Final Fantasy Explorers (3DS) Review

Final Fantasy Explorers (3DS) Review

Monster Hunting in Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy Explorers is Square-Enix’s attempt at incorporating a cooperative mission-based gameplay structure into the world of Final Fantasy.  Although Final Fantasy is in the name, this does not play at all like one.  That is not to say that this game is bad, but requires different expectations coming into it.  Rather than taking story or characters from any single game in the series, Final Fantasy Explorers instead features an original world while including cameos from the other entries.  This game does not have the elements most common to the original Japanese RPGs, such as a turn-based system or leveling up, but instead utilizes a simple hack-and-slash approach.  In contrast to story-heavy Final Fantasy games, Explorers prioritizes social gameplay and a mission-based structure.  The end result is a game that is not at all like Final Fantasy, but features enough fan-service that may still appeal to the most hardcore of Final Fantasy fans.

Story

Unlike main Final Fantasy titles, this game does not focus on story.  There is a bare-bones story that is told through some non-playable characters in town.  Overall, you are an explorer, not any certain character but rather a created avatar.  Your goal is to defeat monsters and gain licenses, raising your rank.  There is a threat at work and as you play through the game, you will be able to learn more.  The story is as forgettable as it sounds and is really meant to just guide you through the early parts of the game.  Luckily, this game is more leveraged on its gameplay than its story.

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A lot of your game time will be spent in this town.

Gameplay

Explorer!

Final Fantasy Explorers is a game that is easy to pick up and play, which complements its portable nature.  The game focuses on numerous missions, with each taking anywhere from 10-45 minutes depending on player skill and difficulty.  Most missions ask you to defeat a certain number of enemies or .  There are a large number of missions, divided into difficulty ranks ranging from 1-10.  Many of the quests are actually very similar, due to the limited number of monsters and bosses, leading to quite a bit of repetition.  In addition, the world is not very big and only consists of about 15 major areas separated by “randomly-generated pathways.”  By that, I mean you will randomly be put in very small basic pathways (straight line, T-shaped, L-shaped, etc.) with a few enemies each.  Go through 3 of these to reach a bigger area.  It will usually take less than 5 minutes to explore these “larger” areas, because of a lack of enemies or diverse topography.  For a game with the word “explorers” in the title, the small scope of the world limits the actual exploration.

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Fight classic Final Fantasy monsters throughout the land.

Such limited scope of the world makes the game feel cramped and makes missions feel repetitive.  Because you will need plenty of the loot given as rewards to make better equipment, be prepared to do some of these missions over and over again.  The game does allow you to embark in any of the major areas by using an airship, meaning you can literally teleport near a boss and finish the mission within minutes.  However, such a structure merely drives the point that there is not much to explore due to its small world.

Job System

Before taking missions, you must prepare your customized character in town.  There are a decent number of jobs, including mainstay Final Fantasy jobs of Knights, Monks, White Mages, and Black Mages.  The game begins with a few options and more advanced jobs are unlocked as the game progresses.  Each job functions like a typical RPG class and has different abilities, skills, and equippable weapons.  For example, Knights equip swords and have good attack and high defense, Monks are strong physical attackers who use knuckles, and White Mages focus on healing magic as opposed to attacks.  This system shines brightest in multiplayer mode, where a group of up to 4 people with different jobs can utilize individual strengths and playing styles.  The game rewards teamwork in this regard.  However, in solo mode, it is harder for some jobs to stand out, such as the weaker, primarily healing White Mage.  While it is doable to play alone in any of the classes, some are more frustrating than others.  Regardless, having a myriad of options welcomes experimentation and customization, as each job feels unique.

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Monks use knuckles to vanquish their foes.  White mages assist by healing.

Battle System

Regardless of the job you pick, the mission structure is similar.  Go into the world and hack away or cast magic spells at everything you come across.  All action is real-time as opposed to turn-based.  Attacking and dodging effectively are the primary strategies.  For those expecting a complex battle system where using different weapons and pressing various button combinations will result in battle combos, it is best to look elsewhere.  Final Fantasy Explorers only uses a single button for basic attacks.  Pressing it multiple times will allow you to do several more swings of your weapon, but it is not at all a deep system.  Luckily, there are different weapons to experiment with.  However, aside from each having a unique feel and speed, the simple battle system limits each weapon’s true potential.

