Also On: PS Vita, PC, Wii U, 3DS
Developer: Eden Industries
If you read reviews and articles about Citizens of Earth from developers Eden Industries over the next few days, be prepared to see another game title pop-up during discussion, that game being the SNES classic EarthBound. And that?s with good reason, as Citizens of Earth?s real-world, sci-fi tinged setting certainly evokes the bizarrely entertaining design of Shigesato Itoi?s classic RPG. It doesn?t fully capture the same sense of charm and wonderment, but Citizens of Earth is certainly one of the better throwback RPGs on the market, and one that I feel is worth taking a look at.
You take on the role of Vice President of Earth, a pompous, self-centered politician that sets off to discover why the world around him has grown oh so weird. At first accompanied by his Mom and Brother, the Vice President slowly amasses a group of followers, as he completes side-quests and other objectives placed in front of him by the various citizens of the world. You can sort of throw the term NPC out the window here, as just about every substantial character you interact with can be recruited to your team, provided you can accomplish whatever task they give you. This leads to a pretty eclectic group over time, made up of musicians, programmers, farmers, and even stranger professions, all of which can make up your three person party at any given time.
This is a 2D adventure, with an old-school, isometric viewpoint. There?s no overworld per se, instead you?ll move from one map to the next, all of which are connected at various points. You?ll eventually gain fast-travel options, along with plenty of opportunities to explore for out of the way treasure and optional side-quests, some of which are given to you by the wandering enemies you?ll encounter. Touching an enemy on the map will transition to a battle screen, featuring turn-based combat with various menu options for each member of your party.
Combat is certainly one of the more unique aspects found in Citizens of Earth. Certain attacks will earn energy for your group, whereas other attacks will spend that same energy. Essentially you?ll build up energy with weaker attacks, or by applying debuffs or healing, and then spend that energy to make stronger attacks, group heals, or group damage. Other attacks can steal energy, or expend party energy for more expensive abilities. There are also various damage types in Citizens of Earth, so you?ll want to pay close attention to enemy strengths and weaknesses. And if you find combat a bit too easy, you?ll gain early access to a party member that?ll allow you to adjust difficulty too. There?s even bonus XP and loot given for higher difficulty settings, adding some reward for your risk.
As far as world exploration is concerned, there?s a lot to check out here. The overall map is pretty large, and takes some time to get across on foot. There?s also a number of sections that you?ll need to revisit, both to finish up various side quests, or because you?ve gained a new party member that?ll allow you access to a new area. Some sections of the map could be better balanced when it comes to enemy population, with some sections just swarming with foes making it difficult to take two steps without entering combat, while other areas can feel a bit empty.
Being that the game is set in what is basically a modern setting, you?ll also have a number of parody-style shops, office buildings, back alleys, and other indoor/outdoor areas to check out. There?s a fair number of vendors scattered about, selling coffee, donuts, and other items. I think Citizens of Earth gets a bit too heavy with the consumable stuff, there?s so many variations of different food types that feel largely unnecessary, enough so that my inventory was pretty bogged down with stuff by the time I finished. But that?s a pretty minor complaint too, and thankfully the need to navigate through menus is kept to a minimum for the most part, at least outside of combat.
What Citizens of Earth really excels at is its quirky, off-beat brand of humor. The strange cast of characters you accumulate will have different bits of dialogue when involved in your party, and they?re all pretty strange regardless of how normal their profession appears to be. The overall plot goes off the rails quickly enough, and the enemy types you encounter are equally strange. What other game will you see you fighting baristas, hippies, giant squids, killer stop signs, and digital viruses? I?m pretty sure that?s going to be a rogues gallery that remains exclusive to Citizens of Earth for decades to come.
And thankfully the humor works, with plenty of moments or single lines of dialogue that manage to elicit a laugh or smile from me while playing. Even bits of random text given when attacking or defending in combat are worth paying attention to, with some very strange abilities and flavor text buried within the dozens of playable characters.
There are aspects to Citizens of Earth that left me underwhelmed though. Despite doing a pretty good job of emulating the strangeness of EarthBound, it doesn?t even come close in the soundtrack department. I can?t remember a single tune from Citizens of Earth, despite having only last played it hours ago. There?s some variety in the soundtrack, but certainly nothing that I?d label as memorable, or even call good. Also, I?m not super fond of the art style. I get that pixels can be a time/money consuming thing, but I think adhering to an old-school art style in favor of the Flash Game look that Citizens of Earth adopts would have been a more palatable style for me. This is probably a pretty subjective complaint, but the character designs never fully grabbed me here.
Also, Citizens of Earth had some surprising bugs, at least on the PS4 version that I played through. I had the game crash to the PS4 menu a few times, and even had my characters frozen in place when transitioning from one map screen to the next. I also had my entire party turn invisible when moving along a conveyor belt at one point, but thankfully they reappeared once I exited the area. Citizens of Earth does frequently autosave, which certainly lessened the loss of progress, but that doesn?t make the crashes and other random bugs less annoying either.
Despite some of these issues, I still found Citizens of Earth to be largely enjoyable, and it does a solid job of capturing that 16-bit RPG feel the developers were clearly going for. It?s great to see a publisher like Atlus championing such a unique title, one that failed at hitting its Kickstarter goal but was still clearly something worth being supported. So definitely check out this quirky, funny, and entertaining throwback to old-school RPG?s, you certainly won?t be disappointed.