The original Super Mario RPG was a delightful title to come from Nintendo (thanks to a strong teamwork effort with SquareSoft), and the soundtrack composed by Yoko Shimomura ranks up there with Nintendo's best soundtracks ever. The semi-sequel, Paper Mario (Mario Story in Japan), however, is another story (no pun intended). Subtitled as the sequel to Super Mario RPG for years, this game is not developed by Square at all (because they broke their ties with Nintendo so many years ago, and so far show no sign of breaking away from Sony), but by Intelligent Systems, responsible for Nintendo's prized Fire Emblem RPG series. In addition, the score is not composed by Yoko Shimomura (well, she IS a member of Square, after all), but by Yuka Tsujiyoko (who, incidentally, composed the Fire Emblem scores).
How good is the music to Paper Mario, really? Well, when I first listened to it, I was pretty disappointed; even though it has its moments of fun, Mario Story Original Soundtrack seems more... well, flat. As such, I honestly disliked this soundtrack, even after listening to it again. However, when I played the game, which features a thin, paper cut Mario(!) against fully-rendered backgrounds, I discovered that it was probably fitting that a flat score would be suitable for this kind of game. Of course, this is not to say I value the music of Paper Mario as highly as Super Mario RPG, but from playing the game, I realize that this soundtrack can hold its own ground.
As can be expected with Mario soundtracks, there are rearranged renditions of Mario tunes, and Yuka Tsujiyoko does deserve credit for pulling off the job. Most of the tracks are recognizable from Super Mario Bros. 3, particularly "The Noko Bros.'s Fortress", which starts off the first notes of the "Fortress BGM" from that game. "Evade The Kuri Cannon And Charge Forward!" is a more frenzied remix of the "Airship BGM" from Super Mario Bros. 3 as well. There is also the classic Mario theme, which unfortunately sounds like it could come out of the NES - it is just plain tinny and synthy. The popular "Ending" from Super Mario Bros. (used in just about every Mario game to date as well) makes an appearance on "Princess Peach's Party", but it unfortunately gets monotonous, annoying, and repetitive fast. Probably the biggest surprise was a remix of the "Title Theme" from Yoshi's Island. I never expected to hear this snappy, catchy track reappear, so I was quite thrilled at it. ("Oh No, A Lost Child! We Should Do Something!" also reprises the theme - only it sounds more like a record being played at first high speed, then s-l-o-w speed; a humorous touch.) It is also possible to hear hints of the Super Mario World main theme on "Let's Start The Parade". There are other Mario remixes scattered throughout the soundtrack, but to name them all would be time consuming.
The new songs, however, are more like a mixed bag of tricks, ranging from delightfully catchy to lame and forgettable. The main theme for Paper Mario is bouncy, though strangely not as gripping an overture as "Happy Adventure, Delightful Adventure" from Super Mario RPG. The new theme for Bowser is awful, and more monotonous than menacing. (Even the final battle tracks containing Bowser's theme are unexciting; "Angry Koopa (Power Up Version)" starts out promisingly with five scary organ chords, but what follows after that dashes all expectations.) I can never listen to "Over The Fields And Rivers We Go" knowing how corny it is. "Town Under Kinoko Castle" is a very buoyant, happy town song which is a delight. The track which follows after it (a faster, livelier version of the song) is particularly fun. Another remarkable track is "Places In Kinoko Kingdom", where the music literally changes, depending on where you go to in Toad Town (including the ever-groovy "Underground BGM" from Super Mario Bros.). There is also a very nice new theme for Princess Peach, as well as a twinkling, heavenly concerto for the Star Spirits (including little Twink, the Star Kid).
The first disc contains some of the better songs. "The Wind Over Gusty Gulch Was Like Sand" is a lot of fun - a bouncy, irresistibly jamming Latin tango dance which will have you bouncing the moment the guitar and castanets begin to cook up a storm. "Go! Go! By Toy Train" is a whimsical waltz rendition of the track before it (which sets in the Shy Guy's Toy Box), performed by what sounds like train whistle sounds. (Incidentally, this track occurs when Mario is riding on the Shy Guy Toy Box Train.) The first half of the second disc also features some fun tracks, the best of which is "Pukopi The Great!", an Elvis-style rock 'n roll blues song which is snappy, wacky, and absolutely delightful.
The last half of the second disc, however, is less interesting, and this is probably because I haven't reached the end of the game (as of this writing). However, things pick up when "Let's Start The Parade" comes up, reprising all the new themes from the game, and carried along by a great beat. As fun as this track is, along with "And The Parade Continues", the second part of the parade finale, it sadly isn't as memorable as "Happy Parade, Delightful Parade" from Super Mario RPG. And the way the parade song ends is probably one of the lamest endings I have ever heard in any game soundtrack. The last song, "Mario & Peach's Love Song" is not sappy as one would expect, but it is slow, lame, and a very disappointing way to finish off the soundtrack.
The only real serious drawback is the album release. Despite being a 2-CD set, this album is missing a lot of the tracks that from the game, including a remix of the "World 1 Map" music from Super Mario Bros. 3. Perhaps the album producers didn't want to make this release too expensive, but why exclude some of the best tracks from the game? On the other hand, not too many people would be interested in having all the music from the game... especially when it is only so-so. (I have not seen the American version that Nintendo has announced for its Nintendo Power magazine subscribers, but I was told that it is identical to this release. Could it be that Nintendo is finally getting it right?)
Like The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask Orchestrations, this album is available from Japanese publisher EnterBrain (at http://www.EnterBrain.co.jp/). Their CDs are shipped only to customers in Japan, and are rarely sold in any retailer stores. On top of that, they are very limited in quantity. Those of you who desperately want this CD may have to do quite a bit of hunting in order to pick it up.
If you are expecting another Super Mario RPG, then Mario Story Original Soundtrack may disappoint you. Others who have never heard of Mario will not even care about hunting for this soundtrack, much less owning it. But if you are a loyal Nintendo junkie and Mario fan who can overlook its flaws and evaluate it for its merits (which is what I eventually learned to do), then Mario Story Original Soundtrack is the album for you.