Paper Mario and Experience

So I was browsing Twitter (oops) and came across this little gem:

[upl-image-preview url=//]

Reading through the replies on this and similar tweets, a lot of people seem to be coming to the conclusion "if no numbers go up why would I want to do battles ever", and I'm wondering if these people are on the verge of looking under the hood of their favourite games and falling into a void.

I'm no Paper Mario expert, I know a lot of people didn't like the last couple of games for a variety of reasons, but I would like to ask people who have played a lot more RPGs their opinions on how vital (not necessary "valuable", I feel like Dragon Quest by itself demonstrates this) experience and levels are. I find it really interesting that for many people who play these games all the time who are always down for 1000s of repetitive battles in the name of grinding this is a dealbreaker!

Also fascinated by the use of "normal" in this tweet:

[upl-image-preview url=//]

link to tweet

While I think it's strange that the game doesn't give exp, it does give coins. So I assume you buy gear to upgrade/unlock weapons and skills that way. It also could just be that this random video isn't showing all the information for every battle in the game.

Definitely a strange reaction? I like many other people lament the direction Paper Mario has gone in but eliminating EXP is a change I have no problem with. If it's as beets surmises and upgrading your character is all based around the same resource you would use to buy items, that honestly just sounds like Dark Souls. I bet if you pitched it like that, these freaks would go wild.

I'm intrigued by that "no grinding" Chrono Trigger inspired RPG Sea of Stars, but the fact that it's apparently set in the same universe as The Messenger gives me pause. The Messenger had this really jokey, irreverent tone that made it impossible for me to care about the story, and all the jokes were painfully unfunny. That's a lot easier to forgive in a platformer than in an RPG!

I think people like this are just generally upset that the series has swayed even further from its light-rpg roots. Quirky/hybrid rpgs sort of have to balance complexity of rewards with fun of combat. Right now the actual combat looks kinda fun, clicking around the grid for an optimized attack patter on a timer with really cute animations seems like an enjoyable amount of pressure for a combat system. As long as new attacks/abilities are made available and that HP bar goes up the further I get into the game, I think it’s fine. People seem to really love the exploration part of this game anyway.

I can recall some similar complaints when various games have done away with the idea of lives in favour of quick respawns and so on.

For me, exp is just a construct to represent character progression that just happens to be the way that a lot games represent it because Enix made Dragon Quest based in part on Dungeons and Dragons (I'm simplifying obviously) and exp is how D&D handles character progression. I suspect that while there may not be expected in the new Paper Mario, there are plenty of ways to represent progression, just like there was in a game like the Dragon's Trap, where better equipment made the character progress, not arbitrary numbers going up. Exp is just another one of those trappings of older games that has survived in newer games for a lot of reasons, one of which happens to be that it's something that game audiences just expect to be there in newer games.

It's really funny to me how there are two very vocal critical groups in RPG discourse that are practically in direct opposition to each other-- the folks who absolutely hate grinding and the folks who can't stomach any kind of change to grinding-centred RPGs that developers would try. But I'm also surprised at how many people are just will to completely write off their supposedly beloved RPG franchise just because the developers change something or other.

Personally speaking, I love Paper Mario games because they always have a kind of light playfulness to them that is refreshing to me in the midst of a lot of extremely serious games.

I hadn‘t seen this, but I did see some stuff about the circular battle system and as a result I’m more interested in this game than I ever have been about a Paper Mario game


@beets#2998 link to tweet

[I think I'll borrow this strategy](

@Video_Game_King#3040 huh that‘s a good point! With racing sims, actual experience is only gained via driving a ton to learn tracks and how to drive a car, there aren’t any skillpoints you can put in to represent acceleration or top speed which result in faster laps, it's all via lived knowledge.

@marlfuchs2#3043 I also just remembered this article about fighting games which makes exactly the same point. It's even the top highlight.

Yeah these reactions are bizarre and silly in a void but specifically in response to the last few Paper Mario games which tried a pretty experimental approach to RPG battling and ended up leaning on the side of battles feeling like a roadblock rather than an important form of progression. In short: you use stickers to fight battles, you fight battles to win coins, you use coins to buy stickers. The reason this was kinda iffy is not so much because of a lack of EXP as that the design of the game’s resource economy and battle system meant battles were both time-consuming and offered diminishing returns on investment. (e.g. the best stickers aren’t even available in shops)

It wasn’t a terrible idea! It just wasn’t really right for a game that (by virtue of its brand) can’t really go for a truly unforgiving roguelike-style resource economy.

This review of the new one does a very clear job of explaining the situation:

So we talked about this in the upcoming podcast, but I hadn‘t read this thread yet unfortunately (it has been A Week), and definitely hadn’t seen kohler‘s review about how it’s about cash (tim kind of knew). So unfortunately I totally didn‘t hit on what I think is the analog here - I’m gonna go kind of contrary to @marlfuchs2 but in arcade racers like Ridge Racer, even going back as far as Super Off-Road, cash has been a form of EXP in racing games. You can use it to upgrade parts, get a new frame, grip-ier or slip-ier tires, or just buy a new car entirely, that has better stats, or stats more specific to your racing style (almost like a job system).

