In classic Nintendo fashion, the answer makes sense when taken at face value but also seems hopelessly naive (though not necessarily in a bad way). Koizumi stressed that while each of the game’s locals are referred to as “Kingdoms,” not all of them are ruled by royalty, implying Pauline was elected to her position (the actual New York City, which New Donk City looks to be heavily-inspired by, has still never elected a woman to that office).


In addition, Koizumi explained that it was the building out of Pauline’s backstory that was ultimately responsible for the game’s central jazz theme and accompanying vocals. “As we were developing Pauline more as a character, we know that she was going to be interested in jazz,” he said. “It was interesting for us to have the first song in a Mario game with vocals.”

But it’s possible that the biggest reasons for bringing Pauline back and elevating her to such a central and well-rounded part of Super Mario Odyssey won’t reveal themselves until the game comes out this October. In the same interview where Miyamoto explained how Nintendo’s early games came to rely on the damsel in distress trope (Peach can still be seen getting snatched by Bowser even in Odyssey), he also tried to shed some light on why the company has been so slow to unload it.


“I guess, for me in particular, the structure of the gameplay always comes before the story,” he said back during E3 of 2013. “And so we’re always looking at, when we’re putting that together, what is the most natural story to take place within that structure.” He continued,

“Pikmin is a good example of that. In Pikmin, the original structure of the gameplay was centered on all these individual little creatures moving around like ants. As a result of that, the world that you’re in is kind of earthy and natural settings and the creatures you’re fighting seems sort of like insects, because that’s what the gameplay centers on.

So, if we end up creating a gameplay structure where it makes sense for, whether it’s a female to go rescue a male or a gay man to rescue a lesbian woman or a lesbian woman to rescue a gay man, we might take that approach. For us it’s less about the story and more about the structure of the gameplay and what makes sense to be presenting to the consumer.”


While you could argue that what makes sense or seems “natural” to the gameplay is just Miyamoto applying outdated notions of identity and gender roles after the fact instead of at the start, it does show that Nintendo tends to focus more on individual gameplay scenarios rather than in-depth narratives, with characters, motivations, and objectives coming second.

So while it’s not a satisfying explanation for why Pauline has been trotted out as a helpless hostage all these years, it does suggest that her big role in the latest game—the first time she’s ever appeared in a Mario game sans Donkey Kong (at least we think)—it does suggest that her backstory, politically and musically, will factor into the game in interesting mechanical ways that go beyond the simple world building alluded to in the trailers and gameplay demos.