Charming Mii characters can't save this game from growing stale fast.
Despite a majority of people not caring about them, I love Nintendo's quirky Mii characters quite a bunch. The usage of your simple but effective avatar brings a lot of charm to the games they’re in. This was emphasised in titles like Tomodachi Life and Miitomo, where these goofballs would talk directly to you. Now that the concept of the Mii has come full circle, where do you go from there? You put them in an adventure, naturally! This is where Miitopia comes into the picture. Heavily promoted in Japan, the game promises full fledged stories where the avatars are the stars. The charm department once again succeeds, but from a gameplay standpoint? Oh boy...
As mentioned, Miitopia puts your Miis in the middle of action. They go on a grand adventure to stop the evil Demon King from stealing everybody's faces. These faces land on enemies of all sizes and it is your task to prompty pummel them into submission. The journey will take you to various areas, where you interact with NPCs and go from quest to quest. You are free to give the important characters any face you think is fitting. Regardless of that, the characters you encounter move and talk in quite expressive ways. I enjoyed watching the little scenes play out, as it truly gave me the feeling of being on an adventure. There are new faces around every corner, which does keep you invested in what Miitopia presents.
Where the game starts to falter is when actual gameplay comes into the picture. You see, this title can the best be described as a RPG simulation. It has the backdrop of a Role Playing Game, but Miitopia doesn't always play the part. You immediately see it when you start traversing the world. It is here that you have to choose a level on a road map and simply hop into it. While that is a problem on its own, it becomes worse when you realize that all these levels are linear. Adding to that, the characters move automatically with you using the buttons to select a road, press a switch, or through another cute scene. Half of the time I only felt like an observer, doing nothing else than just watching the screens. If you play this game for too long in a single sitting, it just becomes a bit stale to watch.
Miitopia gives you slightly more to do during battles. Your party members can be one of various classes, each with their own moves and abilities. For example, I made Reggie Fils-Aime a Cook. He can prepare recipes to restore the health of other party members, and hits hard with his frying pan. My Mii ended up being a Tank, which allows him to shoot powerful bullets at his enemies, and put up a protective shield for incoming attacks. There are a lot variables here, and the results depend on the composition of your team. Outside the actions of your own Mii, you don't control which attacks the others are going to use. Personally, I think that this is a huge oversight as it feels that you are once again more of an observer than an active participant. In battles, you are still responsible for replenishing the health and magic points of the party members, so it is at least not completely lost on you.
Where I think this game thrives is when you actually finish a mission. Once you head into the Inn for the night, there are ways more to impact the outcome of battles. You spend money (earned from chests or enemies) to give your characters better outfits and weapons, use food on them to increase stats, and let characters chat with one another to build relationships. That last part in particular is way more important than you might think. By building up relationships, the characters are more determined to help each out in battle. That could be by attacking together, giving their confidence a boost, or just giving a simple word of encouragement. On the flipside, characters can also become jealous or angry, which will result in getting in each other's way. It makes the battlefield and Inn feel more alive and integral than they usually do, which is a plus in my book.
Miitopia takes about 35 hours to complete. In that time, I felt that progression was too stagnant. This blow is mostly felt in the first three areas in the game, where Miitopia is being a straight-up jerk to you. It will take all of your characters (outside your Mii) away, removes all your skills and level count and forces you to start from point zero in that new area. The first time it happened I was extremely frustrated, mostly because I had just spent a bunch of money on new items for my characters. It was only 15 hours later that I could finally use them and see how they made my friends stronger. The third act of the game was the most enjoyable as you will be able to use all of your characters. There is the option to more freely mix and match, which elevates the problem. I think that point will come too late for certain players though.
As far as the presentation of Miitopia is concerned, it looks quite sharp on the Nintendo 3DS. The areas are nicely detailed, the 200+ enemies are fun to observe, and the little scenes look sharp. It is a colorful journey that I didn't mind looking at for dozens of hours. Add to that the music, which gave me strong vibes of both LocoRoco and adventure games. The soundtrack is a strong 204 track affaire that can be listened back at any time in your collection menu. After I was done with the game, I couldn't stop thinking about how good that soundtrack is.
Miitopia is ultimately just alright. What drives the experience are its charm and presentation, which continue to be entertaining throughout. Miitopia falters partially with its sense of progression, and how the gameplay is handled. You are stopped more than once and forced to build anew from scratch. Next to that, it turns out that Miitopia is extremely linear as you observe stages and don't really do much else. It becomes better in battle or at the Inn, but that doesn't mark up the overall experience as a whole. The game is simply too stagnant and set in its ways.