Merlee Paper Mario
Table of Contents
Merlee, a recurring character from the ’00s Paper Mario games, is a fortune-teller who speaks in riddles and gives Mario various boons at random intervals. These effects can be timely at their best and pointless at their worst, but despite the unpredictability of their activation, they’re at least a fun curiosity. Merlee’s magic works fairly similarly in the first two Paper Mario titles, but there’s a surprising amount of little differences between them, and quirks in each, so I thought it’d be worth doing a deep dive on both.
In both games, Merlee sells packages of spells (or “curses”) that activate a certain number of times before running out, for increasing duration (and oddly enough, increasing cost per spell for the more expensive packages): 5 spells for 5 coins, 10 spells for 20 coins, or 20 spells for 50 coins.
The effects of these spells include:
- ATK-Up: Mario’s next jump or hammer attack will have its attack power raised by 3*.
- DEF-Up: On Mario’s next defending turn, his defense power will be raised by 3.
- EXP Bonus: Experience points earned from a fight will be doubled.
- Coin Bonus: Coins dropped after a fight will be tripled. (This effect stacks multiplicatively with Money Money in 64, but additively in TTYD; e.g. having 2 Money Moneys equipped will give you an additional +2x from the curse and +2x from the badges, for a total of 5x, not 9x).
* Beneficiaries of this curse might also include exploding Bulky Bob-ombs, if Mario opts to use a boosted Fire Drive on them.
Broadly, each curse has a turn count before the next curse is allowed to activate, but the specifics of when the turn count elapses, as well as when the curse type is determined, differs a fair bit between the games, so let’s just tackle the games individually. Let’s start with The Thousand-Year Door, since its mechanics are generally simpler:
Merlee in The Thousand-Year Door
In TTYD, Merlee’s spells choose a turn count before activation, then only when those turns have elapsed is a type of curse chosen. This spell is then activated at the earliest possible time, persisting across battles, if necessary.
The current state of Merlee’s spells is stored in three variables in “PouchData“:
- Number of spells remaining (this doesn’t include the current spell, if a turn count is counting down or if a specific spell has been chosen but not activated.)
- Turn count before the current spell’s type is chosen. Will be set to -1 if the previous spell was activated and a new turn countdown is ready to start.
- Type of curse to activate next, determined once the turn count reaches 0 for a given spell.
Purchasing a new package
On purchasing a new package of spells, if the current number of spells remaining variable is less than the total number in the purchased package, then the number of spells remaining will be set to that number, and the current curse (either in progress or stored) will be lost. For example, if you have 11 curses remaining, and 3 turns until a new one will be chosen, buying the most expensive package will leave you with 20 curses and no turn count in progress.
If the current number of spells remaining is greater than or equal to the number in the purchased package, nothing will happen; both the current curse progress and the number of banked spells will remain as it is. (Merlee’s more than happy to take your coins regardless.)
Turn count advancement
In-battle, at the start of every turn from the 2nd onward, the spell turn count will progress if there isn’t one currently waiting to activate.
- If the number of remaining curses is non-zero and the turn count is -1 (i.e. there isn’t a turn count in progress or a spell waiting to activate), a new turn count is picked, from 5 to 10 inclusive, and the remaining number of spells is decremented.
- If instead, the turn count is non-zero, it is decremented. If it hits 0 on a turn, then a curse type is picked randomly (30 / 30 / 20 / 20% chance for ATK, DEF, EXP or coins), and stored until it is able to be used. From this point on, the spell will not pick a new turn count until the stored curse is activated.
A stored curse will activate at the earliest opportunity, waiting across battles if necessary:
- ATK-Up: whenever Mario next attacks with a jump or hammer move.
- DEF-Up: whenever the enemies are next given a turn to attack.
- EXP Bonus: whenever a fight is finished. The bonus will activate even if 0 EXP are earned from the fight (and will double the ‘pity Star Point’ if no Star Points were going to be earned, but Mario is not yet level 99).
- Coin Bonus: whenever a field encounter is finished.
Once a curse activates, the turn count is set to -1, and the stored curse type to 0, signaling that a new turn count should be picked if there are curses remaining.
Quirks / Exploits
Curses being stored across battles means that you can get stuck with a stored curse for a very long time if you never give it a chance to activate (e.g. never letting Mario attack with an ATK-Up curse, or never fighting normal field encounters with a coin curse stored).
You would think that the curse type not being determined until the turn count elapses would limit the number of ways you could abuse foreknowledge of a curse with save points, but you can still set up particular effects to happen on the first possible turn of a battle (and even do so for most curses without using save points, provided you’re okay with wasting curses). Some examples:
- ATK-Up: Let 12 turns pass in a field encounter without attacking with Mario, then finish the fight. If no DEF, EXP, or coin curses occur, you have an ATK curse stored.
