JRPG Review

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (2024) – Review

The future of the red plumber’s foray into the role-playing game genre felt uncertain for several years following the shift of the Paper Mario series towards an action-adventure focus, the fizzling of Mario & Luigi RPG developer AlphaDream, and any rumored Super Mario RPG sequel being in perpetual limbo. However, in 2023, Nintendo announced a surprising one-two punch of remakes for two of their most beloved RPGs of all time. 2023 would see the release of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, and 2024 would see the release of Intelligent Systems’s Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, both for the Nintendo Switch.

Despite starring one of gaming’s biggest juggernauts, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (a sequel to the original Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64) maintains such an avid fanbase that calling it a “cult favorite” might be an understatement. Now that it has been brought to a modern Nintendo console, we can find out if this storybook is worth opening once again with this shiny new cover.

Paper Mario The Thousand-Year Door - The Intro Cutscene


The story of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is fairly simple on its surface. Princess Peach uncovers a treasure map in a rough seaside town on the edge of the Mushroom Kingdom (known as Rogueport) and enlists Mario on a treasure hunt. By the time he arrives, Peach has gone missing, and Mario learns that the map is tied to a mystical and mythical 1000-year-old door underneath the town. The map provides directions to the seven Crystal Stars scattered across the land which serve as the key to open the door. Mario hopes finding them will eventually lead him to the Princess and solve the legend behind the fabled door while preventing the main villains of the game, the nefarious Grodus and his X-Nauts, from getting there first.

The game is divided into several chapters, each one focused on a new scenario and a new set of characters, with the end goal of obtaining a Crystal Star in each. After completing each chapter, you’re given a pair of intermission scenarios. One of them involves Peach, who gets involved in a subplot with the X-Nauts’ supercomputer while trying to uncover their evil plans, and the other involves Bowser, who is tailing Mario on his hunt for the Crystal Stars and Peach (because only Bowser is allowed to kidnap her).

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door - Mario Beating a Rogueport Guard (Image for Review)

Beyond the Door

The main plotline of the game is largely a straightforward journey, with a couple of twists but nothing too grandiose. A few elements of the main plot itself are a little awkward in terms of narrative consistency. Grodus is also a rather simple “I’m evil!” kind of villain, although he maintains just enough sense of foreboding menace to be taken seriously. However, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a game where the simplicity of its main plot belies the breadth of story it has to tell.

Most of the game’s chapters work as their own separate vignettes, each with a largely self-contained story and general theme. These chapters have plenty of variety, ranging from exploring the castle of a giant and fearsome dragon to a leisurely train ride with a set of mysteries. Several of the subplots are interesting in their own right, such as the unsettling intrigue of the Glitz Pit arena in Chapter 3 or the various curses in Chapter 4’s plot. These also sometimes show interesting ways the Crystal Stars are used to influence the scenarios built around them.

Along the way, you meet several partners who aid in your quest. Each one has their own little story, personality, and abilities to use. There’s some nice variety, ranging from a sailor with a tragic backstory (a personal favorite) to a newborn Yoshi kid with attitude whom you hatch and name. People inevitably have their favorites, but I honestly like most of the party.

The supporting cast of this game is chock full of memorable characters. Each chapter introduces plenty of enjoyable denizens of the game’s world who breathe some life into the journey. There’s a large variety of unique sprites for NPCs, and many of them have dialogue that updates regularly with story progress, some of them moving around from locale to locale. In addition, the subplot involving Peach and the Supercomputer has its cute moments, and the Bowser scenes are genuinely funny and enjoyable to watch.

Despite all of this, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a remarkably dense game. You can probably clear the main story of the game in around 20 hours on your first playthrough. There’s a lot of life in this world, yet it never feels overly big to navigate.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door - (Image for Review) - This NPC recaps lore about the door and Rogueport

Thousand Years of Lore

An aspect of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door I’ve come to appreciate is that its story doesn’t feel like it simply starts from the prologue and just ends after the credits. The world around Rogueport has plenty of supplementary lore that ties in so many aspects of the world and the main story. A lot of details can be learned about via an NPC in Rogueport, who you can learn more from as the game progresses. Stuff like this really makes the story of this world feel alive, like more goes on than just what we see. It rewards invested players while not bogging down the run time for less interested players.

