Miitopia is somewhere between a choose-your-own-adventure and puppet show. It’s not quite as storybook and fantastical as RPGs tend to be, but also not quite as gooby and artificial as puppet shows are, either. Instead, it’s a very simplified RPG that doesn’t take itself too seriously, leaping beyond typical tropes, and offering a taste of Nintendo’s wobbly, bobbly Mii caricatures in an almost-parody of traditional RPGs.
Instead of choosing from a static pre-designed character, the player has control over who plays what in their story. You choose friends from your Mii stash on your 3DS, import them from Miitomo or Tomodachi Life, or create them in the game and cast them in your party and other various roles to be played throughout the story. You’re on a quest to stop the Dark Lord, played by a Mii of your choosing. All the faces of the people residing in the kingdom have been stolen, and you must recover those faces by defeating the monsters wearing them. The meat of the game, however, isn’t the story—it’s the customizable experience and the drop-in, drop-out gameplay that makes it worth the investment.
Combat is typical, run-of-the-mill turn-based RPG gameplay, but what makes it special are the weird and goofy quirks thrown in. You’re not going to see typical status effects here. For example, instead of poison, spiders are thrown at you. When one Mii passes out in combat, a nearby Mii goes into a fit of vengeful rage. Varied personality types, zany job classes and Mii relationships make the relatively average and straightforward combat a unique treat.
Each personality type has a specific attitude and move set within combat. Energetic types have moves that replenish the team’s magic, as well as a strong attack that causes a ton of damage all at once, but also recoils onto your character. Laid-back types can conserve their magic power for weaker versions of spells, or get focused for stronger ones. Kind personalities can donate their recovery items without needing the relationship perk to do so, and so on and so forth.
Of course, you have your typical RPG classes, like a mage, cleric and knight, but what makes it shine are the unusual ones thrown about the mix. Want to slay monsters as a princess with a pizza fan? You can do that. A mad scientist with a ketchup bottle? You can do that too. How about an actual tank? That’s a thing that exists too. This embrace of imagination is refreshing and plays perfectly to its young audience (and those of us merely young at heart).
As far as character relationships go, queer relationships can happen, and probably will with or without your input. If you put two Miis together, eventually their relationship will turn romantic. It’s a huge plus to the game but also a major drawback. Relationships between your Miis actually do matter in combat, as they’ll help each other dodge attacks, form combos and heal each other based on the strength of their bonds. The drawback is that every relationship follows the same track. With each relationship level, your Miis will learn new support moves—which is vital for game progression—but, the way bonds are created doesn’t change based on your Mii’s personality traits or how they’ve interacted with each other. You’ll end up with the same result from a level 15 pair of stubborn and energetic Miis as you would with a pair of laid-back and airheaded Miis at the same level. And of course—your Miis can fight too. But these quarrels don’t feel like they happen because of differing personalities either, they feel random and forced rather than something that would naturally happen when you have two characters together for too long.
Even if it wasn’t intentional, Miitopia is leaps and bounds more LGBTQ+ friendly than Tomodachi Life ever was and could be. After the fiasco regarding queer relationships happened when Tomodachi Life launched in the U.S. in 2014, Nintendo promised they would do better, and they have with Miitopia. Back then, this sort of thing wouldn’t have really mattered to me because I couldn’t understand why it mattered. Today, I’m an openly pansexual woman. I didn’t recognize those feelings until a year or two ago, but ever since then, representation of fluid sexuality and identity has been an important thing for me, particularly within videogames. We all like heroes we can see ourselves in. I can’t deny that some of the parings can be a little ridiculous and funny because of the game’s lighthearted nature—I mean, seeing the Miis of one of my best pals, Miku Man, and my real-life beau share a moment gave me a good giggle—but that detail makes a world of difference for those of us who don’t get to see queer relationships represented fairly in media.
Within Miitopia, a Mii’s sex isn’t a factor. It just exists. Nothing is exclusive. While some items may be more feminine or masculine, either sex can equip whatever they want. The only job that has sex specific clothing is the pop star, and even then, either sex can equip either version. It’s not a perfect system because it doesn’t offer a truly androgynous option. But, at the same time, we should be asking ourselves why a children’s game is able to represent fluidity more fairly than games targeted at older and more mature audiences, and why more videogames aren’t striving to do the same.
The way relationships are handled in this game are how Tomodachi Life’s should have been—cultural differences are why they weren’t handled that way before. Nintendo listened and improved that formula here, but it feels like it isn’t totally developed for a RPG title. It’s a massive step in the right direction in terms of representation, but as a mechanic, it needs some work. It only grazes the surface of what could have been a really unique and interesting element of gameplay. Relationships between party members are usually implied, not created, in traditional RPGs. Miitopia already skews those boundaries, and the simplification of that mechanic is a miss here.
It’s difficult to love this game more than enjoy because every aspect of it has strength, but also major flaws. It’s structured, but it’s also very repetitive. It’s addictive, but it gets old fast. The turn-based combat has comfortable pacing, but you can’t control other party members. It’s got great jokes, but they sometimes feel a little too forced. It makes you to try new classes and utilize its mechanics, but at the expense of what feels like progress. It does a great job of guiding you where to go, but almost holds your hands too much. There’s a “but…” to every part that I felt like I was loving, taking away from the wild personality and flair it actually has to offer.
However, it’s unfair to go into Miitopia expecting a fully fleshed-out RPG. It’s not intended to be that, and isn’t that. It’s an RPG that’s great for the beginner more so than a seasoned veteran. It’s meant to be simplistic and fun over anything else and it is that. It’s a good different game because it steps outside the walls of what RPGs have always been, even if it doesn’t do so entirely flawlessly—which is why it can’t be great.
Miitopia was developed and published by Nintendo. It is available on the Nintendo 3DS.
Aiden Strawhun is the Paste Games intern and gaming freelancer who somehow won an award once. On the off chance she isn’t drowning in words, she’s either stuck on Skyrim again or plotting to rule the world. Her work has also been seen on GameSpot, Extra Life and Naples Herald. Follow her on Twitter @AStraww.