Citizens of Space

RPGs are all the rage in my circle recently. The official localization of SaGa Frontier came out, the remake of the previously Japanese only version of Nier is here, all is right in the world. However, I ended up playing a different RPG. For the past few weeks, I played Citizens of Space on the Switch.

Citizens of Space is an RPG made by Eden Industries, released in 2019. This is actually a sequel to Citizens of Earth, a game that I played a while ago that I wasn’t exactly hot on. I picked this up because I saw that it was on sale on the eShop and I was curious to see if it improved on its predecessor.

Also, an important thing to note is that I played the vanilla version of Citizens of Space. As I later learned, the game was actually re-released in a compilation with Citizens of Earth called Citizens Unite. Maybe Unite addressed some of the flaws I had with this game, but for the sake of this post, I’m only looking at the vanilla experience.

You play as the Ambassador for Earth, which was recently entered into the Galactic Federation. He looks like a younger version of the Vice President of Earth that we’re familiar with, but he shares the same spacey personality. I also named him Joe Biden, which was a rather apt choice because it sincerely made a lot of scenes funnier than they actually were. The Ambassador would absolutely say something along the lines of, “my psionic warriors, seal this booboo bear beneath the Earth.”

Anyway, the Ambassador has it all. Until he doesn’t, because the Earth suddenly disappears. Somehow, the Earth had been scattered into different parts throughout the whole galaxy. So, as Earth’s intergalactic representative, the Ambassador sets out to bring his world back together and figure out why and how this happened.

On his travels through space. the Ambassador becomes acquainted with a lot of people that join his cause, for one reason or another. Like the previous game, you run around recruiting different citizens representing different talents. The citizens that fight have movesets that reflect their profession, and most of them have abilities outside of battle to take advantage of. The citizens that run shops will get new items as they level up their talents, other citizens grow better at moving past obstacles, etc.

As the game takes place in space, Citizens of Space gets more creative with character design, so let me talk about the art style a bit. I really hated the art of Citizens of Earth. There was this sort of “sterile”ness to it that gave a cheap Facebook game vibe. However, I legitimately think Space looks better. It embraces a more cartoony style that I think the game does a better job at pulling off, which especially works for the designs of the alien party members. It’s also much more animated, which is kinda important for the game’s more active battle system (more on that later).

Going into the game, Eden Industries made some decisions that makes playing the game more comfortable. For one thing, you can actually dash places now, which makes getting around far less tedious. There are actually consistent rest points now in the form of embassies, which addresses one of my biggest issues with the previous game. There are more shops to access with regular access to vending machines to purchase things. You can actually feel comfortable switching party members around now because everyone’s level scale, so you don’t have to worry about leveling reserve party members, either. Plus, you only fight with a third of the citizens now; the rest are either partners to equip to your fighting citizens for extra skills and stats or citizens to use for summons, so there’s less choice paralysis with regards to party building.

Your default citizen, the Ambassador’s Assistant, is handy in that he lowers the random encounter rate. Besides offering a helpful ability to have early on, this means that he’ll be leveled up enough to lower the rate to 25% by the endgame, when you’re probably backtracking to past areas for sidequests. You may ask, “why did they change it to random encounters? Isn’t on-map encounters better?” Look at this screenshot from the first game and tell me that random encounters isn’t a fucking improvement over this.

Anyway, point is, Citizens of Space is a far more comfortable game to play… in some aspects. But we’ll get to that later.

So, let’s get to those battles! Citizens of Space shifts away from the predecessor’s Earthbound-inspired presentation to become a more active side-view battle system in the vein of something like Paper Mario. Each action has a basic battle minigame, with damage dealt or received based on how well you do in the minigame. The game retains Earth’s energy mechanic, with actions that restore energy and more powerful actions taking energy; however, you can also freely shuffle characters around during battle so that characters can regenerate energy in the wings, so you can take advantage of regeneration to play around with your party.

Besides the minigames, another big addition is the charisma system. No longer does your character just sit on the sidelines making quips. Well, he still does, but unlike the Vice President, the Ambassador can actually do things. Drawing from the refilling charisma bar, the Ambassador can take a free action to apply items to citizens, enact policies that do things like reduce the chances of status ailments applying on both sides and freely shuffle party members around. Most importantly, the Ambassador can call upon a summon citizen to do a big action and uhh I’ll talk more about that later.

