From the moment Mr. Vice President is woken up in his cozy little bed by his adoring mother, Citizens of Earth rarely loses its innocent charm and subtle tugs at nostalgia throughout its entirety. It is a game both that is unapologetically old school and pulls influences from all kinds of classic titles, but does it do quite enough to elevate itself over those decades old games that it hints at?
Citizens of Earth is so very close to the cult hit Earthbound that it could almost be called a spiritual successor, despite its development team having nothing to do with that Super Nintendo classic. It has nearly the same amount of charm, colorful characters, and witticisms, with an added layer of political commentary and satire on top of it. I even hesitate to label what Citizens of Earth is doing as satire, it’s closer to just simple sarcasm. There are jabs at lazy politicians, generic ideals of capitalism, and other politically motivated topics that you’d expect in the comedy, but they are purposefully kept very tongue-in-cheek and never try and hit too hard as to turn anyone away, no matter your political affiliation or other beliefs.
Essentially, outside of a few twists and turns that I’m not going to spoil, you are the bumbling and naive Vice President of Earth trying to perform his duties. Like every other character in the game, you are never given a name, so as far as the player and world is concerned, you are simply Vice President. Throughout your journey to prove that your role in the world is useful, you’ll come across a wide variety of characters (citizens, if you will), who want nothing more than to help you in your quest – assuming you’re willing to do a little something for them in return.
Of the dozens of citizens you can find and add to your group, there are such fascinating characters as Plumber, Handyman, Car Salesman, Conspiracy Guy, Brother, Mom, and many more, but you get the idea. While they are all pegged with generic names (which you can change to anything you want), they all still manage to retain interesting personalities. They do this first through how you get them to join your group. It can be anything as simple as beating them in a race, or helping them fight off a swarm of bees, but every character has a relatively unique way of accepting your invitation into your group. Some of them are more difficult to find and they are added simply because you took the time to find them.
This system of tracking down and adding citizens to your group is where the first aspects of Citizens of Earth’s brilliant design shine through. Each character can of course aid you in battle, but they each also have their own “talents” that can be used in the overworld. A lot of them are normal RPG things like buying items to have shipped to you, or giving you a useful vehicle to ride around in, but there are also several others that add game options. In a way, it’s like you’re building the game as you go, and it works really well. By finding the School Mascot, you can change the game’s difficulty settings, Mom’s talent is giving you game hints, Weather Lady will let you adjust the weather, another will let you adjust the camera zoom, and so on. Each of these characters can be found scattered all over the world, and you can access most of their special talents by finding them stationary and talking to them, but adding them to your group has the benefit of being able to use them on the go – as well as the obvious help in combat. Even when the Citizens of Earth main story quests get drawn out and frustrating (more on that later) I never had a problem just hopping off the beaten trail and tracking down some citizens to recruit.
As with most things in Citizens of Earth, the combat is very Earthbound inspired. Not only does the combat backdrop looks almost identical, but the way battles are laid out and the way they are described is similar as well. Every character’s “attack” is something that fits with their personality, not just a generic punch or flamethrower attack. Instead of attacks being described as “Brother hit Cone Crab for 4 Damage,” it’s “Brother wrestled Cone Crab to the ground for 4 damage” when he uses his wrestle attack. Just a lot of personality injected into the combat, as with every aspect of the game. When you take out all the fluff and different move names, it’s a pretty basic combat system. Foes can be weak or resistant to certain “elements” (such as flame, muscle, lightning, and verbal), or just completely neutral. As well, it is pretty generic turned-based combat that hasn’t changed much since the birth of JRPG’s.
Where Citizens of Earth’s combat does set itself apart is preparation. Like I said earlier, there are literally dozens of characters to chose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. There is also no simple way of setting up your main party of three with the standard build of a healer, melee, and ranged class. Characters are much more intricate than that, and their strengths much more subtle. In general, I found myself trying to keep one character who could deal damage to all enemies in my party at the very least, to keep constant pressure, one character that had some type of healing, and one that could act as a tank, but nothing was ever set in stone. It is also heavily encouraged that you rotate characters, thanks to how the game’s combat and leveling system is set up. Not only does each character level up their own stats, but members of your party will also affect what other citizens gain when they level up. If you have the Psychologist in your active party, for example, anyone else who levels up will have receive an extra point to their Special Attack. Whereas if you have Brother active, other party members will get bonuses to Health. It gives the game a new layer of strategy when it comes to how you build your characters, and another layer of expertise required when it comes to how you balance your party. It may be tempting to just run a group of three characters that can do huge amounts of damage and heal, but if they’re all raising special attack, and you never rotate them out, the game is going become much more difficult in the later stages.
