The Paper Mario Franchise May Have Permanently Abandoned the RPG Direction
In a new interview with IGN, it becomes apparent that Miyamoto upended the tea table many times with Paper Mario Sticker Star. When the team from Intelligent Systems originally approached Miyamoto with the prototype in 2009, it seemed more along the lines of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, with traditional Paper Mario RPG mechanics. Miyamoto felt that the gameplay was too much like a port of the GCN game. So he scrapped it. The team went back to the drawing board and decided to use the sticker mechanic that were originally supposed to be just used for puzzles, and included them in the battle mechanics. In 2011, they came back to Miyamoto armed with the stickers “focus”. This time he labeled the game as boring.
So, Miyamoto gave them some advice. His directives were not to focus on the storyline, change the game’s atmosphere entirely from what they had intended, and only to use existing Mushroom Kingdom characters rather than create new characters. The team said this helped them out by making their focus more narrow and in the mindset for a portable game rather than a console-style game. And they said that there were many anecdotes they could share about Miyamoto making changes to the Paper Mario formula. (I’d guess that the overworld map was one of his changes too.)
This makes us question: is Miyamoto the reason for Paper Mario Sticker Star not going over as well with the fans? A lot of the complaints were directed at the game’s absence of storyline, new characters, overworld, stats, and traditional battle mechanics. In other words: it didn’t feel like an RPG. And from this interview it seems that Miyamoto was the one who essentially layed forth the direction for this game.
I think that fans must realize something. I think Nintendo aims to permanently make the Paper Mario series less of an RPG and more of an approachable experience. It started with Super Paper Mario on the Wii. Nintendo decided to make it more of a platformer than an RPG, with unique gameplay “hook” of altering the perspective. However, it still kept its focus on quirky side-characters and massive amounts of dialogue. With Sticker Star, Nintendo seems to have moved it even further from its roots, cutting out a lot of the dialogue and storyline. This makes it more similar to platforming Mario games.
The question remains: Why? Paper Mario is a very popular RPG series. Why did Nintendo decide to overhaul it and make it more… casual?
I believe the answer is twofold. From the end of the SNES era onwards, there weren’t very many Nintendo RPGs to choose from. (Of course, the SNES itself was filled with great RPGs.) On the N64, Paper Mario was filling a void. Nintendo decided to lend their popular plumber to such a title because it needed to hit home with the fans. On the GCN, Nintendo tried their best to get Square to hit a home run with the Crystal Chronicles series, but it was more of a foul ball. Once again, Nintendo used Paper Mario The Thousand Year Door to plug a hole. But, on the Wii and DS, it became apparent that Nintendo had more of a focus on providing hardcore experiences from their various studios such as Monolith Soft and Retro Studios. Traditional gamers could expect games like Twilight Princes, Skyward Sword, Monster Hunter Tri, Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower. And the DS was swelling to bursting point with RPGs and adventure games. No longer did Nintendo have to rely on Paper Mario to save the day for RPG fans.
Ok. So, there was less of a need for Paper Mario to be an RPG. But, why mess with a good thing? You know why? Because this is Mario, we’re talking about. Nintendo has one and only one franchise that every single gamer of all ages can identify with: the Mario franchise. When they want to launch a new console, they now know that it better be accompanied with a Mario game. That’s the brand name that can sell consoles like no other. So, if Nintendo is releasing a Paper Mario game, it’s much more worth it to them from a business-perspective to turn it into a general Mario adventure that is accessible to the masses. Last holiday season, the 3DS rode momentum along the back of Super Mario 3D Land. This summer, the new momentum was New Super Mario Bros 2. And holiday season was carried by… Paper Mario: Sticker Star. All Nintendo games are released as a strategy move by Nintendo. When Nintendo releases an incredibly innovative game, it’s not because they love their fans. It’s because they want to make a ripple in the industry. Some Nintendo franchises make a ripple in the industry even when they are not innovative– New Super Mario Bros, Pokemon, Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros, Animal Crossing. They are power hitters and Nintendo uses them wisely at strategic points during a system’s lifetime.
It seems Nintendo wants to turn Paper Mario into one of those types of franchises. It may still be innovative, but it will be much more approachable for a 6-year old to play it (and yes, I hate to say it, more casual.)
So, for all the Paper Mario RPG lovers out there, I suggest you learn to appreciate Nintendo’s other role-playing experiences, like whatever is coming next from Monolith Soft. And maybe we can pray for another Mario & Luigi RPG on the 3DS. As I conclude this article, that last sentence hit me. I doubt Nintendo wants two different streams of Mario RPGs on the 3DS, both Mario & Luigi RPG and Paper Mario. One of them had to start going down a different route. Let’s hope that is a positive sign for the return of the Mario & Luigi RPG franchise.