'Citizens of Earth' Falls in Line with traditional Japanese RPGs
Several jokes in Citizens of Earth expose the Vice President of the Worlds’s exaggerated love of bureaucracy. Too bad the game is sometimes as much fun as cutting through red tape.
Citizens of EarthPublisher: Atlus
Rated: Everyone 10+
Developer: Eden Industries
Release date: 2015-01-20
Great video games employ systems to build a world with rich choice and meaning for players to explore. RPGs are by nature highly linear and often story driven. Citizens of Earth falls right in line with traditional Japanese RPGs. It’s often a charming game, but it’s undercut by its flaws. Too many of its choices and systems feel inconsequential.
Citizens of Earth, like Earthbound before it, is set in a satirical and cartoonish version of the real world. The protagonist is an inept Vice President. He is an empty suit, chosen for his position more for his hair and smile than for any substantive qualities. As the Vice President journeys farther from HomeTown, it becomes clear that something strange is afoot. To get to the bottom of this conspiracy, the Vice President must recruit as many civilians as possible.
In this way, Citizens of Earth feels like it aims for open-world freedom. There’s a vast area to explore and a colorful cast of citizens to enlist. A Psychologist, a Baker, a Yoga Instructor, and a Programmer, are just a few of the characters that the Vice President can persuade to join the cause. Some quest lines offer a branching path to completion, and there are ample chances to that allow one to backtrack and veer off the path to recruit citizens and complete side quests.
All of this is rendered with great art direction and occasional humor. The voice acting can be repetitive, but it is well done. Enough of the jokes land to leaven the mood and the overall tone is pleasantly airy.
Unfortunately, the game’s charm wears off. For every element that feels lovingly rendered, there is an undercooked character or minigame. Recruiting some of characters requires a simple fetch quest, while other characters are recruited through minigames. Some, like the Pilot’s Rampage-style town destruction game, are interesting, but too many are filler. Recruiting the Bartender, for example, means completing a tiresome button mashing challenge.
Each citizen contributes unique attacks and powers to your party. Instead of traditional action points or magic points, the game relies on an “energy” system for controlling the strength level of special attacks that characters can perform. Enemies have elemental strengths and weakness which affect energy. Attacks of an elemental type that an enemy is weak against add energy, and attacks in an enemy’s strong elemental attribute subtract extra energy. Energy carries over into the next fight if it isn’t used up, and additional energy can be recovered with items. It’s an interesting strategic wrinkle in an otherwise by-the-numbers combat system.
However, it’s all too easy to ignore the elemental attack system for the larger portion of the game. Once a few citizens reach level twenty, most enemies are dispatched without much thought. Instead of an interesting layer of rock-paper-scissors strategy, the elemental attack system feels like an afterthought.
My biggest frustration with Citizens of Earth is this shallow combat system. The School Mascot can be recruited to make combat harder and increase rewards, but on standard settings, most of the fights are a frictionless affair. What are supposed to be strategic encounters become mindless exercises of repeatedly pressing the action button.
This tedious combat is exacerbated by overstuffed areas, which are full of enemies to avoid. The larger areas and longer travel times become a dreadful experience. A little more enemy variety or fewer enemies would've reduced the pain from travelling and grinding. Here again, a citizen's talent alleviates a significant headache. Recruiting the Car Salesman unlocks a car for travelling the roads, and recruiting the Pilot allows for fast travel across limited points on the map.
Several jokes in Citizens of Earth expose the Vice President’s exaggerated love of bureaucracy. The clever elements of the game are undermined by a combat and party system that made me feel like I was in just the kind of empty government exercise that the VP would love.