You could draw a lot of comparisons between Miitopia and Tomodachi Life, and most of them would be fair.
It’s true even outside of the games; both were considered long-shots for release outside Japan, given their quirky and unproven nature and their mountain of text to translate and localize.
While Tomodachi Life was a sleeper hit in the outside world (prompting Miitomo’s existence as Nintendo’s first toe-dip into mobile games), it’s too early to draw any meaningful conclusions about Miitopia’s sales… though we probably have a sense of Nintendo’s expectations.
Miitopia’s main draw is, as the title suggests, it’s integration with Mii’s. It’s a cookie-cutter RPG story in which the cast is you and all your friends (or random strangers you met over StreetPass who had nice-looking Miis). Townie NPCs for the most part are selected for you, but all the major roles are hand-picked. While I don’t have a lot of 3DS friends, I had created have a few dozen effigies of friends in Tomodachi Life, which Miitopia was happy to import.
The main thrust of the story is to combat the Dark Lord [name of Mii assigned to the role], who is stealing everyone’s faces and giving them to monsters for… reasons. You defeat the monsters to free the faces as you chase and (I presume) ultimately defeat the Dark Lord. Along the way, you’ll also handle other heroic tasks like finding missing children, settling a royal love triangle and squaring off against a thieving djinn.
There’s really nothing special about the story itself; it would be downright inexcusable without the jokes and the gimmick of sticking friends in the roles. Likewise empty is the dungeon crawling.
Each “stage” of Miitomo has your party of heroes walking forward, while you read their randomly generated quips and reactions (which get old quickly; they’re in far shorter supply than in Tomodachi Life), until a decision pops up (take a fork, inspect something suspicious, etc.) or a fight breaks out.
The battles, though, are one of the game’s strongest points. It starts with a standard, turn-based system and then embellishes the hell out of everything. Item management is simplified in the sense that you only have a handful of recovery items, so it’s no cakewalk. Running from battle also has a high cost: aborting the entire dungeon.
The game has a few merciess, though. Dead characters still receive experience points after battle and are revived for free with 1 HP. The battle system also includes a “safe spot,” where you can move a single party member to avoid attacks and recover from status effects faster. Also, every 50 enemies you defeat improves the effectiveness of the safe spot or your recovery items.
But the real meat-and-potatoes of the battle system comes from the character-building. Like Persona 3, you only control the main character in battle, but that appears to have been done in service to several of the game’s core mechanics: class abilities, relationship-building and personality types.
The game starts you off with a standard fare of classes, Thief, Warrior, Mage and Cleric. But you also get Pop Star and Chef. Things only get weirder and more creative as the game goes on with classes like Mad Scientist, Cat and Tank (as in the military vehicle) getting added as options later on.
Each class brings (aside from wacky-looking weapons and armor) both action and reaction abilities. Action abilities are pretty straightforward; they are command skills in combat. But the reaction abilities trigger semi-randomly in response to the actions of other party members. For example, a Mage will occasionally cast “Enlarge Weapon” outside of their normal turn right before an ally attacks a monster to buff that attack.
Relationship-building amongst the party members also yields some major in-combat perks. The Miis slowly get to know each other better over time. They build their familiarity by being roommates at the Inn, in social events found in dungeons, and by going on vacations won from a minigame (just part of the weirdness). As the relationship between a pair of Miis levels up, they gain a number of free reaction abilities that can trigger. One might Praise the other after a good hit, buffing their next action. Sometimes they’ll join in each other’s attacks. They’ll visit each other in the Safe Spot to further speed recovery.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though, as relationships can sometimes turn sour. Miis can get jealous of each other if their bestie is paying more attention to someone else. Frustrations on the long journey might boil over into an argument. And the quarreling Mii’s lose their usual relationship-based combat reactions for a whole new set… which are actually still pretty effective and funny to watch. There is actually some strategic reasons to bring fighting Mii’s into battle, but you have little control over when they fight… but you can control how quickly they make peace.
The final aspect is the Mii’s personalities. When creating each member of your party, you assign one of seven personalities to them. At first, it seems as though these traits just determine body language. In combat, the take on a new dimension. A Cautious Mii will sometimes take out an enemy in a single hit. A Cool Mii can shrug off status effects. An Airheaded Mii will occasionally forget with enemy they were attacking, catching a different enemy unawares.
All totaled, a moderately experienced party becomes very showy in a fight, with effects from all three sources triggering with just about every turn. It certain adds an element of chaos to the battles, yet things never feel all that out of control because you only make decisions for the main character anyway.
When Miitopia is good, it’s very good. But several parts get repetitive and monotonous quickly. Your automatic tour of each area ends with the discovery of the adventurer’s favorite building: an inn. Your frequent trips to the inn come with vital management for your party. You set your priorities for relationship-building by pairing-up Mii’s in the inn’s rooms. You buy new equipment (for those Mii’s who feel like going shopping). You can also boost stats by feeding your party members food dropped by monsters and found in chests. Here we get another Tomodachi Life connection; each Mii will have their own taste in food, and the stat boost can be boosted or shunk based on how much they like the grub.
All of the features of the inn are very important to take advantage of at every opportunity. But they aren’t very interesting; even dressed-up as it is, it’s really just a bunch of menuing.
In the end, Miitopia is a mixed experience. However, it does have an obvious target audience: people who liked Tomodachi Life and RPGs. And judging by my own experience, that audience should get enough out of Miitopia to see it through.