- DEF-Up: Defeat 11 consecutive field encounters with Mario attacking on the second turn to finish the fight. If no ATK, EXP or coin curses occur, you have a DEF curse stored.
- Coin-Up: Let 12 turns pass in a non-field encounter (e.g. fights in the Glitz Pit), and finish the fight. If no ATK, DEF or EXP curses occur, you have a coin curse stored.
- EXP-Up is impossible to isolate without it possibly being a coin curse instead, but you can do similar steps to the above curses, attack once with Mario and then run away to have it be a 50-50 shot. You could also just use a save point once you’re sure some curse is stored, then verify if you have the EXP one.
Alternatively, if you want to trigger an ATK or DEF effect on a given turn and don’t mind banking on the random 30% chance of getting the right effect, you can save after the turn count is rolled the turn after a previous curse activates, then keep clearing fights on the 2nd turn with a Mario attack until you get the ATK/EXP/coin curse to trigger, or the DEF curse to trigger on turn 1 of the following fight; the number of fights it took to trigger the curse would be equal to the turn count you saved with.
Merlee in 64
In 64, Merlee chooses a turn count and spell type at the same time, rather than only choosing the latter after the turn count elapses. Once the turn count elapses, the spell is only stored for the current fight, meaning that you can’t rely on save-point-less manipulation of an effect.
The current state of Merlee’s spells is stored in three variables that persist in the player’s data (the equivalent of TTYD’s “pouch”):
- Number of spells remaining (this does include the current in-progress spell)
- Turn count before the current spell’s type is allowed to activate.
- Type of upcoming curse
and one variable in the battle data, which does not persist after the battle ends:
- Type of curse ready for activation (set once the current curse’s turn count elapses).
Purchasing a new package
When purchasing a new package, the number of spells the player has is set to the larger of its current value and the number of offered by the package. In addition, the current curse’s progress is wiped, picking a new one with equal probability of ATK/DEF/EXP/coins, and a turn count from 1-3. For example, if you have 12 curses remaining, including the current one (which is an ATK curse set to be stored for activation in 8 turns), after purchasing the 5-spell package, you’ll still have 12 curses, but the current curse will be a new one with a turn count of 1-3 turns.
Turn count advancement
At the start of every turn in battle (including turn 1:
- If the turn count is non-zero, the turn count decrements. If it hits 0 in doing so, the current curse is stored, and the remaining spell count decrements.
- If the turn count is 0 and there are spells remaining, a new curse is chosen (ATK/DEF/EXP/coin with roughly 30/30/20/20 probability), and a turn count of 6-16 inclusive (which will immediately decrement to between 5-15).
In addition, if the player first strikes with a Jump, Hammer or partner move (not Dizzy Attack), the Merlee curse will do additional checks:
- If the current curse type is an EXP or coin bonus and has a nonzero turn count, the turn count decrements. If it hits 0 in doing so, the current curse is stored, and the remaining spell count decrements.
- If the turn count is 0 and there are spells remaining, the a new curse is chosen with the same probability as above, but with a turn count of 5-10, or 5-13 for coin curses specifically. This turn count will also immediately decrement if the curse type chosen was an EXP or coin bonus.
Curse activation, quirks, etc.
A stored curse will activate at the earliest opportunity within or after winning a battle, under the same circumstances as TTYD’s. If a new curse is stored before a previous one (stored in the same battle) is able to activate, the old stored curse will be overwritten.
If the player ends a battle without allowing a stored ATK or DEF curse to activate, or ends the fight by running away or similar, the stored curse is wasted. If this occurs on the last spell of a package, then there will never be an indication that the spell’s power ran out, as there normally is supposed to be on the final curse’s activation.
If an EXP or coin curse is stored when finishing a fight that would not yield any EXP or coins, it won’t activate; however, the the current spell’s turn count will be set to 0, and the number of spells remaining increased by one, effectively picking a new curse in place of the current one in the next battle and resetting its progress. This might have been done to try to ensure that the player never silently ends a package of spells on a failed EXP/coin curse, perhaps (despite the aforementioned other ways this can occur).
Unlike TTYD, curses not being stored across fights means that you can never predict what’s coming next without using save points, but since the curse turn count and type are both determined at once, using trial-and-error with save points is much more powerful if you want to have any type of curse activate on a particular turn of a battle (up through turn 10 or so, at least).
That’s it for this relatively short article! Shout-outs once again to the PM64 decomp team for their super-well documented Merlee state variables, which helped fill in a lot of gaps in my knowledge (especially regarding first strikes and ‘wasted curses’). I might drop other shorter articles like this from time to time in the future.