an obvious step down, but the writers do their best to make each location interesting and keep the story going. If you hadn't played the first game I don't know that you would notice the dip in quality.
And, having this familiar story does let us expand on certain elements of the Mario world, like it allows us to learn more about Koopa culture and the like, so it's not a complete waste, it's certainly not boring by any means. It's still an interesting game, it just isn't the epic story that we got in the first game, and the juxtopositiion is really the only thing that makes it noticible.
I cannot praise the art direction in this game enough. The team took the idea of paper characters, flat, 2D sprites on a 3D world, and used it masterfully. This was a huge departure from the art direction of Mario RPG, and I would say a better one. Especially looking at the latest installment, the Origami King, and how this style has been refined to perfection. Every single thing in this game is adorable. And that's not just the nostalgia talking, because again, every iteration is an improvement on the style. I love toads anyway, they're one of my favorite character designs of all time in their adorable simplicity, and the way they look and move in this game is beautiful and distinct, despite limited resources that make most of them difficult to individualize. I think that if they had tried to go in the direction of the previous game, this game's asthetics would be dated and horrible now, but because they made a good decision with the art direction, the game holds up and is an enjoyable experience. Now, remember that I did play it at the time, so part of that may be nostalgia, even though I just said it isn't, just because I have no control over how my own brain works, but I would opine that it isn't, and that this decision saved the game from being as dated as it could be.
I'm a basic bitch when it comes to RPGs, and that makes this game weirdly difficult for me. Nintendo has this obsession with making games control as weirdly as possible, and I have no idea why- I mean, I speculate that it's because they started out as a toy company, but I have no proof of that. So the combat in this game is not like it is in other turn-based RPGs where you just do your strategy and hit a button. Every action has some sort of control command, and they're all different, even among the same character, different moves will require different inputs. Some make you press the A button as fast as you can, some make you tilt the control stick to the left, it's just a lot. I don't like this. I get that a lot of people like this, but 1: I'm scared to death I'm gonna break my $60 Zelda controller doing that L-stick thing, 2: I have never ever gotten a button pressing thing all the way full ever- made the Lakitu guy completely useless, I never even kept him in my party at all because of it, and 3: just made the experience frustraiting for me. I wish there was an option to turn this off. At least in Oragami King the combat system was a puzzle, I didn't like it either and found it to be weird and annoying, but at least it was a puzzle. This is just an impossible test of skill.
I will admit that I differ from a lot of other people who have the hobby of playing video games in that I don't like that they are a test of skill. I know that a lot of people really enjoy that aspect, and, in fact, have made entire careers of it. They've made entirely new challenges to keep their favorite games interesting by making them more difficult, because that's what they like, such as Pokemon Nuzlock challenges, or speedruns. They enjoy that aspect of gaming. I know that these people exist, and I'm happy that they've also found joy in the hobby, but I am not one of them. I think that going down this road really can do damage to the hobby, because it sets up this expectation of an individual person being required to have massive skill, good hand-eye coordination, excellent visual-spatial intelligence, perfect timing, etc, to be able to enjoy a piece of media. This is an abhorrant mindset to me. Video gaming is the only media-based hobby that this attitude seems to prevail in. One cannot be 'bad' at reading a book, or watching a movie, or listening to a piece of music. I've never seen someone 'rage quit' an albulm from their favorite band halfway through because they were not skilled enough in music appreciation to finish it.
I say that to say that I wish this game had the option to have just normal turn-based combat without all this hubbabaloo. I think that all games on the market should have some sort of easy mode, to lower this barrier of entry into the hobby and make it more accessable. I simply don't like the combat system, but I don't want to take it away from the people who do like it. It's already somewhat turn-based, and I would just like to see the option to turn off all those extra bells and whistles. But that's not going to happen, so just know that when you play it, the combat is going to be intense, and as you age, as I have, your reflexes will get worse and you will get worse at the game just because you've played too many games and now you have carpal tunnel, and you will have a more difficult time than an able-bodied player, just because that's the nature of the beast. It's very frustraiting to know what you're expected to do and just not be able to do it. Time makes fools of us all.
I do find that Nintendo is worse for this aspect than other companies, though. I remember people breaking lamps and stuff when the Wii came out. I have never done as poorly at a Zelda game as I did with Skyward Sword, just because I found the controls so difficult. I recently bought the rerelease on Switch, which I can play with a normal controller, and I anticipate it to be a much better experience, when I get around to actually playing it, for this very reason. I just don't need buckwild contorls in video games. A lot of the time, Nintendo, you got it right the first time, and you don't need to fix what ain't broke. If you ever pull that Tingle shit again where I have to use the touchpad and the control panal at the same time I'm not gonna buy it.
Y'all, Princess Peach is weird, and we as Mario fans have been talking about it forever, but it really shines in this game how weird Princess Peach is. It makes so little sense that Princess Peach could keep getting kidnapped, given that she is one of the Star Children, one of the most powerful, with intense magical accumin, that there is a conspiracy theory floating around the internet that she let's Bowser kidnap her because she gets some sort of sexual thrill from it. But lord have mercy is she frustraiting in this game.
