When Miitopia was announced for a Western release, I suspected that someone at Nintendo had lost their marbles. After all, it looks like the fever dream of Tomodachi Life mixed with Dragon Quest and feelings. Those initial impressions generally set the tone for how games turn out, but in Miitopia’s case, while this is by no means a perfect JRPG experience, it is surprisingly compelling.
First off, just to be very clear, this game is very peculiar in both presentation and mechanics. All the players in this play are assigned a Mii by you, personalising things to your heart’s content. You can also have party members assigned to Miis, or even use Spotpass to get a plethora of user-created Miis. Nothing is especially thrilling from a graphical standpoint, but the music is honestly exhilarating at times with catchy tunes.
While it’s usually the hook for JRPGs, the story is a bit on the list side, aside form one odd detail. The Dark Lord has stolen the faces of the people of Miitopia and put them on monsters in order to control them, so your job is to essentially free the land from his tyranny. There is a bit of character development in the early parts of the game, but it’s generally just an excuse to go out with a party of people and batter monsters a bit. Minor twists keep things interesting, but never overly so.
Classic RPGs of this kind tend to have job classes. In Miitopia, these initially include your Warriors, Clerics, and Mages, but also quite curiously include the more oddly titled Pop Star to sing their way through battles and the Chef who cooks things for the party to consume. Later on you unlock more classes such as the Princess who uses dancing and their regal nature to hamper enemies, while the Tank blows things up.
One major factor in character creation that can be swapped on the fly initially is the personality trait. These range from being cool, to being air-headed, or even stubborn. Interactions can be positive or negative depending on the situation, such as kindness can make an enemy go away, or fail, much to the distain of your party members. Positive effects can outweigh the negatives at times, which makes for a compelling part of the battle experience, but when a stubborn character refuses to be healed, it is a little irksome.
As for the gameplay, it’s… odd. Within a map screen resembling Super Mario Bros. 3, the actual gameplay is a simplistic JRPG with all the usual tropes. Characters tend to move on their own in the levels, though this can be sped up by holding the B button. In each level you can face monsters in simplistic turn-based battles, find treasure, or even have little events with your party.
Battles themselves are turn based and while you can control one of your Miis, the designated main character, you can’t control any of the others. This can lead them to do rather stupid things such as eating a HP banana when another character is preparing to heal the entire party to full. That said though, there will seldom ever be any point where you’re stressing over the battles in the normal stages, as enemies drop like flies.
If you thought the classes were bonkers sounding, the friendships and how to forge them are initially equally insane. The idea is that spending nights in the inns at the end of each level creates a bond between the characters. As they bond, they gain abilities to use with each other, such as powering up their hits in an effort to impress the other party member, lending a hand to increase the strength of an attack, or getting angry when that party member dies and dealing massive damage.
This, rather surprisingly, is the best thing about Miitopia. The array of skills your party members learn can be incredibly beneficial in a way that is almost game breaking. By combining certain personalities, class combinations, and occasional use of sprinkles – items the player can use on the Miis at any available point – you won’t have to sweat all that much unless there is a boss or you encounter the special Reaper enemy that can kill a party member in a single attack.
What’s actually game breaking though is the Safe Spot – a special place you can drag a Mii onto when things get rough, which restores HP and MP. It also wipes status ailments and aside from the off chance a cleric or another class will heal the status ailment themselves, this is the most reliable way of making boss fights as easy as taking out the rubbish. In fact, the final third of the game is an utter cakewalk thanks to this addition.
If there’s one thing about all of this that could feel awkward, it’s assigning party members to have the likeness of friends, colleagues, or family in real life. The way the Miis display their affection may seem somewhat inappropriate depending on the person they’re doing it to. For some, like say your partner, advancing their relationship can look sweet and endearing.
It’s not that anyone’s doing anything overly sexual, the game never lowers the tone that far, but you might be tenderly stroking the shoulder of the Mii that looks like a friend or family member of yours and asking them if they’re okay, only for them to turn and look at you lovingly in the eyes because you showed them you cared. There are things eyes can’t unsee.
One thing Miitopia has going for it is the fact that because each level is somewhat short, it’s very easy to justify playing “just one more area” to yourself. The fact that your input is minimal helps, as it’s that feeling of, “Oh, I barely did anything” which encouraged me to play for longer spells than is absolutely necessary. It’s a deceptively lengthy game too, but it has other hiccups along the way.
During the first few acts, the game does set a worrying precedent of essentially re-rolling your character and taking away your allies. This does allow for the opportunity to try out other classes, as well as introduce new Miis to your party with an all-new setup, yet it does so at the cost of progress for your other party members.
I wasn’t expecting to like Miitopia as much as I did, but it certainly had me hooked until the end. It’s deceptively long despite its rather basic premise and while the first two thirds are somewhat restrictive, the final third is when the game really comes into its own and shows off its true potential with compelling mechanics that are surprisingly deep. Miitopia is an odd duck for sure, but one that is very hard to put down once the hooks are in.