As always, a friendly reminder that this post may contain spoilers (it will definitely).
All it took was a demo from an FYE in a local mall to make me realize that I had to buy Thousand Year Door. The graphics were more crisp (as Mario seems to have settled into his new paper style) and the gameplay more fluid and it had more interesting mechanics. There were more characters to see and a whole new world to explore, so of course I was excited. When the game came out, I actually didn’t beat it in my first playthrough. I got my ass handed to me by the 2nd to last boss and just kind of stopped. It’s crazy to me looking back now; I really liked the game, so I can’t believe I didn’t beat it at that time.
About 3-4 years later, I took another swing at it and came out victorious. An added benefit of playing it later was that I understood games better and could more easily grasp the core mechanics (a common theme for me). Thousand Year Door introduced a more complex plot with more complex characters this time around. Like I said, Mario seems to have settled into his surroundings, so developers and writers took more chances with how they wanted the experience to play out.
A basic summary of the story: Mario has been called to the scummy port town, appropriately named Rogueport, to meet with Princess Peach who sent him a map she acquired while there. Upon arriving at Rogueport, he clashes with the X-Nauts, finds out that the princess is missing, meets Goombella and Professor Frankly and then finally begins his quest to find the seven Crystal Stars to open the mythical Thousand Year Door. Peach (who was captured by the X-Nauts) once again plays a role in aiding Mario after every chapter. We even get to play as Bowser because he finds out about the Crystal Stars and that Mario wants them and also that Princess Peach has been kidnapped by someone else, and he’s not happy about any of those things. So what kind of secrets are held by the Thousand Year Door? Mario and his friends find out soon enough.
The composer was once again Yuka Tsujiyoko, with help from Yoshihito Hirano and arrangements by Koji Kondo. Where the music from the first Paper Mario was more upbeat and rag-timey, Thousand Year Door takes itself more seriously, although the game doesn’t lack humor. The story and characters are a little more dark and complex this time around, so the music has to be able to reflect these changes to the format. Again, that’s not to say that the music isn’t ever upbeat, it’s just that there are often more serious songs to go along with more serious themes. I can appreciate that the developers and composers felt free to do that kind of stuff despite it being a Mario game. So let’s look at the awesome soundtrack of Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door!
Rogueport, Town of Thieves
This is the main hub where you will spend a lot of the game. I like the theme because it offers up both sides of Rogueport. On the one hand, the song is one of adventure in a new land and fascinating personalities, on the other it is a theme for the shady people and backhanded dealings there. It manages to do both of these things with its pirate-like music, since it is a port after all, and the way it progresses matches the business of Rogueport itself. It teaches you to explore Rogueport, but at the same time be wary of who you trust and who you talk to.
Curse of the Black Box
This is the song that plays whenever you open up a black cursed chest, and the music appropriately reflects the action. The clashing sounds in the beginning get your attention and make you feel like something really bad has happened. What’s really great about this song is how it’s supposed to communicate this feeling, but each time you open up a chest, it means Mario gets a new ability using the powers of paper, like a paper boat, paper airplane, turning sideways to become thin, etc. So each monster within a chest treats the “curse” like a big deal and the music is meant to have you think that as well. The music even plays later to comedic effect as the chests you come across realize that you already know what they do and feel kind of let down that they don’t get to surprise you.
Ruins of the Thousand Year Door
The music of the Thousand Year Door is as much of a mystery as the door itself. It’s a mystical force that’s neither friend nor foe. You get the feeling that there are ancient powers at work with it that you can’t understand, and even though it tells you where to find the next Crystal Star, you have to be wary of all you still don’t know. Whenever I get to this room, I’m definitely in awe of the door and all of the history behind it.
Hooktail Castle is a much more depressing keep than that of the Koopa Bros. Fortress. The music definitely has that medieval sound to it with a kind of twisted regal theme. Whether or not the castle belongs to Hooktail, it’s clear that there has been some sadistic stuff going on in there. There are prison cells, torture devices, and the (now animated) skeletal remains of countless Koopa Troopas. The music makes you think of a mad king, who’s abusing his power and torturing innocent people. Though Hooktail doesn’t necessarily reflect that kind of sadistic nature, her castle sure does.
