Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (2004) was my gift to myself for completing grad school. Between 2002 and 2004, I had tackled one of the biggest challenges of my life, and dammit!, I deserved a prize. Boy oh boy, did I need something fun to do after that ride. My two years of upper-upper-level classmanship were…um…taxing. That’s probably the nicest and most succinct way I could put it. I worked during the day and went to school at night, and I managed to somehow squeeze out a nicely-bound 200-page thesis at the end of it all. But a hunky dory time was not. In fact, of all the stresses my husband and I have faced over the years, me being in grad school was the absolute worst. Y’know how people say “someday we’ll look back on this and laugh?” Well, when it comes to dredging up past thoughts of our time together while I was in grad school, laughing most certainly does not occur. Point is, after grad school, I thought I would find happiness again. In order to facilitate that process, I figured I’d need to bring in some happiness any in form. For that I chose video games, specifically, the sequel to Paper Mario, one of my most favorite Mario games.
However, I didn’t get two levels into The Thousand Year Door before it was shelved; not because I didn’t like it, but because of real life. Our real life that had, since the end of my time in school, turned to talk of my husband’s return to the same. His choice of educational venue meant another move – another cross-country move. But it was a decision made for the best, so moving plans and preparations, big ones, took up the better part of the first half of 2005. The Thousand Year Door simply had to remain closed for awhile.
Fast forward to the latter half of 2005. We’ve gotten situated in our new digs and are readjusting from our West Coast 4 Lyfe attitudes to a fast paced East Coast existence. As my husband became embroiled in school work, I entered the… let’s face it, miserable world of the unemployed-seeking-to-be-employed. I’ve already mentioned this here, so I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say, I spent several long and uneventful months sending out resumes and playing games during all the in-between time. One of those games was, finally, again, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. I didn’t even bother looking for its old save file – my statute of memory limitations had long run out, so it was on to a new game.
Game sequels sometime received flack for being too much like their predecessors. Evolution is a naturally occurring state, so it makes sense that we might expect the same from our games. But the fact is that we all take some level of comfort in the familiar. Hearing that The Thousand Year Door was simply more of the original Paper Mario just with different characters, didn’t bother me at all. I enjoyed the original immensely and I was perfectly happy to revisit same mechanics and gameplay. And though the control scheme and turn-based combat system remained, The Thousand Year Door was a sight different from the original game, especially in its story. And especially in the fact that Bowser gave up center stage as Mario’s primary nemesis.
As Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door opened, a sad tale was told of a small town that was destroyed by catastrophe and mayhem and summarily sunk into the ocean. In its place, the town of Rogueport popped up, and it was there that Princess Peach came into the possession of a strange map, which she sent to Mario. But no sooner had Peach mailed the map than she was kidnapped by – no, not Bowser — the leader of a mysterious gang of…um..alien…things from the Secret Society of the X-Nauts. Mario learned of the Princess’s fate and headed off to Rogueport to, of course, rescue her. With the map in tow, he learned of the Thousand Year Door, its magical ability to transport him to a number of different worlds, and the mission to rescue seven Crystal Stars.
Meanwhile, Bowser wasn’t totally written off as he had learned of the stars too and sought to capture them for himself. Did he succeed? Well, just consider how well Bowser had managed in past games and there’s your answer.
As I said, aside from the story, there really wasn’t anything new about the game when compared to the original. Mario still had to find Peach, Mario still had to collect stars, Mario still had to defeat a bunch of minor world bosses before reaching the main one. The delightful art style of two-dimensional “paper” characters in three-dimensional environments was carried over, thankfully. But there was no huge departure that made The Thousand Year Door seem like anything other than another Paper Mario game.
And that was great. Perfectly and happily great.
During my time of unemployment, I sought familiar things because I was experiencing so much outside of games that was new – new state, new apartment, new transportation, new everything! Playing something “old” (which also included Mega Man Anniversary Collection) was exactly what I needed at the time. I didn’t need anything “new;” I had enough of that going on as it was. I was more than pleased to spend time in the Paper Mario universe again, if only with different friends/enemies and special powers, because it was the contented, soul-fulfiing thing to do.