Luckily, the skill system makes up for it as one of the best parts about this game.  Each job comes with its own set of special skills from dynamic blows to barrages of arrows.  Skills take time to activate, but you can use them at any time, even one after another.  The only limits are: Ability Points which are used up to activate skills, and cooldown periods in which you must wait to activate the same skill again.  Those willing to explore each job will be able to appreciate the diverse skillsets each one provides.

In what is perhaps the most original part of this skill system, skills can now be upgraded through Crystal Surges.  Crystal Surges are special temporary upgrades activated by building your Resonance meter through attacking enemies.  These upgrades may add an element to your attack or give you bonuses, such as increasing attack, defense, and HP recovery.  By using skills during a Crystal Surge, an upgraded version of the skill is created, incorporating the type of bonus gained.  For example, using an attack skill while the Fire Affinity Crystal Surge is activated will allow you to create a fire element version of that skill.  Note that you will still have to buy that upgraded skill with Crystal Points to permanently keep it.  However, once you own that skill, you can create an expanded skill with even more bonuses by using it during other Crystal Surges.  Building off of the previous example, your new fire skill can also gain the ability to poison enemies if you use it during a poison-type Crystal Surge.  This skill-building mechanic can be quite addictive, especially if you are willing to grind for the numerous additions each skill can have.  A small criticism of the Crystal Surge system is that it is too random.  Depending on your Resonance level, you have a choice of up to 4 Crystal Surges you can activate. Unfortunately, you cannot choose which 4 are available, which may not be helpful.

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Battle across large fields.

Another big aspect of this game that primarily serves as fan-service is the Trance system.  By filling a Trance meter, you can temporarily become a hero from past Final Fantasies, such as Cloud, Squall, and Tidus, among others.  While it is fun to suddenly take on the form of a classic character, the whole process is too short to change much.  If you activate a Crystal Surge during Trance mode, you can use an iconic move, such as Cloud’s Omnislash.  However, they are a little-watered down and do not fully resemble the attacks as originally represented in their respective games.  Regardless, this is a nice nod to Final Fantasy fans, though not a fully realized experience.

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Play as fan-favorite characters like Cloud!

All of these elements come together to help you fight the real meat of this game, the Eidolons.  In the Final Fantasy universe, Eidolons are summoned creatures that help in battle (fire beast Ifrit and ice goddess Shiva, for example).  In Final Fantasy Explorers, they are the major bosses.  Eidolons are a step above the normal enemies and can be quite difficult.  Some more strategy is required during these encounters, which is appreciated considering the game’s repetitiveness.  However, aside from a few cases, the bosses feel a bit uninspired.  While you can break parts of bosses to get more loot, there are no truly weak spots or special sequences that make the bosses stand out.  If your team has the right stats, you may even be able to defeat the bosses without a sweat.  They really are just giant hard-hitting enemies.  Another disappointment is that recurrent encounters with a limited number of Eidolons (about a dozen) make the game feel even more repetitive.

Solo vs. Multiplayer

For this type of game, the multiplayer aspects are the focus.  Thus, solo mode is just passable in this game.  Playing merely to enjoy the lackluster story will likely bore the solo player.  As a replacement of real-life partners, monster allies can be created to accompany players on missions.  However, they are a bit unbalanced. They are either too weak to make dent or so overpowered that they take down bosses for you.  Another disadvantage to playing solo is that the game is designed to support multiple jobs, so only having one job is limiting.  Monster allies can help offset these issues but are no substitute for the fun to be had in multiplayer.

Multiplayer with friends is the real highlight of the game and makes the game feel more alive.  Final Fantasy Explorers supports both local and online multiplayer for up to 4 people at once.  Having to work together to beat a boss is more of a thrill than doing it alone or with computer-controlled monster allies.  The unique jobs synergize to form a cohesive team.  This can be realized when playing local multiplayer or online with friends.  The same cannot always be said when playing with random people online.

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Multiple people can team up via local and online play.

