Citizens of Earth started off on Kickstarter. It looked promising, with clear Earthbound influences and the ability to recruit everyday citizens as party members, but sadly it ultimately didn’t meet its funding goal. It seemed like that would be the end of that, with Eden Industries working with what they had to complete the game. However, in a stroke of luck, Atlus stepped in and took on the task of publishing the game, letting them do more of what they had aimed to do with the Kickstarter, only with a publisher backing them. Let’s see how the final product turned out, and if Atlus made the right call with this.
Congratulations! You’ve just been elected as Vice President of the World. However, your tenure is getting off to a rocky start. Even though it’s only your second day in office and your first day off (hooray sleeping in), protesters take to the streets of your hometown and gather in front of your house. Turns out the guy you beat in the polls to get your current position isn’t too happy you got the position instead of him. However, there’s a lot more going on beyond just protests, including you being framed for kidnapping the President, and it falls to you to figure out what’s going on and clear your name. Tongue-in-cheek humor pervades the writing, and it doesn’t really take itself seriously (nor does anyone really take the VP seriously). There’s also a bunch of video game and other references sprinkled throughout, and it’s kind of fun to see how many you can recognize. The flavor text that pops up when examining things is often amusing as well.
The line art on the character and enemy sprites and environments are clean and vibrantly colored. There’s not much in the way of attack animations during battles, though battles go quickly and outside of battles characters move fluidly. The art style, like the humor, is quirky and may not appeal to everyone. The soundtrack suits the overall mood of the game, but I don’t know that it’s something that one would listen to outside the context of the game. There’s different battle themes (besides the obvious boss battles), and they add some variety to regular battles. Dialogue varies depending on who’s in your active party. However, since the VP is always present, he tends to keep his voices where the others are unvoiced. Some of the voices might seem a bit over-the-top or stereotypical, but they do fit rather well (the VP even sounds like I’d imagined just from seeing screenshots of the game). The VP also commentates on battles, cheering on his constituents when they’re doing well and flinging accusations of shenanigans when the enemy’s getting the upper ground. This can lead to such moments as dear old mommy taking a particularly bad hit and the VP blithely advising her to “walk it off”.
A perk of being (almost) on top is having the luxury of making other people do your dirty work (you slacker), even your dear old mother. You can recruit everyone you come across – usually after you do something for them, of course. Seeing citizens who have yet to be recruited invokes a similar “Gotta catch ’em all” feeling to that of Pokemon or wanting to amass an army by recruiting all 108 stars in the Suikoden games. Granted, this game doesn’t have as many people to catch/recruit, but 40 citizens is still a sizable following with plenty of diversity in skills. Some of them have differing recruitment requirements, like chugging soda and a DDR style rhythm game, which make for a nice change of pace, but might take a bit of practice to get through depending on how fast you can mash a button and how much practice you’ve had with rhythm games.
It’s worth exploring, examining everything and talking to everyone, as not only can you find loot and unlock new quests, but your active party gets some experience points for examining something you haven’t seen before (and the flavor text is amusing). The amount of quests build up fast, but you can see a list of ongoing and completed quests in your agenda at any time, which is quite helpful for keeping track of things to do. A little reminder of where each person usually hangs out would be nice, though they tend to show up in more than one place, which makes them a bit easier to find. Each citizen has a talent, ranging from selling items to transportation in a car or plane to changing the game’s difficulty. I wish there was a way to assign a talent or two to a button as a shortcut to save a bit of time going through the menu every time I want to use the car or plane, though. While you can play with a keyboard and mouse, it feels a lot better playing with a controller.
All enemies are visible on the map, so you can dodge them all or go pound them all into the ground as you like. If you’re much stronger than the enemies, then you can automatically defeat them without having to fight. You can sic your party on enemies, and if you catch them from behind you gain extra energy to start with. If an enemy ambushes you from behind, your party loses one energy. The combat system works much like the first person turned based battles seen in the likes of Dragon Quest and Earthbound. There’s a key difference, however: instead of MP, special attacks take up a certain amount of energy. Energy can be replenished through regular attacks (as well as items and certain characters’ skills). I tend to be stingy about MP usage outside of boss fights, though with this system I felt more free to use the bigger moves more often. Citizens grant different boosts to their teammates when they gain a level as well. However, if two citizens who grant the same boost are in the party, the boost does not stack. In a way it resembles EV training in Pokemon, though instead of stat gains depending on what you fight, it correlates with who else in the party. That makes it a little easier to min-max certain stats since, instead of camping out in certain spots hunting certain enemies, you can just change your party composition. You can also shift stats points around if you’d prefer to have them distributed differently, at the cost of lowering that citizen’s level.
