According to Dreams Inc., the battle system is meant to be a mix between the modern Paper Mario (Sticker Star and Color Splash) and the classic Paper Mario (Paper Mario 64 and TTYD) with a few elements from Paper Jam.
The entire Battle System is more similar to the one found in TTYD, however, there is one particular aspect that completely revamps the way battles are fought: Paper Copies, a mechanic from Paper Jam that has been expanded upon tremendously, now Mario can stack on multiple copies of himself sticked together like those cut-out paper figurines holding hands, these Paper Copies can help Mario dish out a lot more damage than normal collectively and even help him target multiple enemies at once, which can be helpful since in this game you will have to fight with more enemies at once than before!
However, not everything is perfect! While the Paper Copies deal way more damage collectively, on their own they're not quite as strong, meaning that they heavily rely on staying together as a group, which is easier said than done since Paper Copies usually have little HP and if their HP is depleted they will be ripped off from the group, decreasing your amount of Paper Copies. Not only that, but that means that in order to protect your Paper Copies from enemy attacks you will have time your guarding once per Paper Mario if the attack affects multiple targets at once.
Preserving Paper Copies
Despite the above, there are methods to preserve your Paper Copies, for example, you can let a Paper Copy "Rest" for a Turn, this means that they won't participate in your attacks and will disallow you from using certain special attacks, but they will have highly increased endurance for that Turn and the next and maybe even restore some health if you're lucky! Apart from that, you can increase Paper Copies' endurance through levelling up, allowing you to choose between upgrading your HP, FP, and the brand new CP ("Copy Points") which dictate how many Paper Copies you can stack on at once and their endurance, and SP ("Stache Points") which allows you to lower the price of certain items in the overworld and haggle with store owners, and increases the likelihood of "Lucky Hits" (rare instances where Mario's attack deals more damage than usual and attracts more audience members) and "Lucky Heals" (which are the chances of a Paper Copy restoring a bit of health whenever they Rest).
Whenever you start a battle, Mario starts with no Paper Copies (unless Mario gets somme by hitting a Copy Block in the Overworld), but you can spend "Paper Sheets" in order to spawn more Paper Copies to help you out, you can get Paper Sheets by beating enemies, which drop "Ripped Paper", 3 pieces of Ripped Paper form a Paper Sheet, though sometimes they may just drop a complete Paper Sheet if you're lucky enough, or you can choose to spend a Turn doing nothing in order to craft paper on the spot, this means that you can't do anything for that Turn but that by the next Turn you will create a Paper Copy for yourself. Otherwise, you may choose to spend Paper Sheets in order to patch yourself or a Partner up, wasting the sheet but healing you or them and removing many negative status effects.
Papery Attacks are special attacks in the game similar and based on the Trio Attacks from Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, these attacks involve Mario and the Paper Copies folding into different things in order to perform powerful attacks, however, as you unlock more powerful attacks, not only will they cost more FP, but also will need more Paper Copies, meaning that if your Paper Copies get ripped off, you will be unable to use certain Papery Attacks.
Star Cards and Audience
Another particular use for the Paper Sheets, you may use them up in the Overworld in order to create "Star Cards"! These cards, which can also be found in the Overworld or be given to you for performing certain tasks or sidequests, can be used to form a deck of 12 Star Cards (technically 13 once you get a Partner), you can then access this deck at any time during battles and use Star Cards, which have many different uses, some can heal you up, power up your Partner, inflict negative status effects on your enemies, etc. while others are more direct and can damage opponents, or better the benefits given out by the audience members, however, you can't use them whenever you want, you can only use them by spending "Star Points", which are only obtained by mantaining a good Audience by performing chains of attacks with good timing or guarding against opponents correctly, different Star Cards require more Star Points to be used depending on how powerful the effect is, which is why they're separated into "Standard", "Mega" and "Giga", you can have as many Standard Star Cards as you want, but you can only have 4 Mega Cards and 2 Giga Cards.
Partners return after quite a long absence in the Paper Mario franchise, you can only have one Partner out at a time and just like in past games they can use their abilities to get past obstacles in the Overworld, and also can help Mario fight in the Overworld, they lack the ability to use Star Cards or spawn Paper Copies but can use Items on both themselves and Mario and attack enemies, apart from that once you have a Partner on battle, you will automatically have a special Partner Card added to your Star Card deck as a thirteenth card, with a very high amount of Star Points, if you manage to get enough Star Points to use the Partner Card, you will allow them to unleash a powerful special attack on the opponent.
Apart from that, whenever you enter battle with a Partner, you will have access to an exclusive Papery Attack in tandem with that Partner, this means that there is one unique Papery Attack for every Partner in the game, and as the Partners increase their Rank and get stronger, you will unlock better versions of that Papery Attackt, such as "<Papery Attack Name> EX" for their Super Rank and "<Papery Attack Name> SP" for their Hyper Rank, however, as expected these cost more FP.
- Jump: The player stomps on the enemy to cause damage, if the player times their button presses they can do repeated stomps for extra damage. If Mario has more than 5 Paper Copies then he will lose the ability to bounce, since the big amount of Paper Copies would make it harder for the player to time their button presses.