Dragon Slaying Battle
While the drums do kind of get it across, the theme for the battle with Hooktail doesn’t make her seem very menacing. In fact, once you hit her with the cricket sound effect on your hammer, she’s suddenly much easier to defeat. Instead of a huge overpowering dragon, the music makes me think of (again) a 1920s mobster. Now, I said yesterday that I’m not sure if I just like 1920s big-band music or what have you, but I think this music is perfect. Hooktail negotiates with you to try and convince you to stop beating her up. When all else fails, she eats half of the audience to regain life. In that classic cowardly fashion, she tries to trick you instead of fighting you full-on. It’s why the music is so twisted instead of being a straight statement of power.
The Shadow Sirens
The Shadow Sirens are a “the witches three” kind of scenario. Their theme has that sort of classic witch music (like Grunty), but is sort of wacky. It’s supposed to represent the dysfunctional nature of the three sisters, or two sisters and one effeminate brother, since Vivian is a boy in the Japanese and Spanish versions of the game. Beldam is the older sister who is constantly belittling Vivian and claiming her superiority over the two of them. Marilyn is big and dopey, and Vivian has an inferiority complex because of Beldam. Though they are a formidable group, one couldn’t imagine the actual role they play in the overall story of Thousand Year Door because of how this theme presents them.
Magnus Von PUNISH!
Lord Crump really thought he was super-intimidating in the Magnus Von Grapple. His battle theme definitely communicates an air of superiority and arrogance. He thinks he’s real smart and resourceful, so it’s the music’s job to build him up as a credible threat. He’s not really difficult, but you can’t sleep on the fight or else you’ll get knocked out by rocket punches faster than you can say, “Lord Crump, you’re pretty dumb.” His high defense is no joke, but I’m sure you’ll find that the music is just a front for him, and Crump is just nothing but hot air.
Rawk Hawk Rock
After fighting your way up the ranks in the Glitz Pit of Glitzville, it’s finally time to take on the champ so that you can have the belt and acquire what seems to be the gold Crystal Star that’s attached. After working through his deceptions and roadblocks, you fight the star of the Glitz Pit, Rawk Hawk. Despite the fact that he has been actively trying to sabotage Mario so that he can’t compete against him, Rawk Hawk can’t refuse a fight once you’re on the big stage.
It’s an awesome song because it totally gets you into the mindset of a one-on-one battle with the champ. The crowd going “HEY” (or just kind of cheering in general, I guess) in the background makes you feel like a larger than life character. Even though he uses shady means, it’s still a fight and Rawk Hawk doesn’t intend to take you lightly. You put on the best fight you can so that the audience will get their money’s worth.
You take down Rawk Hawk, and Mario (who’s ring name is the Great Gonzales) is the new champion of the Glitz Pit. While it’s unfortunate that the star on the belt is fake, in the champions room you hear talking from the room next door.
It’s the fight promoter Grubba, a Clubba with a trusting southern accent, who is talking about how he is glad to be the one getting rid of the mysteriously disappearing fighters. When you find him out he hauls-ass out of the office towards the now empty arena. There, he reveals that he has been draining energy out of the fighters that got too close to his secret so that he can stay eternally youthful using a device powered by the actual gold Crystal Star. He then activates the machine and turns himself into…
The point, I think, of Macho Grubba’s battle theme is to get across how different he and the fight are from the battle with Rawk Hawk. The fight takes place in an empty arena, so there’s no crowd and the lights are off. In addition to that, Rawk Hawk is a big time fighter with charisma and catchphrases, where Grubba is just a slimy promoter. So the music is aggressive but low-key because Grubba is keeping all this power a secret, and it’s not supposed to be over the top and exciting like the fight with Rawk Hawk. It’s almost metaphorical, as a promoter he’s draining the life out of his competitors so that he can reap all the benefits of their efforts. The song also reflects on the fighting style of Macho Grubba because he’s using these underhanded tactics of stealing power to pump himself up and give himself extra turns and stuff like that. What a jerk.
