It’s been rough out there for Paper Mario fans. Over the past several entries Nintendo has tested new ideas that haven’t come together anywhere near as well as the original games did, and there’s good reason for the joy surrounding the return of Thousand-Year Door in 2024. Some indie developers, however, have tried to recapture the magic of the original releases with titles such as Citizens of Space and Bug Fables. Many have even succeeded in recreating Paper Mario’s look and feel while adding some cool new ideas, and now Wildarts Studio has served up its own take. Born of Bread is a cute and summery RPG following the adventures of a sentient bread boy. It has its issues, which we’ll get into, but overall this is an enjoyable little RPG that we’d suggest you investigate.
Born of Bread’s story begins with a group of researchers messing around in some ancient ruins and accidentally resurrecting a group of evil beings from a long-forgotten empire, and they’re hellbent on collecting the magical Sunstones scattered across the land so they can bring back their master. Luckily, on the same night that this happens, the royal baker for the queen accidentally creates Loaf, a magical doughboy with a heart of gold and the potential to be a great hero. After the queen’s castle is assaulted by these newcomers and Loaf’s ‘father’ is unfairly implicated in the resurrection, Loaf sets out on a grand quest to clear the baker’s name, learn more about the mysterious villains blighting the land, and hopefully find the remaining Sunstones before they fall into the wrong hands.
It’s a very lighthearted and humorous story, buoyed by goofy characters, silly subplots, and lots of bread puns. Our only complaint here is that the pacing can feel a little wonky in some places. For example, the partner characters that fill out your party are often introduced with very little backstory or build-up—you meet them, and they join your party in a matter of seconds across the length of a single brief cutscene. In this sense, Born of Bread can sometimes feel like it’s rushing too much to get to the next area or plot beat, and this has the effect of a narrative that doesn’t have nearly the staying power that it potentially could. Still, the dialogue is charming and the conflicts you find yourself caught up in are entertaining, we just wish there was a little more substance to them.
Gameplay follows the same loop as the classic Paper Mario games, wherein you explore themed areas, battle foes, and solve whatever ongoing subplot is driving that part of the narrative arc. The levels are sprawling and packed with collectibles, though this is an area where Born of Bread notably stumbles. In many cases, it feels like levels are a little too wide open and empty, and the paths you can take through them are often confusing or poorly marked. Invisible walls are all over the place here, and the platforming sections can be a little frustrating, which can make navigation a chore. Even so, a little bit of poking around will usually reveal the next objective and we enjoyed the thrill of discovery when stumbling upon a hidden chest or newt.
When you enter combat, things unfold in a standard turn-based affair. Loaf and his chosen partner have a growing variety of attacks and support moves they can pull from, most of which usually have a WP (mana) cost to them that keeps you from totally cutting loose. Regardless of what action you pick, there will always be a small minigame you play to potentially increase its effectiveness if you succeed. This can be as simple as tapping the ‘A’ button when a meter reaches a specified zone or as complex as keeping a wobbly targeting reticle centered on a bullseye to land an arrow. None of these QTEs are particularly hard to master, but they each take some getting used to, and we especially appreciated how new actions almost always bring with them new minigames to try out.
You’ll almost inevitably run out of WP after a few turns, and this is where the audience comes into play. While you attack foes and dodge their retaliations, you are being broadcast on a (fictional) livestream to an audience of thousands. The chat is constantly popping off and reacting to your performance, and keeping them happy will get back some WP so you can keep executing your more powerful moves. Sometimes they’ll even ask you to do a specific move, such as using an item, and you’re given a few turns to do what they ask. This system allows you to lean a little less on your item supply and regularly gives you dynamic goals to accomplish beyond simply wailing away at foes until they ‘retire’.
Once you get a hundred XP from defeating enemies, you’ll be given the option to level up one of three stats for Loaf alongside progression towards things like higher equipment or inventory maximums. Your partners partially benefit from this progress, but their main form of progression lies in finding various hidden newts in the environment and turning them into a special shopkeeper in exchange for skill points that you can manually distribute across unique skill trees for each character. Newts can be pretty tough to find and aren’t all that abundant, so you need to be choosy about how you’re spending those points given how long it may be before you unlock another new ability.
Exploring the world and completing sidequests will also net you ‘Boons’, which function almost exactly like Badges did in Paper Mario by granting you various benefits in battle such as more clearly telegraphed timing windows. Additionally, you have limited space in your backpack for equipping Loaf with weapons you have to carefully slot together in a Tetris-esque fashion on the small grid. Experimenting with different Boon and weapon loadouts is pretty fun once you have a good collection going, though the relatively low challenge offered by most enemies means you usually don’t have to think too hard to find an effective setup.
Visually, Born of Bread does a great job of combining the 3D environments and 2D characters. Whether you’re exploring the murky depths of a forest or the snow-covered hills of a mountain beneath aurora-filled skies, there’s lots of environmental diversity to keep things feeling fresh. Meanwhile, character designs are generally quite strong, especially for members of your party, and there’s a charming stiffness to the way they animate and emote. Sure, it’s aping the Paper Mario style pretty hard, but Born of Bread looks great in motion and does just enough to set itself apart.
Unfortunately, we ran into quite a few softlocks and bugs throughout our time with Born of Bread, noticeably holding back the overall experience. For example, an early sequence sees you playing as Jester, one of the villains, for a short period, but there was a bug where pressing a certain button can cause Jester to freeze in place. You can’t pull up the menu or do anything once you’re stuck, leaving you no choice but to close out to the menu and reboot the game, forcing you to endure the rather long initial loading process once more. Luckily, we had just saved prior to hitting this particular issue, but it’s unfortunately only one of many similar examples scattered throughout Born of Bread. Until the development team addresses (hopefully) these issues with patches, we’d recommend that you save early and often.
Born of Bread is a fine spiritual successor to the Paper Mario games of old, with a lighthearted story, hands-on combat system, and charming characters all coming together to make for a worthwhile experience. That said, it can feel kind of rough around the edges with a long list of bugs (at least at launch), confusing level designs, and occasionally oddly paced story. We’d recommend Born of Bread to any fans of Mario’s traditional RPG adventures, as the positives here do outweigh the negatives, but just bear in mind that this loaf feels like it could’ve spent a little more time in the oven.
This story originally appeared on Nintendo Life