It’s been almost 20 years since Earthbound released here in the States, and despite its strong cult following we’ve yet to see another entry outside of emulation. Those of you holding your breath for the next Mother game could very well be waiting forever, but there’s a new RPG in town that may tide you over in the meantime.
Being heavily inspired by the 1995 SNES exclusive, developer Eden Industries released Citizens of Earth in January–with the help of publisher Atlus–after their Kickstarter failed to meet even half of its $100,000.00 goal. It’s a comedic turn-based RPG in which you control the Vice President of the World, recruiting every day people to do your bidding. Everyone in town is addicted to Moonbucks’ special blend, followed by said Moonbucks ripping from the ground and taking off in to space, so it’s up to the Veeps and the titular citizens of Earth to get to the bottom of things. There’s just one problem, though. You. You’re shallow and self-absorbed, still live with your mother, and totally oblivious to the goings on around you, so of course you’ll need someone else to fight your battles, right?
There’s a plethora of citizens to recruit, like a yoga instructor, a school teach, a bodybuilder, and even your own mother; each with their own abilities to use in and out of combat. The school teacher, for instance, can put enemies to sleep with lectures and damage large groups with lab experiments, but outside of combat they can level up your unused characters back in the classroom. And while your mother can nag enemies to lower their defensive stats, or hug party members to replenish lost health, she can also provide helpful tips about the game in general.
“I never once felt that I was getting to know anyone on the roster, yet these were the people I was relying on to carry the entire game for the next 20 hours.”
Unfortunately the lack of central characters offers nothing in the way of character growth, and their recruitment quests are often as uninteresting as the characters themselves. Want to recruit the bartender? Play a button-mashing minigame. How about the teacher? Answer a few pop quiz questions. A majority of them are also downright annoying; if I hear the beekeeper ask “How can I BEE of service?”, or the teacher exclaim “Time to TEACH you a lesson!” one more time, I may go crazy.
I never once felt that I was getting to know anyone on the roster, yet these were the people I was relying on to carry the entire game for the next 20 hours. For the first 7 of those, it was basically a non-stop recruiting session littered with boring side-quests, uninteresting dialogue, ridiculously frequent loading screens, and progression-locked zones that lead to just more of the same for the next 13.
Each citizen had their own pros and cons, but I eventually settled in to a groove with a short list of favorites. On one hand, this caused me to ignore a large majority of the roster for most of the game. On the other, it gives you a chance to experiment and approach battles with your own preferred play style. Regardless of how you approach the game’s almost Suikoden-sized roster however, it’s worth noting that Citizens of Earth suffers from some severe balancing issues. Enemies that devoured me at first would often become cakewalks after grinding out just a single level. While battling the cop (in order to recruit her) I was decimated after 3 or 4 turns, but a few levels later she was taken down in a mere two swings. Even the slightest adjustment in difficulty was drastically noticeable–sometimes bordering on masochistic.
Recruiting normal citizens and using their specialties is the backbone of the game, but it’s swept under the rug by an extremely tedious combat system. Turn-based combat is already slow, and I’m okay with that if it’s executed well. Games like Bravely Default and the Shin Megami Tensei series spice up the age old formula in interesting ways, but Citizens of Earth brings momentum to a screeching halt every time you enter combat.
The RPG uses an energy system; using weaker abilities to build energy, and then spending it on superior options. This made an already sluggish combat system feel even slower by having to weaken enemies with softer blows in order to use more practical abilities, like heavy strikes or healing spells, a few turns later. One thing I did enjoy about the combat is the charge command, which instantly ends the battle in a victory if you drastically out-level the content. This made backtracking easier to swallow whenever I went back to finish up an older recruitment quest, as I always looked forward to avoiding combat altogether.
Citizens of Earth isn’t all bad, though. Most retro-inspired games tend to go the pixel route, but here we have clean, drawn environments and crisp caricatures that represent its cast. There’s also a robust variety of enemy designs, like Telefawns, a living pile of leaves with rakes for arms, and a giant coffee pot with a head inside. I did run in to some graphical hiccups though, like motion blurring while running, but for the most part its charming visuals were Citizens‘ saving grace.
“At the end of the day, saving the world just wasn’t that interesting.”
Overall, Citizens is a very middle-of-the-road experience. It had a lot of potential, but I ended my time with it feeling unimpressed, ready to jump in to the next game on my list. When my friends asked what the game was all about, explaining it to them felt like reading a list of bullet points that should have ended up in the plus column, but unfortunately the cast, story, and its take on turn-based combat were nothing to write home about.
Then again, perhaps it’s just not my type of humor. I enjoy lighthearted games, and as fan of Earthbound I had high hopes for Citizens of Earth, but the force-fed lampoon humor just wasn’t for me. At the end of the day, saving the world just wasn’t that interesting.
Recommended for fans of: Earthbound, or other retro-inspired RPGs like Lisa, Pier Solar and the Great Architects, or Zeboyd Games’ Cthulu Saves the World and Breath of Death VII.
*This review is based on the Wii U version of Citizens of Earth, which is also available on 3DS, PS4, Vita, and PC. Unless we find significant differences between each version, consider this our definitive review.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling reviews, public relations, and our social media communications on Facebook and Twitter. He’s an aspiring video game journalist that one day hopes to make this writing thing a living, and will always miss living in his hometown of Baltimore. If he’s not writing, he’s usually glued to a game or watching low budget horror films with his three cats. Get in touch with him by e-mail at the address above, or follow him on Twitter.