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Super Mario Odyssey broke free of the franchise's "everything has to be NSMB-derivative" curse, with plenty of unique locations and characters, and even direct continuity with previous games - one of Miyamoto's big no-nos.
It makes me dare to hope that a proper Paper Mario sequel isn't totally out of the question anymore.
The thing that makes me skeptical that PM could go back to its roots the same as the main, Tennis and Party series is that is regarding its staff at Itelligent Systems. The old staff got split up (Ryota Kawade seemed to voluntarily move on from directing and went on to make Project STEAM), and I don't count on the new people there moving away from the new formula they made.
Part of my head wants to blame Fire Emblem for stealing its thunder since the 10s. They give it much more love and care, and should be more willing to share that effort with PM.
At the same time though, like... Money talks. Tanabe knows everyone's going to absolutely blast the next game if it doesn't show any improvements, and he also knows he can't keep ignoring the fandom's requests forever if he values his reputation (especially after directly responding to fandom pleas with LM3). Their current philosophy is an temporary solution that can only keep them going for so long, with all the sustainability of a plaster on an open wound.
It's not going to satisfy the casual soccerkids that don't know what a Paper Mario is because it's so overcomplicated, it's not going to satisfy critics if they learn nothing from their previous blunder, and it's sure as hell not going to please fans. There is literally no benefit to making another game that doesn't acknowledge the first two. The only people benefiting from it is Tanabe who seems to get off on the hatred directed at him like a fucking internet troll (not even the rest of the dev team shares his sentiment if certain rumours are to be believed).
But I guess at the end of the day, when (or if) the next game gets shown, we'll see what Tanabe values more - his own self-indulgent enjoyment, or his reputation as a trustworthy developer.
The problem of Paper Mario isn't just Tanabe. If you read the Iwata Asks of Paper Mario: Sticker Star, you can see that Taro Kudo (Director of Sticker Star and Color Splash) wasn't very interested in a detailed story too:Quote
That project came together because of that idea. Kudo-san, you were in charge of the script, so what did you think about whether a story was really necessary or not?
I originally saw it in a way that's similar to Miyamoto-san. Personally I think all we need is to have an objective to win the boss battle at the end of the game. I didn't think we necessarily needed a lengthy story like in an RPG. Instead, we looked at the characteristics of a portable game that can be played little by little in small pieces and packed in lots of little episodes and ideas. I always did like putting in little ideas, so I actually enjoyed it.
Miyamoto isn't very active at Nintendo nowadays, but Tanabe and Kudo still are working on new projects. While I still expect the worst, I hope that Luigi's Mansion 3 is a sign of future changes for the series.
Yeah, Luigi's Mansion 3 in particular seems like a really good sign.
After Dark Moon, I never expected to see humanoid/portrait ghost characters in the series again, and their return to LM3 is so exciting. They added so much character to the first game. And, importantly, they fall well outside the "standard platformer Mario character design" parameters that Nintendo stuck so hard to during the Wii U era.
Combined with Odyssey, it makes me hopeful that Nintendo is loosening up a little on what can and can't be in a Mario game.