Online multiplayer can be fun, but a lack of communication options can make finding that enjoyable experience difficult.  In online multiplayer, you may create or join rooms.  These rooms actually have quite a few options.  For instance, you can look for people who are stronger than you or others of equal or lower level.  You can even specify what you want to do online using preset options, such as grinding for loot, doing high-rank missions, or helping others train.  Once you get into the room, however, it is difficult to actually coordinate all of this due to a lack of chat options.  There is no voice chat, and the comments you can make are limited.  In addition, online lobbies allow anyone inside to choose a quest, meaning there can be multiple quests being chosen at once.  Members in the lobby will then have to decide which quests to go on or just leave the room altogether.  Odd inconveniences have happened before in which I have entered lobbies where people had already embarked on quests.  I did not know where to go or what to do and just left the lobby.  If there was a quest I did not have access to, I could not even join in.  A way to reliably communicate could offset this.  Instead, we get limited presets that are vague like, “Let’s do this.”  Note that while you can edit the presets, there are character limits.  The confusing online infrastructure is barely passable due to the simple nature of the game itself.  For a more enjoyable experience, I recommend playing with others that you can communicate with in real-time via an actual chat system (like Skype).

Despite the flaws online, multiplayer is still the way to play, and finding a good group to play with will surely extend the life of this game.  Taking down the strongest and highest-ranked monsters calls for a skilled, synergized team.  Plus, it is simply more fun to play with real people considering how repetitive the game can become when playing alone.

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A view of the bottom screen.

Lastly, there are other features that round out this title.  For one, quest options can make the game more challenging by adding extra conditions, such as decreasing the time limit or increasing damage dealt by enemies.  You get more rewards for completing quests with these handicaps.  You can also take on subquests that act as bonus conditions to get more Crystal Points.  They are usually simple missions like defeating a certain number of enemies or activating a certain Crystal Surge.  Finally, Streetpass functionality gives you License cards, or profiles of other players, but do not do much else.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics are a little primitive looking, but are decent considering that this is a 3DS game.  There are some odd textures but the game still handles all of these graphics well considering the action.  The style is appropriately cutesy and super-deformed, matching its lighthearted tone.  The environmental settings are perhaps the nicest things to look at and make the world feel bigger than it is.  Interestingly enough, there is no 3D functionality, which may not be a big deal, but is certainly disappointing given how much better the game could stand out with it.

The sound is decent as well, with music selections that feel epic and action-packed.  The best part is probably the borrowed music from other Final Fantasy games during Trance mode.  These iconic themes are nice fan-service but make the actual game music feel a bit uninspired.  There is no voice acting, but the voice clips from non-playable characters are so poor in quality that perhaps this is for the best.  The female voice that shouts “Explorers!” sounds particularly forced, and you hear it every time you take on a quest.

Playtime/Replayability

The average playtime of the story, without too much grinding, is about 15-20 hours.  However, it is important to note that the single-player story mode is really just a tutorial, and the real meat of the game is found post-game.  There is a lot to do, including grinding for equipment, mastering the numerous jobs, finishing the higher ranked quests (which can get very difficult without multiplayer), and completing the explorer’s notebook.  Multiplayer extends the life of this game, as long as you can find people online that will work with you.  That said, even multiplayer mode can get repetitive due to the mission grinding structure, making a prolonged play-session a little boring.  Finding the right balance of playtime and multiplayer sessions is key for the longevity of this game.

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Explorers!

Conclusion

Final Fantasy Explorers is a decent game best played with friends in multiplayer mode.  The solo mode is repetitive and unbalanced, but with multiplayer, the game experience feels more complete and exciting.  While there are hiccups and flaws due to a lack of communication options in online multiplayer, it is still a solid mode to play with the right group of people.  The jobs, skills, and trance systems add depth and variety regardless of which mode you play.  In addition, the featured cameos of classic Final Fantasy characters and Eidolons will please most fans of the series.  While it can be compared to games like Monster Hunter and MMORPGs like Final Fantasy XIV Online, this game is perhaps closer to a slightly faster version of the 4-player action title, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles.  In comparison to its larger counterparts, this title falls short in terms of features and the scope of the world, but taken on its own, it is an easygoing game that can just be picked up and played.  Overall, Final Fantasy Explorers has numerous flaws and a repetitive nature, but there is still fun to be had for those looking for a simple multiplayer hack-and-slash action title.

