Absurd World Problems: Everybody wants to rule the world
At long last, Waveform developer Eden Industries’ retro-inspired RPG, Citizens of Earth is here. First announced last year, this comical, Super Nintendo-inspired adventure immediately caught our attention with its similarities to the venerated Mother series along with its interesting, populace-recruiting premise. With its classic looks and back-to-basics roleplaying mechanics, Citizens of Earth certainly looks to follow Eden’s mantra of crafting modern games with classic gameplay, but can it deliver on its campaign promise of providing a memorable adventure, or is this crimson-coifed veep a pretender to the Earth’s throne?
Citizens of Earth puts players in the taxpayer-bought shoes of the Vice President of the World. Coming across as the unholy offspring of Stephen Colbert and Conan O’Brien, the fire-haired delegator-in-chief has just returned to his hometown for some much needed rest and relaxation after narrowly winning his recent election bid. However, his impromptu vacation is cut short when the leisurely veep awakes to find angry mobs of protestors outside of his home, and a world seemingly turned upside down as coffee franchises soar into the cosmos, bi-pedal stop signs menace the streets, and the President himself is whisked away by sinister unknown forces.
Of course, like any true bureaucrat, the veep of the free world is hesitant to get his hands dirty, and that’s where the game’s titular citizens come to into play. Players will need to recruit up to 40 unique members of earth’s populace to fight against the forces of evil. Each member of the game’s motley crew of heroes serves their own purpose, such as a homeless man who can use his rummaging proficiency to dig elbow-deep in trash and scrounge for hidden valuables, a herculean body builder who can move mammoth obstacles out of your path, and even your own mother, who can scold enemies into submission, lowering their defense with a mighty browbeating. The number of character’s you’ll cross paths with and potentially recruit into your ramshackle combative cabinet indeed seems overwhelming at first, but a fully fleshed-out party comes with more uses -and far more clever puns- than bungled ballots in a Floridian election.
Citizens of Earth proudly wears its 16-bit inspiration on its sleeve. Obviously heavily inspired by the cult classic SNES RPG Earthbound, the game’s quirky and stylish visuals are immediately reminiscent of Ape and Hal Laboratory’s 1994 classic, right down to the swirling psychedelic background that appears during the game’s numerous battle sequences. Speaking of battle sequences, Citizens of Earth wisely eschews the traditional random encounters of the 16-bit era in favor of having enemies on the field (also like Earthbound) which upon contact with the player will start the battle phase. Being approached from behind will give enemies initiative, lowering your energy stocks which are used to execute advanced battle techniques. Conversely, careful candidates can wait until an enemy turns its back and issue a charge, which has the potential to wipe out an enemy without needing to enter the combat phase, though this technique yields much less experience than taking on enemies head-on.
When diplomacy fails and it comes time to roll up your sleeves and commence with an executive beatdown, fans of the genre will feel right at home with Citizens of Earth’s combative campaign. The game’s battles themselves play out much like traditional turn-based fare. As mentioned before, power stocks play a key role in determining what abilities your party can use. Without any stocks stored the portly baker does little but feeble attacks. However, charge up a few power stocks and he becomes a stellar support character who can revive players with decadent artery-clogging carbohydrates, and even flambe foes with supreme culinary prejudice. The major strategy comes from crafting a balanced party and knowing when best to pull out the big guns and unleash an all-out assault with your most powerful techniques.
One of the most surprising aspects of Citizens of Earth is just how much there is to do. In a quest spanning over 30 hours, players will explore a wide variety of varied locales as they look to uncover the mystery behind the chaos that’s overcome the world. From sweltering deserts and tropical jungles to secret underground lairs teeming with homicidal cybernetic baristas, you’ll never know where the next adventure will take you. Each of these areas is vibrant and eye-catching, featuring some truly charming visual flair and hilarious character designs that bring the game’s ludicrous cast of heroes and villains to life. Ever want to go toe-to-toe with a disco crab, or battle it out with a murderous coffee shop manager who’s been converted into a coffee-fueled cyborg? Citizens of Earth will help you realize these dreams and much more during its lengthy adventure.
From the moment you take control of the V.P. in Citizens of Earth you’re bombarded with a deluge of comical writing that would make the writers of the Daily Show green with envy. Absurdity and satire are both in abundant supply, and you’re sure to find quite a few laughs during your quest to save the world. Unfortunately, the story that propels the action forward isn’t quite as cleverly thought out, but quite frankly the game’s upbeat charm and abundance of quests and various minigames scattered across world more than make up for Citizens of Earth’s somewhat lackluster main narrative. In a genre over-saturated with heavy-handed stories of death and destruction, Citizen’s of Earth’s lighthearted, oddball approach to storytelling is refreshing. It’s the moment to moment experiences and off-the-wall sense of humor that really drive the action forward in Citizens of Earth, and it’s honestly all the better for it.
With so many quests to undertake and citizens to conscript into your ranks of evil-busting minions, managing your quests and citizens is of the utmost importance. Thankfully, a tablet computer you get in the opening moments of the game allows you to easily manage your ad-hoc Ministry of Defense, outfitting your party with various status-boosting upgrades. It also works as a great tool allowing you to keep track of the myriad tasks you’ll be able to undertake during the main story, as well as the objectives you must complete to recruit new citizens for your cause. With such a diverse tool at your disposal, it’s a shame there’s no way to access a full world map, as navigating to different quest locations via the mini-map is oftentimes very confusing, and can sometimes lead to lots of wasted time as you attempt to reach the next story location. Fortunately, the frustration is mitigated by the sheer number of new things to do in any new area you uncover.
Aurally, Citizens of Earth features a diverse and entertaining score that features more than a few memorable tracks. From the eerie flutes that play over the arid desert wastes to the brooding dubstep beats of the raver-ransacked Panjama Island, the toe-tapping tunes of Citizens of Earth largely deliver with the exception of a few locations. Additionally, the solid and amusing voiced dialog and weighty combat sounds are spot-on.
When all is said and done, Citizens of Earth delivers on its campaign promise of crafting a superb tongue-in-cheek adventure. A no-brainer for fans of Earthbound and classic SNES-era RPGs alike, developer Eden Industries has crafted a thoroughly quirky and captivating adventure that offers a plethora of content, both in the game’s solid main storyline and the abundant side quests tucked into this 30 hour adventure. In a day and age where morbid doomsday scenarios and angsty anime stereotypes stand front and center, Citizens of Earth offers a lighthearted and refreshing RPG that will transport you back to 1994 on a pure nostalgic joyride. If you’re looking for a role-playing candidate with a platform built on self-aware snark and satisfying adventure, Citizens of Earth deserves your vote.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC, Playstation 4, Vita (Reviewed), Wii U, 3DS ; Publisher: Atlus ; Developer: Eden Industries ; Players: 1; Released: Janurary 20, 2015; ESRB: E ; MSRP: $14.99
Note: Review impressions are taken from the Playstation 4, PC and Playstation Vita versions of Citizens of Earth. Review code was provided by the game’s publisher, Atlus.