Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: July 28th, 2017
ESRB: E for Everyone
Since I was small, and the manual for The Legend of Zelda on NES dictated, "YOU ARE LINK", I've always named the main characters in RPGs after myself and friends. That extra layer of immersion — that probably bounces right off a lot of people, then and now — has always brought a smile to my face. Even if I'll never actually be Link, something about it just makes the whole journey that much more meaningful, to me.
Miitopia is built for anyone who grew up putting themselves in video games and other adventures in media.
Ever since I created my first Mii, I knew they'd become as versatile as they have over more than a decade. Whether we're talking about the way Mario Kart Wii incorporated Miis into the settings of race courses, or when they've actually been playable characters in everything from Wii Sports up to Super Smash Bros. for 3DS & Wii U... an RPG where you can alter every single NPC and party member to suit your own imagination was always on my mind.
Every character in this story, no matter how major or minor the role, is whoever you want them to be. My journey to save the world from the clutches of the Dark Lord Gaston (with love to @Nintendo_Legend) is one littered with personal touches. I put as much care and attention as I could to casting every towns-person in ways that were meaningful to me. Every denizen of Greenhorne Castle was a 1MoreCastle alumni, ruled over by king a handful of you might recognize.
With a few button presses from the menu, you can change the identities of any character you've met on a whim. If the prospect of selecting or creating the identities of over 50 non-playable characters overwhelms you, you can always leave the casting decisions up to fate. Maybe the king of your Greenhorne Castle will be Shigeru Miyamoto, President Obama, or whoever some of the folks playing with SpotPass chose. That's the beauty of it all!
If the appeal of Miis is completely lost on you, I don't think you're going to have much fun.
Before I deal praise too excessively here, let's discuss Miitopia's inner-workings: If I had to describe the way battling works, early Dragon Quest comes to mind.
After you've created or chosen your main character, you assign them with one of six jobs, at first. You've got the usual fare in RPGs, like "Warrior" and "Cleric", plus some oddball choices like "Pop Star" and "Chef". As the plot develops, the number of jobs available to you grows to over fifteen, and each new job is more obtuse than the last.
Got someone in your life who really likes being a cat? Grab their Mii through a QR Code on Miitomo, your Tomodachi Life save file, or your 3DS Friends list... and put them in a cat suit for a while. Princesses in your party will behave like royalty should: using a fan of money as their primary weapon in battle, or maybe restoring everyone“s MP with a spot of tea. Someone given the job of a "Flower" or a "Tank" will actually dress up like one.
But you won't be able to directly control a single action of your party for the entire adventure, besides the main character. Philosophically, this game would rather you watch these Miis interact with each other in battle based on their personalities (you can select from up to seven when you create your allies.)
Your role as the player is far more omniscient than directive.
I never found battling to be too meddlesome. It's the simplest of simple fares. Even healing is more dependent on you (literally) sprinkling HP, MP, and other fun battle effects on your Miis moreso than your party's Clerics or Mages performing duties specific to them. No job is really too inferior for the main story. Miitopia wants battles to be more fun than strategic; that's my biggest takeaway there. If you want direct control, complexity, or a way of battling where your finger won't be on the fast forward button a lot of the time, your experience is going to be varying degrees of flawed or frustrating.
When you're not fighting to reclaim faces from enemies — like this aptly named Twerky or over 250 other monsters — control isn't any more direct. Exploring a dungeon isn't a matter of freely moving your characters around; it's watching your party run from one area to the next down linear paths, occasionally picking which forks they'll take when things diverge. You can go back to previous areas after you've run down one path to select the next. If you're not the patient type and you'd rather quickly go from one room to the next, advancing the plot as quickly as possible, it's all going to grow very stale and get very repetitive.
Even purchasing equipment for your Miis can sometimes go wrong — they may bring back a snack instead of the item they want. You'll still get your hard-earned gold back though, so their indecisiveness isn't truly inconveniencing.
What little control you do have in Miitopia boils down to stat and relationship growth. The former is done by getting food from enemies in battle and feeding your Mii characters whatever you like when they arrive at an inn. The latter is far more integral to the entire journey, and begets further explanation.
