Just Let Me Skip Your Boring Combat, ‘Paper Mario: The Origami King’

The past few weeks, I’ve spent every evening winding down the night with Paper Mario: The Origami King. It’s essentially a charming and consistently funny Mario cartoon brought to life, making it a joyous respite from so many other parts of our complicated COVID-19 lives. But it’s also a source of frustration; the game’s once-novel combat system has revealed itself to be a bothersome chore, and I now openly groan when I find myself in a fight.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/bv853a/just-let-me-skip-your-boring-combat-paper-mario-the-origami-king

This is really why removing EXP from an RPG is a bad idea.

I’m reminded a lot of Chrono Cross where you only gained EXP from boss fights and regular enemies give nothing. So the whole game there was really no point to those base fights. (Plus Chrono Cross has one of the worst main battle themes in JRPG history so fighting is not just annoying, it’s painful.)

FFXIII did something similar where every section of the game had a scripted limit to how much EXP you could gain, and if you hit that wall, you could never level up again until you finished that chapter.

Regular fights in RPGs are tedious, it doesn’t matter what the game is, doesn’t matter how great the battle system is. They’re always tedious. If you remove that bit of mental joy of the numbers going up, they become interminable slogs.

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I think this is just as much an indictment of RPG lengths as they are about combat. I could totally see a 5-10 hour RPG with an interesting turn based battle system that didn’t rely on numbers going up, and that could be totally cool.

A good recent example to this would be my time with Gears Tactics. While that game does have an experience system, your characters really don’t change all that much from beginning to end. Instead, the combat system did a lot of heavy lifting in keeping me engaged. Admittedly it does sag a bit under a 30 hour long campaign, but I could picture a 10 hour version of the game with zero character progression being really fun.

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I was thinking the same thing. I was listening to Triple Click’s Paper Mario episode, and they also mentioned that the game is just too long. Patrick’s article really only mentions one situation that would have been fixed by having an XP-based progression system, and that’s the situation where he had to travel back to a shop to replace consumables (which never, ever happens in an RPG that uses XP and levels, right?).

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If traditional experience/level systems are the only reason players tolerate tedious combat systems, I say throwing them out entirely and experimenting with different ideas is 100% the right choice, even if the new models take some iteration to get right. Players shouldn’t accept dull fights just because winning makes future dull fights slightly easier.

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You won’t hear me complain about getting rid of the regular fights in RPGs. It seems the problem in this game is that they didn’t.

I like CrossCode but Furi is a better game. FFXIII’s only good parts were the boss fights, the rest was awful hallways.

The traditional JRPG way of handling enemies is that they’re not a challenge, they’re resource sponges. Dungeons are an interesting struggle of managing stamina and items so you’re in good enough shape to fight the boss. There’s a good tension in things like Dragon Quest of “do I have the MP to survive this cave or should I retreat to town and try again a bit stronger?”.

If you don’t have either the positive reinforcement of EXP or the resource threat enemies represent, they’re totally pointless, just remove them from the game. I like Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee better than Pokemon Sword because they were smart enough to make regular wild Pokemon encounters totally optional. I was even able to keep my level low enough so the game wasn’t so easy it was boring.

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Leveling systems are really useful for long-term structure of doling out expansions to your character ability suites and customization. It’s an effective framework for gradually opening up the toolbox as the game goes on.

Less so when the game has fewer moving parts, and there isn’t a considerable gulf of mechanical evolution between the start and end of the game. At the start of FF6 you’re mainly using attacks and occasional spells, by the end you have a huge list of useful spells and a lot of incentive to use them. At the start of FF15 you’re mashing the attack button, and you’re still doing that by the end (but now your character hits harder and occasionally cool things happen).

Bolting on a basic leveling system would probably not help these newer Paper Mario games with making the combat feel “better”, the reason a conventional RPG leveling system “feels” good is because it mechanically represents the shrinking space between you getting more tools to play around with. I don’t think people asking for a leveling system just want to see numbers go up, but at the same time they haven’t defined what mechanical framework they’re wanting beyond “put the leveling system back in”, and it leads to Nintendo not really getting what people want (e.g. the paint gauge increases in Color Splash effectively doing nothing).

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I was on the fence about getting Origami King, but this put the final nail in the coffin for that idea.
I was watching a streamer play it, and they were having a good time, but whenever they entered a fight, they groaned and complained.

I agree with both ideas here, either get rid of combat (or speed it up somehow) or allow for some sort of progression that does that. I remember Mother 3 uses a system where if an enemy is low enough level, running into them just auto defeats them without entering the combat screen, they just get bounced off of the screen. Earthbound also has this, but you do go through the random encounter animation. And I think in the case of the older Paper Marios and in JRPGs that handle this well, you often got an ability that had the same effect. For example, an ability that targets multiple enemies at once and does a lot of damage, so you end battles quickly. Having a fast-forward option definitely helps too, but I think that working to make it part of the game’s pacing would be ideal.