Game: Citizens of Earth
Developer: Eden Industries
Release Date: January 20, 2015
Platforms: PS4, PSVita, WiiU, Nintendo 3DS, PC.
Reviewed Platform: PC (Review copy provided by publisher)
Nostalgia is an interesting thing. The world of video games drives forward a seemingly endless stream of sequels, prequels, spin-offs and remakes that often take up more shelf space than new intellectual properties. While there is nothing wrong with this, the impulse to retread old ground often makes for a less satisfying gaming experience. This applies to both the public and critics whose review scores often reflect an attitude of, “This is a decent game you enjoyed ten years ago, and that’s about it.”
Franchises from twenty years ago rarely reinvent themselves and endlessly repeat the same formula over and over again until people stop buying into the series. But — and it is a big but indeed — it is entirely possible to make a game that plays with nostalgia without wallowing in it using, “Hey, you remember that thing, right?” as a crutch, all the while making a game with its own identity outside its influences. Shovel Knight did just this by channeling the best parts of old-school Zelda, Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden-styled games into an all together fun-to-play package. In that same old-school indie game vein, Citizens of Earth does the same for the RPG market. It calls forth the specter of the beloved Earthbound/Mother franchise while still adding its own flair to create a fun and funny little RPG that rarely ever takes itself too seriously.
In Citizens of Earth, you play as the Vice President of Earth who has decided to sleep in the day after being elected to the position. Sadly, his morning is soon soured by protesters who have overrun the town on the behalf of the opposition party leader for the sake of making the Vice President look bad. What is a newbie politician to do? Well, recruit your mom and brother and take to the streets to battle your political opponents in the most literal way possible, of course! This is just the tip of the iceberg of Citizens of Earth‘s irreverent goofiness as the VP soon finds himself exploring futuristic dungeons located beneath an office chain and fighting a bear made of literal honey, while recruiting a small army of local folks from every walk of life to battle evil — and help him find a good cup of coffee, too.
This pure goofiness and complete lack of seriousness is partly what makes CoE so enjoyable. By not relying on mimetic humor or video game in-jokes like the Borderlands series does — and like those found in the various corners of the Neptunia franchise — CoE is able to just be silly without becoming gratingly so. The VP himself is a goofy character who is nevertheless endearing in his clueless political nature, to the point where it is amusing when the other party members begin berating him during story sequences—for actually causing most of the problems they must face through sheer incompetence.
As I mentioned earlier, this is all rather reminiscent of the Mother series whose goofy humor, modern setting, and all around charming nature made it a classic that has lived on, well beyond its original release date. This same sort of charm also pervades CoE with its colorful world, goofy characters, and enemies that take pages straight from Earthbound‘s handbook. You must fight bad puns, such as the “Telefaun”—a deer with a phone on its head, irate joggers, and animal-machine hybrids, I.E. hotrod snails and car turtles that are just silly enough to make you laugh, but hit hard enough to make you want to fight back. All in all, CoE’s art style, characters, voice acting, and charming humor all make for a wonderful experience that had me smiling on more occasions then I could count. As for the game-play, read on!
Game play-wise, CoE takes an interesting approach to the roleplaying game medium. For starters, the VP never actually takes part in combat. Instead you must make a party of up to three citizens recruited from among the NPCs of the world. They range from policemen and firefighters to photographers and bodybuilders—they all do the heavy lifting for you. Each battle with your newly formed team of everyday heroes then takes place against a shifting backdrop of psychedelic colors and patterns— another element lifted from Earthbound. Each character’s sprite is displayed above their status screen, which holds such pertinent info as HP and Energy.
From the status screen, you select from each of your party members variety of talents, unique attacks and abilities that replace standard RPG special techniques. The abilities consume between one and three Energy points, an MP replacement that is replenished each turn by making normal melee attacks. Battles can be difficult at times but, CoE gives out rather generous amounts of experience points for all of its random encounters. These pop up on the world map and can be avoided with a bit of fancy footwork, so you will never be too far behind the curve as long as you fight it out from time to time. Those who still find the fights too hard, or too easy for that matter can change the difficulty on the fly after recruiting the School Mascot character. You’ll never be truly outmatched in a fight if you don’t want to be. Combat is actually quite fun, but the sheer amount of over-world enemy battles can become grating at times as they sometimes move too quickly to avoid.
Outside of battle, CoE is a game of some exploration as many areas are completely optional, and provide a number of challenges for those looking to take a break from the main storyline to do some side-quests. Whole areas are devoted to such schemes, including a factory prowled by campers strung out of their minds on sugar. These side missions provide a nice diversion that sometimes makes you forget that there is a main quest line at all. Also included under this umbrella is citizen recruitment quests, in which completing them grants you a new party member. Extermination quests are standard issue kill X number of monsters style affairs and wanted monsters, which are powerful optional bosses worth a great deal of experience points and money. These quests extend CoE’s play time well beyond the 15-20 hours it takes to complete the main plot line, making it an excellent investment for RPG fans of all ages looking for a slick, well made game that anyone can enjoy.
I’ve praised CoE to a high degree thus far, so now I will dwell on what is wrong with the game. First and foremost, the game is very good about telling you where to go with regards to story quests. Many of the citizen recruitment quests however, are annoyingly vague and will remain unsolved unless you manage to stumble upon their solution through sheer luck. This is especially true of the photographer and barista’s quest lines early in the game, that only give a relatively unhelpful one line summary as a hint as to how to complete the quest. In addition, random battles are also incredibly difficult to avoid, forcing the player to slog through endless series of worthless battles just to get through the world map at times. This element can become so incredibly frustrating that simply moving from place to place becomes a chore. This is compounded by the fact that it is actually possible to become stuck in certain areas such as the cemetery, if you lack the proper citizen skills and it’s the wrong time of day. This can lead to incredibly annoying circumstances where the player must sit and wait for the time to change or battle endless waves of enemies until they have the skills in question. Neither is very fun, and is something that will hopefully be fixed in a future patch.
Besides those nitpicks however, Citizens of Earth is the most fun I’ve had with an RPG in quite some time. Charming, funny, and just a little bit odd, it manages to be funny without being obnoxious and provides an Earthbound-inspired story with a diverse cast of characters that are endearing but not annoying. A difficult feat indeed.
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