It's A Me, The Captain!
WHAT IS IT?
Maybe Paper Mario 1 and 2 are the most well made installments. But they just didn't feel very special when I'd already seen it all done before and done better in Mario & Luigi. Partners are overrated, the item restrictions are ridiculous, and PM2 in particular suffers from poor level design and bad audience mechanics. It's all basically Mario & Luigi but more heavily flawed. Between the two I do prefer PM2 nonetheless, but to call it my favorite wouldn't be right. That just isn't the direction I want Paper Mario to go in.
Then there's SPM. I cannot begin to describe how overrated that game is. It's the pinnacle of fanservice, going over-the-top with original characters and story, while neglecting to have actually good gameplay. I moderately enjoyed this game the first time through, but the moment I went back to PM2 I just thought "man, this is so much better than SPM". SPM had good points but the negatives far outweigh the positives. It's my least favorite Paper Mario for sure; Paper Mario needed something different and I appreciate this game for trying, but it simply didn't work out.
Then Sticker Star came around in 2012, and became even more controversial than SPM. The most hated change by far was the removal of story elements and original characters (save for Kersti and some bosses), and that alone is 80% of this game's criticism. And I'm going to be blunt. I don't care about that stuff. I never have. That's not why I got into Mario RPGs in the first place. All that matters to me is the gameplay. ...And Sticker Star maybe didn't excel there either, as it still had some major flaws, but to me, it was a lot of fun. More fun than I'd had in any earlier installment. It succeeded where SPM failed, and the sequel, Color Splash, managed to improve on it even more. The sticker limits were lightened so that every card was the same size for a limit of 99, paint added an extra level of strategy, and it just overall improved on a game that I feel was already great. As controversial as this may be, this is my preferred series direction and I want to see what more can be done with it. Add original characters and story if you want, won't make a difference to me. It's the only time the series ever stepped out of the shadow of Mario & Luigi.
So overall, I'd rank them CS > SS > TTYD > 64 > SPM. I don't care what people say about the newer Paper Marios, I will defend them to the death.
I strongly disagree with you. Story is not developed in a vacuum completely independent of the gameplay. It's part of the game as much as the number crunching, pushing buttons, and watching characters perform actions is. Having a horrendous story can detract from the overall quality of the experience, especially in more story-heavy genres like the RPGs where it's one of the reasons you're in it and one of the reasons it can be very beloved. It's one of the reasons Mass Effect 3's ending is extremely reviled, because one of the main gameplay points of the overall series, the choices you can make that influence how the game turns out, are completely undermined by that ending; in other games, you also have controversial scenes such as GTA V's torture scene, where it condemns torture, but it forces players to go through it anyway. Oh, and there's Metroid: The Other M, which I can bet people who have played through the game can explain it better than I ever could. Sure, you can argue that you can just "ignore" it, but for others, it's important for them, and bad, insufferable writing is not a fun experience to go through and should be called out on.I personally have seen many games pull way better stories than Paper Mario can ever hold a candle to, and even then, it should not be taken as a big factor in the game's overall quality. The only thing I really want in a story is for it to make sense or in some cases tell me what I should do, and that's about it, how deep it gets and all that is just a bonus and does not in anyway impact one's enjoyment. If you play only for the story you might as well watch videos of the game on YouTube, requires you no effort to get there too. Criticizing the last two games because they don't have OCs just does a disservice to them as games. You play games, you don't watch them play themselves. I'm ok with people hating these games, but I'm not ok with them solely hating them because it's a "shit story". Same thing with FE, I hate it when someone hates the series because there's too many of its characters in Smash, but am ok with people who actually provide valid criticism on why they don't like the games, especially from those who have actually tried a game or two (coincidentally, it's also made by IS, that AND although it's story-heavy, the story hardly ever matters).