However, if you don’t care about battle minigames, you can actually turn them off with the Teacher, who is handily the second citizen you get. Everything will do the best outcome as a result, so you may have to grind up a bit more to keep up with stronger enemy attacks, but this is a completely welcome thing. Around when I started playing the game, I got my second vaccine shot and it ended up causing my hand to seize up, which made it hard for me to keep up with time sensitive minigames. Being able to ignore this system enabled me to actually play through the game comfortably, and I can now understand the accessibility flaws with regards to battle minigames in RPGs.

That said, the system isn’t perfect. Most defense minigames are skipped, and I say most because for whatever reason, you still have to play button mashing minigames – the ones that were the worst for my hands. You also still have to engage in battle minigames during Ship and Hacker fights, and you are not immune to recruitment minigames. As the fishing minigame requires button mashing, I had a lot of trouble doing it and I ultimately chose to ignore recruiting the Angler, since recruiting her means fishing more fish than her in a time limit, which left me feeling pain after my sole attempt.

Some of this might be because of glitches or because of baffling game design choices, and to be honest, there’s a lot of both.

The game is surprisingly glitchy, and while one might say it’s just a problem with the Nintendo Switch port, I saw that this was a general complaint with the game. I had the game softlock on me during a few battles and at points, the game’s audio screwed up, either entirely muting the vocal track or turning the background music into a screech; though to be honest, I kinda considered the former glitch a blessing because I got sick of the Ambassador’s quipping.

Speaking of which, lets talk about the game’s audio. So, one of my issues with the previous game is that the music left zero impact on me whatsoever. Nothing I loved, but nothing I hated either – and honestly, the greater crime is to be completely forgettable. But I honestly kinda liked some of the music in the game? One of the battle themes is a bombastic jazzy number and I was into it. I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to listen to it, but I like it. As for the game’s voice acting, it’s a mixed bag. I actually like the voice acting for the Ambassador, which is good since you’ll be hearing him the most – the problem is that you hear him too fucking much. Please take out his incidental quips. And well, the more cartoony citizens have an appropriately cartoony voice, which I thought was annoying. Please go away, Composer.

With regards to Citizens of Spaces‘ game design choices, there’s a bunch of weird decisions. For one thing, you can pick up materials around the world to craft with or sell. Here’s my take: don’t bother. Because each planet has its own pool of materials, you’re never going to craft anything unless you go out of your way for it. Selling the materials is also a nightmare because you have to individually pick out each material and tap the button repeatedly to choose how many to sell because there’s no sell all button and holding the button does nothing, so selling is tedious – and the fact that they sell for so little compared to just making money from fights makes it not worth it.

Want to buy things? You can buy multiple items from most shops… except for vending machines – the shop option that shows up the most – where you can only buy one item at a time. Going to a new planet for a first time? You must do a Ship battle minigame. But also, these Ship battles only happen on the first trip and never again, so why bother having them? Want the Judge to let you get discounts at citizen stores? Good luck, because you can’t make him, he’ll only enact laws when he feels like it – and the law he declares is also random, so hope you don’t get the useless garbage like uhh getting double money from trees. Also, the whole dumb shop that takes 15 actual real world minutes to deliver stuff to you is still in this game.

Like, I’m sorry if this feels very nitpicky, but sometimes these small things can add up to become big frustrations. And you know, these things feel jarring given how Citizens of Space brings genuine improvements in other areas.

But hey, how about that story?

The writing of Citizens of Space lands in the same territory as its predecessor in that it’s very jokey yet lacks an emotional core. As I said before, the Ambassador is pretty much the jokey version of Joe Biden that people exaggerated during the primary, making MCU quips in the most serious of times. Also like the previous game, there’s attempts at commentary like ramblings about political corruption and stealing resources. However, now that I’m a wiser and much more unhinged person, I recognize that these attempts at commentary just begins and ends at jokes with no genuine attempt at reconciling with anything – and that’s probably true of the previous game, too.