The Dark and Gloomy Twilight Town
Man, Twilight Town is pretty depressing. Not only because every time a bell sounds, a random person turns into a pig, but also for the atmosphere and music. The people seem content enough when not living in fear of being turned into pigs, so coming from Rogueport to Twilight Town is like day and night… well… mostly night. It’s just sort of a haunting theme, but people live here and they don’t seem to mind the depressing mood. Unless they’re all too depressed to care… I guess that’s maybe a little too negative of an assumption. (Great! Now Alex is depressed!- EDITOR FRANK)
Fight Against Mario…No, Doopliss!
This is the music for both themes of Doopliss. This is the one where he is the guy in the white sheet and the final battle of the chapter where he has taken Mario’s identity. That bell ringing is supposed to be the bell that he was ringing to turn the Twilight Townspeople into pigs. Yeah. That was him. The overall theme is about how crazy and sadistic Doopliss is despite his appearance of just wanting to have “fun”. Clearly though, madness is his idea of fun. As I’m sure was no accident, the piano also reminds me of classic movie monsters.
Cortez, The Pirate King
This does a great job of psyching you up for a battle with the skeletal ghost pirate, Cortez. In his pile of treasure, he has a Crystal Star, but he won’t let you just loot his horde without a fight. This is the theme of a pirate, and for all of Rogueport’s pirate motif, Cortez tops it. At the very least, the theme cements him as the very top of the pirate ladder, even while dead. You’re dealing with a ruthless, swashbuckling, and also huge, ghost who will cut you down with one of his many weapons.
There’s so much to concentrate on in this fight, and the theme gives Cortez the respect he deserves for having such a complex and varied moveset. Even when you defeat him, he still doesn’t go away, but realizes you only wanted the star and there are no hard feelings to be had. In fact, he then aids you in a pirate ship battle against a warship containing Lord Crump and a bunch of X-Nauts. He busts out of the side of a cavern in his ghost ship and fights them head on. If it wasn’t clear, Cortez is a stone cold badass and one of the best characters of Thousand Year Door.
Excess Express at Day
I love how the music is coming through speakers, as if this is the music that is just playing on the train in general. I guess it could be. The Excess Express lives up to its namesake with a super cushy environment, a huge dining car, and eight individual rooms. It’s all very superficial, but the song is about the pleasantness and comfort of the train ride. There’s no hint of adversity or anything like that, so you can just sit back, relax, solve mysteries… I mean… what? It actually had me convinced that I wasn’t going to have to fight anything during the chapter, which would have been a nice respite at that time.
Inversely, the way the music comes out of the speakers like manufactured happiness might make gamers who run around on the train talking to people go crazy. Those players that are in it for the thrill of the battles are sitting there bored out of their mind as they talk about jewelry and missing stuff and plans for a bomb (I’m sorry a what?). It’s gotta be driving those players crazy.
After discovering who intended to blow up the train, the perpetrator is brought to Riverside Station to be taken off. They get away. Good going Toad police. The music for Riverside Station is really suitable because of the sunset that accompanies it and the sort of mellow feeling that you get there. You feel like you’re doing everything at your own convenience instead of it being a race against time. At the station, you meet the Smorgs: a bunch of blobs with two eyes that just kind of pester you. You knock them off the button that keeps the bridge outside up, and activate it so that the Excess Express can continue on its journey.
The next day you wake up to find nobody on the train, and when you talk to the engineer, the reason for that becomes clear. A ton of Smorgs block the front window and take control of the train. Mario heads to the back, out the caboose, and to the top of the train while fighting waves and waves of Smorgs. Then he reaches the biggest amalgamation of them, containing the passengers of the train.
It’s a Swarm of Smorgs!
I love this song mostly for the crescendo at the beginning, around 0:12 ’til 0:29. It’s as if the music is ramping up the danger of the Smorgs themselves, who at Riverside Station were puny and easy to get rid of. Also, it’s awesome music because I can picture Mario standing on top of a speeding, out of control train and battling this abomination to save the passengers. The speed of the battle music represents the speed of the train, which is really used to great effect here.
