I just finished the first Paper Mario. It was good, and surprisingly different from Superstar Saga! The action commands were much less difficult and complex, but that helped the game regain that tactical element I mentioned. I can definitely see how it started as a sequel to Super Mario RPG.
It was really interesting to see an RPG with such a small number scale. Single-point differences really matter here, which is something I always want in RPGs. I do think it might be a bit too small — when your starting attack does 1 damage, the system lacks gradation since even the smallest increment is a massive change — but it was really impressive how well they balanced it. I felt the challenge escalated at a very reasonable pace. It also made it very easy for the developers to predict how much trouble each enemy would be, it looks like — because your attack power is fixed by story progression, enemies always take the same number of hits to drop, with the variation being in whether you can make the action command. Even the jump from enemies having 7 to 8 HP is a big deal, since it means you can no longer oneshot encounters with Star Storm (probably my most-used star power).
Unfortunately, I think it has the opposite problem as Superstar Saga: While bosses remain engaging, regular enemies become repetitive. The fixed attack power means you always deal with them the exact same way in the exact same amount of time. I ended up stacking as many attack boost badges as I could just so I could end encounters faster. The different enemy types and immunities are a neat idea to keep players from getting complacent, but after a point it just made me frustrated when I forgot the one badge that would allow Mario to hurt them and had to plink away at them with a partner. They’re basically puzzles, and puzzles are only interesting the first time.
The badge system was interesting, though I felt the number of badges was far in excess of the max BP they allowed. I think that active and passive abilities should have been separated — I would often fill up on passive badges and have almost nothing left for active skills, just because, frankly, the passive skills are so much more useful. The active skills are generally each only useful against a particular enemy type, as opposed to attack+1, which is useful everywhere.
The story was really fun, as expected. My favorite part was the fake murder mystery in Shiver City, I was laughing through the whole thing. Koopa Koot was also hilarious and a great spoof of RPG fetch quests. It’s amazing to see how much the series plays with the genre even this early.
Coming at this after other Mario RPGs, it was surprising to see Bowser as the actual big bad instead of as a joke villain. It’s incredibly dumb of him that he doesn’t use the power to grant any wish to do anything but make himself stronger, but that’s in-character so it doesn’t bother me as much as it would in a more serious story. Sneaking around as Peach between chapters was really neat, and I liked that the damsel in distress gets to actually do something instead of just sitting around offscreen the whole story. Her interactions with Bowser and the guards were really funny, too. (I can’t believe he never figures out the secret passage that leads directly into his room.)
I was very intrigued by all your partners being standard Mario enemies, and the many towns of peaceful enemies. Nonhuman party members in RPGs are The Best, and it also carried great implications for the worldbuilding. It was really nice to have it confirmed that not all goombas and koopas are Bowser’s minions, which helps avoid a lot of the fantasy racism problems.
Oh, and BLOOPER! was delightful.
I loved all the partners, but Goombario is my stand-out favorite. I still can’t believe they gave him unique dialogue for every single NPC in the game! He is truly a gift to flavor text. I particularly love how much he injects his own commentary into his info, allowing it to pull double duty with characterization instead of just being a clinical report like with some exposition fairies, Legend of Zelda. I particularly like that he’s able to give you hot goss on every townsfolk the moment you walk into a new place — that to me implies he’s incredibly good at reading people and gathering information. I also loved that he still acts like a kid sometimes, even though he’s otherwise very mature — it was so cute how he talks about playing with the Toad kids or wanting to play in the Toy Box.
Overall, though, I do think I liked Superstar Saga slightly more. It was much more of a proper RPG, while this was more of a puzzle game with RPG elements, which interacts poorly with the jRPG fixture of fighting tons of trash mobs over and over.
Really excited to play TTYD now!