On top of this, there are some amusing side stories as well. One involves Luigi, who is seen in Rogueport throughout the game and tells you of his adventure parallel to yours. What’s interesting is Luigi has a band of partners, and several of them have differing recollections of what went on in Luigi’s heroic tale. This paints a somewhat unclear story of whether Luigi might be an unreliable narrator, and leaves it up to you to imagine what actually went on…if you so feel inclined. There are a few different additional sorts of story logs as well, from the various mysteries of Chapter 3 to an NPC who recounts his tale of gathering oil (in a neat callback to the original Paper Mario) to a newsletter you get after each chapter.

These elements give added life to the world of this game. While the main plot itself is not particularly standout or profound and the game’s target audience is a bit on the younger side, the little details and stories along the way make it still enjoyable. There are all kinds of emotional moments throughout ranging from amusing to genuinely touching, and it all comes to create a story that is better than the sum of its parts.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door - (Image for Review) - Battle screen and menus

Combat Systems

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is an RPG that does a great job of reducing turn-based JRPG combat to the most essential components without sacrificing much in the way of depth or options. Mario himself can jump, hammer, use special moves (unlocked as you collect Crystal Stars), use items, or perform a few tertiary actions that have their uses. Your partner has their own actions, albeit fewer than Mario’s, and you can rotate between partners. Unlike in the first Paper Mario, partners have their own HP bar to soak up hits with, although if Mario’s HP ever hits 0, it’s game over.

Nearly every attack and ability in the game has what’s called an “action command”, usually consisting of a timed press or series of inputs, in order to execute (or empower) them. These are quick, rewarding, and require just enough skill to make it so you don’t just pick an action and have the game do it for you which keeps combat rather engaging. You also have two options to respond to enemy attacks: a timed press of the A button just before the attack connects will guard and reduce the damage, and a much tighter-timed press of the B button performs a “superguard” which nullifies damage (and even hurts enemies back in some cases). Action commands make the game more engaging, giving additional player agency in turning the tide of battle, and abilities like superguard allow you to consider what you can get away with.

Battles also take place on a stage, which has a few mechanics too. You can appeal to the crowd to replenish star power (needed for special moves), and you can perform “stylish” commands with a well-timed A press to build star power from the crowd more quickly. Both the audience and the stage itself can influence battles depending on what/how you do, though these only start to get particularly consequential later on. It’s a nice extra thematic layer to combat which gives this game a one-of-a-kind feel.

Level Up Screen

As you defeat enemies, you gain star points, the game’s experience points. 100 are needed to level up, and star points are sort of rubberbanded (i.e. the higher level you are, the less you get, and vice versa). Upon each level up, you can upgrade HP, Flower Points (needed to use special skills), or Badge Points (needed to equip badges). They’re all useful, though Badge Points are probably the most impactful. The game has a ton of badges for you to find and equip, which allow you to finetune your playstyle and approach. As damage numbers in this game are extremely low by RPG standards, every additional bonus granted by badges genuinely matters. It’s a great system that gives the player a wealth of options while being approachable and not overly complicated.

Paper Mario combat is relatively simple at its core, but it’s always involved. It’s also helped by how brilliantly paced it is; actions take very little time to perform on both sides, leading to a snappy back and forth despite every single animation having an interactive component to it.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door - (Image for Review) - Exploring a castle dungeon

Exploring The World

A signature of the Mario RPGs is their fusion of JRPG systems with platforming elements. Alongside encounters are many puzzles to solve and jumps to make. Controlling Mario outside of battle is genuinely a big part of the game beyond just walking from place to place and enemy to enemy. While platforming is simplified due to the RPG focus (bottomless pits are rare and do a tick of damage rather than killing you), the game does a lot to keep you engaged even when you aren’t fighting enemies. You also do have to be careful of enemies around you; if you get the jump on them you can get a free hit in, but they can do the same back to you!