In Tomodachi Life (another game based around Miis that was released a few years back), a major draw to keep playing was watching your Miis get married and raise little ones together. There was drama, romance, and the like. Miitopia is far more centered around friendship, or so it would have you believe.
Two of my lady party members are actually maxed out at the "max level relationship" of 99. They're "Soul Mates" — and they show off for each other, avenge one another, team up for attacks, or in general kick a lot more monster tail in battle. All you've got to do is pick which Miis room together when you arrive at the inn. If you took issue with how Tomodachi Life handled relationships in the past, I think your concerns have been addressed in a meaningful way.
One last thing about lack of control and Miitopia's choices that might turn away most of you who are left:
The adventure plays out with you and nine other partied-up allies. But... for over half the game, you only have access to three of them at one time.
Arbitrarily and without warning, the three friends you travel with for one segment of the story will get... spirited away. And the powers of the job your main character had at the time will be "sealed", forcing you to start back at Level 1 with a brand new job of your choosing (so that three more allies who join you will be on a level playing field, no doubt). If you, like me, chose to make your first three allies... say, your wife and two close friends? Them's the breaks, until you get them back a good 10-15 hours later.
Even after all your allies have been reunited, you'll still get thrown a curve-ball or two: In later areas, one of your party members can randomly fall down a hole and be lost to you for the rest of the journey, until you find an inn. Furthermore, random Miis will "feel under the weather" and be unable to set out in a dungeon with you until you've set out with other Miis at your inn a few times. In a game with a myriad of customization options that has simplicity at its core, this is the one choice made that kind of gives me pause.
If you're still with me after all this: I found the story so endearing that most of these flaws I've spent time warning about... felt like minor gripes.
What can be deal-breakers for a majority of you, no doubt, I've overlooked or let slide. Why? The answer is simple: I got to see a very long story...with its share of humor, twists and turns...play out starring people I like a whole lot.
As I was adventuring, I was often sharing screenshots with my Miis' real-life counterparts. "Look what you did!" or "Look what happened next." Even if the mechanisms behind the journey are extremely divisive, a goofy smile never left my face. The reason I feel so compelled to tell people about Miitopia, flaws and all, is because its value is something that's precious to me, specifically.
There are nine large parts of the world to explore, each with individual areas — caves, forests, towers, coasts, fairy lands that border on the abstract — that make them unique, plus two more islands that unlock after you've trounced the final boss.
Each new place is a genuine treat to see! The title screen music will change depending on where you are when you last saved. And speaking of the soundtrack — there are 204 unique melodies to accompany battle, story beats... anything you can think of.
As you journey onward, you'll learn about amiibo compatibility to get special costumes, maybe subject yourself to some mini-games to earn currency, food, or travel tickets that can be used to rapidly grow relationships, plus more. The post-game is so ludicrous that it grants you the ability to create up to 90 additional Miis besides the main story's 10 (or recruit former NPCs to be your actual party members) to accompany you as you mash daily quests, unlock even more jobs, and continue your adventures after the credits roll. I've spent over 40 hours with the game from start to finish, and that time will only grow long after this review is published.
Even though Miitopia was a genuinely enjoyable experience to me, I know one person's happy satisfaction is another's, "Guess wait for a sale." There“s no shortage of content and charm to justify the fact that this is indeed a full retail package. But whether or not that content bounces right off you due to some questionable choices, or you find it as delightful as I did, isn't really up to me.
+ The story itself isn't customizable, but the characters in it are. Every Mii you meet can be whoever you want them to be.
+ Hundreds of medals to collect, costumes to wear, foods to eat, places to explore, and Miis to meet. If you want Miitopia to last forever, it can and will.
+ The game's mechanics may be divisive, but its presentation is not: music and visuals are pretty and plentiful.
- If you'd rather control and strategize things in your RPG, this more omniscient game is not for you. The "RPG" part of Miitopia feels like it belongs on the NES. It's a bit too repetitive, even with a fast-forward button.
- In a game that prides itself on customization, taking your allies away from you no less than three times [plus more slightly restrictive limits placed on you later] feels jarring.
Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)
Miitopia is built for anyone who puts a little bit of themselves into the RPGs they play. Its repetitive mechanics will be divisive at best, but the beauty is in how personal you can make your adventure.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a digital copy of the game purchased by the author.
Edited by Jonathan Higgins