Citizens of Earth is not what I expected when I downloaded the game on Steam. The games is equal parts Earthbound and Suikoden, doing its best to bring ideas from both titles into the modern age. Unfortunately, Eden Industries' turn-based RPG romp makes too many missteps to be considered a classic. My experience with the game flipped between joy and pain at the drop of a hat.
Citizens of Earth tells the story of the newly-minted Vice President of Earth, who returns to his home town to rest and relax only one day into office. Strange shenanigans are going on in town and soon the VP finds himself wrapped up in a weird adventure. Unfortunately, the VP is a politician: he doesn't fight his own battles, instead preferring to get others to do his dirty work. This is the Suidoken side of the game, with the VP being able to recruit 40 citizens to fight for him.
The citizens are a varied crowd. Each one is simply known by the job they do: Conspiracy Guy, Mom, Yoga Instructor, Executive Gardener, School Mascot, Scientist, and more. (Worry not. You can rename them when you recruit them.) There's no shared basic Attack between the citizens either, so you'll have to learn the in-and-outs of each one. Conspiracy Guy is paranoid, so he can discern the stats and skills of your foes, while the Teacher can put enemies to sleep with boring lessons. As the citizens level up, the depth of their skills can grow considerably, while still staying within their basic concept.
This doesn't even cover their Talents, which are abilities they can call on outside of combat. One of your earliest recruits, your brother, works for the shipping company FEDUPS. You can use him to order items outside of combat. Can't get through overgrown hedges? You'll need the Executive Gardener. The Handyman can repair doors, the Homeless Guy can find stuff in trashcans. All this across 40+ characters!
From this huge recruitable roster, you can take three characters into combat. There's also a small bit of synergy in leveling, as each character boosts a certain stat (HP, Special Attack, Special Defense, etc.) within the group. As an example, Conspiracy Guy boosts Special Defense, so if someone levels up with Conspiracy Guy in the group, in addition to their normal stat boosts, they'll get a little extra punch in Special Defense. My group tended to break down into my heavy damage dealer, a healer, and someone with worthwhile status ailments, but the sky really is the limit if you're not under the leveling curve.
I admit, I found that curve a bit tricky; Citizens of Earth is not a game where you can smoothly move from region to region. I assumed it would be, but you'll frequently enter a new region after defeating a boss only to have the new enemies hand you your ass on a silver platter. There's ways to get around this. You can use the School Mascot's Talent to lower or raise the difficulty; higher difficulties mean higher XP/money multipliers and better dropped items. Alternatively, you can grind it out in the game's VR mode, which allows you to fight any enemy or boss you've defeated once.
Unfortunately, experience isnt shared across your huge roster, so if you decide to switch in a character you haven't been using for awhile, you'll either need to grind it out or send them to school. At school you can pay for their classes to level them up, but the entire system feels like a kludge to fix the lack of shared XP.
Combat is a straightforward turn-based affair that looks alot like Earthbound with a new coat of paint. There's no MP here, only energy. Each character has skills that give energy and skills that take it away, so combat falls into a rut of building energy to use it on your larger attacks. It can get tedious and time-consuming at times, because of the slow status messages and the time it takes enemies to die. Some enemies also have abilities that simply pad out the combat, while others can call in friends or evolve. Early on, you'll fight Java Beans, who can randomly upgrade into Java Beanemoths, who can then call in more Java Beans, who can upgrade into... you get the idea. I swear I was in one battle for 15 minutes. Very frustrating.
Enemies do appear on the map Chrono Trigger-style, so you can decide to avoid them, but many times the areas will work against you. That means tight corridors, preventing you from finding alternate routes if you don't feel like fighting.
You'll notice that I've been heavy on the mechanics of Citizens of Earth and light on its narrative. That's because the game's focus is its mechanics. The story is almost non-existent, with your party shuffling into a new area, solving a problem, and moving on. The humor in the game is cute, full of clever puns just like Earthbound. There's nothing in Citizens of Earth that made me laugh out loud, but overall the game did give me a consistent smile. Unfortunately, that's the entire game: combat and limited exploration punctuated by occasional humorous dialog. If the combat and character collecting doesn't do much for you, you won't find much to love about Citizens of Earth.
The game's interface could also use some work, especially when it comes to quests. Every citizen has a side-quest you need to complete in order to recruit them and these quests can pile up at times. You'll frequently find yourself looking through your quest log, trying to remember what you were trying to do last. (The quest text can be very vague at times, like one quest that simply tells you to "find evidence".) With the sheer number of quests available, Citizens of Earth could've benefitted from an MMO-style quest log, allowing you to tag certain quests so they'd stay on-screen instead of having to dive back into your quest log.
The quests themselves vary between fun and tedious over the 30-40 hour playtime. Some will have you running back and forth across certain enemy-filled areas, meaning lots of combat between talking to this person and that person, with the possibility of having to jump back through the same area again. Yeah, sometimes Citizens of Earth can drag on your soul.
It's a shame Citizens of Earth is uneven, because the visual presentation is top-notch. The citizens you can recruit all have distinct and diverse character designs. The enemies are equally varied, with punny names like Telefawn or Maracacobra; you can tell Eden Industries had a lot of fun coming up with the inhabitants of each region. The regions also look great, from your home town, to outlying farms, and even a jungle. Each and every one is bright and colorful; a complete joy to look at.
Citizens of Earth is a game with potential. This first title has ideas where it wants to go, but it doesn't quite execute on everything in a great way. I expected a much smaller title overall and developer Eden Industries definitely delivered way over my expectations, but the result is equally enjoyable and frustrating. The citizens are great, but the narrative could've been more meaningful. Combat is fine, but can really slow down depending on where you are, what level you are, and what you're fighting. The game gives you a lot to do, but doesn't particularly help you keep track of it. Still, I hope to see more from Eden Industries and the Vice President of Earth in the future. Citizens of Earth isn't perfect, but it's a good first term.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Citizens of Earth features great character and level designs that pop with life and color.
- Sound: There is a sound that plays in the game. There is also music.
- Interface: The interface could be improved, especially when it comes to handling your quest log.
- Lasting appeal: Once you've finished the game and recruited every citizen, there's not much reason to come back.
Citizen of Earth is inspired by Earthbound and Suikoden, but the entire thing doesn't come together as a solid whole. The citizens you can recruit are interesting, but the rest of the game's story is only skin-deep. Combat is solid, but it can get tedious and boring at times. With everything taken together, the game comes across as average. If collecting characters and turn-based action is your thing though, you'll find a lot to love about Citizens of Earth.
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