A notable aspect of the first two Paper Marios is how lengthy and elaborate their dungeons are. Most of the chapters in this game conclude with a pretty meaty dungeon, with various puzzles to solve and interesting setpieces along the way. While some are better than others (e.g. Chapter 2’s is still somewhat on the dull and annoying side), every chapter feels generally like its own thing in both narrative and gameplay. It helps that the game gives you a ton of tools to explore between Mario’s various power-ups, the paper “curse” abilities, and all your partners.

My only gripe with field movement is that the game’s normal movement speed is a little bit on the slow side. You do unlock a few abilities that can speed this up, but none of them compare to the spin dash from the original Paper Mario that made overworld movement a bit more fun and quick in that game.

Some of the newly added facial expressions to cutscenes as Mario and Yoshi are trapped

Don’t Fix What Ain’t Broken

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is an incredibly faithful remake in many aspects. There wasn’t a whole lot that they opted to significantly change, and I honestly don’t believe there was a lot that they really could have changed for the better without radically redesigning the entire game.

The visual aspects of this remake were impeccably handled. The game has more detailed environments with very delicately handled lighting and artistic presentation, giving it noticeably more life without compromising or overhauling what made the original version on the Gamecube so appealing. Its specific papercraft look feels just right, touching up the original TTYD rather than just making it look like Paper Mario: The Origami King. Nearly every sprite in this game has several new expressions (including back sprites!), even some very minor characters and rare enemies. I can’t tell you how many times an aspect of the new visuals put a smile on my face. Intelligent Systems somehow managed to make a game that was already full of charm and personality even more full of each.

A nice view of the Glitz Pit in Chapter 3

Series veteran and original TTYD composer Yoshito Sekigawa directed much of the revamped score for this remake alongside a team of veteran composers and sound crew, including several from recent Intelligent Systems games (e.g. Fire Emblem Engage). The revamped soundtrack is noticeably more dynamic, with a lot more variations of tunes depending on context. My only minor complaint with the updated sound design is that characters have unique voice sound blips when talking in this version, some are annoying and you can’t turn them off.

Several locales have more thematically specific music. For example, Glitzville has a more Chinese musical flair (coupled with the use of instruments like the erhu) to match its aesthetic, an aspect somewhat lost in translation from the original Japanese version where its name is “Oolongtown”. One particularly nice touch is that the standard battle theme now has many variations depending on where you are. While I did like much of the new soundtrack, the game also thankfully lets you purchase a badge in Rogueport that costs 0 BP and reverts the music to the original score if you so desire. Both soundtracks are good, so take your pick.

Much of the script remains the same for the remake, based on what I remember of several playthroughs of the English Gamecube release. There are also plenty of new lines added to the game, but I think the script is pretty consistent and polished in quality. There are a few noticeable changes here and there, especially one involving a rather well-known translation change pertaining to the character Vivian. Compared to the Gamecube version (in English), this remake tweaks a handful of lines to be more in line with her original (Japanese) portrayal and gender identity, though a lot of lines unrelated to that aspect are largely similar to what they were in the original English release.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door - (Image for Review) - A new, consolidated shortcut area in the Rogueport Sewers to cut down on backtracking

Some Pleasant Additions

For the most part, this remake is about bringing Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door to modern consoles in a rather faithful way. However, there are still a handful of little bonuses to this version.

A common complaint made towards TTYD was that around 5–10% of any given playthrough consisted of backtracking through the same paths repeatedly to advance the story. While this remake doesn’t cut out all of the backtracking, it thankfully added plenty of shortcuts to reduce the more tedious parts. Chapter 4 is pretty infamous for several back-and-forth trips between its hub town and dungeon, and thankfully this remake cuts out one of those with a shortcut pipe. Chapter 5 features similar back-and-forth tedium, but this version adds a spring to bypass an annoying platform section on repeat trips. The game also consolidated and expanded its sewer shortcut rooms, making it quicker than ever to hop between various towns. 