- Hammer: The player can do several different techniques with their hammer, most of them require the player to hold down the joystick in a certain direction and then releasing it at the right time but the commands vary. If Mario has multiple Paper Copies they will each target a different enemy.
- Parrot: At a certain point in the game, Mario finds a lost baby parrot, which he decides to recruit and take care of, he doesn't actually act like a normal Partner, instead working as a separate way of Mario to attack, Parrot's attacks can range from simple pecking at the enemy to feeding it with seeds so he can spit them at the enemy, the parrot can be raised throughout the game to become stronger and get new abilities.
Mario can use an arsenal of separate items to help himself in battles, many items in this game are actually stickers from Sticker Star reworked into item form to fit the old battle system, items are separated in 3 classes:
- Offensive: These items deal damage to enemies.
- Defensive: These items help the gang by healing them or affecting their stats.
- Audience: These items can help the gang by affecting the audience in some way, be it by boosting the benefits they bring, attracting more, or simply preventing enemies sneaking in for a certain amount of turns.
As mentioned above in the Items section, the audience returns from TTYD but can only be seen from the Gamepad this time around, performing chains of moves attracts more audience and audience can help you gain "Star Points" to use Star Cards, but some times enemies may sneak into the audience and attack the player by throwing tomatoes (blinds the player), hammers (does damage), golf clubs (may cause lightning to strike Mario, paralyzing him) and bombs (which blow up in 5 turns unless the player destroys them by targeting them, wasting a move).
To prevent enemies from attacking you, you can stop them before they do anything by tapping at them with the Gamepad, you won't be told where exactly they are but you will get a notification and if you hold down your finger on the gamepad screen you'll start releasing circle-shaped waves around you that detect enemies if you're close. If you still miss them and they attack, you can time your Guard to deflect the projectile and throw it back at them.
Guarding & Dodging
Guarding in this game is similar to the first two games, if you press A right before being attacked Mario will negate any damage by crouching, but Superguarding also returns in the form of "Counters", if you press B right before being attacked, Mario will counter by crouching and then performing an uppercut, negating any damage and dealing a quarter of the damage about to be received to the enemy, however Counters have an even smaller timeframe than Guards, making them very tough to perform.
Dodging on the other hand is an ability only used in Boss Battles, once they take a certain amount of damage, Bosses will get their "Copy Attacks" where they'll teleport themselves over to the GamePad and start performing a powerful attack directed at Mario who's still on the TV screen, these attacks must be dodged like in the Overworld, by moving around and avoiding them.
Returning from Paper Mario 64 is the "Spin Dash" technique, this ability allows Mario to dash through the land while spinning around, stunning any enemy he hits, however, the player cannot do many Spin Dashes in a row (only 3) if that's done, Mario will stay still for a moment and if he gets into a battle in that brief moment he will start with the "Dizzy" effect, though there's a Badge that increases the amount of Spin Dashes Mario can do (6 in a row when upgraded).
Later on you also get the ability to do a "Dash Jump" in which a jump is chained after a Spin Dash to jump higher while still spinning, meaning that if you hit a flying enemy in the middle of the Dash Jump they'll be stunned as well.
As mentioned in the Battle segment, Mario eventually finds and starts raising a baby parrot, this parrot can be named and raised to become stronger, in order to raise it you must give it food and water, water can be found in lakes, seas and can be obtained via bottles, while food is given in the form of seeds, which have to be bought, and as the parrot starts growing and becoming older, it becomes stronger and learns new moves too.
However, the parrot can also help you in the Overworld, at first it only allows Mario to fall slower after jumping but as Mario starts raising him, he gains the ability to glide and at a certain point even function as some sort of mid-air jump for Mario, however the player can also let it fly and obtain items previously unobtainable and solve puzzle segments by controlling its flight via using the Gamepad's touchscreen to create gusts of wind and controlling him with the joystick.
A brand new type of Block alongside the Heart and Save Blocks is the Copy Block, ocasionally found in a few parts in the world of this game, hitting this orange block marked with a paper sheet with the letter P on it will spawn Paper Copies for Mario straight in the Overworld, this makes it easier for enemies to ambush you but at the same time it allows you to start off the battle with a few Paper Copies already. However, the max amount of Paper Copies that these blocks can give you usually caps off at 3.
Obtaining Star Cards
There are multiple ways of obtaining Star Cards, the first involves finding and going into a "Card Store", which there are many of in the Overworld, in these Card Stores you can buy "Blank Cards" and combine them with Paper Sheets in order to make "Catch Cards", then in combat once an opponent is weakened enough you can use a Catch Card on them in order to make a Star Card based on that enemy, this doesn't work on every enemy and it doesn't end the battle automatically but you can then add the Star Card on your deck for later use.
The second way involves paying in Card Stores to buy "Booster Packs", these packs contain 5 random Star Cards, through this you can get some very rare cards but you may also get repeats.
The third way is to obtain Star Cards through sidequests, most of which can be activated by talking to NPCs in Card Stores, but others can be activated by talking to Mushbert, the Official Number One Fan of the "Star Card Trading Game", in Shroom City or Lucio the Lantern Ghost in the Horror Condo, who both ocassionally give you optional quests throughout the story that can net you some exclusive Star Cards (many of which are based on the in-universe fictional TV show, "Toad Force V", which both characters are very big fans of as shown in Mario Party Advance).