Storm the X-Naut Fortress!
The last Crystal Star, Princess Peach, and the X-Naut stronghold are all in the same place: The Moon. Once you’ve gotten into the base, this is the music that plays, and man is it techno in here or what? Okay. Maybe it’s not techno, but it’s a great song for tearing through the X-Naut ranks to try and get the star and Peach. Instead of having a dark air about it, the X-Naut Moonbase is quite upbeat and urges you forward despite the confusing machines around you. Unfortunately, you miss Peach, who has been taken down to the surface by Grodus (the leader of the X-Nauts). He wishes to unleash the Shadow Queen, a horrible demon who was sealed behind the Thousand Year Door for… guess how many years? You have to stop Grodus before he lets her out and destroys/takes over the world.
Big Bowser Koopa Krush
Even though you defeat Grodus, he still has the ability to stop you. He shoots you with lightning for a while before Bowser and Kammy Koopa fall on him through the ceiling. This is the second to last boss battle in the game, and yes, this is where I stopped playing all that time ago. You have to defeat Grodus and then beat Bowser/Kammy right after. I was basically way under-prepared and despite showing up as a sort of joke, the fight is no laughing matter.
This theme isn’t as crazy as the one from the first Paper Mario, but that’s fine because he’s not the final boss. Instead, focus is on his aggressiveness and how persistent he is on beating Mario regardless of what the better plan is. The way the music moves quickly gets your adrenaline going, but at the same time makes you feel like, “I don’t have time for you right now Bowser.” Lo and behold, Grodus escapes with Peach after your fight with Bowser and you have to chase him.
The Shadow Queen is released and Grodus enacts what needed to be done. The Queen’s spirit hosts itself in Peach and you have to battle her. It’s a tough fight, but once you beat her, it seems like it’s all fine… that is until her dark spirit drains out of Peach and consumes the entire audience, which at this point is probably around 150 people. Like Bowser in the game before, she takes no damage and does huge damage respectively. It seems like all hope is lost until…
We’re Counting on You, Mario!
The Crystal Stars return themselves to the places where they were found by Mario, the one in the X-Naut fortress was from Rogueport, and the townsfolk who Mario has helped and met throughout the game see the star. They know he’s in trouble, and every person from across the world in the game lend their voices to Mario for support. The voices reach him in the Shadow Queens lair, and the power of hope lets Peach give Mario one last bit of support before being totally taken over. I always get shivers when I hear this song, and it gives me the feeling like I can fight any obstacle because I have the support of the world. Despite how bleak everything looks, the song represents hope in the purest form it can come in. Mario will need every bit of support he can get because he’s in for the toughest battle yet.
The Final Battle
It’s a matter of opinion and is highly disputable, but I think that the Shadow Queen is the hardest non-optional Mario boss. She takes the title of final boss and pushes it to the upper limit. Despite the heartwarming and wonderful song that lead into this fight, the final battle theme itself doesn’t offer any hope at all, which is why the song is basically perfect for her. This is because she gets to attack three times per turn, all while doing a high amount of damage. Unless you’re comboing her to oblivion, the fight will always be close.
If I had to make an imaginary threat level for the bosses, the Shadow Queen would be a 10 every single time, and the song reminds you that she has earned that kind of rating. The threat of world destruction is right at hand and you’re not allowed to forget that fact. Even until this day, basically every fight that I have with the Shadow Queen (no matter how prepared I am) has been down to the absolute wire. This theme always means business and I am smart enough to give it all the credit it deserves; it is just totally kickass.
Looking back, Thousand Year Door does everything Paper Mario did and more. It was a true sequel. It brought in a new story, but delivered it in a way that we were comfortable with. It may actually be my favorite sequel and favorite Paper Mario game, but that doesn’t mean tomorrow’s Paper Mario game isn’t just as awesome. Next, we’ll look at the music of Super Paper Mario for the Wii.
Until then, of course, feel free to comment below on what songs from Thousand Year Door you liked that I may or may not have missed or just comment on the post itself. Either way, I’ll see you all tomorrow for the third day of…
The Paper Mario Extravaganza!