Score: 6/10

What do you think of Final Fantasy Explorers?  Do you have a favorite job class?  How does it stack up against other cooperative multiplayer experiences?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Pokémon GO Preview – Travel Across the Land, Searching Far and Wide

Pokémon GO Preview – Travel Across the Land, Searching Far and Wide

Pokémon GO Preview and Thoughts

New information on the highly anticipated mobile game Pokémon GO has finally been released.  Pokémon GO is a collaboration between the Pokémon Company and Niantic, known for the similar augmented-reality mobile experience, Ingress.  A big feature of Pokémon GO will be the ability to catch wild Pokémon around the world.  A unique aspect of this is that certain creatures will appear only in certain places, such as water Pokémon living near oceans.  By catching enough of a Pokémon, you will have the opportunity to evolve them.  This is certainly an intriguing method for evolution, making me wonder how Pokémon here will level up, if at all.  Will battling other trainers be included, and does that affect an experience system?  Interestingly enough, trainers will level up, so perhaps that will substitute for Pokémon level-ups.  Pokéstops will also function as hot spots where you can find special prizes or even Pokémon eggs.  Such stops will be at points of interest, like museums, monuments, and other attractions.

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You can catch Pokemon using your smartphone.

Having to go around the world to catch Pokémon sounds like a daunting task.  If I were a perfectionist (which I am in the Pokémon games, having caught ‘em all), I would either be very disappointed or become a world traveler.  Looking at it from a non-perfectionist perspective, it sounds incredible to be able to find new Pokémon wherever you go.  Pulling my phone out in a new location to see what Pokémon are around calls back to the excitement I felt whenever I went to a new route and discovered what creatures were hiding in the tall grass.  It sounds exciting just thinking about what surprises the game will have in store and how exactly the Pokémon will be distributed.  Although the press release only lists oceans, I hope that they take it one step further and make certain Pokémon exclusive to certain global regions, such as Darmanitan in Japan, Girafarig in Africa, and Cubchoo in Antarctica.  Unfortunately, that may mean most of us will never catch these exclusive Pokemon.  But if you were to ever venture to any of these places, you would have a chance at catching these rare finds, which would certainly give a new meaning to “vacations.”

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Find a Charizard in the forest!  Hopefully, it doesn’t use any fire moves!

In what is perhaps the most exciting news from the press release, players will be able to join one of three teams and form gyms with others in your team.  This is a phenomenal idea that promotes camaraderie and friendly competition.  Who didn’t want to be a gym leader after playing through Pokémon for the first time?  Inhabiting gyms and fighting others for gym ownership can potentially turn this into a worldwide game of Pokémon Risk.  What if the three teams became separate factions, like ones based on which original starter was your favorite? (By the way, the correct answer is Charmander.)

Finally, the last piece of news: the Pokémon GO Plus will function as a portable, wearable device that connects to smartphones via Bluetooth.  Not much else is known, but the PGP may prove to be a hit tool that further immerses players into the Pokémon GO experience.

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Pokemon GO Plus

Why Pokémon GO Matters

This news has built up my anticipation for the upcoming Pokémon GO even more than before.  For a long time, I have thought that a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (or MMORPG) would be a good direction for the Pokémon series to go.  While this is likely not going to be that particular genre, this is perhaps as close as we will get.  It may even be better than an MMORPG.  Instead of having a virtual world and finding other trainers in lobbies, we will have the real world.  There will be trainers everywhere, and encountering them in real life may be a more rewarding experience than in the confines of a video game.  Hopefully, there will be some way to know if others are Pokémon GO trainers.  I could see a potential StreetPass-like method of sharing (optional) information and allowing trainers to find you if desired.  Imagine being at the grocery store and suddenly running into someone who has an exclamation mark above his head.  He walks over to you demanding you drop your groceries and have a Pokémon battle.  Okay, that probably wouldn’t happen, but any kind of meaningful trainer interaction would be fitting for the type of social experience the original Pokémon games provide.

The mobile platform for this game is also a significant departure from the usual handheld experiences.  It shows that Nintendo and the Pokémon Company are ready to evolve with the times.  The current trend of mobile gaming is huge for children (and adults).  It is so big that Nintendo is jumping on the bandwagon with its own set of games including Miitomo.  Teaming up with Niantic is a wonderful idea that will allow the Pokémon Company to create a tailor-made experience that takes advantage of the smartphone’s functional strengths, such as augmented-reality cameras and GPS capabilities.  At the same time, they are aiming to support a novel way of undergoing the tried-and-true Pokémon trainer’s journey.