This game is a sequal to Super Mario RPG, in which Peach was also a playable character, and as the Star Child of Chaos had a vast magical arsonel of different spells, usually status ailments or healing spells. I remember putting foes to sleep a lot with her sheep spell, for example. Well, in this game, all that is gone, with no explination and for no reason. There are several segments of the game where you play Princess Peach, and you have lost all of your abilities from the first game, as well as all pre-established abilities from just the overall Mario universe. For example, not only can you not hover, you can't even jump. I never really did get adjusted to this, because her hover ability is such an intergral part of her character, given that the series was originally a platformer, that I kept trying to jump and hover, then realized I couldn't, again, just because the game decided to nerf the character for no reason. This is especially annoying because most of her missions are sneaking around in some way. I'm making it seem like these parts aren't fun, the truth is that they absolutely are, it's just weird because you have to remind yourself that the rules are completely different for this one game, and I have no idea why this was done. There had to be a better way to do this. Later games in the series do this same thing but better, in Oragami King, for example, she's brainwashed, which makes her absence make sense, so perhaps they were just finding their footing here, but I, personally, just kept forgetting that she was so nerfed, and getting caught, and then she was a total dick about it, because when you get caught and taken back to your room she says, "Well that was just plain stupid."
Hey Peach, you know what's actually stupid? Having a spell that would put all your guards to sleep and just not using it because you want to be a dick. How about that? How about that thing I just said? I'm not stupid, you're stupid. Hell, in any other game you would kill them dead, why are we suddenly pretending that they're a threat? You are the one who is causing these problems.
This is especially annoying because in the final battle of the game she uses her magic to power up Twink, a star spirit who has been helping her, so that he can join the other star spirits and stop Bowser from using the Star Rod to attain invincibility, so she very clearly does still have her magical abilities, so what are we even doing here?
I got way more into this Princess Peach thing than I meant to, that must have aggravated me more than I thought. I like Peach, as a character, I think that like a lot of fans, it just aggravates me that Nintendo seems to be of two minds about her and it makes her weird. Like either she's an all powerful mage or she's a damsal in distress, pick one, because making her an all powerful mage who is also a damsal in distress is just annoying and feels like we're doing nothing because she could get out if she really wanted to. It never feels like she's in any real danger because we, the audience, know how OP she is, so it makes the entire experience frustraiting. I feel that way with Zelda pretty frequently, too. But the thing is that Nintendo is probably never going to address it, so you just kind of have to live with it. They've set it up as part of their brand and we all just kinda deal with this weird duality. It just comes up a lot in this game.
I love Yoshis. Yoshis, like Toads, are some of my favorite characters in all of video games. But I would go as far as to say that I actually like Yoshis more than I like Toads. And this game has really expanded- actually this game does pretty well with all of it's locations. But the Yoshi's Island that we see here is expanded from the Yoshi's Island that we saw in Mario RPG, and it really beenfits from this expansion. I love Yoshis in general, but their connection to the Island, the Jungle, the Raven, and their children was nice to see. This game is pretty linear, but honestly, being a basic bitch, I really appreciate that. But this was one of the few areas where I did have to backtrack; I didn't exactly get lost in the jungle, but I did meet people I needed to go back to, or come to areas before it was time to progress how I needed to. And it made use of environmental aspects like posionous plants and the like. I just really love Yoshis and I guess in any game with a Yoshi, the Yoshi area will be my favorite area, but I really like the Yoshi leader, as well. That's actually the only fat Yoshi I've ever seen, and they're known for eating so I don't know how he got like that. I don't know how Yoshi metabolism works. Or how Yoshi reproduction works. I do not understand Yoshi biology. I'm not actually sure it's even my buisness.
I've talked a little about the gameplay in terms of combat, but not really the overall gaming experience. It's great. I really reccomend this game as a chill, relaxing experience when you aren't in battle- and this seems to hold up with the series moving forward, at least with Origami King, which is the other one that I played recently. The world really unfolds around you, I spoke earlier about getting insight into Koopa Culture, but here we see that again with Yoshi culture. All of these different creatures and peoples in the Mario Universe do have their own lives, and I think that's interesting. It's not anything that's going to completely break the mold, but it's an enjoyable experience. It's... I think cozy is a good word. It's just a feel good time.
Look, at the end of the day, there's only one question that really needs answered about a video game, and that is this: Is it fun? And with Paper Mario, that answer is a definative, "Yes". We can talk all day long about the characterization, the plot, the art, the gameplay, but really, for any video game, this is the only question that matters. And at the end of the day, Paper Mario is a fun game. I'm glad I played it. It might not be breaking any records or doing anything revolutionary, it might not make perfect sense, but it's just a good time. And I think that in this age of streaming and sponsorships and professional gamers, it's important to realize that the entire point of playing games is to have fun. That's why we're all here, really.