I did encounter some bugs, though fortunately not ones that significantly hindered progress. I imagine they will be smoothed out after launch, but they still should be noted for players coming into the game. There was an instance where I was talking to an NPC (specifically the Scientist at Crystal Beach not far from where the pilot drops you off) when an enemy walked into my party, triggering a battle. Both the battle and area music were playing simultaneously, and the Scientists’s portrait remained on the screen. I was able to finish the battle normally and exit the dialogue with her, but I couldn’t move after that, even after flying to another location. I was still able to save, so I did so and reloaded and was able to proceed normally after that, fortunately. At another point during a battle the game froze. The animations and sound kept going, but nothing I pressed registered, and since it was the enemy’s turn there was no menu. I ended up having to quit and reload a save, and since I tend to be a compulsive saver, I didn’t lose much progress. In addition, when I tried to open a locked door, a blank dialogue window pops up. I assume that’s meant to say something along the lines of “This door is locked” (or, considering the tone of the rest of the game, something like “Hey, who’d lock the VP out?”). Functionally it didn’t hamper anything, as I could just quickly click past it, but it looked strange. I’d recommend taking advantage of the ability to save everywhere and saving often, though, just in case.
You can also adjust the difficulty at anytime after you meet the School Mascot (you can find him early in the game), so you can either blaze through the game or give yourself more of a challenge if you wish. There are a lot of citizens to try and keep leveled, though the ability to leave them with the Teacher for a time as an alternative to grinding helps those lagging behind in levels to catch up (as long as you have the cash), and the Scientist makes the process go by a lot faster. Even if you fail a minigame while trying to recruit someone, you can try again as many times as you like, or even walk away to do something else and come back later. A tip for the soda chugging: you lose a lot of points if you hit the button while the meter is red, so it’s better to rapidly tap the button then wait for it to turn red and then green again (you can make up the time, and you get a lot of points when you deplete the meter completely).
The list of things on your agenda grows quickly, though sometimes you can make progress with another quest while doing something else. I kept wanting to explore every nook and cranny of each new area I came upon to see what I would find or which new citizen I could try to bribe into doing all my dirty work – I mean bringing them on board for ample opportunities to hone their skills (yes that’s totally it. Of course. Why are you raising your eyebrow at me?). I often found myself wanting to complete more quests to see that list shrink bit by bit and get further in the game (well, after finishing as many side quests as I could). Of course, in the process I’d end up finding more to do, so the cycle continued. It did serve to keep the game and sense of progress flowing, and I’d sometimes lose track of time because I was so busy going place to place (and trying to keep track of everything in my head), as well as experimenting with different party setups.
For all the comparisons that can be made to other games (and yes, the undeniable Earthbound inspiration is apparent just from screenshots), CoE doesn’t play like it’s been modeled as a copy of any one game. Instead, it seems to take parts from other games and does its own thing with them. They took everyday jobs you would not think would be conducive to saving the world and made them into viable party members. The wacky sense of humor is there, but goes in its own directions. The mechanics have some of the usual trappings of traditional JRPGs, but do enough differently that they feel like a fresh take on the formula. All in all, I’ve enjoyed my time with CoE and I’m glad Atlus took up the helm in publishing it.
Short Attention Span Summary:
While the Earthbound influence might be the first thing some might notice, Citizens of Earth changes up the formula enough that it doesn’t feel like a rip off. There’s a large enough variety of possible party setups to encourage experimentation and recruiting new citizens as soon as possible. It combines some long-established JRPG mechanics with modern conveniences. The writing is rife with quirky humor, and it’s fun seeing how many references you can spot. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re looking for an RPG fix.