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Using a real-world map

Finally, on a personal level, my desire for an experience like this stems from childhood.  Back when the original Pokémon Red and Blue versions came out, I would imagine what it would be like if Pokémon were real.  This fantasy was likely common to many kids at that time, but I really acted on it, making up my own real-world Pokémon game.  I walked around my living room pretending to find and catch Pokémon.  They could be anywhere–hiding in the couch or near the TV.  I wrote down my team members and added any Pokémon I found, and I leveled them up by fighting other imaginary trainers (which in my young, anime-crazed mind were Goku and Sailor Moon).  I even roped my friends into these pretend Pokémon adventures.  We would discuss which Pokémon we had and even enact battles.  Keep in mind that this whole experience was all dramatic play, with paper being the only record of what had transpired.  This was basically my own pen-and-paper Pokémon RPG!

Pokémon GO represents a revival of that childhood dream to go on an adventure and catch these beloved creatures.  It is a way for long-time fans to finally relive the game in a brand-new way.  It also provides a much-needed modern social version of the popular series that young smartphone gamers can appreciate.  While the final product is not yet out, Pokémon GO is shaping up to be the ideal Pokémon trainer’s game that is sure to please fans, both young and old.

Source: Pokemon

Are you excited about Pokémon GO? What do you think should be part of the game? Do you have any fun Pokémon memories to share?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (3DS) Review

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (3DS) Review

A Tale of Two RPGs

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is the fifth installment of the Mario & Luigi RPG series.  The big draw of this entry is the addition of Paper Mario and a number of other “paper” characters from the Paper Mario RPG series.  While this game is marketed as a crossover between both, this really only applies to the story and not the gameplay.  This plays primarily like a Mario & Luigi mainline title with snippets, cameos, and calls from Paper Mario.  The result is a game that overall plays well but does not necessarily live up to the potential of combining two different Mario RPG worlds.

Strengths of this entry include the fun battle system, beautiful presentation, and the addition of the crossover character, Paper Mario.  This title falls short in its lackluster story, questionable filler diversions, and repetitive gameplay.

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Attack of the Paper Clones

Story

Although Mario & Luigi is an RPG series, the games are not usually known for complex plots.  That said, they are still recognized for having good humor, fun characters, and a story that goes beyond the usual Bowser kidnapping Princess Peach.  With a crossover being the crux of this installment, one would think that there would be ripe opportunity for all of those elements.  That said, Paper Jam presents a lackluster story that does not go beyond the bare minimum of paper characters invading the Mushroom Kingdom.

The story begins with Luigi accidentally opening a book which unleashes the characters from Paper Mario, including Paper Bowser, Paper Peach, and the titular hero himself, into his world.  There are some humorous portions early on in the game with each character finding their paper counterpart.  However, nobody goes beyond that, questioning how people can be made of paper or how amazing it is that they are looking at 3-dimensional versions of themselves.  Rather, the characters are most surprised that there is another person that is just like them.  To that matter, it seems unnecessary to even have a Paper Mario crossover gimmick when a simple “attack of the clones” storyline would suffice.

In regards to the characters, the cast is as humdrum as typical Mario games go.  In all previous entries of Mario & Luigi, as well as the early games of Paper Mario, there were interesting original characters that served to add personality and spice to the Mario universe.  Their presence usually provided much humor (especially in the case of series mainstay, Fawful), because they were built from the ground-up as uniquely funny characters.  In contrast, this game strictly uses the recognizable characters that you would find in most modern Mario games, such as your run-of-the-mill Goombas and Koopas.  Presumably, this was done to account for those characters being the only ones who have paper versions.  However, what this does is make the world feel limited and lack the certain charm that other games in both series had.  Similarly, the setting is what you might expect from modern 2D Mario games: desert, water, and snow areas, for example.

As previously said, the series is not known for complex plots.  However, since the story will be what should push you to finish the game, the game should at least have a somewhat compelling story.  Unfortunately, even with the whole paper characters crossover, the story amounts to two Bowsers kidnapping two Princess Peaches.  That’s right.  Instead of any sort of plot involving the paper world or the paper characters, the story refuses to delve beyond the typical New Super Mario Bros. plot and otherwise feels like a missed potential.  Although the story itself is uninspired and conservative, the gameplay does make up for it.

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This is a summary of the overall plot.

