Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a gaming experience many contemporary developers seek to recreate. Games like Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling and The Outbound Ghost are two examples of the growing Paper Mario-like trend. The latest Paper Mario-like is WildArts’ and Dear Villagers’ Born of Bread. It makes a valiant effort to capture the magic but does not quite hit the mark.
The graphics are Born of Bread‘s best asset. The game’s world brims with a variety of uniquely designed characters inhabiting fairly traditional environments. The visual style reminds me of The Amazing World of Gumball‘s cartoon zaniness. Only in Born of Bread is an anthropomorphic tomato the fastest superhero in the land. Everything animates smoothly, making the game’s world feel immersive. I particularly like that environments feature fore-aft navigation as well as side-to-side movement, giving depth to all explorable locations. The whimsical soundtrack fits the game world’s cartoonish appearance nicely. I especially like that different locations have unique battle themes.
Our protagonist, Loaf, is a bread golem Papa Baker (the royal baker) inadvertently made via a magic recipe book the mean queen demanded he use for that evening’s dinner. Papa Baker is excited to be a papa but is in a pickle because the queen abhors children and expects to eat a special bread from the magic recipe book. Meanwhile, the royal archaeologists unearth an ancient gang of teenage demons demanding a MacGuffin to restore their evil empire with.
Everything comes to a head when Loaf and the demons invade the queen’s dining quarters, sending her into a fury. Loaf tries to fight the demons off, but they blast him and Papa Baker out of the castle and into the woods. They make it back to town, but Papa Baker is arrested on sight because the queen blames him for the appearance of the malevolent miscreants. So now Loaf needs to clear his papa’s name, save the world from peril, and make some friends along the way.
Unfortunately, the playable cast consists of Born of Bread‘s blandest characters. The NPCs and villains are far more interesting than Loaf and his friends. I would have preferred to play Born of Bread from the charismatic villains’ perspective rather than the boring heroes’. The story itself is fairly basic, plot points don’t always transition smoothly into others, and characters join Loaf’s party with minimal buildup or motivation. The story improves during the game’s latter portions and the ending is great, but getting to the good stuff is a slog.
Progressing through Born of Bread was often maddening and made me want to prematurely shelve the game many times over the 16 or so hours I spent playing it. Vague plot direction and environmental navigation sometimes had me running around in circles. It was only through sheer dumb luck, doing random actions in random places, and/or inadvertent backtracking that I stumbled upon correct paths and puzzle solutions.
Navigation did not help matters when I would sometimes move characters toward me only to fall off the edge and lose HP (until I activated the “no environmental damage” option in the settings menu) because there was no indication that a ledge was there. Several walkable paths lead to drop-offs, and some paths or directions that don’t initially appear walkable actually are. Speaking of backtracking, expect to do that a fair amount, especially if you engage in the copious number of sidequests. A means of fast travel opens up midway through the game, but there is no indication that it does. I stumbled upon it quite by accident.
Born of Bread‘s turn-based battles utilize a variety of QTE-style button presses to engage offensive, defensive, and supportive actions. I enjoyed these at first, but battles eventually became too drawn out for their own good, especially since the timing was finicky with some actions and failure resulted in inaction. I would have loved an option to toggle the QTEs on and off for when battles tediously slowed my progression.
I would have liked tutorials since several play mechanics are not immediately intuitive. Yes, brief text explanations unobtrusively pop up, but they’re less informative than interactive tutorials. Those would have been helpful to practice nailing the timing for some battle actions. For example, I could never get Loaf’s Roast skill to work right because the game did not explain it clearly and never taught me how to do it properly.
Explanations of several menu options would have been great as well. For example, I had no clue what “Gluten Free mode” in the title screen options menu meant until I asked our professional contacts about it. It simply re-labels items as gluten free, but most people might think it’s a low-quality graphics mode or something.
Speaking of menus, the in-game menu looks quite stylish but is needlessly cumbersome and twiddly to navigate. There is also no option to remap keys, so you’re stuck with a default control scheme that isn’t the greatest. Then again, even the most intuitive button-mapping scheme can’t help slippery play control. Imprecise jumping made platforming a frustrating endeavor; it was too easy to fall off narrow beams.
Born of Bread only has one difficulty level that I found inconsistent. Sometimes, I went from an easy battle to one that ripped my party to shreds. These unpredictable difficulty spikes made me want a mode to painlessly progress and simply play for the story. On the other hand, those who painstakingly explore every corner, engage in every sidequest, and exploit the play mechanics can gain access to powerful weapons and skills that make the game too easy. Born of Bread also uses a save point system with no autosave or quicksave features for plot reasons. The lack of these conveniences and the inability to save to multiple slots is an unfavorable omission in this day and age.
Born of Bread adds another entry to my ever-growing list of games that I wanted to love but left me with mixed feelings. It’s clear that a lot of heart went into Born of Bread. I loved the bevy of unique characters inhabiting the game’s world, and the second half of the story was quite engaging. However, Born of Bread‘s confluence of minor flaws, including a lack of convenience features, marred my enjoyment. Born of Bread is not a bad game, but those seeking that magical Paper Mario experience might be better off waiting for the upcoming Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door remaster.