Origami King's Frustrating Battle System

Paper Mario: The Origami King continuously frustrated me during my 30 hour play through. The locales you visit are breathtaking and varied, the soundtrack is top notch, the comedy is fantastic and there were even some character moments that hit with emotional weight. I really wanted to love the game and at points, I did. Unfortunately, it still falls victim to many of the pitfalls of the previous two games. The overabundance of coins, the relative lack of motivation to battle and a meager “leveling” system are all here. While the removal of the consumable card system in favor of the ring based combat made me cautiously optimistic, I would come to find out that there were still serious design problems with the actual combat.

In the original Paper Mario games (as well as the recently released Bug Fables), it was important, and relatively simple to plan out your attacks in order to dispatch foes as quickly as possible. Tattling on enemies would give you a clear number you needed to reach to take out an enemy and attack damage and enemy HP were low enough that being able to figure out an efficient attack strategy was simple.

In The Origami King, once you solve (or fail) the ring puzzle, you enter the combat stage, usually with little idea of what the best way to take out your foes is. Sure, it’s easy to know which enemies need to be stomped on with normal or metal boots or using a hammer if the enemies are grouped in a 2x2 square, but how much damage you need to deal is an unknown. No enemy has a health bar except for boss encounters. You have a number of different boots, hammers and other attack items to choose from but it’s near impossible to remember how much damage each of them does.

In the first two Paper Mario’s, you were given two upgrades to your boots and hammer, doing two more damage with each upgrade for the hammer and one more for each jump with the boots. Origami King gives you attack boosts only when you find the HP up hearts and even then, the game only gives you a vague “I think you got stronger” message. So now it’s a guessing game of how much damage you can do and how much HP an enemy has before it goes down.

Complicating this more is the varied amount of damage each attack can deal. There are multiple outcomes depending on how well you pull off the action commands as well as the 1.5x multiplier if you are able to solve the ring puzzle. Put all this together and you have many moments where you have no idea how much damage you can deal with each attack or how much damage you need to deal to take out an enemy.

Countless times I used shiny or sparkling weapons on enemies only to find out that it just barely didn’t take them out and I would have to use another turn. It’s even worse knowing that you wasted those good items because two normal attacks would have done the trick anyway, but you didn’t know that beforehand.

Making this worse is the added time that it takes if you get unlucky and end up leaving your enemies with a sliver of health. Now you have to go through the puzzle phase and attack phase again for another chance to finish them off. While I like the concept of the ring-based combat, it isn’t as quick and snappy as the traditional turn-based RPG combat of old. So when you have to go through multiple rounds of a fight because you got unlucky, things can really start to drag. I got to the point in the late game where I was actively bored with fights and would get frustrated when I ran into another enemy.

Boss battles fair better because despite not having a clear HP number, a bar still helps considerably in being able to plan your attacks and make the most of each boot stomp, hammer smash or elemental attack. In fact, I think the boss battles are the best usage of the ring-based combat because each boss can introduce a new way to mess with the battlefield, forcing you to rethink strategies.

The easiest way to address these issues is to have a return of the tattle system or some new way to see an enemy’s HP. Maybe when you defeat an enemy for the first time, you learn their HP and it shows up during combat. I also think having lower damage numbers and enemy HP would help in more easily remembering how much damage an attack does. Going back to the boss fights, seeing that a boot stomp does 10 damage or a hammer smash does 8 damage and then seeing that visualized in the health bar makes it easier to know how to plan my attacks ahead of time. This isn’t a perfect solution because many features in the combat would work against this system, but it would be a step in the right direction.

Playing Bug Fables ahead of my Origami King playthrough made it clear that despite taking inspiration from near twenty-year-old games, the core combat system is still just as fun as ever. It made me yearn for a Paper Mario game that would continue to improve on the already great gameplay established in the first two games.

At this point, I think it would be better for the series to ditch the turn-based combat and shift more to the overworld combat to pair with its adventure game elements. Those encounters were some of the most fun I had in combat anyways. It confuses me how they continue to insist on Paper Mario not being an RPG but seemingly have to put in some sort of RPG “lite” elements. If you are going to ditch the RPG roots, you might as well go all the way. If they can build a full Paper Mario adventure game like they seemingly want to, I think it would turn out much better than a game that tries to ignore its predecessors while still taking inspiration from them.

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