Gameplay

A World to Explore

Primary gameplay is performed in two ways: exploring and battling.  Mario and Luigi, and later Paper Mario, can walk, run, and jump around the quasi-3D environment.  As you progress, you will learn moves that allow you to use hammers, make bridges, and drill into the ground.  Even though you are controlling three different brothers at once, the controls feel natural, with each button mapping to a different brother.  For instance, the A button allows Mario to jump and the B button does the same for Luigi.  In a wise move, the X button will allow all three brothers to jump at once, which streamlines the process of crossing the numerous platforms in this game.  Another addition that streamlines the exploration of this world is the addition of running.  By holding the X button, the brothers can now dash.  This is required for some racing and capturing minigames, and also provides a way to speed up travel.  Finally, you can use the R button or the touch screen to seamlessly switch between different field moves such as the aforementioned hammers.

RPG Battles with Action Elements

The fun action turn-based battles that the series is well-known for return in Paper Jam.  Not much has changed, and the battles can get repetitive, but the few new tweaks prevent the franchise from becoming stale.  While exploring, you will see various enemies that you can engage battle with.  The battles are turn-based, with a simple menu interface.  For the most part, your three main characters (Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario) can only use two basic attacks: Jump and Hammer.  As with previous entries in both series, you can improve the effectiveness of your attacks through carefully timed-button presses.  For instance, pressing the A button just as Mario lands on an enemy allows him to perform a second Jump attack.  Likewise, when enemies are attacking, carefully timed-button presses will allow you to dodge which can prevent damage altogether.  A new feature of Paper Jam is that you can now see which character(s) the enemy is targeting.  You must still be able to time the dodge, but this allows for more accessibility for some players.

A major change to the series is the addition of a new main party member, Paper Mario.  Paper Mario functions similarly to the Mario Bros. in battle but comes with some differences to make him unique.  He can make copies of himself allowing him to attack enemies multiple times.  These copies also take enemy damage in place of Paper Mario himself allowing him to conserve HP even when hit.  The addition of a third character is a welcome change of pace that adds complexity while not being too confusing.

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Paper Mario’s Copy ability allows him to deliver many strong blows!

Bros. Attacks, or special attacks utilizing both of the Mario Bros., return in this game and are joined by the brand new, Trio Attacks.  Both are special attacks that use the brothers’ strengths in fun ways.  For instance, Mario and Luigi can kick shells at enemies or unleash massive fire balls with the Fire Flower.  Trio Attacks make these moves stand out as Paper Mario is folded, stretched, and contorted to become tools of combat such as a giant racquet.  Due to the high HP of many of the bosses, expect to be using these attacks often, which is unfortunate given how long they take to set-up and how easy it is to mess up with a wrong button press.

The newest mechanic to join Paper Jam is the Battle Cards system, which allows players to make battle decks consisting of 10 cards.  These cards appear on the bottom screen and can change the flow of the battle, making enemies weaker, brothers’ attacks stronger, or otherwise providing additional bonuses to experience points and coins.  By attacking enemies, you gain Star Points which can be used to activate the cards.  Due to the slow nature of gaining Star Points and the fact that the cards you are dealt in battle are random and remain there until used or skipped over, these cards usually will not change gameplay drastically aside from boss battles.  Regardless, they are fun little additions and act as an extra collectible.  Certain Amiibo can be used to gain special new cards related to the Amiibo character.  These Amiibo Cards are not necessary for completion, but can sometimes be overpowered providing effects beyond the strength of ordinary battle Cards.  It is the player’s choice to use these Amiibo, but be forewarned that this game writes to the Amiibo meaning that any data on the Amiibo must be erased in order to use it with this game.

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Use Battle Cards to get an edge in battle.

All of these elements considered, the game does skew on the easier side, which is appropriate for this series.  Some bosses may be considered harder and require careful use of Bros. Attacks and Battle Cards.  For younger or less experienced gamers, the game does have Easy Modes, which can make the bosses weaker or Bros. Attacks easier to perform.  For those seeking higher difficulty, Expert Challenges act as achievements asking players to do harder tasks like perfectly timing button presses consistently or not sustaining any battle damage.  As such, this game provides appropriate difficulty for all types of gamers.