Paper Mario isn't doing something wacky here - they're just using tried and true "home" arcade racer mechanics in a different context. I guess I'll have to bring this up in an "old business" section next week!

So in the end, having actually played the game… I think the guys talking about it in the podcast would be disappointed. It does not use the tiny, simple integers and basic turn-based system that made the original games so intuitive and appealing: instead it uses a baroque, overdesigned puzzle-based system for battles that’s centered on shifting panels and enemy placements within a time limit. If you succeed at it, the actual process of selecting and performing attack commands is arbitrary because you’ve already won. Only once you’ve failed the puzzles do you need to actually participate in RPG battling.

You spend coins to extend the time limit for tricky battle-puzzles, but coins are a sloppily managed, extremely generous resource that you get from virtually _everything_ in the game yet will never need to use if you’re good enough, so getting into battles is still a losing proposition unless you’re saving up to buy a piece of equipment (to make battles easier) or something. In an awkward attempt to split the difference between these fairly obtuse mechanics and the brand-mandated need to make the game accessible to 5-year-olds, the game saddles you with a companion “character” (whom certain critics have accurately pointed out is less a character than an embodiment of Clippy from Microsoft Word) who chatters _incessantly_ via unskippable dialogue boxes, explaining absolutely _everything_ to the player like they are 5 years old, even if the player is not 5 years old and can decipher the game’s exceedingly obvious visual cues just fine without having them redundantly spelled out every single time. There is literally an “ask for a hint” button available at any time, yet the game _still_ swamps you with unskippable explanatory dialogue about absolutely everything!!!

Like... these games get points for _uniqueness_, but who is the audience at this point? They’re too obtuse for actual kids, who would much rather play an RPG. They’re too linear and narrative-light for fans of the original _Paper Mario_ games, who would also rather be playing an RPG. They only retain the RPG-like battling AT ALL because the earlier games had them, thus stymying these rebooted games’ urge to simply be adventure games!! Everything just seems like a second choice for everyone involved. It’s frustrating.

ah heck, even without the coin stuff if it‘s got that nintendo explainy buddy thing going on I’m not gonna get very far with it. I‘ve heard some folks really liked this one, so I’ll have to grill them about why, since this sounds very much like the opposite of the direction I'd want to go.

I played Ocarina of Time when I was 10 years old, and I didn’t understand why the internet hated Navi so much. This character talks a lot more than Navi.

It‘s because it was fresh at the time and we’ve since been brow-beaten into accepting the annoying chipper tutorializing Nintendo NPC as unavoidable.

I finished it and I enjoyed just about everything about it except for the combat. I'm not sure the designers even had much faith in it since they quickly give you plenty of outs to bypass it completely, whether it's vehicles, bribery, or even just an option in the menu to show you the solutions. It's just an extra annoying step that makes every random battle feel like such a drag after an hour or two in. By the midpoint of the game I was so flooded with money that if I didn't immediately see the solution I paid the toads to do it for me.

That's a huge strike against it but that being said it's charmingly written and I enjoyed things like the boss battles and Paper Macho fights. Overall I'd say I enjoyed actually "playing" Color Splash quite a bit more though.

I wasn’t really feeling the two big releases of July but the word-of-mouth for both Ghost of Tsushima and Paper Mario have been increasingly positive on social media the past few weeks. It seems Paper Mario in particular is getting more love as people are reaching the end of the game?

※It did not bother me in this specific case but the second video below pretty much spoils the entire game, caution.

based on everything I‘ve heard I’m just gonna try the gamecube one, seems like it'll be more my speed, if anything in the series will.

the gamecube one is fantastic, as is the n64 one… but i‘ve been enjoying the new Paper Mario more than any since those initial two. the battle system is fairly ridiculous, but not as terrible as a lot of people have said. it’s basically just dumb annoying puzzles that I occasionally find pleasurable to solve, and have yet to become actively annoyed by (and I think I‘m close to the end of the game.) I get the sense that Nintendo has prohibited them from doing normative JRPG style battles and they’ve had to find something that would appease the higher-ups and settled on this… There are some more action-y fights too… The pacing of the game, as well as the look and the writing are all top-notch as far as Nintendo‘s Mario RPGs, and included some tonal shifts that I’ve never seen in a Mario game. In a lot of ways it reminds me most of the Zelda gameboy games, weirdly enough. There are loads of indirect references to Zelda (a “great sea” area, trading sequence involving a chain-chomp, and stones of power/wisdom/courage, etc) which leads me to believe that they were aiming for something in that vein as much as they were prior Mario RPGs.

I picked this up today and I like it!

It's not an overly meaty game, and it probably won't be as good as the first two, but I'm having a good time with it so far and like @crumble I'm enjoying it more than the last few entries in the series.

I'm particularly aware of the removal of numbers. I don't mind it! Paper Mario was never about hardcore spreadsheet mechanics, so this is a logical endpoint. I actually quite like that the confetti consumables don't even have a numbered total. You just collect them until the icon turns green, meaning you have 'enough'. Many other games would have attached a pointless integer to this.