Back when I wrote The Kickstarter Weekly, I had a particular fondness for developers who created JRPG-styled games with new settings and premises. I’ve found games that took players to colonial America, inside the television of 80s cartoons, and even, as with the case of Citizens of Earth, during the aftermath of a political campaign. Citing the wonderfully strange Earthbound as inspiration, Eden Industries created a unique premise for an RPG that sadly doesn’t live up to its potential.
In Citizens of Earth, your primary focus is to recruit as many as over 40 playable characters, and the rewards for doing so are deeper than I had initially realized. It expands upon the usual class-based systems by giving the citizens skills that are based on who they are and can be used outside of battle. For instance, the teacher can tutor your party members so they can level up when they aren’t in your party, the bodybuilder can lift boulders that hinder your progress, and the homeless guy can find new items for your party. It’s not required to recruit these characters in order to make use of their talents–you can still visit the baker in his shop, after all–but it’s nice to be well connected with, for example, the used car salesman if only so you can quickly obtain a vehicle.
These skills also play a role in combat, making each character a joy to experiment with. Enemies have their strengths and weaknesses, and it’s up to you to constantly switch out party members to effectively clear an area. For instance, if you’re facing an enemy that’s weak against verbal attacks, then you’ll want to include the conspiracy theorist in your party. Characters also have their own quirks in battle, such as the body builder who needs to wait until he can fully buff his attack, gaining him another sphere for each turn, before he can unleash a devastating blow against an enemy–perfect for boss fights. Thankfully, you can switch out characters on the fly, and with 40 characters to find, Citizens of Earth provides you ample opportunity for mastering the game.
In addition to the while also somewhat standard introduces a unique mechanic to replace MP meters. Citizens have three sphere slots, and certain moves either refill or detract from them. For instance, the citizens’ weaker attacks tend to fill up the slots, where else their stronger attacks deplete them. Because refilling the spheres is relatively easy, and enemies can take a considerable amount of damage before they die, I found myself experimenting with each of my party member’s attacks. I found this alternative to be a brilliant design choice, and I hope future JRPG-styled games take note, as I’m sick of saving my MP for boss battles.
With a promising setting and rewarding characters to recruit, Citizens of Earth has the framework necessary to provide you a valuable RPG and needs only its humor and presentation to draw you in. Sadly, this is where it falters. Yes, for the sake of optimizing my party, I enjoyed recruiting the many playable characters; however, the writers provided me little reason to actually getting to know them. Everyone’s personality does not extend past the perceived stereotypes associated with his or her job or lifestyle, and this is sadly what most of the jokes revolve around. The conspiracy theorist believes in crazy ideas, the programmer equates the adventure to a video game, and the car dealer is as sleazy as I expected him to be.
At some point, it dawned on me that perhaps Eden Industries was attempting to make a statement. After all, Mr. VP gathers the citizens to fight his battles for him, yet he doesn’t even have the common decency to learn their names. Unless the player says otherwise, these characters might as well be the tools for society and weapons for combat. If that’s the case, then Citizens of Earth warrants much discussion in the coming articles, but my issue with this is that these characters are never given a chance to shake off their shackles made of stereotypes and surprise me.
I suspect Eden Industries themselves are seen as political candidates trying to appeal to as many voters, the audience, as possible. All of the punchlines are meticulously put into place, perfectly balanced as to avoid offending players affiliated with either major political parties, yet they lack bite. There are also plenty of weird creatures to fight, but the writers constantly point out how strange they are, as if they thought I might not feel the same way about the enemy designs. The presentation has a Saturday-morning cartoon feel and serviceable voice acting and music, but they’re ultimately forgettable.
Of course, humor is subjective, and I can only try to explain to you why Citizens of Earth’s sense of humor is incompatible with my own; your mileage may vary. However, if you have a similar taste to me, then you’re going to find yourself nodding off before the halfway mark because the game’s narrative is strained. Eden Industries designed this game with a quest system similar to those in MMORPGs. At almost every opportunity, you’ll gain access to new side quests, be it for recruiting party members or acquiring new items. Speaking from a strictly quantitative perspective, Citizens of Earth provides a lot of value–I clocked in a surprising (due to the small scale of the game’s development) 40 hours while trying to avoid the side quests.
Again, it comes down to whether or not you’re a fan of the game’s sense of humor, but even then I grew increasingly frustrated with the maps. Mr. VP walks with his entourage behind him (a total of four sprites in the line) and too often the maps contain narrow passageways. Therefore, I encountered more enemies than I wanted, and that didn’t go well with the somewhat slow pace of combat. The smartphone also details your lists of quests and items, but it never actually tells you directions to get to your destination. There are, of course, characters like the pilot who can help with that. However, I must point out once again that the menu is a freaking smart phone and through all of the inadvertent sidequesting, I began to slowly lose interest in the narrative, which was already too predictable.
I suppose apart from the the beginning paragraphs of this review, I might come across as a bit harsh, but I hope you understand that I think Citizens of Earth is decent. Eden Industries created a finely tuned JRPG-styled adventure that boasts hours of content worthy of the $15 price tag. The problem is they created a premise with such potential, and I was saddened to see it lose its luster around the time I began finishing Mr. VP’s punchlines for him.
This review of Citizens of Earth is based on a digital review copy for the PC provided by Atlus.