Diversions: Paper Toad Missions and Papercraft Battles

The two biggest changes to the overall pacing of this game lie in two new features: Paper Toad Missions and Papercraft Battles.  The former is comprised of multiple minigames, quite a few of which are slow and dull.  The latter is an interesting idea built around clumsy and questionable mechanics.

In Paper Toad Missions, the Mario Bros. are sent on mandatory tasks requiring you to find cowardly Paper Toads.  For the most part, these involve slow hide-and-seek missions which break the flow of the actual storyline and gameplay.  Some may take over a ½ hour to complete, which is excessive for a diversionary minigame.  Some faster missions have you do actual twitch-based games such as catching Toads as they fall or racing to get them.  However, these make up a small percentage of the many missions you will have to complete.  Its inclusion is questionable.  Storywise, there really is little reason to be doing this other than Toadette needs Paper Toads to make Papercrafts.  Gameplay-wise, these missions merely serve as filler and occasional tutorials.

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A Papercraft Battle

The other new gameplay mechanic does not fare any better.  Papercraft Battles pit a giant “paper robot” against others in a battlefield brawl.  These might have been considered fun, had the controls been better.  Papercrafts control like a slow tank and struggle to move beyond simple forward and reverse controls.  The object is to bash other Papercrafts and pounce on them.  This is easier said than done. Once you bash, you have to carefully aim a jump in which your army of Toads literally throws your Papercraft onto your enemy.  The Toads must then run and grab the Papercraft before your enemy can do anything to it.  It is a slow and clunky design that plays worse than it sounds.  In a move that breaks even the Papercraft Battles’ pacing, you must charge energy by playing a slow, boring rhythm minigame.  Any time you run out of energy, you will need to find a charging station and repeat the minigame over again.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics for this game are beautiful, with an art style that echoes the older 2D entries as well as matches the style of the previous game, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team.  Employing a quasi-3D art style with fluidly animated characters, the game impresses on a visual level.  The Paper characters fit seamlessly and even come with a paper white outline to distinguish it from other enemies.  The little quirks that come with the paper characters such as folds, creases, and blows stand out thanks to the detailed graphics.  The settings are also vibrantly detailed, matching one’s expectation to how a 3DS game should look.  Some of the paper-mache settings that show up in the game stand out as creative ways of presenting a background.  Using the 3D will allow the characters to really pop-up as well, though it is not required to have 3D on at all.

The music, composed by the wonderful Yoko Shimomura, is beautiful as well.  Although the music is not catchy, they certainly fit the tone of the game.  Battles have a fast playful rhythm.  Fields are bubbly and bouncy.  The snowy mountaintop has a slow ambient tune, perfectly representing the mood of that area.  The sound is also what you would expect from a Mario game, with that all-familiar jump sound, fireball sound, and coin pick-up sound that Mario fans have come to love.  Charles Martinet also continues to provide excellent voices for Mario and Luigi, despite sounding like gibberish.  Overall, the presentation of Paper Jam is impressive.

Playtime/Replayability

Paper Jam has an approximate length of 25-30 hours for just beating the story, which matches other Mario & Luigi games and is not too far off from typical Japanese RPGs.  There is some extra fun to be had in the arcade in which you can play minigames and replay boss battles.  Even the Paper Toad Missions can be replayed at higher difficulties.  Those seeking to make the best party members can level them up and search the world for special beans that increase their stats.  All of these add replay value, but most players will probably find little reason to return to the world after beating the story as it can certainly get repetitive to do these additional and not terribly fun tasks.

paper-jam-complete-boss-battle
Celebrate with the Mario Bros, plus one!

Conclusion

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is certainly a decent game, with a fun battle system and wonderful presentation.  The story has some missed potential, which is unfortunate considering how cool it would have otherwise been for a plot involving two different Mario RPG franchises.  The lackluster story is broken up with numerous dull Paper Toad Missions and clumsy Papercraft Battles.  There are better choices if you are looking for a Mario RPG, including any of the previous more original entries of the Mario & Luigi series and the early entries of the Paper Mario series.  Nevertheless, if you have played everything else that Mario has to offer or are looking for a simple, nice-looking portable RPG, then Paper Jam is not a bad choice.

Score: 7/10

What do you think of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam?  How do you think it compares with other games in the Mario & Luigi series?  What do you like better: Mario & Luigi or Paper Mario?  Post your thoughts in the comments below!