Review: Citizens of Earth
Citizens of Earth begins with a synthesized version of “Hail to the Chief” playing as citizens recite the title every few seconds. It’s a fitting introduction to a game filled with parody and exemplary character design. For the well-versed RPG player, the game’s inspirations are immediately clear – SNES RPGs like Earthbound and Chrono Trigger. What sets Citizens of Earth apart is its cast of kooky characters and its whimsical sense of humor. The game isn’t afraid to make fun of its own conventional mechanics. The dialogue, which is in large part very well voice-acted, is chock-full of puns and other satirical hilarity (the coffee joints are named Moonbucks; your brother works for FedUPs; and the Bodybuilder character is Ahnold in spades). This is a game that is at once a faithful re-imagining of a now seldom seen genre and a project that stands on its own.
From the outset, it’s obvious this game will be a funny affair. You play as The Vice President of the World, a hyperbole of a political occupation. In classic RPG manner, your mom wakes you up because you’ve slept in. You’ve also slept in your new suit, a jab at being married to the job and the eternal way that sons have of being irresponsible and dirty. Walking around your room, you can collect a couple of dirty socks, but click on the underwear and a dialogue box prompts you that “this is a job for mom.” The humor is laid on thick throughout Citizens of Earth. Luckily, it almost always hits the right notes; a mix of topical comedy and wordplay that is delightful. Since the RPG is a text-heavy genre, the fact that the writing is top-notch will earn CoE a ton of voter support. It will test well with the reading audience. Once you pickup your tablet from your brother, the game sets in motion. I should mention that the tablet overlay is a clever twist on typical start menus; one that makes sense and is aesthetically sound.
The main focus of Citizens of Earth is recruiting citizens to do your fighting for you. Most citizens can be recruited by completing side-quests pertaining to their lives; scratch my back kind of deals. In some cases, the game unabashedly asks you to complete fetch quests. Up to three citizens form your party at any one time. Citizens follow you around on the overworld map. If you’re like any RPG player I’ve ever met, you’re used to mashing the X button (or, more generally, the confirm button) repeatedly in order to discover hidden gems. Citizens of Earth highlights discoverable/readable objects with a magnifying glass over your character, not unlike the exclamation bubbles in Final Fantasy IX. What’s neat about CoE is that you get experience points for walking around and finding objects. Enemies walk about the same map as you and your crew, and when you collide, you’re transported to a separate battle screen. Pressing the square button charges your party forward. Hitting an enemy from behind ambushes it while getting hit on your behind begins the battle on the back foot. In some cases, if you charge your citizens into an enemy you’re clearly outclassed against, the enemy will be auto-defeated without switching to the battle screen. You gain less experience this way, but the feeling of conquering your opponent with little effort is fairly rewarding. This charge mechanic felt surprisingly at home in a game like this. I’m also currently playing through Grandia 2 on Dreamcast, a game that features similar overworld/battle-initiating mechanics, and I caught myself pressing the X button to send my party forth a few times.
RPGs are often made or broken by their battle systems. The fighting in Citizens of Earth doesn’t wildly innovate. There’s a text box at the top of the screen that quickly scrolls through all of your actions as you select them. Your characters have moves that either fill or deplete their energy reserves, but there aren’t really even battle animations. Again, this is in large part in homage to a bygone era of gaming. It works well enough, but I was initially confused by the energy system and surprised at the lack of action during battle scenes. The sheer number of citizens (40 in all) allows for a wide variety of party combinations that can fulfill any player’s battling style. If you want a constant healer, keep the baker on your team. If you want a steady attacker, stick with your brother or a few other physical characters. Each character comes with a host of different moves that are classified as physical, thermal, hydro, verbal, or more. Enemies have weaknesses and strengths against specific attack classes. At the base difficulty, the game doesn’t put up much of a challenge. At 2x difficulty, though, the game is pretty tough. My characters missed a lot more and the enemies had much more health.
Character design is one of Citizens of Earth‘s strongest points. Citizens typically have their own talents that act as functions you might find in other games. For example, if you’d like to alter the difficulty of the game, talk to or recruit the School Mascot character. The Musician allows you to change the music at any time, the Conspiracy Guy character lugs around an almanac that can be filled by using a couple of his special moves, and your brother can order items from Fedups, the shipping facility he works for. Nesting extras in characters is a cool idea; one that sets the game apart from simpler character collection games (see: Chrono Cross, Pokémon). Enemy design is equally amusing (the Telefawn and the Stopvine come to mind). Music in the game is a mixed bag. Some themes are excellent; short, RPG-esque loops that stick around in your head after powering down the system. Others are ear-worms in the worst kind of way. When I use the word ‘boring’ to describe the theme titled “Battle,” I mean that it bores itself into your forehead with unapologetic ferocity. I’m reminded of a certain scene from Pi. Sound effects are just fine. The e-mail and quest update notification is a catchy jingle that even includes a buzzing sound.
The game’s greatest attributes are its humor and its fresh take on traditional RPG elements. The humor is constructed in large part by the cast of characters and the overall self-awareness and wry writing. In Citizens of Earth, the citizens shine. The dialogue and main storyline also contribute to the overall funny. The combat system is decent, and the large amount of content (recruiting everyone, leveling up talents, completing side quests) stretches the game to a formidable length. The game crashed twice on me, but after discovering the auto save slot, I didn’t lose any progress. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t support cross buy or cross save. The only noticeable difference between the PS4 and Vita versions of the game is that the Vita load times are lengthier. The world is legitimately sprawling in Citizens of Earth. There are several areas that you won’t even pass through if you stick to the main quests. Exploration and character recruitment will keep me coming back to this title for some time. As long as I’ve got the School Mascot to keep it silly, I’m in for the long haul.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Cast of characters
- Satirical comedy
- Voice acting
What I Dislike:
- Certain musical pieces