As we start swinging into 2019, I wanted to start things off with a longer game, something that I’ve had in my backlog for a while. Today we look at Citizens of Earth, a game by Eden Industries. It was a Kickstarter project that originally failed, but Atlus picked it up and got it released in 2015. It was released on PC, PS4, Vita and 3DS, but for the sake of this review, we’re talking about the PC version.
You are the Vice President of Earth, who has returned home after a successful election cycle. After being woken up by his Mom in standard JRPG fashion, he finds a whole bunch of protesters rallying against him. Enlisting his own family and some locals to help get rid of them, he decides to swing by the local Moonbucks and winds up stumbling on a bizarre alien base that sets the game’s plot into motion.
The writing of Citizens of Earth is very jokey, which is to be expected from something that had Earthbound as an inspiration. Unlike the protagonists of the Mother games, the Vice President is very chatty. He quickly establishes himself as self-centered and incompetent, with his fellows holding some level of disdain with him. Considering the character, expect a whole lot of jokes about government ineffectiveness and politicians wasting your tax dollars. But man, thank fucking god this game released before the 2016 election, because I just know that it’d be obnoxious; but then again, the very first arc focuses on fighting who are essentially paid protesters, so it’s treading on thin fucking ice. If Citizens of Earth is intentionally spouting a political message, it’s that politicians are nothing without the support of their constituents.
Which is quite literal with the Vice President, as he does no fighting at all. Instead, he recruits citizens to fight his battles for him, which makes up the meat of the game. Outside of the main story, you’re pursuing the recruitment quests for the 30+ characters in the game, each with different movesets and out-of-battle “talents” that fit the roles they play. The Conspiracy Theorist collects information on enemies and can confuse them, the Car Salesman specializes in verbal attacks and lets you ride around in a car outside of battle, etc. The talents range from useful things like opening up new paths to cosmetic stuff like being able to rename your characters.
Back on the topic of writing though, there is one major problem I have with the game’s writing and it’s that it lacks an emotional core. There isn’t anything to get emotionally invested in. There are no introspective moments, there are no scenes of the Vice President sincerely bonding with his entourage outside of the recruitment missions (if they could even be called bonding), it’s all just jokes and aliens.
Now, I get that Citizens of Earth isn’t Earthbound or Undertale or whatever, it’s its own thing, it doesn’t necessarily need to be an emotional game. However, the lack of an emotional core becomes a problem with the game’s ending. To sum it up with minimal spoilers, the climax to the game intends to be an emotional one, operating on the notion that the Vice President had those sincere bonding moments with his party members. It works on the premise that he grew as a person and helped the people around him grow. Which doesn’t really happen in the game’s text. It’s a game that tries to cash out on emotional pay-off without putting in any emotional build-up. As a result, the ending of the game left me feeling unimpressed.
The art style sits in a strange place for me. It’s not exactly bad, per-se. However, the art style feels very “Facebook game”-esque. If you just took a character portrait and stuck it into an ad, I’d absolutely think it’s some mobile game. There’s just this connotation of emptiness with the art style that drags the game down presentation-wise for me. That’s just how mafia works.
Character designs are also a mixed bag. In some areas, the designs are surprisingly diverse and the women character designs don’t suffer from feeling samey like a lot of games. On the other hand, some of the designs lean too much into the role they’re representing and wind up being stereotypical, feeling uninspired at best, offensive at worst. There’s the Sushi Chef, an extremely Japanese man that spouts gratuitous Japanese voice clips. There’s a bunch of overweight characters and most of them are related to food, because that’s what overweight people are all about according to pop culture.
The aspect of the presentation that I flat-out hated, however, was the music. Citizens of Earth‘s soundtrack is incredibly subdued and doesn’t evoke anything in me. It’s just mainly synths that plays things super safe. Usually when I think back on an RPG I can remember at least one song from it; if you asked me to remember a song from Citizens of Earth, I’d honestly come up with a blank, even though I’ve recently played it. And the battle music. Man. The battle themes do not inspire excitement at all, especially since most of them are actually just few second loops that became grating a few hours in. To me, this was the weakest aspect of Citizens of Earth and as somebody that really values good tunes in an RPG, this was a real letdown.
But does the gameplay letdown?
I’m happy to say that the core battle system of Citizens of Earth is actually solid. Instead of dealing with an MP system, battles rely on an energy system, where using some moves wastes energy while using others restore it. It’s a nice back and forth system of using weak moves so you can do more powerful or beneficial ones, giving a nice flow to battles. There is a lot of team-building potential in the game, though for those that aren’t up for experimenting, I find that the first handful of people you can recruit gets the job done. While there are points where you may want to switch around characters to take advantage of elemental weaknesses, you can use the easy to get Programmer to set up battles for easy grinding to get them up to par.
The game balancing is in a mixed place for me because I found it to be erratic. Some of the early game areas are a bit tough, especially the Moonbucks dungeon, with enemies with high dodge that can morph into stronger forms and will keep calling on allies to make battles tedious. After Chapter 2, though, I find that the difficulty settles into a nice place where you don’t have to do serious grinding.
But then there’s Chapter 5. Chapter 5 is a brick wall that constantly tosses enemies at you, all of them spiking in strength. Like, just look at this shit; half of these dots are awful snake enemies capable of stunlocking you, which is hell if you don’t fight them alone. If you manage to get around all that, you have to do a casino dungeon to get rid of a flimsy plot barrier (though it’s mercifully easier) to access yet another dungeon, where, at the end, you’re directly brought to the endgame dungeon. You are not healed at any point during all this. If there were any healing points, they’re rather poorly telegraphed; for all the notifications the game sticks on your mini-map, the least it could do is stick one on where to heal. After 11 hours of playing, this was the point where I said “fuck it,” and just used the School Mascot’s ability to drop the game’s overall difficulty.
Balancing issues aside, this section of the game exposed a whole lot of practical problems in Citizens of Earth. Any healing points in the game aren’t marked; even the one obvious rest point, your own home, isn’t marked in any way. Of the ones I did find, they’re actually rather sparse, so if some citizens bit the bullet and you don’t have any revival options, tough break. The Baker lets you buy items from him… but only from his own shop, so aside from leveling him to unlock more items, his talent is rather pointless. Same with the Barista and presumably the Pharmacist (I didn’t recruit him on my playthrough). Thankfully, you can use Brother’s talent to order items from his work from anywhere… and you have to wait real-time minutes for the items to arrive. While the Scientist can adjust time for you, at that point, just cut out the middle man and give me the healing items I really need. Oh yeah, and the revival item that you can buy from Brother only revives on a coin flip chance. Great. While I appreciate the idea of the talent system, in some places, it feels like Citizens of Earth removed or complicated a bunch of standard RPG mechanics to justify it.
Citizens of Earth is a game with a solid battle system and lots to play around with, but with lukewarm at best presentation to a badly balanced late-game that doesn’t have a satisfying conclusion, it’s hard to appreciate those things. It’s a serviceable RPG, but there are much better choices if you want to invest time in an indie RPG.