And the story honestly just becomes cringe when the President of Earth shows up. Hey, remember back in my Citizens of Earth post where I was glad that the game was made before Trump got elected? Unfortunately, Space was conceptualized and made during the Trump era, so the President is blatantly just Trump. Here’s the thing, folks: satire of Trump is just the “what’s the deal with airline food?” of political satire. This is something only nerds that sincerely love SNL would think is daring and cutting.

Satire can be good! It’s just that, like a lot of Trump satire, the Citizens of Space President is just low-hanging, uninspired fruit. He talks like a mob boss, he misues vocabulary all “bigly” style, he prefers to golf instead of work. And the thing is, by making the President a Trump analogue, it makes late game plot developments incredibly obvious to see in advance to everyone that isn’t a Trump supporter in a way that just had me roll my eyes.

There’s also a bizarre trend heading into the lategame where after every major event, the plot briefly grinds to a halt for the Ambassador to be like, “oh, I should take a break to check in with my crew.” In a way, I feel that it’s an attempt to address a problem I had with Citizens of Earth in that the climax of that game relied on an emotional pay-off between the Vice President and the party that fell flat because the game did not invest any emotional build-up into it. Here, the game at least attempts to do that? I don’t think it works well, especially since most of the characters besides the ones that are story required don’t see a lot of play during the normal plot progression, but hey, they attempted.

As I went deeper into the game, my initial positive mood progressively soured. Besides the story, the game’s difficulty suddenly skyrockets in the last two dungeons, with enemies capable of two-shotting you. To me, it read that the game was balanced in favor of players that actually wanted to 100% the game, since pursuing that goal would probably get players leveled up enough to feasibly survive.

But the thing for me is that at some point, I discovered a cheese that completely trivialized boss fights, so I had zero incentive to actually go out and level or pursue 100%. As it turned out, the Miner summon is completely busted. The bizarre thing I found is that when I used it against bosses that have no elemental strengths or weaknesses, the summon attack will completely chew through boss health. This is partly because by playing the game without minigames, the summon attack only targets one enemy with the best possible outcome; the Sheriff (who I named Kamala Harris) suffers a similar problem in that their quick draw attacks whose targeting worked differently was stuck to only aim at the first enemy. Combined with a defense debuff, the Miner will just one-shot most bosses – and the fact that the charisma bar recharges from summoning him means that you can quickly resummon him on the next turn to finish off enemies that aren’t killed. And really, summons should not recharge their own bar, come on.

So hey, imagine my shock when the Miner completely tore through the final boss. This quick tear down then led into an ending sequence that… was equally abrupt. The ending just kinda happens and then you’re just kicked into the open world post-game. Cool.

My problem with the ending besides its abruptness is that… it felt like nothing was accomplished. The present threat is gone, but the things that allowed that threat to exist is still in place. The people of Abora have shown that they’re perfectly willing to rob a different planet’s resources for their own gain – they only regret it because Earth’s trees ended up being poisonous to their ecosystem. Speaking of ecosystems, the ecosystem of Tropicool gets screwed over because a guy wanted to build a beach resort, but the only problem that the heroes ultimately have with his plot is that it’s because he stole Earth’s waters to help fulfill that dream; him reducing the surrounding land to a desert is just an afterthought, and in fact, everyone outside of the desert is just kinda indifferent to this horror.

Like, combined with the game’s lazy satire of Trump, Citizens of Space wound up feeling like a liberal dream game. Everything is fine in the galaxy. Everything that goes wrong is solely because of bad actors. The ending was already maddening because of its abruptness, but the more I thought about the story leading up to that ending, the more pissed off I got.

From a gameplay standpoint, Citizens of Space is an improvement in some areas and was more engaging than its predecessor, though it suffers a lot of blemishes that’s hard to ignore. That said, the story is weak and in fact, I get angrier the more I think about it. In fact, in terms of story, I actually prefer Citizens of Earth because that game’s story didn’t piss me off. Honestly? I wish I stuck to playing SaGa Frontier and NieR like everyone else. Sorry if they’re not part of the indie brand, but it’s the truth. Maybe the Citizens Unite version of this game makes improvements, but again, I’m only talking about the vanilla experience, and my verdict is that I think this game was a waste of time.

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