Enemy design is just as great and diverse as the friendly characters you meet in the game. At first they’re just simple protesters outside of your house hitting you with their signs, but as the game progresses they become more bizarre and more creative enemies that fit their environments. One of my favorites is a sentient stop sign. The first move he does in almost every battle is one telling you to “STOP.” It does no damage, and basically acts as a charge for an attack. Then his next move is usually hitting your characters because they didn’t obey the stop sign, and occasionally he will turn his back to the fight to keep an eye out for more people to tell to stop. It’s this element of keeping the enemies so true to their form, yet so balanced, that I love about Citizens of Earth. The enemies will do completely nonsensical things in terms of battle strategies (like the sugar-crazed girl scout “showing you her merit badge” which does nothing but heal you), yet they build into the world’s overflowing amount of personality so well and still remain balanced enough to keep the combat almost always interesting.
Now I say almost because it can get tiresome after a bit. There are some sections of the game, particularly those along the lines of the main story, where you are just trudging through hallway after hallway fighting waves of enemies. While the charm of fighting a half-man, half-coffee machine robot is fun and engaging the first few times, it gets old after a while, and the game just doesn’t know when enough is enough it terms of throwing enemies at you. It has the classic set up of seeing an enemy roaming on screen that you have to run into in order to trigger a fight, but the combination of a swarm of them with the trail of your characters behind you that can trigger a fight means that it is very hard to avoid such confrontations, especially in smaller locations.
Outside of those small stretches of painfully frequent encounters though, I greatly enjoyed the enemies of the game. Their designs are varied and fun, and they are just brimming with personality no matter what enemy it is. A few, like the baby deer with a phone for antlers aka Telefawn, still make me chuckle just thinking about the absurdity of their design and their pun-tastic names.
While I did enjoy my time with Citizens of Earth greatly, and I plan to continue playing well after this review, there are some definite issues I had playing on my Wii U. I don’t know if this issue is console specific or not, but load screens are far too frequent. There are times, especially after you get the car and can zip around the map, that you will not go more than a few seconds without a load screen hitting. Going into buildings, going into fights, even moving to different sections of a large map will trigger a load screen and when you’re already frustrated at a lack of direction in quest objectives, having to sit through load time after load time while you endlessly explore for a clue gets old real quick.
I also ran into several bugs that ranged from minor annoyance to borderline game-breaking. On the minor side, the text for locked doors never displays correctly. The text “Locked” flashes as it should in the text box, but then it’s quickly gone and I’m left with a blank text box. This is fine for the majority of locked doors, but sometimes the messages appears to be different, yet I have no way of actually reading them. I also several times ran into major issues with getting stuck while using the car. When working properly, you are supposed to be able to run into enemies on the road and instantly kill them if you’re using the vehicle. Well, often times, I would not kill the enemy and instead get stuck. Since you can’t pause or do anything but drive while in the car (another annoyance) I was forced to just exit the game and come back. I never lost much progress thanks to frequent auto saves, but this glitch happened far too often, and I can only hope a patch is coming soon.
It’s hard to complain too much about Citizens of Earth not taking advantage of the GamePad considering it’s not a Wii U exclusive, but there is just so much potential for it that it is a bit of a letdown. Given how many times it’s required to pause the game, whether it be to look at a map or use a characters talent, having those options on the bottom screen would have been a godsend and saved a lot of hassle. Again, not a huge issue, but something that would have been a nice addition for sure.
Overall, Citizens of Earth is a game about, well, the citizens. Finding them, collecting them, and using them is all fun and feels great do do, and the mechanical design of the game is just phenomenal. Everything from exploring the vibrant world to the solid combat works in great harmony. No matter what console you’re playing on, if you can overlook some annoyances and bugs, this is definitely a game to check out. Four
stern talking to MOARGeeks out of five.
*We were sent a copy of Citizens of Earth for the purposes of this review
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