Outside of some very slight tweaks in a few scenarios, most things play out the same, with enemies being about the same as they were in the Gamecube version. However, Intelligent Systems did add a couple of additional superbosses to this remake. I feel as if these were tailor-made for longtime fans of the game because they are noticeably designed for veteran players who know what they’re doing. I won’t spoil them, all I’ll say is they’re the kind of bosses that feel like urban legends from twenty years ago, except now they’re officially in the game.

The game also features a couple of nice little quality-of-life features, including a ring to quick-swap between your party members and an accessible basic hint system if you ever get sidetracked and forget what your current objective is (and don’t want to hightail it back to Rogueport to pay a fortune teller for info).

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door - (Image for Review) - Luigi’s long-winded story putting Mario to sleep

A Couple Issues

While most of the changes made to the remake are positive, I have some issues to mention.

This version runs at 30FPS compared to the original’s 60FPS on the Gamecube. In motion, this isn’t that much worse to look at (especially since the papercraft style sorta makes it work), but it does make the game not feel quite as buttery smooth to control. It also makes getting used to timing for attacks and guards a bit trickier, although I think they have slightly more forgiving input windows to make up for the lower framerate.

My biggest issue with this version is it can be unnecessarily slow. Not only do you feel just a bit slower while moving around, but text boxes progress slower than they used to upon first reading them even when mashing. You can skip some text boxes/scenes, but not many. Some movement mechanics are a bit more sluggish, such as Yoshi needing to move a bit before reaching max speed now, or the changes to how falling works.

The game is also made a bit easier, and I’d argue unnecessarily so. Although TTYD was never tight with money, you now also get bonus coins for clearing bosses. You start with an item inventory capacity of 15 instead of 10, and you don’t lose coins when running away anymore. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has never been a particularly tough game, but there are some ways this version makes things even easier and hand-holdy, if just by a bit. The game also throws more unskippable tutorials at you, slowing down an early game already somewhat infamous for having an abundance of tutorials. This feels especially unneeded because there’s a new NPC who you can talk to all over to recap tutorials (which is a good feature).

I think this game could have used more options in its settings menu, as several of my issues would involve relatively simple conceptual fixes in the menu. I also don’t like that the “run away” option still requires mashing a button, a mechanic that more modern games like the heavily TTYD-inspired Bug Fables have done away with (while also having more menu options and settings too). Ultimately though, while these issues do hold this remake back, the things this version builds and improves on make up for its faults to some extent.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door - (Image for Review) - A young Toad excitedly talking to Mario about his favorite games


I’ve long considered Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door to be a benchmark title for how to do a sequel well. TTYD built on a lot of the ideas that the first Paper Mario established in new and creative ways while staying true to what made the first game work. So I am excited to say that Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door on Switch lives up to the Gamecube’s TTYD in many ways, setting a benchmark of its own for how to make a very faithful remake while also playing up the game’s strengths. I’m hopeful that this game finds success alongside the Super Mario RPG remake and sends a message to Nintendo that there is still a place in the world of gaming for a true RPG experience starring the beloved plumber.

If you own the original game, I would describe the two versions as generally comparable in overall quality. This remake adds even more personality and a few neat bonuses to an otherwise splendid game, but some performance issues hold it back from me giving it a perfect grade. If you want a more radically different remake, you won’t find it here, but what you will get is a lovingly made video game with many of the original version’s best attributes shining brighter than ever before.

If you’ve never played The Thousand-Year Door in any form and you own a Switch, you owe it to yourself to play this gem of an RPG. 


Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Purchase: Nintendo UK

If you are looking for another JRPG, you may enjoy Persona 3 Reload.

Many thanks go to Nintendo for a Nintendo Switch review code for Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door.

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