Citizens of Earth Review
The EarthBound inspiration abounds in Citizens of Earth, a retro-style RPG from Eden Industries, but it’s much more than just a spiritual successor to one of the greatest treasures on the SNES. With a diverse cast of characters, strong combat mechanics, and some enjoyable writing, Citizens of Earth is a solid experience that could have been a great one if not for some questionable design decisions.
Citizens of Earth puts players in control of the newly elected vice president of Earth. Before you get too excited, you should know that this position comes with no apparent power. The vice president doesn’t seem to have any pull in diplomatic situations, and his combat abilities are non-existent. Instead of fighting his own battles, the VP travels around the region, recruiting citizens to do his bidding.
In order to recruit citizens, the VP typically needs to complete a sidequest or minigame in order to prove his worth. The recruitment missions add variety to the gameplay. You’re tasked with doing everything from scavenging the world to find particular quest items to completing a fast-paced, rhythm-based minigame. Once a citizen is on your team, the VP can use him or her in combat, or in the map navigation using their unique world abilities.
The world abilities become paramount to helping the overall experience, as the citizens can assist the VP with tasks like fast-travel, moving heavy objects out of the way, and even adjusting the difficulty. With 40 diverse citizens to find and recruit, each with a separate moveset in combat, it’s in the constant party reconfiguration that Citizens of Earth is at its most fun.
The unique abilities truly do set the characters apart from one another, adding variety and convenience to the overall experience. For instance, the pilot allows for fast travel to specific locations, the lifeguard gives you the ability to be underwater for longer, and the weather lady lets you change the weather on the map.
The citizens add a lot of color to the mechanics of Citizens of Earth, as you encounter and attempt to recruit characters ranging from the VP’s brother and mother to a Rastafarian musician, an artist, a conspiracy theorist, a police officer, a bodybuilder, a homeless person, and many more.
On the surface, the combat is your tried-and-true, turn-based RPG, but Citizens of Earth pulls in an interesting energy system. In combat, characters possess attacks that raise energy, as well as attacks that cost energy. Much like trading-card games, effective energy management is essential to battling in an efficient manner, and in more difficult battles, can be the difference between victory and defeat.
The map is laid out in a navigable way (once the paths open up), but going from one point to another can prove to be tedious at times, as enemies swarm the VP as soon as he and his party walk by. Since the enemies appear on the map alongside the party, many of them can be avoided, but multiple areas prove to be too densely populated.
This becomes a problem for the pacing, as the turn-based nature of the combat can become monotonous as the encounter rate reaches higher thresholds. To remedy this, the developer made it so lower-level enemies try to avoid you if you’re enough levels higher than they are, but the high encounter rate persists in new areas and can discourage exploration in less familiar regions.
While Citizens of Earth is meant to be a nostalgic experience, navigation can become a problem when the missions do little to tell you where to go and how to get there. Something can be said for not holding your hand, but the mission structure has a tendency to make a lot of assumptions about you, which can bring the experience to a halt.
A few perplexing design decisions make the experience feel a bit tedious, taking away from the fun of the campaign. One such issue involves the used car salesman’s world ability, which lets you speedily navigate through the world using his car. If you press the button to exit the car – which is, oddly enough, the same button used to sprint when on foot – you’ll need to navigate through the menus again to summon a new vehicle, even though your old car is still sitting right next to you.
In addition, it’s not possible to look at the map while you’re in the car, making navigation difficult unless you know exactly where you’re heading. Multiple segments throughout the story feel artificially elongated; placing unnecessary blockades at several turns, which ultimately hurts the pacing.
The writing is enjoyable, poking fun at the political process, as well as several RPG tropes. Citizens of Earth also isn’t afraid to poke fun at its own design conventions in ham-handed ways. Unfortunately, some of the jokes, such as some providing commentary on the bureaucratic red tape that exists in the government, ends up being little more than veiled attempts to present less interesting quests. Luckily, the writing hits the mark more than it misses, and when combined with the charming art style and surprisingly strong world music, the presentation of Citizens of Earth is one of its strong points.
Unfortunately, the otherwise excellent presentation is hindered by some technical glitches. One such glitch caused the music to cut out on certain levels after exiting a battle, leaving the VP and his party to explore that screen with an uneasy silence. Heavy screen tearing is also present through the experience, particularly when navigating through the map at high speeds.
Citizens of Earth is a cleverly written, charming, and nostalgic game that is hindered only by repetitive combat combined with a high encounter rate. Those who see past the minor design flaws and few technical problems will find a strong EarthBound-inspired RPG that is entertaining from start to finish.
Note: This review pertains to the PC version of the game. It is also available on PlayStation 4, Vita, Wii U, and 3DS.